Watch your child from your desktop
A nursery is giving working parents a chance to log on to see their children at play
Published on
24th May 2007, Hampstead & Highgate Express by Bridget Galton

CUTTING edge technology is helping hardworking parents stay in touch with their child's progress at nursery.

Mums and dads whose children attend Active Learning nursery in Crouch End can log on to webcams at work - to watch their offspring at play.

Tots at the unique private nursery in Tivoli Road are also treated to organic meals, yoga classes, tennis lessons, workshops with opera singers and science experiments.

Active Learning chairman, West Hampstead businessman Bill Zuckerman, says he will also install webcam technology in the new nurseries he is opening in Fulham in June and Compayne Gardens, West Hampstead, in September.

"Parents at work can go online with a secure log in and only have access to the rooms where their child is supposed to be. There is a reassurance and a security element. But also, when they come home, they can ask their child about something they have seen them do that day. And if a parent is working in Hong Kong for a week, they can see what their children are up to."

Zuckerman, a former partner with Ernst&Young, realised there was a gap in the market for dynamic, well-staffed, childcare four years ago, when he started looking at nurseries for his then one-year-old daughter Arabella.

"Much of the quality of what was being provided was appalling and the demand was far outstripping the supply. There simply wasn't the kind of nursery we wanted with provision of engaging and fun activities to stimulate and educate children."

In one nursery he visited, he saw three staff members chatting in the corner while the babies cried, ignored.

"They were unstimulated and bored. Most behavioural issues with children come through lack of attention, boredom and frustration and most existing provision is simply a safe place to put children while their parents work."

Zuckerman, who lives on Hillfield Road, set up Active Learning to offer a more creative environment and instill an early love of learning for nought to four-year-olds.

"We aim to maximise the talents and abilities of each child with a tailor-made curriculum which enables them to develop at a pace that makes sense to them."

Active Learning nurseries are laid out in "studios" with specialist teachers in dedicated, well-equipped spaces for performing arts, art, science, IT and sport. An additional sensory room can either stimulate babies or be turned into a planetarium to teach older children about the solar system.

And the arts play a huge part, with theatre groups and opera groups booked to run workshops and regular concerts given by children. At about 320pounds a week it's not cheap, but Zuckerman points out that it includes four organic meals a day cooked on site, nappies and wipes, and the staffing is above government ratios - with every child assigned a mentor responsible for their pastoral care and a specialist literacy champion to help with reading and writing.

A recent Ofsted report warned that 30 per cent of nurseries were failing to teach children basic numeracy and literacy - but Active Learning was noted for good practice.

"We are at the forefront of what pre-school education should be," says Zuckerman, who rejects the "high pressure hot housing" techniques which achieve results by drumming in repetitive tasks.

"If a child is bored in education at three you have lost them. If they are stimulated to develop a love of education at an early age through activities that engage, that's a great start in life.

"Every time I hear a parent on a nursery tour say, 'I have never seen anything like it', I know we are doing something right."

❏ Active Learning is opening two further nurseries next year in Chiswick and Kingston. For further details go to www.active-learn.co.uk or call 0800 0811620.

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