Over the coming yearsI’ll be responding to many of our most frequently asked questions aiming to explain our philosophy. If you have any questions to pose please get in touch and I’ll add yours to the list. Helen

Frequently asked Qu 1)  

How do we ensure children are learning through their play?

 We teach through play, sometimes we (adults) join children in their play, sometimes we suggest play and at other times we watch with admiration as children develop their ideas in groups or perfect skills through focused repetition.


When considering children’s learning we must evaluate what learning we as adults consider most worthwhile. It is easy for adults to overlook the value of social skills however learning how to initiate play, influence others, build and maintain friendships and express ideas is central to all aspects of life.


Our qualified highly experienced team of key people ensure children’s well-being is their first priority. Through building nurturing responsive relationships with children from their first day our team are well placed to review and reflect on each child’s progress and interests. Whilst partnering children in play our team extend learning by introducing ideas, asking questions and guiding challenges. Decades of evidence demonstrates that young children’s learning is far deeper and more permanent when they make discoveries through self led inquiry rather than adult delivered ‘lecturing’, creating the opportunity for these eureka moments is our role as teachers.


Our team make time to review each child’s learning and development at the mid point of each term. This process then guides our plans for the weeks ahead as we design activities, personalise games and adapt our environment to inspire progress where we spot a need for a nudge.


Throughout the year we also use our ‘WellComm’ program to monitor and extend children’s speech and language development (see FAQ 2). Our team take great care to pitch their language at a level just a step beyond that which children are using; close enough to be understood but complex enough to demonstrate fluency and vocabulary - you will hear us discussing the emotions ‘sad’ and ‘happy’ but we’re eager for children to master this vocabulary so we can introduce elation’ and ‘despair’. English is a complex language full of exceptions and quirks and it’s a joy to hear children progress from ‘Me did ride’ to ‘I ridded ’ to ‘I rode’.


Our preschool group are invited to join short bursts of phonics activities throughout their day. Many of our younger children also choose to join in although there’s no pressure. Over the course of the year these fun activities build from focusing on strengthening children’s attention and listening skills through to drawing their attention to rhythm (syllables) mastering rhyming (end sound of words) alliteration (starting sounds of words) and finally blending & segmenting (exploring how we can build and separate sounds within words). Feedback from our local primary teachers tells us our children leave us well equipped to be strong readers and writers by the end of their reception year.


Each year we visit reception classes and invite teachers to discuss the achievements of Sandcastles children helping us to ensure we continually adapt and continue to prepare children well for all the opportunities school presents.

x Helen

Frequently asked Qu 2)  

Why does Sandcastles monitor Speech, Communication and Language development so closely?

We want children to feel happy and easily convey their thoughts. Children can feel frustrated and angry when they can’t explain their ideas with ease. Children need strong language skills before they can use words to negotiate and argue with peers, a necessary skill in building friendships.

 The majority of learning opportunities in Nursery and later in school are delivered verbally.  A strong mastery of our language helps children to progress in all other areas of their development.

 The government often talks about ‘the word gap’ and the predictability of future academic achievement.  High correlation is found between young children’s understanding and use of language and their teenage academic achievements.

Many young children have moments of temporary struggle as they learn English. We work hard to ensure children are surrounded by lots of interesting words, discussions, songs, games, rhymes, listening, dancing, phonics games and conversations to help maximise their opportunities to build and use their blossoming communication skills.

Our team are highly experienced supporting all areas of children's learning and development however maximising children's language development is a strength with Helen O'Hagan, Judith Stewart, Nicola Lupton and Rebecca Watson having undertaken extensive training to deepen our knowledge and skills in building children's language. 

At Sandcastles we subscribe to a Communication assessment and intervention tool called WellComm. This screening tools guides our team in assessing each child’s development through their years at Sandcastles.  In 2022 we trialed an alternative assessment and intervention scheme but have returned to WellComm as it is better suited to our nursery.

When the WellComm screening tool identifies a child is struggling we meet with parents and agree specific short term targets (6-8 weeks) and agree how we will work together to accelerate progress. We then monitor children’s progress and generally find children’s skills flourish.

When more persistent difficulties are noted we support parents to access local Speech and Language Therapy services (SaLT) and continue to deliver intervention activities in partnership with specialist advice.  Currently the local SaLT waiting time is over 30 weeks, whilst you are waiting for your appointment we will support you to build your child's skills.

Glue ear is incredibly common in young children with typically 20% of Nursery age children struggling to hear clearly in any one month, if a child suffers glue ear for an extended period their attention, understanding and enthusiasm for language can suffer.  We (or your Health Visitor) can request a hearing check for your child - just ask.  





x Helen


Frequently asked Qu 3)  

How can I prepare my nervous child for nursery?

Whilst our standard settle in process works well for most some children need extra consideration. Our standard schedule comprises 45 min tour + keyperson-parent phone meeting + 60 minute settle in + series of short sessions building up to full attendance as quickly as parents and child feel comfortable.

Being aware of your child’s unique character and planning to ease them into nursery life is key.  By acknowledging that your child might need extra support you have already taken the first proactive step to ensuring a successful start to nursery.

  • Become actively aware of your own emotions and their reinforcing impact on children’s anxiety/confidence. Being relaxed, calm and confident yourself will set your child up to thrive. At Sandcastles we recognise that some parents need extra time to get to know our team and the rhythm of the nursery day to feel equipped to fully support their child’s induction. Talk to us about your worries and we’ll do our best to reassure you.
  • Talk positively about nursery, wave every time you drive past, use our staff names in conversation at home, use our online learning journal to communicate events and interests from home.
  • Trust us to tell you the truth - if your child is finding nursery distressing we will tell you and offer suggestions of how we can build their happiness. Children need to be happy and relaxed in nursery before we can start to challenge and inspire their learning.
  • We have successful experience in providing tailored inductions for the most nervous children including children with no understanding of English. One of our techniques when supporting the most nervous children has been to offer an extended series of short visits accompanied by a 'reassuringly boring' parent.  This is where a parent or close family member is invited to sit quietly in a play room being ‘reassuringly boring’ not engaging in activities or play but sitting on the floor silently reading an adult book or magazine for 30 mins whilst your child watches other children. We have found this approach works well with even the most nervous children, with children choosing to sit in their parents lap for the first couple of visits before finding the urge to explore overwhelming and starting to venture towards activities. Typically 6-12 visits each will reliably ensure even the most anxious child is happy in nursery.  Much of the impact of this approach comes from the discussions you will naturally have with your child at home between the visits.

  • Helping your child to anticipate the pattern of nursery by attending for the same sessions each day rather than mixing some mornings with other longer days or afternoons can help children to find comfort in the predictable pattern of the Sandcastles day.  With this routine in mind try to arrive at the same time each day ideally before 9am, children can find it challenging to walk into a busy playroom with games already mid flow, arriving at 8:10-8:20am provides children with a much calmer start to the day with time for a drink / breakfast and chat before heading off to play.
  • Appropriate expectations- we do not expect young children to find joining nursery easy. Think about your adult feelings starting a new job. Children are remarkably adaptable but we should not require young children to feel instantly comfortable in their new nursery circumstances.  Don’t worry that your child’s need for a more gradual settle in schedule makes them prone to future fragility - I believe this is the opposite - being gentle and respectful builds your child’s trust, resilience and the confidence to seek challenges and be brave in the years ahead.

  • Try to predict your child’s long term attendance - we will then match their key person to maximise continuity aiming to ensure your child has just one or two key people from their first settle in session to their final day when they move to school.

  • Taking your child to a Parent & Toddler play-group can be a great opportunity to help your child become familiar with the hussle & bustle of nursery life and start to build a repertoire of social skills.

  • Be consistent, be adult, set the emotional tone, avoid bribery & persuasion. Take time to consider your words - don’t ask “are you coming back tomorrow?” if you plan to override your child’s response. Instead rephrase the question as a statement eg “more nursery fun tomorrow”.

  • Talk to our team but be aware if your child is nearby - some conversation are better suited to phoning / messaging us away from your child’s ears.

  • All humans need their primal needs met before they can devote time & effort to higher order tasks. Making sure children are well rested, fed, in good health and wearing comfortable weather suitable clothes will help them to settle in.

  • Trust us, over our 32 years we have refined and perfected our techniques to supporting children to settle in and love their Sandcastles adventures. Many Sandcastles children whilst delighted to see their parents are disappointed when their Sandcastles day draws to an end.


x Helen 


Please get in touch if you have any questions to suggest....

Questions already on the list (in no particular order):

? Nursery fees are expensive - how can we save money?

? How does Sandcastles support and manage challenging behaviour?

? How does Sandcastles teach maths skills? 

? What's Beach school all about?

? Why doesn't Sandcastles have 'Circle time'?

? When are you next running more toilet training workshops?

? Sandcastles promotes environmental issues, how ethical is Sandcastles as a business?

I'll aim to answer one question each term.  x Helen