19 Dec 2011,
Les Trois Oursons, meaning The Three Little Bears, will blend what founder Philippe Fraser (pictured below) describes as ‘the strengths of the French curriculum, the child-centric emphasis of Montessori pedagogy and the joined up thinking of the EYFS’.
The group, which specialises in French-English bilingual early education for children aged one to five-years, operates two other nurseries in London: Les Petites Etoiles in Tufnell Park and Mars Montessori at Angel, Islington, which achieved an outstanding Ofsted in November (pictured above).
Mr Fraser passionately believes that the early years is the best age group for children to learn new languages and believes he has a winning formula.
‘Parents from all over London contact us asking if their children can join our existing nurseries,’ he says. ‘We noticed that a lot of parents we were receiving enquiries from live in the Paddington area, and we decided that this would be a good location to look for new premises.’
Substantial investment is being made in the lower ground floor of a Housing Association Building in Paddington to bring it up to the high standard of the other nurseries. Its Ofsted registration allows it to take up to 54 children but initially it will be aiming for 36, looked after by a staff team of 12.
‘We’ll be using sound-insulating glass partitions which will maximise the use of natural light and allow the manager to easily supervise and support the team,’ says Mr Fraser. ‘We are installing automatic sensor taps and flushes to encourage children to use the toilet and wash their hands independently.’
Language Fantastic delivers its bilingual early learning by having two distinct teams, who speak English and French respectively, in each of its nurseries.
‘Each child has two key workers, one in each language,’ says Mr Fraser. ‘A child might arrive at 8am and spend the first half of the day with the French team in the French classroom, and this will mean that they will have English in the afternoon. All the French staff speak in French, and only in French to the children. You’d be amazed at how quickly they learn to understand French even if they have no French at home. Many of the children will be French speakers already and their English or international friends at nursery will pick up a lot from them.’
Despite the nurseries’ urban settings, children go out to local parks in small groups during both the morning and afternoon. French-style, healthy food is also an important part of the nursery offer.
‘It is very healthy, all home-made and organic,’ says Mr Fraser. ‘We have four courses for lunch: a soup or salad to start, a main course, a cheese of the day and fruit. The children love the variety.’
He emphasises that the success of the nurseries’ bilingual remit rests very much on the quality of staff. ‘You can’t overstate the difference it makes and it is our very top priority. For our English speaking team we recruit using traditional channels, such as advertising and agencies. For the French speaking staff it has traditionally been harder to find the right people but now we have gathered momentum we find candidates approach us, and send us their CVs without us having to find them – which makes a huge difference.’
He adds, ‘We also find that existing staff recommend previous colleagues who they respect. Sometimes French staff move to London to accept the job we’ve offered them, and sometimes we are able to recruit French speakers locally.’