30 hours free childcare may by under threat

Robert halfon image
Robert Halfon MP. Friend of 30 hours free childcare…..or Foe!

A recent article in the Daily Telegraph states that ‘Unemployed are more deserving of free childcare’. Robert Halfon, former minister said children from deprived families with non-working parents were more in need of childcare than those with well off-working parents. Our initial thought reading this article was that this statement was unfair and why should unemployed parents benefit from free childcare more than working families whose household earns under government-mandated income thresholds?

The article comes across very misleading. Reading further into it Mr Halfron would like to reduce the household income threshold for the free 30 hours from £100,000 to £65,000. The reduction in the number of eligible children, and therefore funding set aside for those children, would free up £150 million to support the more vulnerable children, including children in foster care.

It has been very encouraging that finally working families are properly supported with their childcare through the 30 hours free provision, and this also helps non-working parents to return to work so helping the economy. What’s wrong with that? It’s been a long time coming and directly addresses inequalities in society that have been known to hamper our national productivity.

We will be looking out for any more signs of a detrimental revision to the current rules and keep you up to date. We may need to ensure our voice is heard in protesting against unwelcome changes.

Free 30 Hours Childcare for Working Parents of 3 & 4 Year-Olds

imageAT FIRST FRIENDS we have been pleasantly surprised by the uptake of the 30 hours of free childcare for three to four year olds and feel that it has benefited the working families amongst our customers who are now able to afford childcare and continue to work as they wish.

Vicki Francis, a customer at our Basingstoke pre-school says ‘My little boy has been with Abacus for a year now and loves it. The 15 additional hours has really helped with my work and home life balance. It is very reassuring that my child is in a safe and secure environment and is learning and having fun with his friends. It also helps him get into routine for when he starts school on September’

How does it all work?

Parents can use their 30 hours entitlement over the 38 term-time weeks of the year, or a stretched offer of 22 hours per week over the full 52 weeks of the year. Many nurseries have certain time slots in which their children have use funded hours, which do not always afford the flexibility that working families need.

Unfortunately, not all nurseries have opted in to offering the extended hours, due to either their capacity or not being financially viable, with some childcare providers closing down.  At First Friends, we are fortunate to have the capacity to accommodate the extra hours in our normal opening times.

If you are looking for quality childcare, please contact Jane at our Salisbury nursery on 01722 743119 or Sho at our Basingstoke pre-school on 01256 320290.


Are you entitled to the extended hours?
Your child must be aged between three and four
Both parents must be working – or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family
Each parent must earn a minimum of £115/week
Each parent must have an annual income of less than £100,000
You must live in England

Febrile Convulsions

Like any high-quality day nursery we have staff that have been trained in first aid, and we have policies and procedures in place to ensure the health and wellbeing of children in are care at all times. Children, however, can be unpredictable and at First Friends we had to ring for an ambulance when one of our children suffered a febrile convulsion as the result of a high temperature.

image courtesy of MedicalNewsToday

The child had arrived at nursery that day very happy and her ‘normal’ self and continued so right up until the time of the convulsion when she became limp and unresponsive. This happened alarmingly quickly, but our staff team stayed calm and followed the correct procedure. The ambulance arrived very quickly and took the child to hospital, where she was examined and declared safe and well. She was back in nursery after a couple of days as if nothing had happened.

Febrile convulsions (also known as febrile seizures) can happen at least one in the childhood of around 1 in 20 children. It is more likely that such a convulsion would occur in the home rather than the nursery, so we thought it might be useful to issue this advise for parents.

What to look for

The most common age for this to happen is between six months and three years. The significant aspect of a high temperature in a young child is how quickly their temperature rises. It is important therefore to always take a poorly child’s temperature at frequent intervals to determine the speed of the temperature increases. If a child has a temperature it is important to cool them down. This can be done by taking off layers of clothes, offering them plenty of fluids, using a damp flannel on their forehead and administering paracetamol. For more advice please see http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Febrile-convulsions/Pages/Introduction.aspx

We feel it is important for everyone to know basic first aid and are proud at First Friends to have held regular first aid evenings for our parents. We are currently looking to book our next one, if you are interested please let us know.

We would also love to hear your experiences …

The importance of sensory play


The importance of sensory play



Children are born as little investigators. They are eager to discover the world around them using their senses. Their learning can be helped by having the opportunity to enjoy tactile experiences. Through sensory play children get to express themselves and develop confidence as individuals in sharing their ideas with others.

From little investigators come little scientists who make predictions and observations on what they see. They will work cooperatively and collaboratively with their friends, to discover and explore their environment, develop their imagination and have the ability to problem solve and experiment.




Sensory play helps physical development through the manipulation of a range of materials, which promote fine and gross motor skills.

At First Friends day nursery our children have the opportunity to enjoy sensory experiences by following a four weekly plan. Activities include, corn flour play, jelly, gloop and shaving foam. Parents can work with their children just as easily as we can in the nursery setting. To get you going, we would like to share with you these recipes and activities you can enjoy at home with your child.






Play Dough

Mix the ingredients together in a pan and stir over medium heat until smooth. Remove from the heat and knead until smooth.
Children enjoy using playdough to make their creations. At nursery our children use their imagination to make pretend foods and generally experience pleasure from just experimenting with a range of tools and mark-making equipment. This type of sensory play is accessible to all our children and does not require particular skills or dexterity.

Saltbread Dough

This can be a great activity for making presents for loved ones and it is rewarding for children when they have been involved in their own resource making and can see the end results.

In a large bowl mix salt and flour together.
Gradually stir in water. Mix well until it forms a doughy consistency. Turn the dough onto the bench and kneed with your hands until smooth and combined. Make your creations using the salt dough. Place the salt dough creations into the oven at 180C and then turn the heat down to slow bake.  The amount of time needed to bake depends on the size and thickness of the salt dough creations.

Cornflour Play

Add water to a tray of cornflour for children to enjoy the different texture. It is important not to add too much water but enough to be able to manipulate the cornflour. It has an interesting texture, feeling both wet and dry, and can feel solid while being held and at the same time will run through fingers like water.

Is the UK Apprentice Scheme worthwhile for day nurseries?

As any of our staff will tell you, working in a day nursery is challenging, very hands-on, always varied and hugely rewarding.  A job in a day nursery is a vocation – some would say it is a calling.  But as a vocation, the necessary skills can be learned on the job and so junior positions in day nurseries can be usefully filled through the current apprenticeship scheme.   The scheme mixes training at work (including gaining valuable work experience) with study in a college setting so that apprentices gain job-specific skills as well as general skills.


With the subsidies for small employers as a financial incentive, and a general skills shortage in the day nursery sector, you would be right to expect a high apprentice take-up rate.  But at the time of writing, out of some 700 jobs in the sector currently advertised here on daynurseries.co.uk only six are for apprentices.  And here on nurseryworldjobs.co.uk there are only four true apprentice jobs out of some 300 advertised.  These statistics suggest that our sector is not embracing apprentices.  We know that in our areas of operation across Wiltshire and Hampshire, very few day nurseries are taking apprentices on.  We speak to the apprentice contacts in the colleges around our settings and they are frustrated at the number of apprenticeship places that are available at any one time across all sectors, not just day nurseries.


At First Friends, we always have at least one apprentice on our books, and sometimes more.  When we have found the right young people, they have excelled and gone on to become competent, caring professionals in their field.  But, apparently, not all day nursery companies feel the same.


Our experience proves how worthwhile the UK apprentice scheme is to the day nurseries sector.   More day nurseries should embrace the UK apprenticeship scheme as way to access cost-effective, enthusiastic youngsters with lots to offer.   In the long run, today’s apprentices are tomorrow’s managers, and we all have a duty to invest in the UK’s future labour force.


First Friends owner Louise Hayes with our Salisbury manager Jane Andrews and her deputy Tobie Keel.

We are delighted to report that our Salisbury setting was a finalist at this year’s South Wiltshire Business Awards in the Apprentice Employer category.  Well done to our staff team there, led by our manager Jane Andrews.  Let’s hope that the recognition of our achievement encourages others to think more positively about apprenticeships.

Graduation 2017



We have recently celebrated the children’s success at First Friends and Abacus by having our annual graduation.

This is a popular event amongst our parents, staff and children. It gives everyone the opportunity to come together and celebrate the children’s achievements and to say goodbye to friends.

There have been many articles in the press, naming graduation parties for under-5s as “over the top” and an “American trend”. But as you can see from our photos, as long as the children have fun and enjoy their day of celebrations, its not a problem with us.

Many of the children who graduated from our Salisbury setting have been with us since they were babies.  They, along with the children at Abacus have developed into wonderful independent individuals. We feel it’s important to celebrate children’s success and for them to feel motivated and ready to start the next chapter in their lives.

We would love to hear your views.