UAE News

Play & Learn Nursery managed by Areti Panagiotou


First nursery in Dubai managed by a Greek individual

"We introduce children to the Early Years Foundation Stage in English with the additional on-site support of the Greek language"

Emirates Greeks Special

In a city where hundreds of nationalities live, it is fortunate that there is Greek presence in many domains, including education.

We had an interview with Areti Panagiotou, who has started a nursery and is excited to inform the Greek community about it.

- When did you set up "Play and Learn Nursery-Safa branch" and where did the idea come from?

We opened our doors in February 2014, but it has been a long journey to get to where we are now. Each step of the process from coordinating the building renovations to selecting the handmade wooden furniture and Montessori materials from abroad has been carefully thought out.

My mother was an Early Years teacher and from a young age I used to help in her classroom and this is where my passion for education started. I completed a BA degree in Early Years education and then I went on to do a postgraduate course and Msc in Speech and Language therapy in London. Later qualifying as a Montessori trained teacher I wanted to combine my knowledge to create a unique nursery setting in Dubai.

My husband strongly encouraged me and supported the idea so, after over 8 years of working with special needs children at the Dubai Centre for Special Needs, I felt the time was right to help other children reach their full potential – and the idea for "Play and Learn Nursery-Safa branch" was born.

- What makes your nursery different?

We are a nursery following the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum through Montessori methods, but because of my specialized background I can also identify those children in my care who have language and communication delay issues. We offer assessment, consultation and home programs for those children and we continue to monitor their progress in the nursery setting. In mainstream schools you have language/learning support units, so why not in nurseries?

- How do you feel Montessori education benefits children? 

The Montessori method encourages children to work at their own pace, choosing their own activities and therefore breaking down limitations from a very early age and building their confidence. All the materials are self correcting and so the children can succeed in a task independently through perseverance. When a child can do this it gives them a sense of achievement and pride in being able to meet their own needs.

My own children have all attended Montessori nurseries and I have seen how beneficial the methods can be in developing the childs’ character and self esteem.

- Being the first nursery in Dubai managed by a Greek individual, how can the Greek community benefit from this?

The nursery follows the Montessori approach and offers language and communication support in both Englsh and Greek. Many Dubai bound Greek families go through anxiety with having to suddenly introduce their children to an English speaking setting. Our nursery is ideal for this transition to be as smooth as possible. We introduce children to the Early Years Foundation Stage in English with the additional on-site support of the Greek language. They benefit from an International curriculum while keeping their mother language active.

- As a mum yourself, how do you find running a business with juggling family life?

Working with children is my passion so I don’t view it as a business and I have enjoyed actively involving my family in the nursery. They have helped with painting, selecting books and educational materials for our activity corners and sorting and arranging the equipment. It really has become a part of all of our lives and everywhere we go we are always looking out for more materials and resources to enrich and develop the nursery setting.

- What kind of environment have you created for the children?

Children can enjoy both our indoor and outdoor areas. Our classrooms are equipped with the Montessori equipment in order to enhance children's cognitive, motor, social and emotional development. We also have an  indoor activity room to promote imaginative, role play game and language development, an art room to enhance children's creativity and fine motor skills as well as a book corner to explore and enrich the children’s vocabulary and imagination. Finally we  have a soft play area, which provides an alternative meaningful avenue for learning.

Our outdoor areas are divided into the garden area to allow the children to experience nature, the sand area for them to explore their creativity along with  the street area which enhances their knowledge of road behaviour and  improves their gross motor skills. In the swimming area the children can have fun in the water when the temperature rises outdoors. 

Our premises meet all the hygiene and safety requirements stipulated by local and federal authorities.

- How do you make the parents feel involved in their child's education?

We have goals for the children that we target to achieve by the end of each academic year and it is important for our parents to know what we are doing with the children to work towards these goals. We always have our specific daily, weekly and monthly targets on display and make sure that the environment offers our children a variety of tasks and activities associated with the themes and goals of the week and month.

- What plans do you have for the nursery?

It has always been my wish to empower parents to play a positive, proactive role in unlocking their childs’ true potential and with this in mind I want to set up regular, free informal information sessions for parents at the nursery.

I have plans to give presentations on children’s developmental milestones, language, communication, social skills development and bilingualism. I would also like to support and inform parents about Montessori principles and how these can be applied at home .

- And what would you say has been your biggest success so far?

Of course all of our children at the nursery are very special and it is wonderful to see them grow in confidence day by day but it is always rewarding when you are able to support a child who is struggling. Recently we identified speech delay issues in one of our children and after consultation with the parents I was able to reassure them that there was a need for early intervention. This would ultimately lead to a greater and faster improvement and it could also avoid the need for intensive therapy at a later stage. They now have a home program devised by the nursery and we continue to monitor and support both the child and the parents.

Play and Learn Nursery-Safa Branch

See photos (indoor and outdoor facilities)





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