Free early learning and childcare is available for all three and four-year-olds and for around a quarter of two-year-olds in Scotland. It’s good for parents too, giving them the flexibility they need to organise family life.
Find out how some parents and carers have benefited from receiving free early learning and childcare.
Vicky says; ‘Before the start of term, Liam and I went to an open day at the centre. We were able to meet staff and play with the toys so when it came to Liam’s first day he was fine. The whole process was very straightforward.
Going to the Merkinch has been brilliant for Liam. He was behind in speech development when he started nursery due to having meningitis when he was younger. The staff were quick to identify this and referred him to a speech therapist, who he still sees now. I have really noticed how much he has progressed.
Liam has chronic asthma so he needs to be in a facility that can manage this and have experience of looking after children with similar health problems. Merkinch do and I was really comfortable with him going there. If the hours weren’t free I don’t think we would be using early learning and childcare facilities because of the cost of finding somewhere that suits Liam’s needs.’
The benefits of Liam’s free early learning and childcare hours have not only been beneficial for him but for his older brother, Daniel, 5. Vicky says; ‘Daniel has Global Developmental Delay so sometimes having both boys together can be overwhelming. Daniel was at nursery at different times to when Liam went to Merkinch so it allowed me to have one on one time with each of the boys. Having this time has really helped all of us, especially Daniel, who got off to a great start at school last month.
When both boys were still at nursery, their hours overlapped on a Friday afternoon. For me, these few hours alone were valuable respite for me. The other benefit was that going to the Centre allowed me to meet other parents. I didn’t know many mums with children the same age as Liam, so it was great to meet other parents.’
Vicky Kemp, 34 from Inverness
Gail is mother to three boys, the youngest of whom is Rhys Armstrong, 3. Gail enrolled Rhys in nursery in August last year after the manager of the Rowantree Nursery School, where her older children already attended, told her that two year old Rhys was now eligible for free early learning and childcare hours.
One of the key benefits free early learning and childcare hours have had on Gail is that they have allowed her to go back to work. She says; ‘The real difference to me was that it gave me the time to look for a job. I didn’t have any childcare arrangements for Rhys which made things like going to the Jobcentre very difficult. Once Rhys was in nursery, I was able to go and work on my CV and apply for jobs in the library round the corner. I could focus on my job search and use my time better without the worry of childcare.
My job hunt was successful and I now have a part-time job in catering. Our family is better off financially since I was able to go back to work. If the free early learning and childcare hours hadn’t been available I wouldn’t have been able to pursue my job hunt until Rhys turned three.’
As well as allowing Gail to go back to work, she has seen how the free early learning and childcare hours have also benefitted Rhys. She says; ‘His speech and social skills have got better and he has learnt new things like nursery rhymes. The rules and routine that we teach him at home are reinforced at nursery and he has got a lot better at sharing with his brothers. I have seen a real difference in the way he plays with his brothers now and I think that’s because at nursery, he is sharing toys and interacting with a lot more children.’
Looking to the future Gail adds, ‘I know from my experience with my oldest child that nursery is great in getting them ready for school. It’s good for Rhys to learn to spend some time away from us and I’d have no hesitation in recommending early learning and childcare to other parents.’
Gail Wallace, 31 from Dundee
Nikki was told by her health visitor that her son Max, then two years old, was eligible for free early learning and childcare hours. After the referral went through, the process of enrolling Max at the Ladybird Nursery in Glenrothes was straightforward. Nikki said; ‘The manager Elizabeth made the process of getting Max into nursery so easy for both of us.’
Now that Max has been in nursery for a year, Nikki says that the experience has been positive for both of them; ‘Nursery is great for Max, I have noticed such a difference in his learning and speech. We don’t know many children in the area so it’s been a great way for him to be around children his own age. We also have quite a small family so I like the fact that he is getting to interact with adults out with our own family. ’
Nikki and her partner both attend college and whilst the college were able to provide a childminder for the hours of their classes, they acknowledge that the free nursery hours allowed them to do the majority of their assignments and home study whilst Max was out.
Nikki says; ‘The hours Max spent at nursery gave us both time to focus on our studies and get work done. It allowed me to complete an Access to Nursing course and I’ve been accepted to go on to do a full-time nursing degree at Dundee University this September. As a relatively young mum, the time without Max has allowed me to do something for me, to develop myself more, and knowing that Max was having a great time in nursery was an essential part of this.
If the early learning and childcare hours weren’t free Max wouldn’t have been able to go to nursery, so it’s been crucial for our family. Getting early learning and childcare right at this stage is vital because they are learning all the time. My advice to other parents is to go for it. It has been positive for me, my partner and most importantly, for Max.’
Nikki Campbell, 26 from Glenrothes, in Fife