Maisie has worked with children and families for over 25 years, in children’s homes, as a kinship foster carer, a registered childminder, and as a parent. She’s also worked with children and families in response to knife and gang crime, is a qualified forest school leader, and is a consultant working with autistic families.
And it’s not only experience. Maisie also has a PGDip with merit in psychoanalytical studies of children and families from the renowned Tavistock and Portman NHS clinic in London and is a qualified level 3 educator, as well as holding an honours degree in English literature & Theatre Studies. However, she’s also a great believer in experiential learning.
“I’m neurodivergent myself and I think about that in a really positive way.” says Maisie, “I know from my lived experience how essential an authentically enabling environment is to thrive. I use that insight to create inspiring environments for others.”
Maisie created “The Maisie Poppins Way: An early years ecosystem” as part of her overall approach, which covers all aspects of founding and managing a nursery and preschool.
But what is it and what makes it so special?
You won’t find a ‘behaviour management policy’ at a Maisie Poppins setting.
However, children tend to manage well as a result of this different way of thinking.
“Behaviour is just a manifestation of a child’s state of being,” Maisie says. “Maybe children are quiet, maybe they’re excited, maybe they’re really angry, as they're still learning to self-regulate. All of these are equally valid and shouldn't be separated into ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Instead, it's important to support children to embrace and understand the range of human emotions and learn how to navigate them, supported adults who model self-regulation and good communication.”
Maisie believes the notion of ‘managing behaviour’ can sometimes be more about mitigating the discomfort of adults, which is not, she adds, what education should be about.
“We want children (and staff and parents) to feel emotionally safe, so we need to role model that it’s OK not to be OK, in a gentle and safe manner.”
Practitioners 'create space’ for children to express their emotions literally, by providing a calm corner, enough physical challenge, and plenty of inspiration and intellectual stimulation. But Maisie Poppins staff also create space metaphorically- by not closing children down or being dismissive.
Maisie Poppins practitioners encourage children to label their emotions (and the emotions of others) and begin to recognise when they need support with how they’re feeling. Maisie explains what this looks like in practice.
“Children are able to say ‘I’m having a really big feeling and I need to go outside and run around right now!’. The key worker can then support the child by saying, ‘That’s amazing communication. Let’s see how many children we have, twelve children and two adults - let’s do some quick maths - when can we go outside?’ The key worker is bringing the child in and helping them find a way to manage that feeling. They’re working in tandem to help children understand the practicalities of their situation, essential to support both the individual and the group, which is much of the art of childcare”
Key workers also embed wellbeing into the daily planning of the invitations to play that they create for the children. Instead of only focusing on a specific curriculum element or interest, Maisie Poppins key workers also plan their provision based on what the children’s wellbeing needs are. This can mean providing extra physical or sensory play, for example.
Maisie Poppins practitioners employ a ‘Rhythm of the Day’ to promote security and confidence. Rather than a very rigid timetable, this ‘rhythm’ means the staff can maintain a predictable routine for the children, without being militant about keeping to a tight schedule.
Let’s look at what that rhythm looks like in the day’s care routines.
“Issues with eating can start early on - mealtimes for families can be emotionally loaded experiences. There are lots of considerations and pressures around mealtimes and food that often aren’t acknowledged, as we are often not aware ourselves” explains Maisie.
Maisie Poppins staff allow children to eat without pressure, by encouraging them to serve their portions themselves. This promotes independence and allows the children to feel in control of their meals.
Maisie also feels that mealtimes should be a communal and ceremonious experience, where children eat together and can engage in early conversation. Practitioners model waiting for others to finish, creating a relaxed atmosphere around food.
“Some children have never sat down at a table to eat, but there’s no judgement here,” adds Maisie. “People are doing the best they can with what they have and know, and we respect that.”
Maisie Poppins practitioners create a nurturing space at sleep time by sitting close to children, stroking their backs and singing, or perhaps playing some white noise. All the children have their own mat and blanket with their own name and picture on, to promote ownership, confidence, and belonging.
“In those moments before we go to sleep, that’s when there’s no escape from the emotions we’re going through. There’s time to think ‘What’s going on for me?’. All the playing has stopped and there's no distraction.” explains Maisie.
But it’s the practice throughout the day which really makes sleep time a success.
“Our working culture around self-regulation and wellbeing means we create an environment where children continually feel safe. So, when it’s time to sleep, children already feel like they can relax.”
Every morning, parents or carers are requested to write a message through Famly about what’s going on for their child, before they attend their session. This is what Maisie calls the ‘parent handover’ and is a requirement by contract for attending.
“The idea is that we don’t talk about the children in front of them. The child’s key worker can receive the child seamlessly and plan effectively for them. Then, at the end of the day, staff send photos and a Daily Diary of what the child did at nursery back to the parents. This continuous circular communication means the child is ‘held’ in mind and held physically in our care at all times, in a ‘team around the child’ approach.” says Maisie.
“The most important thing is that we all have a really positive relationship. There’s no judgement here. We’re all going through things, there’s no such thing as perfect parenting. It’s just about communicating effectively, being honest and well-intentioned, so we all know what’s going on for that child. This enables us to serve families as well as we can, together as a community, with due regard for best safeguarding and welfare practices, of course.”
You can reach Maisie Darling on email@example.com or 07854293307
Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.