Why You Need a Nursery Ethos (And How to Find It)

With examples from the very best.
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January 30, 2018
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What is a nursery ethos? It’s certainly not an easy question.

In general, the ethos of a company is what it values, how it runs the organisation and what it expects of its staff and culture. But it’s even more complex when you’re trying to decide on a nursery ethos.

See, unlike with ordinary companies, your nursery ethos really needs to encompass everything you do. It’s how you run the nursery. How you treat the staff. How you want to present yourself to parents. And most of all, what you do for the children.

But why does it matter? And how do you know where to start? We’ll help you understand why it’s crucial to your business, what you can do with it, and how to discover it today.

Why have a nursery ethos?

Before we go into explaining how to write your own nursery ethos, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. After all, how is this really going to help you deliver better childcare? Well…

1. It helps you to stand out

Standing out in your local area is important. Finding your niche is what helps you to attract parents, and make you the choice over another setting down the road. Establishing a nursery ethos can help parents who share your values decide that you are the right setting for their child.

N is for Nursery have split up their ethos into three, clear statements. A nice idea.Source:

2. It will inspire your staff

Having a shared set of values that you’re all working on together is a great way to instil a sense of togetherness in your staff. It’s something they can go back to, and helps to make them feel part of a more meaningful journey.

3. Recruit staff that stay

By making very clear what you value at your setting, you’ll be able to attract and choose staff who fit in with your nursery ethos, rather than somebody who clashes with it. Staff retention also goes up when you have members of staff who share your values.

4. It’ll keep you happy

As we’ll go into shortly, your nursery ethos has to be something that comes from within. It’s tied to what you believe in already, and what you strive to be in the future. This means that having an ethos can keep you on track with what you find meaningful and what you really care about.

5. It’s something to go back to

The number one reason why it’s great to have a nursery ethos? It’s the perfect base for any decision. Trying some marketing? Your nursery ethos is a great starting point. Communicating with staff and parents? Back to the ethos. It’s a set of values that you’ll find you can return to in almost every decision you make at your setting.

Little Green Rascals make it clear exactly what they believe in with their environmentally-focused ethos.Source:

What should your nursery ethos be?

Now that you know why it matters to have a nursery ethos for your setting, and how it might come in use, let’s take a look at how to start working on your own.

1. Start with your why

The very first question you’ll want to ask is ‘Why do we do this?’. Why did you get into the world of childcare and what do you want to achieve in it?

It’s easy to get bogged down in the day to day life of being a nursery manager, with paperwork, funding and staffing troubles. This is all about returning to the reason why you started in the first place and honing in on what it is about childcare that makes you tick.

Questions to ask:

  • Why did you first get into childcare?
  • What does success look like for you?
  • What do you want to achieve?
  • Think of the best day you’ve had in the last six months. Why was it so good?

The Spring Nurseries ethos may be short, but it’s clear exactly what they believe in.Source:

2. Try to move beyond the ordinary

Many settings will stop at this point, and write down something vague about what they like about childcare.

This is what leads to many settings having a nursery ethos that talks about ‘helping children grow’, ‘having healthy, happy children’ or ‘providing the best quality care’, without really explaining what this means.

Of course this is important, but it’s something that’s pretty much universal to all childcare providers. What sets you apart is how you achieve these aims. The statements alone don’t tell you anything new.

Think about the skills you want children to gain. Think about the path you want to take them on, or how you want them to learn. Consider the experiences you want them to have at your setting. How do you want to prepare them for the world after your nursery?

Remember that you’re communicating this with parents too. Let’s say that you’re Reggio-inspired. That’s a great start! But you want to find ways to include this in your nursery ethos in the kind of plain language that anyone could understand.

Questions to ask:

  • How are you different from any other nursery?
  • What kind of experiences do you want children to have at the nursery?
  • What is your style of learning?
  • What ideas in childcare inspire you?
3. Find, don’t dictate

Setting a vision and goal for your setting is one thing, and it’s important to be honest about where your nursery is and where you want it to go.

But your ethos needs to be more than goals for the future. It should represent where you are now as well as where you want to go. It needs to be more central than that.

One great way to do this is to ask parents. If you start with how you’re perceived by others, it is a great entry point to working out how you would like to be perceived.

Questions to ask:

  • What do you think the setting stands for?
  • What changes have you noticed in your child since they’ve been with us?
  • What do you think the strengths and weaknesses of the childcare offer are?

At Parson’s Green Nursery, they’ve broken down their ethos into core values, mission and vision. Read their full story.
Source: http://www.parsonsgreennursery.com/mission/

4. Talk to your team

Even more important than talking to parents, is talking to your team. Every member of staff should be a part of the process. After all, they know more than anyone about the real nature of your setting.

If you get back bland feedback, then developing a clear nursery ethos and culture is probably even more important. If this is the case, you need to take a step back and find out why your staff have no clear vision of what the setting is.

You won’t come up with your ethos on some £100 retreat with the rest of the management team. You’ll get it when you ask the cooks, when you ask your apprentices, and when you ask your room leaders.

Questions to ask:

  • What is unique about working here?
  • What does your best day at nursery look like?
  • What is important to you in your personal life?
  • What do you see as our childcare ethos?
5. Imagine you’re on a mission to Mars…

Want an exercise to try out?

This idea from Jim Collins is all about how you would like to go about things if you were starting everything from scratch.

Let’s imagine there’s a serious childcare shortage on Mars. If you were travelling to set up a nursery there, what would you want it to be like? Who would you take with you? What members of your staff perfectly embody your ethos?

When you have the answers to these questions you can work backwards to understand what your nursery ethos should be in the here and now.

You don’t need to keep it to one line. This ethos from Fledglings Day Nursery covers everything that matters to them. Read more about their story.

Don’t just make it a nursery ethos on paper.

Now this is the tricky bit.

All of this time is going to be wasted if all you do with your new ideas is put them up on your website, write them up on a noticeboard in the staff room, and forget about them.

Look back over the ‘Why have a nursery ethos section’ that we started with. This is what you do with your nursery ethos. You make sure that every member of staff understands it, and lives it during their work day. You use it to make all sorts of decisions. You use it to inform your vision for the setting.

If none of those things seem to work, it’s bad news – you’re probably going to need to go back to the drawing board. that’s because once you get your nursery ethos right, you’ll notice it becoming a part of everything that you do.

The big ideas

download pdf
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Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

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.

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