Two Sunderland mums are speaking out to encourage other families to take up free early education places on offer for two-year-olds.
Currently more than 1,000 children in Sunderland already benefit from the free early education places, but almost 700 families who are eligible have yet to take up their place.
The Government-funded scheme, which is co-ordinated in Sunderland by Together for Children, offers 15 hours a week of free early education to families in receipt of certain benefits and some children with a recognised disability. The free places are on offer at schools, nurseries and registered childminders so parents can chose the best option for their child.
Stacey Cosgrove, 30, from Donwell and her son Finlay, aged two, are one family to benefit from the funding opportunity. Finlay has been going to New World Nursery in Concord, Washington, for almost six months.
Stacey, a full-time mum, said: “Finlay started nursery just after his second birthday and it’s the best thing we could have done. His dad and I wanted him to go because he was very clingy and we thought this might help. He was nervous about going to nursery at first, and we were too, but it’s been great and we’ve seen a massive change in him.
“He’s made new friends, he doesn’t need his dummy anymore and has really come out of his shell. He absolutely loves going and keeps telling us he wants to go on a weekend. I’d encourage everyone else who is eligible for the free places to sign up and give it a try.”
Holly Morrisey, 29, from Fatfield, and mum to George, aged three, is also encouraging other eligible families to take up their places.
George, who has cerebral palsy, has been attending nursery for a year and a half and during that time Holly has seen him develop new skills really quickly.
Holly said: “I’ve been really surprised at how quickly George has come on at nursery. He had always had problems with his eating, and was a little bit messy at mealtimes, but his table manners improved so much when he was eating at nursery with other children. He’s also gained confidence, got much better at counting, his speech is improved and he knows the alphabet. It all happened much quicker than I expected.”
With George attending nursery for 15 hours a week, Holly now has more time to spend with her younger son Matthew.
Holly added: “It has been great for the whole family. While George is at nursery I can devote one-on-one time to his younger brother, which was difficult before. It’s improved all of our lives for the better and I can’t see a reason why not to take advantage of the offer.
Together for Children, which works on behalf of Sunderland City Council to deliver children’s services in the city, is encouraging families in the city to check their eligibility and take advantage of the free places on offer. There are 52 nurseries in Sunderland taking part in the scheme, as well as more than 100 child minders.
Sophie Maddison, Family Information Officer at Together for Children, said: “I’d encourage anyone who thinks they might be eligible for one of the free early education places to get in touch with us or visit our website where they can quickly check if they qualify for the offer.
“Early education brings so many benefits for both the children and their families. As well as having fun, children learn new skills and meet new friends. For parents the extra time means they can take up employment opportunities, spend time with other children, or just enjoy a bit of time to themselves.”
Emily Padgett from New World Nursery said: “We understand that sending your little one to nursery can be quite a daunting experience to some parents and carers but early education can have such a positive effect on a child’s development, learning and progress.
“We have had many children come to nursery on a two-year funded place and their parents or carers have had time to take up new courses, employment or even volunteer work.”
Councillor Louise Farthing, Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services at Sunderland City Council, said: “Early education offers an opportunity to give your child the best possible start in life. They’ll not only learn new skills but also get any jitters or nerves out of the way before they start in school. We have many great nurseries and childcare providers across Sunderland offering the free places and I’d encourage everyone who is eligible to consider taking up their place.”
For more information on schools,nurseries and childminders delivering the two year old funded early education offer, or to check your eligibility, call Together for Children’s Family Information Team on 0191 520 5553 or visit www.togetherforchildren.org.uk/families/childcare