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Rabbit Patch Day Nursery, Plummers Plain, Horsham

This friendly nursery for children aged up to five is purpose-built with a huge and varied outdoor space for children to learn, play and enjoy the best parts of childhood.

WHAT? WHERE?

An exciting and caring day nursery for children aged up to five years old, in a purpose-built building on a spacious rural site in Plummers Plain, around 10 minutes outside Horsham. Owner Alex set up the nursery after many years of working in childcare settings in Brighton and Hove. She now lives onsite with her family (her two children attend the nursery) and oversees a team of capable, dedicated staff under manager Chevelle.

The Rabbit Patch team take huge pride in their incredible outdoors space, a large and rather magical garden and woodland for which the team has big plans.

FACILITIES

Of the many advantages of a purpose-built day nursery, let’s take the one that’s often an afterthought – parking. Anybody who has ever tried to park outside nursery either on a former country road that’s become a thundering dual carriageway or in a town or village centre will breathe a sigh of relief at the amount of parking, and general space, at Rabbit Patch. Absolutely no chucking the toddler out the car yelling ‘sorry, I’m on double yellow’ and haring off with their bag still in the boot. A thoughtful one-way system in and out of the car park means there’s no confusion and it’s a case of turn up, drop off, leave without any stress whatsoever.

The wood-clad building itself has a lovely chalet-style feel. It’s a very versatile space, currently housing three dedicated rooms that are soon to become four.

For the very tiny ones, the Catkins baby room is a quiet, homely space tucked away at the end of the nursery. On my visit a little one was having a nap, lovingly supervised by a staff member, and the whole vibe was so cosy I was quite tempted to have a lie down myself. As well as a range of stimulating resources, there’s an outdoor decking area for the babies to explore. The Silver Birch room for children aged 2-3 and the Willow Tree room for preschoolers aged 3-5 are bright, airy, stimulating and full of tactile and age-appropriate resources. Both lead out onto a decked area and then straight into the garden so children can free-flow between indoors and outdoors.

The current staff room is set to be turned into a second room for older babies and younger toddlers, and across the car park, a new glass-fronted staff room in the same wood cladding is under construction. I’m reliably informed the team are very excited about the possibilities of this new space away from the noise, hustle and bustle of the main nursery.

Outdoor learning is a huge priority at Rabbit Patch and the garden itself is an exceptional resource. It’s spacious to me as an adult, to a child, it must seem to go on forever. It features a sensory garden, play areas, a mud kitchen, a wildlife pond, some rather exciting looking humps and bumps for the children to play on, and even a boat, sourced locally and donated to the nursery for the children to explore. On the day I visited many of the children were out in the garden, playing their own games and having fun with their friends, and it felt like a rather golden meadow of childhood, ringing with happiness and laughter. A flock of chickens complete with resident cockerel roam about in a large enclosure, and rabbits and guinea pigs are housed in a spacious shed for the children to come and visit.

The nursery has just acquired a patch of woodland next door and now has the space for a Forest School, and a member of staff is just about to embark upon a Forest School leadership qualification. The woods themselves are teeming with wildlife, and a patch of land has been cleared of bracken and scrub to be turned into a prairie garden.

THE TEAM

Alex is very proud of the team she’s assembled, freely admitting it’s been a learning journey and has taken time to get the right people in place. Now manager Chevelle has put together a really dedicated team, Alex has stepped back from day-to-day management to focus on running the business. Chevelle has such a warm, friendly and approachable air it’s not hard to see why the children love her (the only tearful child I saw during my visit, still settling in on only their second day, was instantly scooped up for a comforting cuddle).

All the staff genuinely care about and are interested in the children and bring their own approaches – Alex reveals deputy manager Ben has persuaded her to agree to an arrangement of loose parts in the nursery’s reception area, on the understanding that he’s responsible for keeping it tidy! In addition to Ben, the nursery has just taken on another male member of staff, which is a real rarity in the traditionally low-paid, low-status world of childcare.

Rabbit Patch has its own resident chef, who has been with the nursery since its inception and specialises in breathtaking birthday cakes for the children who choose to celebrate their big day with all their friends at the nursery.

THE ETHOS

Alex has been inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach, which focuses on child-led learning and exploration, curiosity and creating an environment that acts as ‘the third teacher’. However, Rabbit Patch does not adhere to this approach religiously, and incorporates other learning pedagogies including some adult-led activities. Like all nurseries and preschools, Rabbit Patch follows the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum, which is currently being updated to focus on less paperwork and more observation of and interaction with the children themselves.

Overall, Alex’s priority is for Rabbit Patch to be a place where children can stay children, and enjoy their childhood, before the pressures of school. The nursery’s latest Ofsted inspection returned a verdict of Good.

QUIRKS

In front of the nursery stands a huge and colourful sculpture of the Snowdog, bought from the Snowdogs by the Sea art trail in Brighton that raises money for Martlets hospice.

FEES

From £40 for a half day session to £342 a week for full time (8am – 6pm) care. Government funding for 2yos and 3-4 years olds is accepted.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Great for outdoorsy kids, and for families who want an idyllic, wholesome childhood for their children.

Not for: Montessori, Steiner or other alternative practice devotees, or those wanting precocious learners fluent in Mandarin by 4.

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