THE RISE OF THE KINDERGARTENS
As The Kindergartens opens another site in Holland Park, the innovator behind the acclaimed nursery schools promises there’s more to come
If you were out in Battersea recently desperately looking for some shaving foam without any luck, then Carol Evelegh may be able to shed some light on the reason why. ‘I was at Bumble Bee [The Kindergartens’ SW11 location] the other day and there was a child standing in some shaving foam. I asked what it felt like and this child shouted out all these different words and was learning so much. It’s why I buy a lot of shaving foam from Tesco!’
Meeting Carol at The Kindergarten’s Clapham head office, she exudes a real air of effervescence. Owner of The Kindergartens, the largest and fastest growing family-run group of nursery schools in London, she’s up at 6am every day to visit their 12 sites. The group was founded by her late husband Philip in 1991, who always envisaged ‘five schools’, inspired in part by Carol’s 38 years plus experience teaching children from two upwards, Carol spent 33 of these years working with Thomas’s London Day Schools firstly as a reception teacher in her twenties before going on to be Deputy Head of Thomas’s Kensington and then Director of Thomas’s Kindergartens before becoming the inaugural Head of Thomas’s Clapham. ‘They are a huge inspiration,’ she says about the Thomas family. ‘I watched it grow and that was fascinating.’
Having experience of all education sectors, why did Carol end up focusing on the two to five year age range? ‘The young ones just come out with things and are so open,’ she smiles. ‘There’s something about young people that’s fascinating, interesting and wonderful – just their questioning of the world. They are like sponges. You can just see it in them – their eyes light up when they are learning.’
Carol runs The Kindergartens like a school and each site has its own personality, but there is a constant theme running through them. ‘There’s a sense of happiness, a sense of giving things a go,’ Carol says on the atmosphere you’d find in any one of The Kindergartens. ‘There’s also a great sense of wanting to work as a team, but being an individual within that team. The children are so young, you want to nurture them, make them happy and tell them to have a go – giving them confidence in the process.’
The group’s success has its roots in Carol’s never-ending energy – ‘When we got to ten sites, people still approached me with possible locations, thinking “Carol will be up for the challenge”!’ – and its ability to embrace forward-thinking principles. They are one of the few nursery schools in London to embrace Forest Schooling, and emotional wellbeing is just as important as educational excellence. ‘If you have happy children, you have a happy school,’ Carol says simply. ‘Caring is also a big thing – you see the children want to be with each other and care for others.’
Walk around any site and you’ll see classrooms bursting at the seams with children’s work on the walls, covering all manner of subjects. Holland Park will get its own share of this educational experience when Pooh Corner opens in September, and with another also set to open in Fulham soon, where will the journey end? ‘If something wonderful comes along and we can make a difference in that area, then we would like to do it,’ Carol says. Best get out and stock up on shaving foam, wherever you may be.
WORDS Mark Kebble
Pooh Corner Kindergarten is located at The Crypt, St John the Baptist Church, Holland Park W14 8AH; 01622 833 331; thekindergartens.com
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