Midlothian Council is reminding families with two-year-old children to check if they qualify for a free place in a nursery, with a childminder or in another setting.
Last year 160 families in Midlothian benefitted. If you, or anyone you know are on certain benefits and with an annual income of less than £16,105, you could get up to 600 hours of free early learning and childcare for your two-year-old child. That figure is going up to 1140 hours by August 2020.
Midlothian Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, Councillor Jim Muirhead said: “We know that more families could benefit from the free hours but as we don’t have records of who they are, we are relying on them knowing about the service and applying for what is rightfully theirs.”
Cllr Muirhead said the benefits of the free hours for both the children and their parents or carers cannot be over stressed.
He said: “Studies have shown that high quality early learning and childcare can improve a child’s vocabulary.
“It also helps with social and other developmental skills. And for parents, the extra hours can mean they have time to study for a qualification or find employment.”
Cllr Muirhead highlighted that from August 2020, all eligible two-year-olds and all three and four-year-olds will be offered up to 1140 hours of free early learning, almost double the current entitlement.
He said: “This is currently being rolled out across Midlothian so there may be some scope for parents and carers applying now to get extra hours before August 2020.”
Katy Stoddart and her two-year-old son Matthew are a great advert for the benefits of the council’s Good Time to Be 2 initiative, which offers free early learning and childcare places in nurseries, with childminders, family learning centres and playgroups for eligible families.
Playing happily in the sandpit at Paradykes Family Learning Centre in Loanhead, a smiling Matthew is clearly loving his time in nursery.
Katy says Matthew, who is in the centre Mondays to Fridays from 8.30am to 1.30pm, has settled in really well and is coming on leaps and bounds.
She says: “He’s a brilliant talker and playing with the other children is giving him more independence.
“He’s also learning lots of social skills. At lunchtime, for example, all the children wash their hands, get their own plates of food and then sit down together to eat.”
Katy says she would thoroughly recommend other families apply for a Good Time to Be 2 place. She said: “Yes, definitely apply. I was even helped with filling in the form as I’m dyslexic.”
Katy is making good use of the extra hours. Thanks in part to the help, support and encouragement of Susan Affleck, who runs the Paradykes Midlothian Sure Start Centre, Kay is now studying for a National 5 early years and child development qualification. With a view to doing an HNC in child care and/or setting up her own childminding business. She is now also coming along to two groups at the centre on Tuesdays and Thursdays. One of these PICL (Parents Involved in their Children’s Learning), focuses on parents and staff working together to identify patterns of a child’s behaviour and how to improve the child’s development.
She said: “Matthew is developing so much since I learned about ‘schema play’. I know that he is fascinated by buses, trains and anything that moves so even singing ‘the Wheels on the Bus’ or playing with hula hoops get his attention and help him learn.”
Apply now at www.midlothian.gov.uk/good-time-2.