A total of 171 two-year-old children and their families are benefiting from a free place at an approved nursery, childminder or playgroup in Midlothian, up almost 75 per cent from last year, new council figures confirm.
The national initiative to offer certain two year olds up to 600 hours of free early learning is led by the Midlothian Early Learning and Childcare Team. The latest figures from the local authority show that in April 2016, 99 eligible families were taking advantage of the service in Midlothian. This figure rose to 171 by the end of March 2017.
A council spokesman said: “We want as many eligible children and families as possible to take up their place but we’re reliant on them making themselves known to us.
“You will be entitled if you are getting certain benefits or tax credits so please check, you’ll find details on the council’s early learning pages, including how to apply.
“The benefits of early learning are very important to future success. Studies show it can improve attainment and social skills. Children are well-equipped to start school and have increased confidence.
“Parents too can take advantage of knowing their child is in a safe learning environment. Many, for example, take the chance to go back to work, study or just spend one-on-one time with their other children.”
Anne Ness knew she’d been successful in applying for a free early learning place at Arniston playgroup for her two-year-old daughter Emilie in just a matter of hours.
Emilie had already been going to the approved playgroup, which is based at Stobhill Primary School in Gorebridge. However, when Anne’s husband David Rowe was medically discharged from the army, Anne worried they wouldn’t be able to afford to continue to send Emilie.
Anne said: “Helen (Arniston’s manager) said I should reapply for a Good Time to Be 2 place. Midlothian Sure Start already had all my paperwork – I’d applied before. I went to Fairfield House in Dalkeith that day and by 3pm I had a letter confirming Emilie’s place.”
Emilie gets 15 hours a week of free early learning at the Gorebridge playgroup, two full days and an afternoon. Her mum and dad revealed she is thriving. Anne said: “She had delayed speech and that’s really improving. We’ve also noticed her confidence is coming right out. Coming to the playgroup means she’s got her own independence and freedom, her own friends.”
Anne said Emilie, who also has a baby sister Hallie, is also encouraged to take on new challenges. Anne said: “She wasn’t a good eater but now she sits down with other children and sees what they’re eating and she tries new things.
Anne encouraged other eligible families to apply, adding: “We’re not on any benefits and we’re eligible.”
Places are offered at a range of places and can be flexible to suit the needs of families. Some, for example, open out with term times.
Leanne Vickers says her two-year-old son Robbie has “come on massively” since he joined Arniston Playgroup, which is based in Stobhill Primary School, Gorebridge.
She revealed that Robbie is learning many new skills there.
Leanne said: “He’s come on massively. When he came to Arniston he had just turned two and he was barely talking because he has a big brother and a big sister who would talk for him.
“Now he’s found his voice and he’s much more independent. He loves playing outside and he can count up to ten, with a bit of help.
“He’s really enjoying the playgroup, it’s such a small, friendly setting that’s it’s been easy for him to adapt and settle in.”
Certain two year olds, including Robbie, are eligible for up to 600 hours of free early learning and childcare per year from the month after their second birthday.
And if Robbie is thoroughly enjoying playgroup, then Leanne is also benefiting from her son’s place. Leanne, who with husband Scott has two other children, Rory, five, and Ruby, seven,is using her free time to study to become a hairdresser at Edinburgh College.
She said: “I’m able to still afford to keep Robbie in a secure place and help him with this overall development while I’m able to get a bit of my life back and pursue my career.”
Leanne added that she would thoroughly recommend all eligible families to take advantage of the free offer.
She said: “If the (Good Time To Be 2) funding was not there then there’s no way as a student that I’d be able to afford to keep Robbie at Arniston Playgroup.
“I think people think you’ve got to be on benefits to qualify but that’s not the case. Scott and I aren’t on benefits and we’re able to get the funding. It’s made a real difference to us.”
Is your two year old eligible for free early learning? Find out more at www.midlothian.gov.uk/early-learning.