Samui Wining & Dining
Leave your youngsters with confidence in a UK-quality nursery – at Tiny Steps.


At one time people just used to come here on holiday. But this began to change. Everyone loves Samui. It sticks in your mind – gets under your skin. And so more people came here to live. Some were older, retiring to the island. But a great many people came here to work, and they came with their kids. True, mostly these children were older. But every year more and more people came with babies or toddlers. The problem was apparent right away – until only quite recently, there was no day-care on the island.


But today there’s a lot! At the last count there appears to be around eight day-care centres, kindergartens, nurseries – call them what you will. So, there you go, problem solved. Well . . . not exactly. Ask any parent with young children, and they’ll tell you that choosing the right nursery can be a real headache. It’s not simply a question of convenience - finding the nearest place to look after your little ones for an hour or two. Parents need confidence. Their children are precious. They need to be sure their children are safe and being treated with care and love. And that’s exactly the reason why, when you balance everything out, so many people wouldn’t go anywhere else but Tiny Steps.


Imagine a thriving day-care centre in the UK – or any other European country for that matter. Then try to take on board all the regulations and laws that have to be satisfied. Standards of health and safety. Government regulations relating to staffing and numbers. Local Authority laws about light, air, space and hygiene. Department of Education guidelines on pre-school programs that dovetail into preparation for l 53 mainstream schooling at the age of five. And that’s all before the doors can be opened to the public, never mind the staff, or the personalities involved with the school, or the overall ethos and atmosphere!


“Tiny Steps is a duplicate of a nursery school that you would find in the UK,” said Debra Hardcastle, owner, director and teacher at Tiny Steps. “That’s what we modelled it on. It took us three years to design the buildings, blueprinted on UK standards of building regulation and quality. The land, the buildings, the layout and design, the double-gated car park and entrance – all of it was designed and purpose-built from the ground-up to be a secure and safe place of love and warmth, where young children could spend their time being cared for and stimulated. To say it’s my passion is to speak in clichés. It’s my life. It’s what I do and it’s all I do. And when I start to talk about my feelings about it and my love for the children, I get goose bumps!” (And yes – she really does.)


When I first started interviewing Debra, she came across as just a teensy bit nervous – not too sure of what I was going to ask and how to best project herself . . . a very pleasant and competent person, with a great many things to organise and oversee. But when she started talking about the children and her role and her interaction with them, then she suddenly lit up as if somebody had thrown a switch – it’s true to say that she started glowing.


Her words started to flow, with a wealth of information and detail that is only touched upon in her published text on the website and Facebook pages. Suddenly I understood why both the parents and the children love and trust her so much. Because this is the Debra that they see every day – someone who is simply radiating happiness, contentment and love. If Debra had made her nursery in a hole in the ground, under a rock up the mountain, my guess is that she would still be full and have a waiting list of hopeful parents.


Coming back down to earth, it’s time for some clear solid facts. Tiny Steps teaches EFL (English as a Foreign Language) and uses ‘Jolly Phonics’ to help children with their reading and writing skills – knitting into the same structure which is used by established Samui primary schools. The ‘British Early Years Foundation Stage Curriculum’ (EYFS) is followed, and there’s a UK-qualified EYFS teacher leading the preschool class for children aged three to six years. From day one, all children are provided with a routine, which both gives them security, and also establishes a comforting framework (example: go to the toilet, wash hands; before eating, wash hands; after eating, clean teeth). And all activities, 


whether based on a curriculum-structure or simply on common sense, are cored to develop and promote listening skills, attention span, comprehension and considered response. Everything that happens here at Tiny Steps is a part of a larger scheme to nurture, extend, and develop the child’s physical, emotional, intellectual and social development skills – even though to a casual observer it might only look like the kids are just happy and having a fun time. Appearances can be deceptive!


The building is an object lesson in what a nursery should be like. From the cloakroom, to the bathroom, to all the different areas – eating, napping, playing, learning – it’s a delight to see and admire. No wonder it all took three years to put together. And every morning the staff (led by Debra) spend the hour before the kids arrive cleaning and sanitising the entire place, from toilets to teddies, from the tables to the TV. Oh – I forgot to mention that there’s also a full-time chef in the separate kitchen, and the catering is simply superb.


Once Debra has been triggered, (goose bumps etc.) then it’s probably best to let her run, she’s not only an expert but she tells it better than I can! “I’ve heard all sorts of stories about separation-stress,” she wound things up with. “It’s the usual thing where very young children have to be separated from their parents. They get upset and fret. But here they quite often start crying when they have to leave!” Enough said. Check the website, then go and talk to Debra. But my impression is that you had better do this fast – for some reason there’s already a waiting list at Tiny Steps!


 Rob De Wet


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