My mother is a returned Ballina emigré who worked as a nursery teacher/ "early years expert" at the coal face of the gritty London education system for most of my childhood. "The Under-Fives In An Urban Environment" was bedtime reading. Finding a creche to house my first son that came up to her exacting standards was never going to be easy. Imagine then our delight when she discovered "the best early learning centre I have ever been in" right under her nose in Ballina, County Mayo.
"I mean - it's World Class Morag - I don't know if you really get Just How Good The Mulberry Tree Is?"
All I know is that my first son enjoyed every single day he spent with Breege and her team, so that we didn't hesitate to book our youngest in there to give him the same opportunities. Never mind the two-year-old, most days I am tempted to sit down with him and enjoy the craic and do a few jigsaws myself! The staff are, without exception - professional, good humored and very, very kind. They clearly love their jobs, and love the children and I feel very lucky indeed to have such a wonderful, "world-class" facility on my doorstep. - Morag Prunty
Kate writes a column every week called Keeping It Together in The Femail section of the Irish Mail every Thursday - detailing her life in Killala, the exploits of her youngest son The Tominator and his tenure at The Mulberry Tree. Here is an extract from one of Kate's columns that appeared in November 2011.
Halloween started this year with the Tominator's party in The Mulberry Tree Learning Centre in Ballina. This state of the art childcare facility is Tommo’s second home. Thank goodness it’s as good as it is and he loves it as much as he does because, frankly, he is in there for as many waking hours as I can put him right now. He gets his main meal of the day there – and all of his educational development thus far is largely down to Breege Jackson and her team. I have neither the time nor the inclination to sit facing a toddler saying; “What does the COW say?” for three hours a day in the hope that he will, eventually, say “Moooo.” The Mulberry Tree does a lot more than that, but you get the point. I am not a “performance” parent. I do not care at what stage of my child’s development he should be able to hold a spoon - once he’s not eating with his hands by the time he goes on his first date I’m happy. Talking with toddlers – even my own - just doesn’t interest me sufficiently for me to want to spend vast tracts of my time doing it. Writing books interests me and so I write to earn enough money to pay these brilliant professionals to teach my toddler 'what the sheep says'. When he comes home to me and says “Baaaa!” - I simply cheer and clap and feel delighted as if it were somehow my doing. Which–in a roundabout way – as I pay the monthly crèche bills, it is!
One of the most impressive things about The Mulberry Tree is the sheer volume of stuff that goes on there. “This week we are celebrating…” then anything from “Autumn!” with fallen leaves to “Vegetables!” with large cut out carrots troubled with a dash of crayon to “Baking!” and photos of the kids in pinnies making cupcakes. Life, if you attend The Mulberry Tree is a constant celebration. For the brief few moments I am there, to drop and collect Tommo, I always come away feeling a bit lighter, a bit happier in myself. - Morag Prunty aka Kate Kerrigan author/ Irish Mail columnist
I returned to work when Christopher was 9 months old confident that our precious bundle was cared for in an attentive, well organised crèche with a lively atmosphere and kind experienced staff.
As the year progressed, we were overjoyed to see Christopher thrive in all areas of his development. The love of learning was so visible in the creche and we delighted in hearing about all the little things he got up to for the day.
The move from the “Baby room” to the “Wobbler room” was introduced gradually and Christopher happily settled in with new staff members. Unfortunately during that year, Christopher’s mobility began to regress and he was eventually diagnosed with a rare joint disorder.
During his stay in Our Lady’s Hospital his friends at the Mulberry Tree sent him beautiful hand made cards while the staff made regular phone calls offering their support.
On his return back to The Mulberry Tree, Christopher presented with a variety of physical and sensory needs that challenged us all. However the staff, determined to do everything possible to support Christopher integrated his Occupational Therapy and Physiotheraphy programmes into their daily schedule of activities enabling him to reach goals we never thought possible.
We know the staff went the extra mile to support Christopher through this difficult time and we will always appreciate their thoughtfulness and creativity.
Two years on and Christopher is in the middle of his Montessori pre-schooling where along with a well planned approach to education and a great staff, he is preparing for primary school in September.
Our son has blossomed into an independent,confident and curious young boy who loves his friends at school and all the exciting projects and activities organised by the staff. He loves Jean’s home cooked dinners and her little treats on Fridays! He looks forward to the rugby coaching on Wednesdays and is also learning his poem for the feis in March!
Christopher will return to the Mulberry Tree in September as he will join the “After School club” for a few hours in the afternoons. He will be familiar with the staff so it will be another smooth transition.
The “mulberry tree” we are told is a symbol of wisdom, it is a tree that is both prudent and patient. It is also an extraordinary truth that one single tree may put out leaves of varying shapes; and the trees reach a great age if cultivated with a little care and gentle pruning….!
“Choimeád ar bun ar an dea-obair”! - Carol and Frankie O’Donnell
As a parent of four children attending Mulberry I feel in a good position to reflect on our experience of their time there. There are many criteria to be filled when entrusting your children to someone else’s care but most roll up to the basics of safety and contentment. In Mulberry you have no concerns. Children bound in the door pausing to take in the changing murals and sets, excitedly pointing out their ‘teachers’, their photographs and their handiwork. They are greeting with sunny smiles and breezy hellos. Every staff member knows every child (making each transition seamless). The premises offer variety from a sandpit, computer room and gym to activities including tag rugby and drama. One of the highlights of the day is sampling Jean’s dinners. The Mulberry Tree offers an unrivalled professional service alongside a very happy warm and caring environment. - Helen Kelly
For almost four years now we have had the pleasure of dealing with the Mulberry Tree Learning Centre which has provided pre school, after school and day care services for our family during that time. As parents we have many aspirations for our two children and their development. As working parents we have to entrust our childcare provider to work in partnership with us to fulfil those wishes.
Our relationship with the Mulberry Tree Learning Centre, it proprietor, Breege Jackson, and her wonderful staff has been very successful in that respect. The Mulberry Tree learning centre has proven a familiar, comfortable, fun, educational and loving environment where our children have developed and flourished educationally and socially.
What we like most about the Mulberry Tree is the dedication displayed by Breege and her staff to enable each and every child to fulfil his or her potential – to discover and develop their unique strengths and talents, to cope with any difficulties they might experience and to do so in a confident and independent manner.
Our children have been thoroughly stimulated and entertained by the active and varied structure of activities and education that is provided at the Mulberry Tree and they have bonded very well with their teachers and classmates.
We would have no hesitation in recommending this service to other parents. -Brian and Orla Gillespie.
As parents of young children your choice of childcare is one of the most important decisions to be made. We have been using the child care facilities of Breege Jackson for many years now. The Mulberry Tree really is a home from home for your children – or sometimes home can’t compete with what is on offer in the crèche. Having four children in crèche at the same time for a number of years now, we have experienced every stage of care from baby room to after-school. There is no need to wonder if your child is happy – as all you need to see is the way that they run in every morning waiting to see their teachers and friends. For the younger children when first coming to the crèche as a small baby the settling period is made so easy right through to the pre-school stage where all the work that is put into preparing them for big school, to the activities on offer for the after-school stage, there is no time for boredom! It is the simple things that are the best – hearing your child sing their new nursery rhyme or telling their stories of what happened that day or them wanting to tell their teachers about something that happened at home, to the friendships that are made – you know that you have made the right choice and that your child is in the best place while you are away from them. - Lorraine Mc Nulty
Our family first required child care facilities for our 3 year old daughter, Ellie in 2009 at which time we took her to visit The Mulberry Tree Learning Centre for an hour to see how she would take to it... She loved it so much that she stayed until closing time...
Ellie remained at The Mulberry Tree for a year of playschool & a year of preschool & loved her time there, we found upon her finishing that she was fully equipped with the confidence & knowledge needed to make her first steps into "The Big School" very enjoyable...
We have our son Kieran in his preschool year at The Mulberry Tree at present & whereby somedays he can be less enthusiastic about going to school than his sister was he is only minutes in the classroom when Miriam & Laura have him occupied, happy & ready for his day...
We feel that 'the passion for what small children need' by Breege & all her care providers is what makes The Mulberry Tree a very unique place.
Its a parental gift knowing that our children are safe, happy & well cared for in a clean & very welcoming place while gaining the skills they need at their appropriate level that they will take with them throughout their lives... Thank You All.... - Katrina McAndrew
My son went to the Mulberry Tree from the age of five months and it was such a positive experience. The staff are professional, courteous and they were very good at communicating all the news about my child. The facilities are brilliant; from the sandpit to the playground there are always activities for the children to do. I can only give the strongest recommendation to any parent looking for childcare in Ballina to choose the Mulberry Tree. - Catherine Bourke.
The Mulberry Tree Learning Centre has provided a wonderful preschool environment for our children. They have partaken in so many new and exciting experiences, gardening, baking, ballet, tag-rugby, computers, drama, library trips, farm animal visits, seasonal parties and so much more. Billy and Jane have been able to grow in confidence and curiosity and this is a direct result of the professional, kind and committed care they received from Breege and all the staff , in particular their direct care workers, at the Mulberry Tree.
As parents it means so much to know our children are safe, happy, stimulated and extremely well cared for......this kind of reassurance is priceless. -Lara and Eoin Gilvarry
It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly the end of the school term again and even harder to believe that between the two boys, you have been looking after them for the last four years.
Breege I just wanted to thank you and your staff for the excellent service that you have provided us, during our children’s pre-school years. I remember sitting in the first parent’s introduction night that you gave in the Mulberry tree and how you explained your goal for all our kids. “The primary goal of the pre-school years in the Mulberry Tree is that when a child leaves here, he/she will be able to communicate to adults about their feelings and if they are not happy or are concerned they will be confident enough to ask for help.”
Before that meeting I had slightly different expectations of the pre-school years but after reflecting that night on what you said it was and is the most important skill that can be given to a pre-school child. But in saying that you have also met and exceeded any expectations that I had before that meeting.
You have a great staff. They are always friendly, caring, understanding and willing to work with our kids. The systems that you have in place, the room layouts, the variety of activities and the structures of the classes are second to none. And this is a credit to you as the driving force behind the organisation. I have always found dealing with you, personally, to be very pleasant and constructive. We believe that we have two well rounded kids (even if they are very different) and that is in a large part thanks to you and your staff. For this we will be forever grateful. We will continue to promote the services that you offer and as I have always, we will recommend the Mulberry Tree as a centre of excellence for child care. - Ken Doherty
‘A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stop’. We appreciate your time, patience, ability and smiles at The Mulberry Tree. Thanks you for all of your hard work. We truly appreciate it. Thank you for everything. - Bineetha Mathew
We are so grateful for the care and support you give to Lucy. We never have a worry handing her over each morning as we know she will get the very best in care and attention. We recognise and appreciate all the hard work that goes in to making The Mulberry tree the second home that it is for Lucy. - Fabienne and Damian Mc Neely
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