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Nursery Review: Happy Days Penair

A fresh-thinking and inspiring Truro nursery, designed with children (not their parents) in mind

Choosing a nursery is one of the hardest decisions you make in the early days of parenthood. Maybe you don’t want to leave them at all. Ever. Maybe you’re dying to get back to work and a bit of pre-kids normality. Either way it’s a fraught time all-round and picking a nursery that supports your own approach to parenting and where your child is happy to spend their days becomes all-important.

Happy Days Penair, in Truro, is the first official nursery review I’ve done for Muddy Stilettos but as mother to two boys under 7, it feels particularly pertinent. The work/life/childcare struggle is very real in the Muddy household. I vividly remember those first drop-offs and am eternally grateful to the childcare pros who took on my tribe.

From a winging-it, working mum’s perspective, here’s why Happy Days ticks all my boxes…


A bit of background

Happy Days opened its first nursery in Cornwall in 1991 and they now have 18 in the South West. The business is led by Managing Director Jackie Arthur, who has an incredibly clued-up team with her at the helm, both in head office and at the individual nurseries.

Director of Childcare and Education, Jo Beighton, is a former childcare lecturer and Ofsted Inspector trainer, with an inspirational approach to early years. And at Penair, Manager Nicky Smith (who gave me the tour) has a BA in Developmental Psychology and is a qualified Early Years Teacher and a Learning Through Landscapes trainer. They also have their own, in-house training programme to ensure everyone who works in their nurseries meets their high standards.

The Penair nursery – crowned ‘Outstanding’ by Ofted – is situated in the grounds of Penair School in Truro, which is super-convenient for anyone working in the city. The nursery was particularly praised by Ofsted for the bonds they saw between children and staff, the progress children make in their care and the exciting and interesting activities on offer. So, what else…


Happy Days Nurseries are designed for kids – not their parents

Walk into most nurseries and you are immediately greeted by a sea of colour – artwork on the walls, a rainbow of plastic toys and brightly painted furniture.

Not at Happy Days. Almost all the furniture is neutral in colour (a sort of pale ash) and displays, where there are any, tend to be at child height, so the children can actually see and benefit from them.

To avoid over stimulation (mums of babies – you know all about this one), games and activities are put out one at a time. This way, children can really concentrate and learn from their play. When the room is full of distractions, childrens’ attention can quickly flit from one thing to the next.

Over all, this minimal approach creates a great sense of calm. Toddler tonic!


Mess is positively encouraged

All the rooms are fairly pared-back but one room, with almost nothing in it, is reserved for getting messy. Very messy!

When it’s time to get the paint, glue, glitter etc out, this dedicated space means kids can just go for it and the staff aren’t distracted, trying to keep errant sploshes of paint off walls and furniture.

These artistic and sensory activities are so important for our children’s development but if you are remotely house proud, it hard to muster enthusiasm for this sort of mess making at home. Happily, kids here can get their masterpieces out of their systems, away from your Farrow and Ball paint job.


Kids can be outdoors all day if they want to

In the Penair Nursery I looked around, every room has doors that open to engaging outdoor spaces, including a little woodland, a growing area and a courtyard, where a little part of Truro (Trafalgar roundabout) has been recreated in miniature.

There were as many children outside as in and they were moving between the gardens and nursery rooms at will. This is even encouraged in the baby room and is regardless of weather.


Play here isn’t all about colourful plastic stuff

Happy Days’ approach to play is all about fostering brain development and imagination, so for that reason there aren’t lots of ‘representative toys’.

Dolls houses, zoos, hospitals, boats and other role-play areas are built using a collection of neutral-coloured boxes and objects. Then further blocks and bricks can be used as props in play. A cork brick might be a phone one day or a zooming ambulance the next.


Happy Days makes a regular working day totally possible

Unlike lots of village nurseries and pre-schools, Happy Days Penair opens from 8am – 6pm. They also offer the new, free 30 hours scheme for 3 and 4 year olds and free grant-funded places for 2, 3 and 4 year olds. You’ll need to check the eligibility requirements to see if you can take advantage of these.

Really healthy and nutritious meals are also provided – so no lunch-box faffing in the morning.


They have a brilliant programme to get older kids ready for school

Happy Days runs a Smart Start programme for kids the year before they start school, geared up to preparing them for that big change.

Smart Start was put together with a team of reception teachers advising and includes fun learning activities that appeal to kids’ natural curiosity and lots of tips for things parents can do at home to help prepare their children. They also really focus on teaching children basic skills to help them be more independent, like getting their wellies and coats on themselves, potty training and eating with a knife and fork.

A uniform is also introduced at this stage as another little bridge to school life.



Good for: Happy Days Penair is ideal for parents that work in Truro – open all day, with ample parking and easy access to the city. Happy Days will appeal to anyone who loves the idea of their child spending lots of time outdoors, getting creative and enjoying plenty of imaginative play.

Not for: If you work on the other side of town, you may wish to check out Happy Days’ Treliske or Playbox sites instead (both are also rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted).

The Damage: £42 per day, including lunch (funding options available)


Happy Days Penair, Penair School, St Clements Hill, Truro, TR1 1TN. 01872 264568.

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