Parents of toddlers across the city are being urged to check and see if they qualify for free childcare under a national scheme that provides 15 hours of childcare per week for free for two year olds who meet certain criteria.
The scheme is open to all qualifying two year olds from the beginning of the school term after they reach the age of two. This means that children who turn two from now until 31 August this year could qualify for a free childcare place from this September.
The free childcare is offered to low income families and people who receive certain benefits such as free school meals, Income Support, Child Tax Credit with a gross income of no more than £16,190, or things like Disability Living Allowance for their child.
Parents or carers who think they might be eligible and want to take up a place for their child need to get in touch themselves with the childcare provider of their choice from the list of available providers.
To check eligibility and find out which providers are offering the free places visit www.manchester.gov.uk/freechildcare or call 0161 234 5001, or go into your local Sure Start Centre and ask.
Parents who are already benefiting from the scheme include Collette Bradley whose daughter Esmee has been attending Tiddly Winks Nursery in Higher Blackley since October last year. She is very pleased with her daughter's progress since then and said:
"Esmee was a poorly baby and was very clingy. I couldn't leave her with anyone and she wouldn't talk to anyone we met outside the house. It took about five or six weeks before I could leave her at the nursery on her own, but the staff really helped me with this and it has been brilliant for her. She absolutely loves it and even asks to go into nursery on the days she's not in.
"Her speaking skills are great now. Before she went to nursery she wouldn't speak to anyone she didn't know, and would play on her own even when other children were around. But now she talks to people, shares things, and loves playing with other children. Nursery has really done her the world of good and she can't run off fast enough from me when we get there in the mornings."
It's not just the children who benefit from going to nursery. Their parents also have a lot to gain from this.
Collette said: "Before I had Esmee I was doing an Open University degree. I'd already done three years of my course but when Esmee came along I just didn't have time to carry on with it and I had to put it on hold. Since Esmee has been in nursery though it's given me the time I need to be able to pick it up again and get on with my studies, and this means I'm a step closer to being able to get a job in the future."
Another parent who is also benefiting from the scheme is Simon Walton whose son Dayton also goes to Tiddly Winks Nursery in Higher Blackley. He started there in September last year and what this meant for dad Simon is that he had more time to devote to Dayton's baby sister who was just a year old at the time. He also used the time to improve his parenting techniques by going on a parenting survival course.
Simon says that his son has come on a lot since he started at nursery: "His speech and the way he interacts with other children - everything has improved, including his behaviour. Before he went to nursery he would have tantrums, but now he's great. He still has the odd one but they don't happen nearly so often. He's doing his colours and counting, and knows how to share now with other children and play nicely with his friends. His speech has really come on too. He used to just say the odd word, but I can have full conversations with him now. Nursery has been great for Dayton and it's also helped make the house a lot calmer."
Councillor Sheila Newman, Executive Member, Manchester City Council, said: "We know that early education is great for children. Those who take part get better at talking, making friends, and are better prepared when it comes to starting school.
"This is also a great offer for parents and carers too who could use their 15 hours of child-free time each week to take a course, find a part-time job, get some exercise, or even just to catch up on things around the house - happy in the knowledge that their child is safe and being well looked after. "