Gail Johnson, OBE

A country girl at heart, Gail was born and brought up in Gloucestershire, moving to London in 2012. She is of Jamaican and English parentage, and from a large extended family. Her childhood was very chaotic, involving time spent with family friends, relatives, and even a short time in care. A love of books from an early age, opened her eyes to new horizons and gave her a passion for learning, which has never really ended!

Gail is an experienced Early Years professional who is passionate about children, the preservation of childhood and play-based learning. She is also passionate about education and the opportunities she has to pass on her skills and knowledge to parents and carers, enabling them to feel better equipped to support their child’s learning and development. With over 30 years’ experience in social care and education, working in all sectors from preschool to adult education, she has worked in the Early Years sector for the past 18 years, much of it with disadvantaged families and in multicultural, multilingual and multi-faith communities. She has worked in management and in advisory roles, but her preference is to work directly with young children 0-5 and their families. It is her belief that’ every parent wants the very best for their child, and she loves nothing better than to be able to support them in this increasingly demanding role, which is often carried out without the benefits of an extended family network. She accomplishes this by building positive relationships, being a sympathetic listening ear, sharing evidence–based research and modelling good practice in play and learning. She is a mother of two, who loves to write, travel and involve herself in charitable projects. Her work in the community, which included running a Supplementary Saturday School for over 20 years, earned her an OBE in the 2001 New Year’s Honours List, presented by the Queen, for ‘Services to Education in Gloucestershire’.

Memberships of Professional Organisations:

Paula O’Connor,

BEd (Hons), MA

‘Championing positive parenting, learning through play and story times!’ Paula O’Connor grew up in 70s south London. Her fondest childhood memories are of long, summer days making daisy chains and playing out until the sun went


Passionate about early childhood education, Paula qualified as a teacher, gaining a Bachelor of Education (BEd Hons), from London Metropolitan, in 1998 and a Masters in Early Childhood Education from University of    Sheffield, in 2018. She has been a Surestart teacher in children’s centres and a class-based teacher in nursery, reception, through to Year One, teaching in both mainstream and special educational needs schools. Paula has spent three years in Anguilla, a British Overseas Territory, working as a Kindergarten teacher in one of the island’s six government primary schools. She has been a foster-carer and a childminder, which enabled her to have more time at home with her daughter when she was little.

Paula has a calm approach and ability to draw alongside parents to encourage and give support. She believes in parent power; believing that well-supported and confident parents are the key to unlocking the potential in their child, thus giving them the very best start in life.

Paula is passionate about preserving childhood by providing children

rich, play-based learning experiences, freedom and space.

Children’s books are another passion of Paula’s. She loves to promote the love of books, songs and rhymes to parents and she is an aspiring children’s book


In her spare time, Paula loves to dance, spend time with friends and family, have

quiet moments and travel.

Our Vision and Values

We believe that the first five years of a child’s life are the most important. Research has taught us what a child experiences in their first five years (and especially in their first three years), has a significant impact on their emotional well-being, physical, language and cognitive development. Just as a tree needs strong roots to flourish, so does a child. Positive interactions with parents and caregivers and rich play experiences help to give a child strong roots for learning and development, and for later life. We aim to put children at the heart of all we do and to support parents and caregivers to give them the best start possible.

At Play and Learn Café we:

  • Respect early childhood in its own right.
    Early childhood is precious. At Play and Learn Café we cherish childhood and seek to preserve and champion children’s right to childhood – a childhood where:

    • each child is seen as unique, with their own gifts, strengths and interests

    • children are free to play, explore and discover in their own way, in their own time

    • children are able to interact with nature, be outdoors and have plenty of fresh air

  • Work in Partnership
    Parents are a child’s most important and enduring educators. At Play and Learn Café we aim to respect and support parents and caregivers in this responsibility by sharing our knowledge, skills and experience of child development.

  • Are about Quality
    We are committed to providing both rich and high quality play experiences for all children who attend our sessions.

  • Strive to ensure Equality and Inclusion Our sessions are accessible to all children of all abilities and needs. We celebratediversity and the importance of community togetherness – everyone is valued and welcomed.

  • Have fun

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