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How to Choose a Nursery for Your Child

When we have children, our priorities are turned on their head and, almost overnight, they become the most important part of our lives. We spend every moment worrying about them, and when we have to be parted from them, we feel that we are missing a part of ourselves. 

Understandably, when the day comes when we need or want to place our child in a nursery, it can be a difficult decision to make. We may need childcare so that we can work and/or so that our child can spend time outside the home, make friends of their own age, and further their social development.Whatever the reason, we need to be sure that we have chosen the right nursery.

This guide outlines important steps you should follow when choosing a nursery for your child and what you should be looking for when you are visiting the premises.

Create a shortlist of local nurseries

Your first task is to research which nurseries are in a convenient location and provide childcare hours that fit your needs. You need to know how much each nursery will charge you by the hour, day, or week, and whether they have a space for your child. When you have narrowed down your options, you can start to take a deeper look at their childcare provision. 

Book visits to each nursery

When you have a shortlist of nurseries you are interested in, you need to visit each of them in person. Take your partner or a friend and, if appropriate, your child. You should meet the staff and ask questions about their experience and training, as well as their manner when communicating with the children. The staff should be interested in getting to know your child as an individual and welcoming in their attitude. The children should be relaxed and happy, but also playing in a structured and purposeful way. Is it clean and tidy? Is there an outside space for play? Does the nursery welcome and celebrate cultural diversity?

Visiting nurseries might be difficult at the moment as many nurseries are not conducting visits because of the coronavirus pandemic. If you are not able to visit nurseries with coronavirus restrictions in place, it is worth asking them what steps they are taking to protect the children and staff as this is a good indicator of their professionalism. 

Ask the right questions

During your visit (or over the phone if a visit is not possible) you should be asking the nursery manager questions such as:

  • How many children attend the nursery? How many children are in each age group?
  • How many children is each staff member responsible for? Will one particular staff member be primarily responsible for your child?
  • What formal qualifications and experience do the staff have?
  • What is a typical daily routine for a child at the nursery?
  • How do you manage behaviour? What is the nursery’s policy on discipline?
  • Does the nursery provide food, drink, nappies, and so on? If you need to provide your own, what kind of food and drink should you send?

Consider your child’s personality and needs

You, as the parent, will be making the final call, but you need to consider your child’s needs and personality in your decision. Some nurseries, for example, have a high turnover of children or children attend sporadically, which may make it difficult for your child to establish close friendships. If your child is a difficult eater, will mealtimes be too restrictive, or will they be allowed to help themselves to snacks and drinks?Will your child be introduced to new experiences and challenges? Will they feel safe and valued?

Check the nursery’s Ofsted rating

Nurseries should be registered with the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) which will visit, assess, and grade the facility to ensure that it is meeting the physical, mental, and emotional needs of the children. The grades are:• Grade 1: outstanding• Grade 2: good• Grade 3: requires improvement• Grade 4: inadequate.

You can check Ofsted’s grade and report for your local childcare providers at www.ofsted.gov.uk.

Get references from parents of children already at the nursery

When you have almost settled on a nursery, ask the staff for references from parents of children already attending the nursery. They should be able to put you in touch with parents who would be happy to discuss their experiences with the nursery. 

Reserve your space

If you are happy with everything you have learnt about the nursery, it is time to reserve a space for your child and, if appropriate, to schedule their first day. In some cases, you may need to pay a fee to hold a place until your child is able to start. It may take time for your child to adjust to the nursery, so some offer a trial period so that you can decide if it is the right choice before committing. Click here for tips on helping a toddler settle into nursery.

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