For anyone returning to work, childcare can be an absolute minefield. Not only is cost a huge factor but a billion questions and worries race through our minds when facing the prospect of trusting complete strangers with our little ones. Although no one can look after your child quite like you, there are lots of places that will keep them safe and happy, which is all that really matters. So what are your options?
Nurseries can vary wildly in their values and the care they provide for your child. They usually have a wide range of activities available for your little one, including home corners, reading spaces, junk modelling, construction etc. and many have brilliant outdoor spaces. Some nurseries even have outside providers in to teach languages, baby signing or drama too. Children will be assigned a key worker who will carry out observations of your child and keep relevant records and with lots of children around, it is a great opportunity for them to develop social skills too.
With some nurseries being similar to school settings, this can make the transition easier when the time comes and they are often open for longer hours, meaning it is easier to fit around your working hours.
However, there are things to consider such as different staff being around during different sessions, which can make it difficult for little ones to form strong bonds. Settings can be busy with lots of noise, which may be unsettling for those more suited to a quieter, more nurturing environment.
Costs can quickly mount up with nurseries, so this must be considered and some places have incredibly long waiting lists too. Do visit any nurseries that you are considering, if possible, and talk to staff to get a feel for the place before making a decision.
Childminder settings can often offer a closer bond with a single caregiver, rather than a range of staff, in a more homely environment. However, childminder sickness and holidays could be problematic, depending on how flexible (or inflexible!) your own workplace is. Having said that, there may be more flexibility in other ways such a term-time only options or late pick ups.
The long term possibility of a childminder also being able to offer school drop offs and pick ups could provide continuity of care could be ideal for some families and the varied activities provided by many childminders, such as trips to playgroups, parks, farms, softly etc., could be brilliant for children.
For those lucky enough to have family members available for childcare, this is definitely an avenue worth exploring. The likely lower cost here is an obvious perk, with fewer worries as they are with someone you know and trust. However, this does mean that conversations can be awkward if you are not entirely happy with the way they are being cared for.
If your little one is the only child with that family member, social experiences may be limited but they will have the opportunity to create an even stronger bond with that person. Older family members may forget just how tiring looking after a baby or toddler is though, so do check in regularly to make sure they are not over-stretching themselves!
It is, of course, entirely possible to combine these childcare methods. In many cases this is a more ideal option so that your child gets the best of both worlds but whichever option you go for could massively depend on the personality of your child too.
Don’t forget to check for information on funding for 2 and 3 year olds but watch out for any hidden costs if you opt for nursery care! Use Ofsted as a starting point but visits to the setting are where you will really find out how you feel about a place and if it is truly right for your family. Ask lots of questions so that any concerns you have are addressed (food and sleep are key!) and judge your child’s responses there. However, kids are often more resilient than we give them credit for so don’t panic if they do not take to a setting immediately. And if all else fails, you can move them – they won’t be stuck in a nursery forever if you or they are unhappy!