Choosing a nursery or preschool


Nurseries and child care settings are daunting things to think about. Whether you’re returning to work or simply wanting the social element for your child, choosing the ‘right’ setting for your child is a huge thing!

I have been very lucky with my choice of nursery for both my children and, after looking around several that came recommended to me, when I looked around my chosen one, I just knew!

It’s a decision that comes with a lot of research; asking friends, going on recommendations, googling them, looking at their OFSTED report.

It takes time.

There are different types of settings to consider and it’s important to choose the one that suits your needs as a family and one that also suits your child.

Day nurseries are privately run. They usually take babies from 3 months up to school age children and they are primarily run for childcare purposes.

They have longer hours, some starting as early as 7.30am and closing as late as 6.30pm and they will often run throughout school holidays.

There are also local authority nurseries and these operate slightly differently with regards to their dates and timings. Most do not run throughout school holidays and will finish earlier in the day than private nurseries. They will often take children from 3 years of age and some will even feed into primary schools. These tend to run ‘sessions’ that are either morning or afternoon rather than full days.

Both settings have strict adult child ratios and both will follow guidelines and a curriculum set out by the government.

You can often tell a good nursery by the length of its waiting list. It’s a daunting prospect that, if you go down the private nursery route, you may end up putting your child’s name down when they are a matter of months old. (My son was down on his nursery’s waiting list the day after my 12 week scan!) Whilst it’s a decision that shouldn’t be rushed, you definitely need to consider your options sooner rather than later! If you choose a local authority nursery, chances are your child will be a bit older and, from the age of 3, may be eligible for some ‘free hours’ or government funding to help with childcare costs.

The size of nurseries is also a factor that you should consider. Some are small ‘villagey’ type settings, whereas others are huge and can have numbers close to 100. Checking the numbers in each room when you visit can give you some idea of how your child will be interacted with.

So how do you find out about nurseries in your area?

The first port of call should be your children’s centre. They will have a list of local nurseries and providers and can give you a list of recommended settings to start your search.

Friends can also give you more personalised guidelines and opinions, these were invaluable to me! Social media is also a useful place to gauge feelings about a setting, although take these opinions carefully as everybody will have their own opinion and will have chosen their nursery based on their own child and their needs.

When you have shortlisted a few, call to arrange a visit!

Next, google it! Find out what their OFSTED report said and what their strengths are. This will give you some idea of their ethos and the way in which it is run before you set foot in it.

All of the above, however, needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, because the biggest tip I can give you is to ‘find out for yourself’.

Only you can decide what is right for your child and I know that when I found ‘the one’ I knew just by being there. The feeling of the setting, the happiness of the children, the attitudes of the staff and the first impressions will tell you all you need to know, and may even make your mind up there and then for you! Take note of the layout, the ‘feel’ of be place and the relationships between staff and children and that should give you an amazing starting point.

I used my viewing appointment to ask as many questions as possible.

Here are a few pointers to think about whilst making your decision and viewing your shortlisted settings:

  1. Do they have availability for the days and times you are looking for? If not, how long until a space on those days becomes available?
  2. Do they provide nappies, milk and food or is this something you need to hand over each day at drop off? Also, if they provide food, where are meals prepared and could they cater for specific dietary requirements?
  3. What is the maximum amount of children that they have and will take in future? Depending on what you are after, some nurseries will take lots of children which may not be the right choice for a quiet and shy child.
  4. Where, if relevant, do babies and children sleep during the day if they still nap? Do they have buggies, cots or anything else? Space can be a problem if you expect cots for every child so ask how they overcome this.
  5. Do children have access to outside space and, if so, what is the provision like when being transported/supervised outside? Some nurseries are lucky enough to have access to an outdoor learning space with which they can do activities such as forest schools or gardening.
  6. Are rooms mixed and do children ever get to interact with peers older or younger than themselves?
  7. Is there a settling in period and how does this work? Both my children had sessions where I stayed for some of the time and then left to allow them to eat a meal or sleep there. It should be gradual and tailored to your child.
  8. Will they do a home visit to find out information about your child before they start?
  9. What is security like and how do they ensure it is a safe for your child? Safeguarding is such an important factor and reading the Ofsted report will give you an excellent idea. Check how children are brought into the nursery and how they leave, also, the provision during the day and how many adults are in the room at any one time.
  10. Do they accept childcare vouchers as payment? Your workplace can advise whether they are part of a childcare voucher scheme, it works out slightly cheaper for you and many nurseries now accept them as part payment.
  11. What happens if my child doesn’t settle straight away?
  12. How would they cater for your child if they had medical needs or allergies?
  13. What happens if my child is unwell during the day? Nurseries will have a sick policy and you will need to familiarise yourself with this so you know whether it is ok to send your child in or not.

There are probably a million more questions you could fire away at them, and you must ask these to ensure you are making the right choice! Don’t be worried about coming across as an anxious parent. Nurseries will be used to it as it’s a huge decision for you and it needs to be right!

Whatever you decide, good luck! Don’t rush the decision, but consider everything and don’t be afraid to ask questions.


by Lauren Channing

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