If you find yourself in the position where you need to put your child in a nursery you will probably be faced with the thought of ‘where on earth do I start?!’ There are hundreds of nurseries out there and so how do you find the one that’s right for you?
Having worked in day nurseries and been a childcare manager for many years I have a pretty good idea of what makes a good nursery and what parents are looking for when choosing one. This is a perspective that many of my friends have found very useful over the years when it has come to them looking for nurseries for their children. And now luckily for you I am going to share some of my top tips with you too.
Here are my top tips to get you started
OFSTEDs opinion is obviously very important as they are the professional regulating body so their reports will give you a good insight into whether a nursery is offering good quality childcare. However always remember that what they see is just one day. This means that there are events that may happen differently on that day or things that they might not get to see. There are certain aspects that you must look for in their reports that are non-negotiable. If the report suggests issues around safety, safeguarding or the level of children’s well-being then I would be very concerned about leaving a child there. On the other hand if it suggests that there were some missed learning opportunities then this can easily be down to nerves on the day and doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of other opportunities taking place.
Having friends or family recommend a nursery that they have used is really useful. They will have a bit of inside knowledge and will know the staff and how the nursery operates on a day to day basis.
Accepting some compromises
I know it is really difficult to leave your child somewhere and accept that someone else will be taking a role in caring for them. Nurseries do their best to meet the needs of parents but in a group setting compromises will need to be made. Nurseries cannot meet every individual requirement so what you have to decide is what compromises you are willing to make and what is non-negotiable when you are choosing the right one. For example if outside space is really important to you but the nursery that has the best play area doesn't offer a menu that you like you will have to decide which you are going to compromise on.
Make sure you look around first
All nurseries will show you around before you decide, do not feel pressured to make a decision on the spot and it is always possible to go for a second look if you are unsure especially if you want to take someone such as your partner for a second opinion. A good sign is a nursery that can spontaneously show you around as you know that they are completely confident that the nursery is good enough to show you at any point. However there have been times when as a manager I have been too busy at that time or I have felt that it would be too disruptive to the children in the nursery so I have ask people to come back at an arranged time. For example I wouldn’t show people around when the children are eating especially if they have children with them who might be running around and playing while the nursery children are eating.
Getting that warm feeling
I always tell parents to trust their instincts. If you walk into a nursery and you feel comfortable, the staff make you feel welcome and your child feels relaxed the chances are you will be happy there. Some nurseries will be able to offer you the world – French lessons, baby yoga, immaculately decorated rooms and shiny bright new toys, but if the staff don’t acknowledge you and sit staring into space with their head in their hands then all the other things don’t really matter. Also when you go to look around take your child with you, they are the best judges of character and you will be able to see how the staff interact with them.
Don’t underestimate the importance of convenience
I am not suggesting choosing a nursery because it is the closest one but it does need to be a consideration. There might be an amazing nursery that you love but if it is an hour out of your way it is really not going to work. You also need to consider what you will do if your child is ill and needs collecting. So it might be better to look for a nursery near to your work rather than near to home. It is unlikely that if you are at home your child will be in nursery but they will probably always be there when you are at work. Convenience also refers to opening times. Many day nurseries open at 8am but if you need something earlier there are some that offer that too.
Do not assume that expensive means quality. Nursery fees tend to be based on the area they are in rather than the quality of what they provide. More affluent areas will have more expensive nurseries. This also doesn’t necessarily reflect what they pay the staff either. If you are paying a nursery more do not assume that the staff are therefore earning more. Most nurseries are private businesses and so they charge what they need to in order to make that business profitable. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with this but having always worked for non-profit making nurseries that invest the money back into the business and the staff I am a little bit biased!
A variety of staff
I always think it is a good sign when nurseries have staff of a variety of ages and experience. And never underestimate the benefits of a nursery having male staff either (they are rare but a great asset). You are welcome to ask about qualifications and how long the staff have been there, it is a really good sign if staff have been there for years. Some nurseries have a lot of young apprentices and then a handful of qualified staff. Having apprentices is important as this is how good childcare workers are trained but you don’t want them to out-number the qualified staff (who bear in mind could be newly qualified themselves). You are leaving them with a huge responsibility so make sure you have complete trust in their abilities.
Make sure you are completely clear before you sign up of any additional costs. Some nurseries take a deposit which is non-refundable and sometimes you get this back for example when you leave it is deducted from your last months fees. Also some nurseries will offer extras such as swimming or baby signing but will charge extra. Also if you are using any kind of funding such as the 30 hours free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds they may charge extra for meals and snacks for example. My opinion on all of these things I will keep to myself but just make sure you are clear and happy before starting!
I think it is very important that nurseries are clean, especially for avoiding germs being spread (although with children that is almost impossible!). I think it gives a good indication of how much care the company takes in everything it does. If the staff take care of the nursery then it shows some indication of their high standards which will hopefully also reflect in the care of your child.
I hope this has been a helpful starting point in a fairly daunting search. In my next blog post I will talk about important questions to ask when you look around nurseries. I used to love it when parents asked me loads of questions when I showed them around so don't feel embarrassed to do this. Some parents come with a written list which I think is a great idea.