In my recent blog post I talked about my top tips when looking for a nursery. I thought I would also share with you what I think are the most important questions to ask once you have narrowed your search down and are looking around the nurseries. When I used to show parents around many of them came fully equipped with questions which I loved but many went blank or just didn’t know what to ask. Luckily for them I had been doing the job long enough to tell them everything they needed to know and here are the questions that you can ask so that you get the information you need too.
The first things are pretty straight forward and you may already know the answers if you have looked at the nurseries website or it has been recommended to you by someone already using the nursery.
I would suggest asking these questions before you go and look around to establish if the nursery is going to work for you .........
- What are the opening hours and session times?
- Are there any times of the year that the nursery is closed? Are their charges for these? (sorry to tell you that most nurseries are closed for bank holidays but still charge)
- What are the fees? Are there any additional charges on top of that?
- What will I have to pay up front before or when my child starts?
- How do I pay? - standing order, cash etc. Also if your work offers a childcare voucher scheme that you want to use you need to make sure the nursery accepts them.
- Do they have the days available that you require?
- Is there a waiting list and if so how long is the wait? (it is often very difficult for nurseries to be specific about a time scale on a waiting list but they should have a rough idea)
Once you have decided to look around I would suggest considering the following questions ........
- What is the settling in procedure? Your child will need to do some settling visits (any nursery that doesn’t do this in my opinion should be avoided) you need to take this time into consideration before the start date.
- What kind of meals do you provide? What is the set up for meal times? – I ask this because you want to make sure that your child is getting a healthy balance diet but also that they are going to be supported and well supervised at meal times. (also ask about snacks).
- What do you need to provide? For example nappies, wipes, drinks, spare clothes etc etc, different nurseries will expect different things and some will provide more than others.
- What do they do about toilet training? If your child is as the fun age of toilet training then you need to ask how the nursery support and manage that. Also some nurseries for preschool aged children (not generally day nurseries) expect children to be toilet trained before they start.
- How often do they change nappies? There are some not very nice health issues around not changing children’s nappies often enough so you want to make sure they check children every couple of hours and change them more often if needed.
- How often do the children go outside? Most of the nurseries that are held in high regard especially the outstanding ones will spend lots of time outside, it is very important for children to have lots of space and freedom to play and learn both indoors and outdoors. If they only take the children outside for 10 minutes each day then they are missing out big time
- What happens if my child needs a sleep or a rest? Most children under 3 and some over will need a rest during the day and so you want to know that they have somewhere calm and relaxing to do this. It isn’t ideal if the children are expected to sleep where other children are playing but some nurseries are limited for space. If there isn’t a member of staff with the sleeping children all of the time then make sure it is in an adjoining room and that they are checked regularly so ask to see the room and how often they check them. The general rule is every 5 minutes.
- If your child has a comforter like a dummy or blanket ask if they are able to have this in the nursery.
- Ask how many staff are with the children at any one time (there are laws around this but some nurseries will have more than the minimum and some unfortunately may try to bend the rules) Also ask if it is the same staff in the room all of the time. Obviously staff annual leave and sickness and also shift patterns will make this change slightly but generally you want the staff to be consistent for your child.
- Ask what happens when your child is ready to move onto the next room – do they do this by age or stage of development and what is the procedure? Also make sure you look at all rooms when looking around as if you like one but not the rest you will have to think about changing nursery as they get older which isn’t ideal.
- Ask how they will support your child’s development. All early years settings have to follow the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum and they are required to record what your child is achieving and how they will help them to move onto the next stage. Many nurseries are now starting to use online learning journals which are interactive and include photos and videos and parents can access this at any time and upload things too. I think these are fantastic and most parents love them but it doesn’t mean that if the nursery you choose doesn’t use this that they aren’t doing exactly the same job but just on paper. What you really want to know is that they support children’s development through their interests and are have a flexible approach to learning with an emphasis on play (sorry I went into manager mode then!)
- What happens if I am late to collect my child? of course no one plans to be late but occasionally you may get stuck in a meeting or in traffic so it is important to know if there are any charges and what the nursery will do with your child once the nursery is closed.
- If your child has any dietary requirements, allergies or medical conditions it is good to discuss this and make sure that they will be accommodated and supported.
These are the things that I think should be the priority questions, you may have many more depending on what your priorities are. In my opinion there is no such thing as too many questions (other managers may be rolling their eyes at this and thinking give me a break!!!) and I would always encourage you to ring up after your visit if you think of something at a later date.
I hope this was helpful and feel free to leave a comment if you have any other questions about nurseries or any other bits of advice for other parents out there.