Parents’ guide to choosing the best nursery for you and your child

I fully understand the stress and confusion for parents when either choosing a nursery for the first time or when making the difficult decision to move your child from one nursery to another.

It’s the reason I first opened a day nursery in 1989; I wanted to be able to send my own children to a nursery where I felt safe leaving my precious children, where I thought they would be loved and cared for, treasured and treated as individuals. While I knew maybe no one would love them quite like I did, I thought that there had to be something close! My children are now wonderful adults, who will always make my heart sparkle, but my benchmark has and always will be:  ‘Would I leave my child here?’

Choosing the best nursery

Children’s House Day Nursery, Southwell

I’ve written this guide to give you some idea of what I think is important when choosing a day nursery, combined with information gathered from other sources.

One thing I do always say to parents however, is that not every nursery suits everyone; we are all looking for the right one for our child, so trust your instincts.

I recommend that you visit a few different nurseries before making a decision and visit your preferred one more than once.

Visit a few different nurseries before making a decision and visit your preferred one more than once Click To Tweet

I hope you find this guide useful and that it helps with one of the most important decisions you will ever make … choosing the best nursery for your child

General

  • Talk to other parents – you may attend a baby group so talk to the other parents about nurseries. Some parents may have older children or other relatives using nurseries.  These conversations are a great starting point but bear in mind that not everyone is looking for the same thing.
  • Can you drop into the setting or do they insist that you always make an appointment? Do they have an open-door policy where you can pop in at anytime?
  • Does the manager give you confidence in her ability to look after your child?  How much experience does the manager have in childcare and managing a nursery?
  • Is the nursery flexible to your needs? Some nurseries are large chains dictated to by corporate decisions and policies, others are smaller chains run by families and others are single settings –  which suits your needs more?
  • How does the nursery manage settling a new child? Some nurseries offer limited settling visits before charging you, others offer unlimited settling visits to ensure children and parents are ready (both emotionally and physicall)y
  • Speak to your local feeder schools.  If you already know which primary school your child is likely to go to speak to the school office about what nurseries generally feed into them and how they find the ‘school readiness’ of those children. Moving up to ‘big’ school with a few friends and familiar faces will make this transition that much easier.  It may seem a long way off but school comes around very fast
  • Ask to see their policies.  Any nursery should have clearly defined policies and procedures for everything from opening times to emergency situations. Check these for reassurance that your child will be safe there. Look for illness policies, as some nurseries require children to have extensive times away from nursery following illness.  All nurseries should be following guidance from infection control which sets out how long children need to be excluded for each illness.
  • Can the nursery accommodate your requirements for days, sessions, all year care? Do they offer flexibility?

Staff

  • Are the staff well presented? Do they look happy and engaged? Do they talk to you?
  • How many of the staff are qualified? Many nurseries cut corners with the number of qualified staff and include practitioners with a Level 2 as a qualified member of staff.
  • Ask about staff turnover – children thrive on consistency and regular staff changes can be unsettling. Ask about the current staff team – how long have they been there? A good nursery will have great staff retention rates.
  • The Nursery Manager must hold at least a full and relevant Level 3 qualification.
  • How many of the staff are first aid trained? All staff must have a 12 hour paediatric first aid certificate
  • Are staff encouraged to carry out additional training? What continual professional development programs are in place to keep staff updated?

Children

  • Do the babies have a separate play area? Do they go outside?
  • Do siblings spend time together?
  • Are the children engaged in what they are doing and do the staff plan for the children as individuals?
  • Are the toys and equipment age appropriate?
  • How do staff plan for your child?
  • Many settings follow set planning, others follow the child’s interests. Leading from the child has shown to engage children and increase learning.
  • Are staff interacting with the children?  Are they on the floor with the children?  Are the children sitting in laps or taking comfort from staff?  Young children need tender, loving relationships with the adults in their lives so make sure you’re confident this is the culture in your prospective nursery
  • Are the children settled and content?
  • Where do children take their sleeps? How are cots and sheets managed? Is there a separate quiet/sleep area where they can rest in comfort?
  • Do they look loved? Are the staff able to respond to individual childrens’ needs, to comfort and encourage them to keep them safe?
  • What extra curricular activities do the children engage in?
  • Do children access local amenities, like the park, shops etc?
  • How does the nursery work the key worker system? Having a key worker system is compulsory under the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).  However, how it operates varies.
  • Are the children behaving, and if not, are they being treated appropriately? Are voices raised?
  • If you have specific concerns about any aspect of your child’s development how would the nursery work with you on this?

Childrens House Day Nursery, Southwell, Notts

The Environment

  • Does the building look well kept, safe and secure?
  • Is the environment neat and tidy? If a nursery it too neat and tidy then are the activities too adult led? Are the children getting chance to play freely and independently – developing their imagination and learning?
  • Are the rooms bright and airy? What is the access to the outdoors like?
  • Is the outside space as attractive as the inside?
  • How often are the children outside? The natural environment provides excellent learning opportunities

Meals

  • Do they provide good quality food and a varied menu? Can you see the menu? Can they cater for special diets?
  • Where is the food prepared? And by whom?
  • What snacks and drinks are available?

Parent Partnership

  • How does the nursery report back to you? Until your child can talk for themself, (and even once they start in many cases) getting information from them can be difficult. Your nursery should have a process in place to report back to you regularly, preferably daily on nappies, eating and drinking and what activities they have been involved in.
  • How do they work in partnership with parents?
  • How are you kept informed of daily food/sleeps and activities, how is your child’s development shared with you?
  • How often are newsletters, parents’ evenings?
  • Does the nursery hold events that parents can attend like Mothers Day, Graduation, Christmas shows, local events?
  • Does the nursery have sessions you can attend with your child before returning to work?

Day Nursery Costs

  • Do they offer free places for 2, 3 and 4-year olds? If nurseries don’t, it’s worth asking why?

How to save on your fees

There are ways to possibly reduce fees.

Trust your instincts

You’ll almost struggle to find a nursery that doesn’t perform well on most of these criteria, and sometimes the only thing to influence your decision is your own gut feeling. If you aren’t comfortable with how you feel in a nursery, your child probably won’t be either, so no matter how many Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ reports they have, don’t bother.

I am a great believer in first impressions and if you accompany that with the following checklist, you will be able to make a measured decision.

❖Can they accommodate you for the times of day you require?

❖Is the environment clean, safe and welcoming?

❖Are the children happy and engaged in activities?

❖Are the babies taken outside?

❖Are they OFSTED registered and can you see a copy of their latest report?

❖What are the parking facilities?

❖Are the staff happy, relaxed, well presented, calm and confident?

❖What experience in childcare and what qualification does the manager have?

❖Do they provide food? If so, where is it cooked?

Finding an amazing nursery can feel like a great weight off your shoulders, particularly if you are being pressed back to work whilst your baby is still small. With a little consideration, you’ll be able to find an environment for your little one that will help them grow and develop into confident little people.

I hope you come and view The Children’s House Day Nursery and Pre-school.  We feel we are a little different but you have to visit to experience that – the written word can only impart so much.

Kind regards,

Karen O’Connell