Most of us will enroll our children into some kind of nursery or preschool before they start their formal education at the age of 5. Whether this is as a baby from a young age as part of a childcare solution or later on to help them develop the social skills and confidence necessary to get ready to start school, the parameters in choosing a nursery are very much the same.
So how do you find a nursery, and more importantly how do you make sure it is a suitable one for your child?
A good starting point is the National Association of Family Information Service, www.nafis.org.uk or your local authority’s website. Obviously a web search is a useful tool but not all nurseries have great websites so this can be time consuming. Another option is to approach a childcare sourcing company, who will give you a complete list of nurseries and preschools in your area with availability.
Once you have a list of nurseries you need to get out and visit them. All childcare establishments must follow the Ofsted Early Years Foundation “EYFS” stages but within that they will have their own philosophies and operating practices.
We all want our children to be happy and cared for, and when they are small babies the care aspect is the most important. However as your child grows up other factors take on more significance so make sure you consider the whole nursery environment, not just the baby room or whichever room your child is starting in. You don’t want to keep changing settings so look at where your baby is heading.
A really important factor in your decision-making should be the staff and management of the nursery. Research has clearly demonstrated that babies and young children make progress when supported by knowledgeable and skilled adults. When visiting a nursery ask about the qualifications of the staff. Many good nurseries are now employing graduates who have achieved Early Years Professional Status (EYP). Ask whether these adults work in all areas of the nursery and not just with the children aged 3+. Remember the majority of brain development occurs within the first 2 years of life and it is important that high quality staff are caring for even the youngest children.
The environment that a nursery creates is crucial. You should look beyond the physical appearance of the nursery to the children already there. Do they appear happy and confident? Are they comfortable and at ease with the adults in the room?
Other important questions you should ask include:
- Does the nursery maintain strong safety and hygiene standards?
- What is the adult/child ratio?
- Are they sensitive to matters relating to gender/religion/race?
- Are you able to view and understand the policies and operating procedures?
- How will you be involved in planning your child’s care?
- How will your child’s special needs be met such as diet, naptime, toilet training etc?
- How is discipline managed?
- Is the food of a good standard, healthy and well balanced?
- What are the opening hours and are the sessions flexible?
- Are they registered for the Nursery Education Grant Funding?
- Is there an outdoor play area that can be used daily?
A further source of information is the centre’s Ofsted report. Every nursery should have its inspection certificate on display and you can download copies of the reports at www.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/fin-inspection-report.
The overarching aim of the EYFS is to help young children reach the five Every Child Matters outcomes. In line with this every provider is inspected against these outcomes.
- Staying safe.
- Keeping healthy.
- Enjoying and achieving.
- Making a positive contribution.
- Achieving economic wellbeing.
They receive a rating of Inadequate, Satisfactory, Good or Outstanding.
With this said Ofsted inspections are conducted by humans and can therefore risk being a little subjective on occasion. A nursery might just be having a bad day when the Inspector shows up rather than not providing the quality of care expected. If a nursery feels good to you but the report is not glowing you should listen to your gut instinct and investigate further. Talking to other parents might help establish a clearer picture.
One thing we haven’t touched on is when you should apply for your child’s nursery place. It really depends on where you live. In some areas you will have no problem securing a place with relatively little notice but in others registering your child whilst still pregnant is not as ridiculous as it might sound. You should contact your chosen nurseries and check what their admission procedures are and go from there.
We all know that nursery education can be expensive so utilising the Nursery Education Grant is a must. All three years olds and some two year olds, dependent on their family income, are currently entitled to 15 hours free nursery education per week for 38 weeks of the year. This will increase to 30 hours from 2017, perhaps earlier in certain areas. Your childcare provider will process the necessary paperwork for this as they are paid directly by the Government.
Of course, all nurseries will not suit all children and that is why there so many different types. Taking all of the above into account the most important factor in choosing a nursery is your child. You know them best and you know which style of learning environment will suit them. Educate yourself about the nursery but listen to your instincts, then you really will be giving your child a great start.