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How to Choose A Nursery

One of the questions I have been asked most by parents over the years concerns how to choose a nursery . Most parents of under 5’s in the UK will consider their options for ‘out of the home’ childcare at some early stage in their parenting journey. My reflections I am sharing today come from my thirty-two years of running Nurseries for pre-school children aged two to rising five. During these years, I have been a hands-on manager, nurturing and educating some 3000 children, employing and mentoring early years staff and building relationships with parents and families.

I now find myself heading towards sixty, a grandmother and yet still feeling passionate about young children being given the best ‘out of the home’ care and education they can possibly have.

I offer you my reflections and tips for choosing a nursery for your precious little one whilst fully appreciating that all families have differing reasons for placing their pre-schoolers in childcare settings. My advice may not work for everyone but I hope it might steer you towards making a considered choice.

The Absolute Must Haves:

  • A clean and safe environment with fresh air, heating and a method of keeping cool.
  • A team of friendly, caring adults who genuinely love their jobs and have received relevant training and continue to receive CPD.
  • A leader in the setting who understands child development, is respectful of children and adults and puts the children’s needs at the centre of all their decisions. A nursery where they have risk assessments and a safeguarding policy available for anyone to read.

The Desirables:

  • A well laid out and resourced indoor and outdoor environment with toys and resources that are well maintained, suitable for the age range and will invite your child to use them. These might be clean cardboard boxes,  safe old car tyres, re-cycled containers for pouring water from and mud and sand that looks like it is regularly replaced. Or these might be the newest Montessori wooden toys, beautiful and well-cared for fiction and non-fiction books on a child-sized book case and an assortment of inviting role play costumes and furniture to spark your child’s imagination.
  • The location needs to offer you a realistic journey time. Nurseries do not like children being picked up late. Who could pick up and drop off your child for you on those days when you just cannot do the journey?
  • A routine that has been carefully and sensitively designed to meet the needs of your child. Can they rest if they need to? When do they eat? Where will their nappy be changed?
  • Does the nursery value the crucial information that you as the parent or carer has about your child and if they do, how do they collect this information from you and act upon it?

The Icing on the cake:

  • A nursery which gives you daily feedback about your child’s uniqueness.
  • A nursery where the people who look after your child know him or her as the unique little person that they are and embrace and celebrate your child’s passions and progress with them.
  • A nursery where the turnover of the staff is very minimal and you meet many of the same adults when you return with your second and third child.
  • A nursery where the adults are happy, focused, creative, passionate, go above the call of duty and make you feel welcome and your child feel safe and loved.
  • A nursery where your child makes more progress than you might ever have imagined possible.
  • A nursery where your child’s academic, social, emotional and physical needs are observed, assessed and met with strategies that are well-thought through and shared with you regularly. A nursery where the car parking facilities are enough for the families and offer you easy access for drop off and collection.

How do you find this nursery ?

You start by taking recommendations from trusted friends but you must go and look for yourself. Take your child with you and notice how the adults respond to your child.

Watch the children and gauge how happy, safe and busy they are for yourself and ask questions about anything that concerns you.

Talk to the person who will be in charge of the nursery when your child is there. What is their philosophy about early childhood education – is it aligned with your inner most beliefs about what you want for your child? Notice how the children approach the adults and how the adults respond. Would you be happy for your child to be treated in these ways?

Read online reports about nurseries – is a good source –  but remember that nothing beats entering the setting for yourself and getting ‘a feel’ about the place. Does the atmosphere feel cheerful, warm and purposeful. There is nothing to say you cannot arrange to visit again if you are not quite certain whether or not to fill in the registration form.

And after all that…

You will get a sense of where you felt most comfortable and where you would feel confident to leave your child. Or you may decide that you do not want to use a nursery. In which case, don’t do it (yet).

I have often shown parents around and they have brought their own parent with them, (usually grandma) who will be looking for different things to mum and dad. Do not rush into signing up to a nursery. Instead, reflect, discuss with someone you trust and ask questions.

A child’s early years are absolutely crucial to their later learning. And that is why after three decades of doing this work, I am passionate that the next generation of early years practitioners get it as right as they possible can. Early years education and care is a privilege and needs to be viewed as such.

Shirley Hayman
Head of Woodlands Nursery and Early Years Educator from 1990-to present