How to choose a nursery
There are lots of different types of nurseries – big, small, owned by national corporations, small independent, council-run or affiliated to local schools. Each type offers something different, and what meets your needs will depend on your family and your personal preferences.
If you're feeling clueless about your options and are starting to look for the first time, ring your local council and explain that you are looking into local childcare options. They offer a Families Information Service and will provide you with a list of local registered local childminders and nurseries.
As with other forms of childcare, if you can get a recommendation, it's a good start. As ever, you need to ask the right questions and make the right observations. Many of these points may be covered in the nursery's prospectus:
- Check the Ofsted report.
- Are there opening hours which suit?
- What happens about holidays?
- What is included in the fees?
- What is the deal with nappies and food?
- Is there a good outdoor space to play? How much time is spent outdoors?
- Look at the loos.
- Ask about the food. Look at a menu. Does it seem healthy?
- What happens if a child gets sick at nursery?
- How does the nursery deal with worms and nits?
- What happens if a child needs to sleep? Will his naptimes be catered for?
- How many staff are qualified?
- What is the average age of employees?
- What activities are the children engaged in?
- Is there a keyworker system? What happens in the absence of your child's usual carer?
Look at care ratios: some are better than those required by law. The minimum is one carer for three children under the age of two. Make sure you ask what staff turnover is like. High staff turnover is a bad lookout.
Going back to work
"There is a very low staff turnover - so DS can still say hello to people that looked after him when he was younger - and nursery staff are careful to ensure there is good sharing, caring and that quieter children are not left out." Mistlethrush
It's worth booking appointments to view a selection of nurseries so that you can meet the staff and see how the nurseries are run. Most Mumsnetters agree it is caring and confident staff that make all the difference.
"I liked the nursery where the workers talked to my daughter and not just to me," explains one mum. "I know I make the decisions, but it's my daughter going there!"
If you see several nurseries that pretty much cover all bases to your satisfaction, then trust your instincts.
"Both times I have chosen nurseries on gut feeling. I have just felt comfortable with the atmosphere, the children seemed happy, and I "clicked" with the staff straight away." Fairymum
Nursery-owner NurseryJo suggests the following when weighing up different nurseries:
- Do the children look well-stimulated, sitting down at activities, engaged by the staff?
- How is the day structured and what sort of activities are built into the timetable?
- Does the building look well-kept, safe and secure?
- How many of the staff are qualified?
- Does it have good quality outdoor play areas? If so, how often do children get access?
- Does indoor and outdoor equipment appear of good quality?
- Do they cook food on the premises?
- What are the menus like? Do they include a good combination of fresh (rather than tinned) fruit and vegetables?
- Do you have confidence that the nursery manager possesses strong leadership skills, is involved and has a 'hands-on' approach?