Handing your (often very young) child over to any kind of child-minding situation is hard. I’m saying this out of experience from doing it with my two children when they were one. The first time was five years ago and the second time was these past few weeks. I’ve gathered my own thoughts and asked some insiders for their ideas on how to choose a good nursery.
Leave your guilt at the door – I was always torn between staying home with my children or going back to work, but for us the financial responsibility of paying the mortgage answered this question for us. So once you’ve got that decision pretty much made, then it is time to take a big breath, pull your big girl pants up and find the best solution for your baby.
Both of the ladies I asked to input into this piece, Laura and Steph, have well over ten years of nursery experience each, have worked in different nurseries over the years, and both are mothers themselves. They don’t know each other, but interestingly enough their responses were pretty similar.
Laura and Steph still love their work with children but made it clear that there are some really important aspects to look at when choosing daycare for your children. Sadly, both of them have experienced nurseries where they as workers were treated badly which really made them question whether they wanted to continue in this line of work. So how do we find a good daycare option for our precious little ones?
Where to Start?
Steph sensibly suggests thinking carefully about what kind of a setting you want your child to be in – small and homely or big and busy. She and I both agreed that especially for the little ones a smaller setting is nice.
Laura suggested starting with recommendations from friends and she only trusted her oldest child into the hands of nursery staff that she personally knew. But if you don’t have those kind of connections around you, what about their Ofsted report? Both were cautious about this with Laura saying
„to be honest I take Ofsted ratings with a pinch of salt as I know very good nurseries who haven’t got an ‚outstanding‘ report and others who are very good on paper but not as friendly to work for“
Steph says you should read the full report if you can as they can be „very revealing“. You can find Ofsted reports here and search by name or find providers in your area.
So maybe now you’ve got a short-listed based on recommendations and Ofsted reports – what now?
VISIT – Pretty obvious, but the main question is when? One of the ladies I asked, Laura, suggested turning up spontaneously to the nursery to see its daily running, but not during lunch or early afternoon nap time. The other lady, Steph, agrees saying that
„If you ring up and enquire about a place in a nursery and they want you to arrange a date and a time for your visit give it a wide berth, any nursery worth their salt will have an open door policy“.
I know from my experience of teaching that we always have an open door policy and are told to expect this at the beginning of each year.
So what am I looking for when I visit?
People. Probably to most important point of all – everything in a nursery hangs on the people working there. If you don’t get a good impression that they are kind, loving and respectful to the children then don’t do it. No matter how great the building is or what they tell you about the curriculum, the people are the most important thing. If you are shown around out of hours then this is not good enough, you have to see the nursery in action and you need to see the rooms and the people who will be working with your child now and also later.
Do the children seem happy? Do the staff seem happy? Are they relaxed? Bored? Is behavior dealt with? Is there obvious concern, respect and interest in the children? Is there interaction with the children? Are people smiling? It seems silly to say, but sometimes these small indications really matter.
Look at the walls – Is there artwork from the children? Photographs of things they have done? Interesting displays?
Is it clean and cared for? Both of my children have been in nurseries where the building was not the newest and the garden was in need of some astro turf but it was always clean and cared for. There was a sense of order and both children and staff workers took pride in having things looked after.
What Can I Ask?
Ratios – How many staff members are in each room? The official ratios that apply to nurseries are here. For example for under 2s it is one staff member for three children.
Sickness – What happens when someone is ill? Who is in charge if the manager is ill? Make sure there are proper cover plans in place.
First Aid – Steph reported that in some nurseries there is only one qualified first aider – what happens if they are off? Or on holiday?
Key Worker – Each child should be assigned a Key Worker who helps your child settle into nursery. Would they be there on the days and times that your child is there? Many nursery workers work shifts, who would your child go to then?
Settling In – How this works, most common is having parents/carers involved for the first few days then slowly leaving the child for half an hour, an hour etc. How flexible is this?
Activities Planned– Ask to see some planning for the different age groups at the nursery. To find out more about what your child can be encouraged to do and when then take a look at this information for parents and carers here. It gives you an idea of what your child should be able to do when as well as ideas on supporting their development at home.
Can I visit again? – You will be sending your most precious asset here for long periods of time, if you need to, visit again, take your partner or someone who can give you a reliable second opinion. I’ve had parents join me for half a day or had hour long curriculum discussions with me before signing their child up for my school and I respect them for taking the time and putting the effort in for the sake of their child.
Decision Made – What if it’s a mistake?
So once you’ve visited the nursery and made a decision you will start settling your child in. As you should be involved in this process and spend time with your child at the nursery Laura encourages using this time to talk to staff and really get a feel for the place. This is also the best chance you’ll get to make your final decision. We found out during our settling in period that the nursery we had chosen wasn’t a good fit for us.
From the visits we had been happy with everything except we never got to meet the staff members who would be looking after our child because they were „reorganizing“ their staff positions and not able to give us a final say on who would be working in the under 2s room. Fatal error, because when we finally met them we realized that we just didn’t feel happy with the way they worked. Square one and time was running out before I was going back to work. Thankfully I was able to get a new place at another nursery quickly but still my husband had to take holiday to start the settling in process all over, but it was worth it. I couldn’t have gone back to work and left my child with someone (again, it’s all about the people!) I didn’t feel 100% happy with. Don’t feel bad about changing your mind, you’ll feel worse if you don’t do anything about it and see your child or yourself unhappy.
Beginning of A Journey
Now you’re settled in and although there still might be tears (child, you, both) it starts to get better and you can start enjoying their development. There should be regular communication between you and the nursery about your child and their development as well as information about what they are doing during the day. Portfolios are also a wonderful way for all parties to share in the milestones of your child.
We hope this helps you with your nursery choices and we’re sure that there are more things that you as parents can add to our lists but this is aimed to give you a good base to start looking on. If you’d like to ask us a direct question about our experiences or have a comment to make then please feel free to comment below or email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A huge thank you to my Insiders Laura and Seph for their honesty and willingness to help.