Choosing the Best Nursery for your Toddler
The day your little one starts nursery opens up an exciting chapter in their lives. Not only are nurseries a great place for your toddler to make new friends, socialising with other children is an amazing way for them to develop their social skills, preparing them perfectly for the big leap of starting school.
However, for us parents choosing the right nursery for your little one can be a tough decision. From the safety of your child to whether or not they’ll enjoy the food, the amount you have to consider can be a little overwhelming. So to give our Metanium parents a helping hand, here are 5 steps on how to ensure you’ll feel happy and confident in your choice of nursery.
STEP 1: MAKE A SHORTLIST
Our first piece of advice would be to draw up a shortlist of nurseries in your local area using Childcare; a helpful service which allows you to search for nearby nurseries by simply entering your postcode. If you’re looking at private childcare options, the service also highlights alternatives such as childminders, nannies and babysitters.
To help you narrow down your options further, try listing any positive factors for each nursery that are important to your family. For example, how close to home is a particular nursery? Are one of your choices close by your workplace which could easily fit in with your commute? Are a nurseries drop off and pick up times align with your work hours? It’s also worth checking nursery opening times to ensure they’re convenient for your work or social commitments - are they open term-time only, or do they provide year round provision?
If you have a budget in mind, it may be worth noting down each nursery’s hourly or daily rate to ensure it’s the most appropriate choice financially. Dependent on your situation, some two year olds and all three and four year olds in England are eligible for 570 hours of free childcare, the equivalent of 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year. There are a number of additional support options that may be available to you online.
STEP 2: VISITING THE FINALISTS
We recommend visiting your final few nurseries in person, as it's important to get the look and feel of a place for yourself. You could even take your little one along with you to see how they initially respond to the environment.
Our top suggestions on what to look out for would be:
- A friendly, welcoming team of staff who are involved with the children’s activities.
- Nurseries should have fun activities planned for each day, with an element of learning in there too i.e. creative, physical development or cognitive.
- One of our main priorities as a parent is that our little one enjoys their time at nursery, so have a look around to see if the other children look like they’re having fun and enjoying themselves.
- Nurseries should allow children to exercise each day, so see whether there’s an outdoor area or equipment that children can play on outside. City-based nurseries may not have enough space for an outdoor playground, but they should still provide a spacious indoor area and take children on regular visits to the local park or playground.
STEP 3: CREATE A MINI Q+A
If it’s your first time looking at nurseries, you might not know where to start in terms of what questions to ask - we’ve got you covered! Of course, these questions are just a guide, your gut instinct as a parent will tell you a great deal more, so don’t worry too much about asking the right thing.
Our top suggestions would be:
1. How many children do they care for in total? What is the ratio of staff to children?
This is so you’ll know your child will be paid enough attention during the day.
2. Do they provide meals, snacks, nappies, etc.?
This way you’ll know whether you need to pack anything in a bag for your toddler each day.
3. What qualifications and/or experience do the staff have?
4. How do they deal with bad behaviour, and how is good behaviour promoted?
This gives you an insight on how to prepare your little one for nursery.
5. What happens if my child becomes unwell?
This is great to know in case your toddler becomes unwell during work hours.
6. What is the policy for other people collecting your child, are there safeguards in place?
7. Do drop off and pick up times have any flexibility?
If you have unpredictable work hours, you’ll want to know if the day nursery can be flexible.
8. How will they help your child settle into their new environment?
STEP 4: CHECK THE QUALITY
All day nurseries should provide a safe, clean environment, this means you shouldn’t be seeing any broken or ageing play equipment. Security should also be a high priority, and thankfully all day nurseries are inspected by an appropriate authority, which makes it easy for us parents to check the overall quality. Following inspection a detailed report will score a nursery’s health and safety, behaviour of the children, and whether the activities they do with your children teach them valuable skills before school.
Nurseries normally have a registration certification displayed, which states their rating; if not, parents have the right to ask for proof of score. Alternatively you’ll more than likely be able to find a detailed report online at one of the websites below:
- England: Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education)
- Northern Ireland: your local Health and Social Care Trust
- Wales: CSSIW (Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales)
- Scotland: Care Inspectorate
STEP 5: ASK FOR REFERENCES
There’s no better opinion to trust than that of other parents! If you ask to visit a nursery during pick up time, you'll be able to chat to a few waiting parents to see how their child is getting along, and if there’s anything else you need to know - you could even join an online forum or Facebook group for local parents, and ask for some suggestions there.
If you’re a first-time expecting parent, or have recently welcomed a beautiful newborn into the world, you could ask around at your local pregnancy/baby classes to see if anyone recommends a nursery in the area - some nurseries have waiting lists, so there’s no harm in being prepared!
Don’t forget, the most important thing is that your little one enjoys their time at nursery and look forward to going each and every day. Your child may take some time to settle into new surroundings, so make sure to allow some time for them to adjust to their new surroundings!
Keep your eyes peeled for part 2, where we share some top tips on how to prepare your toddlers for their first day at nursery.
Picking a pram: Stroller, pushchair or travel system?
The importance of story time for your little one
Introducing your tots to technology
What to feed your 1 year old
Patience is a virtue?
How to tackle your to-do list.. and still have some 'me' time!