I am a childcare professional, and was in the first cohort of students to gain the Early Years Teacher Status. I previously have worked as a nanny, but spent the majority of my career in the private sector managing pre-schools, after-school clubs, and managing a large day nursery. In between studying for my degree in Early Years and working, I also met my husband and had three children. So when it came to choosing childcare for my children, as an industry insider I knew what to look for. The majority of my friends who have had children, also came to me asking my advice on choosing the right nursery for them, in this very competitive market. Therefore I thought I would share my tips with you all to help you find the perfect nursery/pre-school for your child.
Do your research
Firstly ask around, friends, family or even Facebook for any recommendations. You will hear mixed reviews, but that is to be expected, as every family has different experiences of the same setting.If you have a nursery already in mind, please still visit others within the local area or near where you will be returning to work. As a manager I always recommended parents to view other local nurseries, to get an over view of all the different types of layouts, indoor and outdoor environments. This will give you some insight into comparing the nurseries that you have seen.
Check out the latest Ofsted report and Parent View ratings. Please remember though that the judgement made on the setting was a reflection of the nursery on those days that the inspector visited. The date of the inspection is important, if more than six months has passed I bet there will be a lot of changes that would have taken place. Outstanding nurseries can rest on their laurels, and a setting that requires improvement may be progressive and making positive changes. Also when reading your inspections check the providers at the same post code tool. This will give you a clue if the setting has changed name or shut down and re-opened for any reason. If this has happened ask why!
Book a viewing
Call the nursery for a ‘show round’. A setting that has an open door policy for viewings shows transparency, which is good. However if you have to book an appointment to view make sure it is at a time convenient for you. I have known settings to orchestrate viewing times when it suits them, and they prepare the setting for your arrival and the hard sell. It is a good sign when you arrive if the staff are dubious to let you in. If they leave you on the door step to confirm your appointment, or to ask for some form of identification from you shows they take safeguarding and security seriously. You should be issued with a visitor badge/label and be asked politely to sign in and not use your phone at any point. Again all standard safeguarding measures.
If it is too clean and tidy be suspicious! You know how messy looking after young children can be so expect toys out, paint splodges and staff covered in cornflour. These are all positive signs that the children are joining in with fun and stimulating activities. Look to see that all the children are engaged, as in doing something. If they are all wandering about aimlessly could be a sign of boredom. Are the majority of children happy? There may be some unsettled children again to br expected but again th majority should be happy. Some staff maybe observing children in the room and making notes but they should stop if a child needs some assistance. If you are able to talk to children, ask them a few some questions ‘what do you like doing best here?’ The children should also be accessing the outdoor areas everyday come rain or shine. The outdoor space should be a reflection of the indoor space. A good setting will have overhead shelter, books, writing equipment outdoors as well as the usual climbing equipment and bikes.
If the nursery is providing meals for your children check out the Food Standards Agency star rating. They should have a sticker outside just like you see in restaurants. If it’s not displayed ask to see what it is or even have a tour of the kitchen. Check out the menus and ask who are the suppliers to the nursery. I have heard of settings choosing cheap value products including meat to keep overheads down.
You are most likely to be shown around by a member of the management team, and they will have their show round speech down to a fine art. However stop to speak to staff in the room, are they positive, happy and can they answer your questions? Ask them about first aiders, planning activities and ratios. At the end of the day it will be them that will be the ones caring for your child the majority of the time. A sign of a good staff team will be a mixed aged group, more mature staff will perhaps offer experience and knowledge. Younger staff maybe more energetic, and be full of new ideas and intitatives from recently completing their qualifications. Do ask the management team about the staff as they are the key to any nurseries success. Believe me when I say happy staff make children happy! Staff turnover is a key indicator of the morale and atmosphere of the nursery. If the room based staff are inconsistent and the turn over is high this could indicate poor management and care will suffer.
Making your choice
Once you have made your mind up, book another show around again, and take your partner or a friend. They might spot something you missed the first time. Again look for consistency of the staff in the rooms again. Ask the manager if they have a parent forum or committee that you can talk to. Existing parents often join a forum to share ideas to improve the day-to-day experiences. They can often act as a go-between for management and parents. Parents of children who already attend will be a valuable source of information.
It can be a daunting process choosing childcare but hopefully this guide will help inform you on making the right choice for you and your child.