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Find a nursery: top tips for choosing a nursery for your child

On your quest to find a nursery, to help both you and your child, it is critical that both of you are happy and confident with your choice of nursery.

Here are our top tips for what questions to ask, what you should look for from a nursery and what legal requirements a nursery has to follow.

The right research about your nursery will reassure you that your child will be cared for in a safe, high-quality environment.

You should always visit more than one nursery before you decide where to place your child. This will give you a better view of the variety of nurseries available as some will suit you and your child’s individual needs more than others.

Where to start when finding a nursery

When finding a nursery, take a look at what nurseries are available in your area and what is going to work best for you, for example, do you want a nursery near home or work/college?

You can find nurseries in a variety of ways:

  • Talk to other parents in your area, for example, at parent and toddler groups, or to parents you know whose children have attended nursery as they may have particular recommendations
  • See posts on local social media sites
  • Look at online parenting sites such as Netmums and Mumsnet for reviews and advice from other parents and look at social media
  • The Government’s Find a Nursery School tool.

You can learn a lot about a nursery from your first contact:

  • Was the phone answered in a quick, professional and friendly manner?
  • Did the nursery accommodate the visit date you required without any hesitation or difficulty?
  • Or if they couldn’t, was there a valid reason such as a trip was taking place so there would not be anyone available?
  • Do they offer an open door policy to parents/carers to enable you to drop in and see the nursery whenever? This may give you the confidence that they are happy for you to see the childcare practice at any time
  • Were you able to access all the information you needed from the website/ brochure/prospectus/information?

Visit your chosen nurseries

Once you have booked your visit or virtual tour, you will need to think about the questions you want to ask, what you want to look for and note the legal requirements the nursery has to follow.

Some things to take note of note could include:

  • Are the indoor areas all safe, clean, well-lit, welcoming and well decorated?
  • Are the rooms an appropriate temperature?
  • Is there a safe, secure and clean outside area for children to play in?
  • Can children choose when they want to play outside or are there set times? (best practice is for children to be able to choose)
  • Are children able to freely choose where and what they want to play with e.g. do the rooms/areas have low storage units so children can see the contents? (best practice is for children to be able to choose)
  • Do the children in the different areas/rooms look happy, settled and well-occupied and engaged in the activities?
  • Do you feel their needs are being met?
  • Does the team of staff appear friendly, welcoming, calm, relaxed, well-presented and professional? Are they at the children’s level e.g. sitting on the floor, sitting at the meal tables etc.)?

Safety will be a key deciding factor. It is important to ask about the nursery’s safety features and you could consider asking some of the following questions:

Key questions to ask could include:

  • How do you ensure the safety of the children in this area? (answers here may include risk assessments, registration and regular head counts, safety checks, supervision of children at all times, safety equipment such as straps, safety gates, door finger guards)
  • How do you ensure the safety of the toys the children are playing with? (staff should be checking and cleaning the equipment on a regular basis, risk assessments should take into account the equipment and toys, all toys should be age appropriate i.e. no risks of choking for younger children)
  • If you take the children out of the nursery on trips, e.g. to the local park or further to farms, zoos etc., how do you ensure they are safe there? (the nursery should have a specific procedure for this which must include risk assessments. The nursery should have other safety features such as increasing staff to child ratios during these outings)
  • How can I be assured that the staff are safely recruited? (all staff must have enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks before they have unsupervised access to children and all staff should have provided references from previous employers).

You should be able to view the nursery’s policies and procedures which should give you all the information you need about the above points and more.

Fees when finding a nursery

Although cost will not be the only deciding factor when finding a nursery, it can impact on your final decision and you should find out as much as possible when you first visit the nursery. It is important to spend some time discussing this with the management.

Here are some questions that you may find useful:

  • What do the fees cover?
  • Do we need to pay extra for nappies, wipes and milk/food or do we need to provide our own?
  • Do we pay for sessions when our child is absent, e.g. holidays, or when the nursery is closed for unforeseen circumstances such as bad weather?
  • Does the nursery close over Christmas and Bank Holidays? If so, do we pay for these sessions?
  • Ask to make sure you see a copy of the terms and conditions/contract before you make a decision
  • Does the nursery increase its fees on an annual basis?
  • What kind of support is available for the cost of fees? e.g. the nursery may take childcare vouchers, they may be able to offer you information on working tax credits and if your child is over two or three years old you may be able to claim some free sessions using the nursery education funding.
  • What is the nursery’s policy on late fees?

And finally…

When you leave the nursery it is important to find time to gather your thoughts and make notes if you feel you may forget specific details. This will give you a basis to make an informed decision. Ask yourself:

  • Did you and your child enjoy your visit?
  • Was the nursery visit relaxed, friendly and informative? Did the staff answer all the questions posed in a clear and concise manner?
  • If you took your child along, did they settle and appear happy and relaxed? How did the nursery staff interact with you and your child?
  • Did the nursery appear clean, safe and secure?
  • Is the nursery able to support any individual needs your child may have?
  • Did the nursery make you feel welcome, confident and relaxed?

Remember if you are not happy with any aspect of this nursery, look elsewhere and if you leave the visit and have further questions, any quality nursery will be happy to answer these over the phone, or welcome you for a further visit.

For more support and information to help you find a nursery, download our Choosing a Nursery factsheet.

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