Choosing the right nursery for your baby can be one of the biggest decisions you face as a new parent. You are entrusting the care of your most precious, irreplaceable person to somebody else. It can be emotional and stressful. So how do you know what’s best and what should you be looking for?

Choosing a nursery for your child

The good news is that all research shows that where nursery settings are of good quality they have a very positive impact on a child’s life.

The initial introductions:

  • When choosing a nursery, decide what is important to you, your baby, and family. Is it proximity, hours of opening, type of care? Make a list of what first comes to mind and keep this to hand when looking at services. This is called your needs and gut list. You can add things like ‘must have outdoor space’, ‘must serve organic food options’, ‘must be a small setting’. These are the first gut feels, of what will make you comfortable as a parent. They can be as wild and outlandish as you like, and your wants may change as your view settings and educate yourself. This is your starting point.
  • Call the settings you are interested in and make appointments to view them. Plan ahead. It can be wise to start viewings during your pregnancy as most services operate waiting lists.
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Viewing your child’s nursery

  • If you’re choosing a nursery, a good service should take the time to allow you to view the setting while it is in operation. This will give you a good idea of the atmosphere and philosophy of the setting. Have a list of questions ready for your viewing time and do not be afraid to jot down notes.
  • A good setting should be busy but not chaotic.
  • All materials should be at a child’s level and set up into areas of interest for the children to explore.
  • Ask if there is a keyworker system in place. This will be a person who is responsible for your child’s care. They will be your go-to person and generally the person tracking and planning for your child’s development.
  • What are the childcare professionals’ qualifications? It is really important that the setting has qualified staff who hold both first aid and child protection training. Trained staff understand the theory behind child development and so know how to look after your child’s needs.
  • What is the setting’s philosophy and how are the children taught? It’s always worth considering this when choosing a nursery. There are many different types of settings using different teaching methods such as Montessori, Froebel or Reggio Emilia. Other settings use the national Early Years framework and various teaching methods from different curriculums to care and teach. The most important thing is that whatever philosophy is used it is child lead and focused. This means that the setting is gives individualised care and is led by the child and where they are developmentally.
  • Ask about staff turnover and retention. In order for children to attach and form relationships with their carers they must have the same childcare professionals on a constant basis.
  • What food is served? Make sure you are comfortable in regard to the variance and quality of the food served on a daily basis.
  • Parent access and communication. It is important that you can gain access to the setting at any time. A good service will allow you free access to enter the setting at any time. This gives you piece of mind that no matter when you arrive you can see your child at play. Covid-19 has affected freedom of access to settings, however, the hopes are that as restrictions fade away we will see parents back within settings as normal.
  • Ask other parents: The best recommendations are from parents themselves. Be sure to ask friends and family about settings they used and would recommend.
  • OFSTED reports. OFSTED inspects nurseries and rates them from outstanding to inadequate. Be sure to research the OFTED reports which can be found on: https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk

Once your child starts nursery

  • Settling in period. A good setting will give plenty of time for settling in. Each child and family are unique and so setting in is different for all. A service that understands the child will understand that parents should be close by or welcomed into the classroom for the first few sessions. This is helpful to baby and parent, who are both learning to trust the new setting. Many services now have parent rooms allowing parents to stay on-site for as long as they need. There is no prescribed time for settling in and it should not be charged for.
  • How will you be communicated with? Do they use daily feedback? Is this in written form or through an app? How will you be kept up to date with your child’s activities and planning? It is very important that you have regular updates and that you are involved in your child’s learning.
  • It is also really normal for your child to become upset at departure time. Try to remember your child uses you as a safety barometer to make sure the word is safe. When you leave and they are in a strange situation it can be upsetting for them. The good news is this is a normal part of development. From 6 months on a baby can make strong attachments to carers and so once the carer is constant and attentive the baby will start to bond.

Once your child starts it is okay to still have many questions, and a good service will understand and will be happy to answer all and any queries.

We always say that children are all different, but they all settle with care and attention. Parents however need more care to settle and to feel that they have left their baby in a safe and loving environment. It’s a very difficult time and a good settling will make you feel supported through this.

Never lose sight of the fact that you are the parent and you are working in partnership with the setting. This means your input is important, and a good setting will make you feel valued and cared for.

All parents really want is someone to love and care for their child the way they would themselves when they are working and can’t. With a good setting you will feel that. Early years is about not just development but care, for your child but also your family.

Article by Karen Clince, Founder of Tigers Childcare

Karen Clince is founder and CEO of Tigers Childcare, a provider of high-quality childcare services in Ireland and the UK catering for over 2000 children across 13 centres and employing over 180 people.

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