One of the key challenges that affects parents is how to choose the best nursery or pre-school for their little one. Babies can go to nursery at just a few months old and Government funding for childcare kicks in from as early as 2 years of age. So, the choice of nursery is a decision that, for many, needs to be made very early in a child’s life.
What is the best way of choosing the most appropriate nursery or pre-school for your child? What factors should be taken into consideration? This guide clearly explains the key considerations and provides a useful road map to find the perfect nursery or pre-school match for an individual child.
A Convenient Nursery Location
The most obvious factor to consider is location. After all, you will usually want your child’s nursery or pre-school to be close to either your home or place of work — or somewhere en route — so they’re easy to drop off and pick up. With a quick Google map search for nurseries in your desired area, you’ll already be able to generate a great list of possible contenders.
While you’re still on the search results page, you can check how well the various nurseries have been reviewed on Google. Little Cedars has an average rating of 4.4 out of a possible 5 stars on their Google listing, for example — that’s very good. If you dig a little deeper, you can see that, of the 7 total customer reviews, 4 of them were rated at the full 5 stars, which again is extremely good. You can also see any comments with some reviews, where people left them. In our Little Cedars Day Nursery example, here are the comments:
“With the new management this nursery is better than ever. Well done …!]”
“… her team are amazing in every way, with the attention and time they give to the children. Very good knowledge on childhood illnesses and Allergies.”
“Amazing nursery! Our daughter loved it here and all the staff are fantastic!”
So, that’s the kind of thing you need to look for — happy customers! You can also do a similar exercise via the Facebook profiles for each of your contenders. How many 5 Star reviews have they got? What were the comments, if any?
Compatible Opening Hours
The nursery’s opening hours will also need to be compatible with your working hours and allow sufficient time to drop off and collect, allowing for travel. This may help to whittle down your list of contenders a little. Many nurseries and pre-schools only operate during weekdays, so if you work at weekends, you may need to make other arrangements on those days or find one of the rare nurseries that is also open on Saturdays or Sundays. Similarly, you may require childcare all year round and not all nurseries/pre-schools offer that. Our Little Cedars example operates for 51 weeks of the year, only closing for public holidays and one week between Christmas and New Year, so that would be very convenient if you’re looking for an all-year nursery or pre-school in the Streatham area.
Also ask around your friends, family and perhaps neighbours for recommendations. These are worth their weight in gold! You could also consider asking for any recommendations on social media, for example on Facebook, appropriate Facebook groups, or on other parent groups and forums online.
Spend time on Nursery Websites
A huge amount can be learned from a visit to your nursery contenders’ websites. They should tell you about the nursery’s approach to early years learning and development, about safeguarding and security, their curriculum, staff quality, facilities, equipment, anti-COVID measures and a whole lot more. Pricing may also be important as a consideration and websites are usually a great way to appraise fee levels without having to ask directly. If your child has a brother or sister, also check to see if the nursery or pre-school offers a sibling discount. Find out if food and drink are included in the fees. These are just a few examples of the type of information that you can usually obtain just by visiting nursery/pre-school websites, assuming they’re well maintained.
Speak to the Nurseries
Once you have a short list together, call each of the nurseries and speak with them. You can get a great deal of insight by talking with staff members. They may be able to tell you much more about the nursery than can be gleaned from their website or social media profiles. Sometimes speaking to staff can turn up wonderful nuggets of information. For example, they may run a phone app for parents to allow them to receive regular updates about their child throughout the day. They may be able to tell you more about security at the nursery. They should also be able to tell you how they are approaching the effects of the pandemic and what measures are in place to keep everyone safe, whether they’ve won any awards, whether they’ve just had an Ofsted inspection that’s not yet published … and so on.
Visit the Nurseries & Ask Questions
Once you’ve whittled down your nursery contender list to a manageable level, it’s also a great eye-opener to visit the nurseries on your short list. There’s nothing quite so insightful as taking a tour of the nursery contenders in order to see them in action on a standard nursery day. Take note of the facilities and equipment, how the staff interact with the babies and children and consider taking your child with you during the visit. Was the setting a ‘good fit’ for them? Was it homely and welcoming? Did the children there look happy? Were the facilities good? Were the activities varied and well-supervised? Were children’s individual needs catered for? Were babies and young children given enough time for naps? Is the setting well-kept and does it look professionally run? If your child has special dietary requirements or preferences, will these be catered for? Is the food high quality, healthy and well balanced? Do staff feed back to parents/carers regularly about their children? Do they keep progress notes in regard to children’s learning and development and, if so, can they be viewed at any time? What are the child-to-staff ratios? How are special needs catered for? Visiting the nursery will give you ample time to ask these and lots more questions.
Ofsted is the ‘Office for Standards in Education’, the main body for childcare and educational settings in England. You should check out recent Ofsted reports for any childcare settings that you’re considering. These can show some great detail about the running of nurseries and pre-schools on your list. Assuming they’re properly registered childcare settings (which they absolutely should be), don’t be alarmed if you can’t find an Ofsted report if they’re quite new. Not all settings will have them as they happen every four years, so relatively new nurseries may not have an Ofsted Report as yet. If they’ve had one, though, the Ofsted website will show the report. At time of writing (late 2020) Little Cedars has not yet had their Ofsted Report as they were only registered in late 2017, but we’ll publish results the moment our first Ofsted report has been generated.
Nursery Security & Safeguarding
For parents and carers, the safety and security of babies and children will be every bit as important as a homely atmosphere, a nurturing environment, a good curriculum, caring staff and modern equipment. Ask the nursery about security and safety at the setting. Are there anti-intruder measures in place, like an entrance system, CCTV and so on? Are there measures in place to stop the children being able to leave the premises unintentionally? When children and babies are picked up at the end of the sessions, is there a water-tight protocol in place to ensure that little ones are picked up by only the right people? Ask your nursery contenders all these kinds of questions.
Are Free Childcare Schemes & Vouchers Supported?
Find out if your nursery/pre-school contenders support the “free Government-funded childcare hours”. At Little Cedars, we support both the 15 and 30 hour schemes for 2- to 4-year-olds, where eligible and when spaces permit of course. Read our Rough Guide to Free Childcare Funding to learn more about those.
We hope this guide helps as a guide to choosing a nursery for your under-five baby or child. It goes without saying that Little Cedars would be absolutely delighted if we are considered as a nursery/pre-school place for your baby or child in Streatham, near Streatham Hill, Streatham Common, Streatham Park, Upper Tooting, Tooting Bec, Tooting Common, Furzedown or Balham in south west London. Do feel free to ask us any questions, book a visit, apply for a place or call for information and we’ll be very happy to help — click an option below: