A Guide to Choosing a Good Nursery

Hand Painting 2Signs of a good day nursery

Day nurseries are childcare centres that care for babies from birth to four or five years old. You’ll want to visit a few different day nurseries in your local area to find one that you and your child are happy with. We guide you through how to find a good day nursery.

Do nurseries need to be registered and inspected?

All day nurseries should be registered and inspected regularly by the appropriate authority:

  • England: Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted).
  • Scotland: HM Inspectorate of Education (HMIE).
  • Wales: Estyn.
  • Northern Ireland: Department for Education Northern Ireland (DENI).

The registration certificate should be displayed prominently in the day nursery. If it is not immediately apparent, ask the manager if you can see it.

How do I find out if a nursery has a good reputation?

A sign of a good day nursery is a recommendation from other parents. When you visit a day nursery, try to chat to one or two of the parents and get a feel for the place. Also talk to other local parents you know to see if they have heard anything, positive or negative, about a day nursery you’re interested in.

Your own first impressions are important too.

Is there a friendly, welcoming atmosphere?

What do you see?

Is it clean, calm and most importantly, do the children look happy and occupied?

Whatever the day nursery tells you, it’s important to listen to your instincts.

What sort of policies should I look out for?

A day nursery should have clearly established policies for everything from opening and closing times to dealing with emergencies. By checking that these procedures are in place, you can see that the day nursery takes the responsibility of caring for your child seriously.

You’ll want to see that a day nursery can be flexible, too. For example, it should allow you to pick up and drop off your child at different times if your working hours change at short notice. Also look for a day nursery with a strict illness policy. Find out which illnesses will keep your child at home, and for how long. If your child is unwell, you may need to take time off work for dependents. You do have the right to take a reasonable amount of time off work if you need to care for your child at short notice.

A good nursery should have an open door policy which encourages parents to drop in, unannounced. Some nurseries go beyond just letting you in and encourage you to help with activities or outings. If you work full-time, you may find taking part difficult to fit in on a regular basis. However, you can take parental leave if you’d like to take time off to care for your child.

What activities should I expect to find in the nursery?

All day nurseries have to follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). This provides a structure of learning and care for children from birth to five years old. This means that there will be a range of activities suitable for your child’s stage. Though your child will just see this as different ways of playing!

The sort of activities your child may take part in:

  • Painting, drawing, gluing and sticking.
  • Imaginative play with the sand pit, water table and playhouse.
  • Story time and reading.
  • Construction blocks and dough.
  • Jigsaws and puzzles.
  • Moving and dancing to music.
  • Singing.
  • Simple cooking.

Some day nurseries also provide children with the chance to play learning games on the computer, under supervision from a member of staff. Television and videos should play little or no part in what your child does at nursery. If videos are part of the curriculum, make sure that they are age-appropriate and educational. Children learn through play, so look for somewhere that places a high value on children simply doing activities that they enjoy. Many day nurseries will keep parents informed about forthcoming topics so you can talk about them with your child at home. Look for a nursery with a wide range of age-appropriate toys. These will encourage your child’s development and stimulate creative, imaginative play. Look at what is on the walls, too. It’s important that there are plenty of drawings and paintings that the children have done themselves. This shows that their creativity is valued.

A day nursery should have an outdoor play area and allow children to play outside every day. 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 shops, parks and playgrounds.

Finally, find out what the nursery serves at meal times. Check that they serve nutritious options and that vegetarian children or those with food allergies or intolerances will be properly catered for.

What training should the staff have?

All day nursery staff must be trained in the EYFS. This means they are trained to create a safe and stimulating environment for your child to enjoy and develop in. They must also provide toys and activities suitable for his/her stage.

Some nursery staff also complete a range of other courses to extend their skills. These can range from diplomas to degree-level qualifications.

What qualities should I look for in the staff?

Look for staff members who share your views on sleep, discipline, feeding and other care issues. Good carers will ask detailed questions about your child’s health and care. This will help determine whether their particular day nursery is right for you. Staff should also make time to get to know you and your child quickly and talk to you at the end of the day.

Look for a nursery with good staff benefits. Those that pay well and offer a good employment package are more likely to keep their best staff. Low staff turnover is one key to ensuring consistent, stable care for your child. Some nurseries close early every so often for staff support and training. Although inconvenient in the short term, this is time well spent. It shows you that the staff are valued and up-to-date in their skills. If staff training isn’t up to scratch, and they seem overworked and stressed, then the nursery is not for you.

What should the ratio of staff to children be?

There are regulations in place to make sure there are the right numbers of carers in a day nursery. The child to staff ratio should be:

  • one adult to three children aged two and younger.
  • one adult to four children aged between two and three.
  • one adult to eight children aged between three and five.

Do day nurseries have to follow health and safety regulations?

All day nurseries are required to provide a safe environment for staff, children and visiting parents. Check that play equipment is safe and that fire drills take place regularly. Security must also be a high priority. Check that children can’t leave the building without being noticed, and that nobody can enter without valid reason.

Prevention of dangerous situations is a must in a day nursery setting. You should satisfy yourself that steps have been taken to minimise every risk.

A good nursery is also clean. Floors, corridors, walls and the kitchen area must be spotless. Rubbish bins should not be left full, and the building should be suitably heated, lit and ventilated. Staff must be aware of the importance of personal hygiene. They should also follow appropriate procedures when helping your child in the toilet.