What to look for when choosing a nursery

Supernanny expert Amanda Coxen, from Tinies childcare, gives her tips and advice on how to find the best nursery for your little one

As a recruiter for nurseries and a mother of a four-year-old who attends a nursery, I have seen for myself both the good and the bad in the nursery industry. When choosing any form of childcare, don’t rush. There are some excellent nurseries out there but you do have to do some research.

A day nursery (as opposed to a nursery school) is normally a privately-run nursery for children aged three months to five years. However, there are also local authority nurseries and community nurseries. A day nursery is run for childcare purposes, but normally follows a curriculum for the 3-5 year olds. Normal hours are from 8am to 6pm all year round except for public holidays. A nursery school tends to operate during term time and only takes children from 3-5 years. Nurseries have to adhere to strict ratios of staff to children, as well as guidelines and curriculum set down by the Government.

With nurseries, timing is crucial. The best nurseries will get booked up as much as a year in advance so make sure that you don’t leave it until the last minute.

Nurseries range in size from 10 to 100+ places. That may be an important factor. Large nurseries are not always a bad thing as they tend to have better facilities – you just need to check how the rooms and ages of the children within the nursery are broken down (as you don’t want your child in a room with 30 others).

The best way to research is to a) contact your local Children’s Information Service and ask for a list of nurseries in your area; b) ask parents in the area if they can recommend any nurseries to you. I got a short list of recommended nurseries by asking the bursar of the local school which ones they and the parents would recommend. Narrow your list and then start phoning around to book a visit.

I am a firm believer in first impressions so when you first arrive what are your thoughts? Does it look in a good state of repair? Is it secure? Were you greeted when you first arrived?

I remember turning up to one nursery, and being met at the door by a rather sour faced person, who then left the door open whilst she went to find the manager. Meanwhile two children started toddling out of the door!

It is always hard to get a true impression of a nursery when visiting because they are going to be on their best behaviour. But you will see what the layout looks like, how happy they children are and how do the staff look. You should fire as many questions as you can.

Ten key questions and things to check

1. Do they have any spaces for the time you are looking at?
2. How many children do they have now and what is the maximum they take?
3. Do they provide all meals, if so what is it and where is it cooked, or do you have to provide food?
4. If you have a baby, then you need to specifically check the following:
• Do you need to bring your own nappies and formula?
• Where do the babies sleep during the day (ideally you would like to have the cots away from the playing area, but space is at a premium in nurseries so that is rare)?
• How much fresh air do the babies get during the day and how are the babies transported outside of the nursery (ask to see the prams and buggies)?
• How much time if any do the babies spend in the company of the older children (depending how you view this, it could be an advantage or a disadvantage)

5. Can you see a copy of their latest OFSTED report (or alternatively you can view these all on line)
6. What sort of settling in period is there?
7. If you need to leave the nursery, what is the notice period?
8. What do they do about security and people entering the building?
9. Is there outside space?
10. Do they accept childcare vouchers (if you get these from your employer) and do they offer subsidised places for three yr olds?

This is just a short list of questions. When I looked round nurseries I had a list of about 30 – which in itself provided an interesting test to see how patient the manager stayed whilst dealing with them all! Finding the right nursery can be a tense time, but when you do it is very rewarding. My son has had experience of two nurseries and has thoroughly enjoyed them both. The key is the staff and the manager. They make the difference between a good nursery and a poor one.

Related links

How to interview a nanny: You've decided that you want a nanny to look after your most treasured possession - your child. But how do you make sure you get the best person possible for the job? Supernanny expert Amanda Coxen, who has a wealth of experience in this area, offers her tips.....

How to Find a Healthy Work-Life Balance: British families are finding it harder than ever to balance their home and work lives, according to a new survey. The Supernanny team asks Mums how they are coping with work - inside the home and out!

Making time for the family: Making time for a healthy family, work and social life can be challenging - to say the least. We have this advice and some useful links to get you started.

That elusive work-life balance... Just how can we parents try to balance family life and careers? New Supernanny expert Sue Atkins gives her tips.....

Step up, Step Back Technique: No parent wants to be stuck doing all the childcare chores but often that’s what happens. Supernanny’s Step Up, Step Back technique can help couples bring balance back to their home lives.

Find out more

Tinies Childcare is the UK’s leading childcare recruitment agency.

Related Advice