We are in the middle of Baby J’s settling in period at nursery. I feel quite emotional about him starting nursery. He’s eleven months old and still seems so little.
It’s been a bit of a tough time settling him in to nursery – he hasn’t taken to it well and I’m finding it hard. The thing that’s keeping me going though, is the knowledge that we’ve chosen a great nursery for him to attend. I know he’ll love it (like his sister, L, does) once he’s used to the concept.
We looked at a lot of nurseries before finding the right one for L and had to start the process all over again after moving for my husband’s work. I found it very difficult to know what to look for in a nursery when I first started out, so I thought I’d do a quick guide to how to choose a nursery, for any other parents out there deciding where to trust with your precious babies!
The staff were one of the most important factors for me. I asked about staff turnover, qualifications, staff ratios (you can see the UK minimum staffing ratios and required qualifications here, but some nurseries may choose to exceed this) and staff smoking policy.
I also checked what the nursery’s key-worker policy was, as I really wanted my kids to have a chance to form a close relationship with a particular staff member.
The most important factor for me, however, were the staff members themselves. These are the people I trust my children to each day so I need them to care.
I saw one nursery where the staff left a child sitting alone crying for our entire visit because ‘he prefers to self-soothe’. Half an hour later when the child was still crying I went back for another look and a staff member, finally, picked him up. He stopped crying immediately.
I realise that this was a snapshot, that the staff may well have known what they were doing and been acting for the best, but it haunted me. I couldn’t shake the image of that child sitting on the floor crying alone. It really put me off that nursery.
The nursery my daughter now attends is great for a lot of reasons, but I chose it because of the staff. They really care.
Every single person, from the manager to the student, knows my daughter’s name. They know the name of the toy elephant who lives in her nursery bag in case she needs to hold a piece of home. They listen to her stories and they make a big fuss when she takes them things in from home to show. She talks about them as her friends.
When she was a baby they would rock her to sleep in a pushchair, they cuddled her when she felt lonely. J had an hour long settling in this week and struggled with it. When I turned up he was crying and it broke my heart, but when I walked in I saw his key worker sitting cuddling and rocking him and trying to soothe him.
I have always had the impression that the staff at our nursery really care about the children and their well being. It’s why I trust them to look after the most precious people in my life.
When looking at nurseries I also asked about activities the children do – how much is led by the staff, how much is led by the children, what toys, books and activities they have access to.
It was important to me that the children had free access to toys and books on their level and that the nursery encouraged sensory and messy play. My daughter loves to dress up so their imagination and role-play corner has been a big hit with her.
I also asked about time spent outside. Some nurseries we saw left doors open so children could go in and out as they pleased. I liked that idea but living in England I didn’t always think it was practical, the rooms felt a bit cold and I wanted to make sure my daughter was wrapped up well before going outside.
The one we chose did, however, ensure that children have time outside every day, regardless of the weather. My daughter loves playing out and has been out in rain, snow and sun at nursery. She can ask to go outside any time she likes and her nursery also take the children out for a couple of set hours each day.
They have a big garden, grow plants, have a ‘mud kitchen’. They have bikes, scooters and trikes to play on. She loves the outdoors.
The nursery also take the kids on outings – to the park, museums, libraries. Admittedly my daughter’s favourite part of every trip is the travel there and back – she considers going on a tram, bus or train a major excitement – but I love that the nursery tries to expose her to new places and experiences.
J very rarely cries, but when he does it’s almost always because he’s tired. The sleep environment at nursery was therefore important to me.
The rooms for the different ages all have a dedicated sleeping area and each child has his or her own set of bedding, which is washed regularly. Staff in the baby room were willing to put babies to sleep as they were used to being put to sleep at home – for L and J this meant gentle rocking in a pram. It meant a lot to me that the staff were willing to gently help them to sleep.
I have written before about how well positive parenting techniques have worked for us and I was conscious of the need for consistency in discipline between home and nursery. Whilst visiting various nurseries I was struck by the difference in the discipline strategies used in different places.
One nursery used ‘having to sit down and read a book’ as a consequence for poor behaviour, which I wasn’t a fan of as my daughter loves reading and I didn’t want her to start to associate it with misbehaving! Equally, one nursery we saw the older children were running riot – including two of them deliberately painting their clothes – and the staff didn’t seem able to calm them.
Discipline is incredibly hard, I certainly struggle with it as a parent, and there’s no right or wrong, some people prefer a more laissez-faire approach and others like the strict approach. Choose a nursery with a similar approach and strategy to your own parenting style, as it will help give more consistency for your child.
Our nursery provides cooked meals during term-time and we send a packed lunch during school holidays. I would have liked one that provides meals all year round, as the food my daughter gets for lunch is amazing – balanced, healthy two-course lunches that she loves! My packed lunches never seem to be quite to the same standard!
Look at sample menus and what alternatives are available for children who don’t like or can’t eat the main offering – my daughter sometimes goes for the vegetarian option or a baked potato if she isn’t keen on the main course that day. If your child has specific dietary requirements then make sure to ask about how this can be accommodated too.
Nappy change procedures/toilet training
It’s worth checking how your nursery handles nappy changing and toilet training – how do they ensure safety and privacy, what hygiene practices are in place, do you provide nappies, wipes etc or does the nursery?
You can read the Care Inspectorate’s guidance on the expected standards here.
Communication with parents
I really miss my kids when I’m at work, I feel like I’m missing out, so I wanted a nursery that keeps me up to date. I asked about how often they update parents and how they do this – we got a ‘daily diary’ when L was in the baby room with info on nappy changes and what she’d eaten, as well as photos through a secure site that only we could access.
In the older rooms, we get a meeting twice a year with her key worker and private online photo updates.
I also asked about the nursery’s social media policy and made decisions about what I was comfortable with in relation to photos of my children being shared online.
I’ll admit that I didn’t actually ask about this with our initial nursery, but we had lots of family and friends nearby so sickness wasn’t quite such an issue then.
When we moved to an area where we don’t have that support, it mattered. Some nurseries have quite lengthy exclusion policies even for illnesses that the guidance is not to exclude for – hand, foot and mouth is a good example of this!
My husband and I can’t easily take time off work so we needed a nursery that only excluded for reasonable time periods and for genuine illness.
I would also have really liked one willing to give paracetamol to a feverish child whilst awaiting collection by parents, but this didn’t work out!
Now that I’m in GP I get bank holidays off, which is really helpful as our nursery isn’t open on bank holidays. They also close between Christmas and New Year each year (time my husband and I don’t get off work) so we have to save annual leave to cover that period and negotiate with colleagues as it’s a busy time in GP and hospital medicine, taking time off then isn’t a popular move!
We make it work but would have struggled with a nursery that closed for any longer. If you or your partner don’t automatically get bank holidays off then you might need to find a nursery that stays open on holidays.
It’s also worth considering the opening hours of the nursery – 8am seems standard where we are and we make it work, but it cuts it fine for my husband getting to work on time. Our nursery also don’t allow pick-ups between 1-3pm, which makes it difficult for me to collect the kids when I finish work!
It’s also an inevitable part of my job that sometimes I am late to pick my kids up. I try to keep this to a minimum, but occasionally I am in a situation that I cannot just walk out of – the home visit with the mentally ill patient threatening to harm herself, the home visit with the patient who can’t breathe. Our nursery understand this. They do charge me for the extra hours but not at extortionate ‘late rates’ like some nurseries we looked at.
Go with your gut
I’ve given you a lot of things to think about and they are worth considering, but I think if you have the list narrowed down to two or three nurseries that tick most of your boxes then it really just comes down to instinct. I got a good ‘vibe’ at our nursery and trusted that our children would be happy. That has proved to be right.
You know your kids better than anyone, you know where they will be happy. Trust your instincts and remember that no decision is permanent, if you decide down the line that the nursery isn’t right for you then you can always change to a different one.
I hope you’ve found this article on how to choose a nursery helpful. Please leave me a comment and let me know what else you found important to think about when choosing a nursery for your child.
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