Why Choose A Day Nursery?

Day nurseries care for young children, usually accepting them from three months old right through to school attendance. In general they operate from early morning until 6 or 7pm, Monday to Friday, (a few offer Saturday opening). They are often the first choice of parents who are looking for reliable, affordable care for their child, and this is because day nurseries can guarantee that they will be open every day of the working week, 50 weeks of the year, unlike childminders, home childcarers or nannies, who may fall ill and be unavailable for work.

The vast majority of day nurseries provide a pleasing and stimulating environment for children, and are staffed by well qualified professionals. Most provide nutritious meals and snacks and a pleasing range of activities throughout the day. All these factors allow parents to feel that there child is being well cared for while they get on with the demands of work.

You can expect to pay upwards of £25 per day, and, though terms and conditions vary from nursery to nursery, it is usual to continue paying for your place even when you take a holiday or you child does not attend through illness. However, as day nurseries are Ofsted registered, parents can utilise the Child Tax Credit system to help mitigate the cost.

When Not To Choose A Day Nursery...

Day nurseries do not offer overnight care, and are not generally open at the weekends, so if you work a shift pattern outside the usual working week, they may not be the best option for you. You may find that a childminder or home childcarer are more able to meet your requirements. If you work normal office hours, there are no real logistical reasons to reject the idea of using a day nursery. However, some child development specialists would argue that day nurseries, with their busy group environment and inevitable staff turnover, are not ideal for the youngest of children. There is some evidence that for children under 2, spending a significant proportion of your day in a group environment raises cortisol (a stress hormone) levels in the bloodstream, and thus affects your child's behaviour. The debate as to whether this phenomenon actually exists, and if so, what its long term impact is, is still very much ongoing. Nevertheless, if you are considering using a day nursery for your very young child, it may be a good idea to research this issue further, (read this article from The Guardian in 2010 for an in-depth survey of the arguments, Nurseries and Cortisol).

What Are Day Nurseries Required To Do?

Day nurseries are usually registered on both the compulsory and voluntary parts of the Childcare Register, which together with the Early Years Foundation Stage, provides a substantial framework which they are legally required to deliver. In practice this means that they must, for example, produce a range of policies, ensure all staff achieve a minimum level of qualification, and carry out regular written risk assessments and fire drills. Staff must also complete first aid and child protection courses. And they must also plan for, and provide, activities that promote each child's developmental progress, and keep a record of this progress to share with parents.

How To Find A Day Nursery

While word of mouth will tell you something about the day nurseries in your area, your first port of call (in England) should be the Ofsted website, In Wales, refer to the CCSIW section of the site and in Scotland, where both operate similar inspection and reporting regimes.

All day nurseries are inspected and their reports are published. You can enter your postcode in the report sections of all sites and you will be provided with a list of inspection reports belonging to providers in your area. All childcare settings are graded on a four point scale; outstanding, good, satisfactory and inadequate. It probably goes without saying that one should avoid settings with a judgment of inadequate, but you should not necessarily rule out a day nursery with a judgment of satisfactory, as the reasons behind this decision can sometimes be quite technical and not wholly reflect the quality of service on offer. Look closely at the recommendations or actions the inspector set (things the day nursery must change or improve) to tell you more about where the weaknesses are.

What To Look For...

Finding the right care for your child can feel like an overwhelming task. It is a good idea to visit a selection of day nurseries in your area, but do not let friendly staff or plush surroundings cloud your judgment; you need to dig a little deeper. Asking yourself the following questions will help you to home in on the right place for you and your child:

  • Do the children attending seem happy, content and actively engaged with what they are doing?
  • Do the staff appear to have warm and caring relationships with their charges, and have they created a calm atmosphere where children readily gravitate to them for support, comfort and to play? Do you have a sense that members of the staff team are passionate about what they do?
  • Are their adequate measures in place to keep children safe and healthy, and are resources appropriate for the ages of the children present? You can ask to see risk assessments, fire drill records, and systems for recording accidents.
  • Can the staff team confidently share with you how they will deal with emergencies, injuries, child protection concerns and behaviour management issues? A day nursery is only as successful as its newest member of staff is confident in his or her role!
  • Can the staff team share with you examples of the kind of activities they do with children, through photographs, children's art work or written plans, so you are assured that your child will be engaged with and supported throughout the day?
  • Do you have a sense that the care offered to your child will be 'personalised'? Group care inevitably involves some routines that meet the needs of the group as a whole, and not necessarily every individual within it. For example, for the sake a smooth running setting, lunch has to be at a set time each day, and this may not be the time you eat this meal in your home. However, beyond this, do you have a sense that staff will take time to get to know your child, her likes and dislikes, the details of her life outside of nursery, so that they can respond to her as an individual? If your child still has daytime naps, will the usual timing of these be observed while she is there?
  • Are the staff team able to put you in touch with other parents who can give you their perspective on the nursery's strengths and weaknesses?
  • Does the nursery provide good amounts of information through newsletters and notice-boards, and do they have systems for regularly seeking the views of parents so as to facilitate a cycle of client-led service improvement?
  • Finally, does the settling in policy of the nursery allow you to settle your child at a pace of your choosing, and thus be open and honest about how they work? Good practitioners have nothing to hide!

Maintaining a Relationship With The Nursery

Once your child begins attending a day nursery, do all you can to maintain a strong working relationship with the team looking after your child. Most importantly, take the time to exchange information about your child (their current interests, any significant events, such as the loss of a grandparent or the impending arrival of a new sibling), so that your child enjoys a high level of continuity of care.

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