Whether you’re planning a return to work, or just want to start socialising your little one, then a day nursery setting may be the best option.

What is a day nursery?

A day nursery typically takes children from 3 months to school age, unlike for example a pre-school where children start older.

Day nurseries also differ from pre-schools in that they provide ‘wrap-around’ care, from early morning until evening – typically 8am until 6pm (although hours may vary). This makes them a popular choice for working parents, especially those with a commute.

Another difference is that day nurseries typically don’t follow a term structure, but are open most of the year (bank holidays being an obvious exception), which is another reason why they might be a choice for a working parent.

One thing to remember if you’re considering this option is that day nurseries often have a strict sickness policy, so even if your child has a relatively minor ailment such as conjunctivitis, you probably won’t be able to send them. However they are likely to be open regularly so on balance you will probably find yourself with cover most of the time.

Most day nurseries will take childcare vouchers, but it is worth checking this at the outset.

Finally remember that it’s never too early to start thinking about day nurseries once your little one is born. The best nurseries often get booked up, so if you want a place at your favourite location, then you may find yourself putting your name down months or even years in advance!

If you’re thinking of choosing a day nursery, then this guide will help you to navigate some of the options.

Step 1: Make a list

First of all sit down and make a list of criteria that are important to you and your child. These will be a mix of practicalities such as opening hours, and also ‘nice to haves’ such as class size, outdoor space etc.

Here are some suggestions for your list:

  • Ofsted report
  • Fees (including sibling discount)
  • Do they take childcare vouchers?
  • Availability (days, half days)
  • Opening hours and days
  • Lateness policy
  • Sickness policy
  • Bad weather policy
  • Class age groups
  • Class size and ratios
  • Size and feel of setting
  • Outside space
  • Curriculum – are there any extra classes on offer such as baby yoga, languages?
  • Key worker policy – where each child has an individual key worker assigned to them
  • Do they provide all meals and nappies or will you need to bring them in?
  • Location – if you have a primary school in mind, is it likely that your child’s peers will go to the same one?

Step 2: Make a short-list

Once you have your list of criteria, then ring around your local day nurseries to find out preliminary information about them. You can try our directory as a starting point.

You can use your list to check off essentials and eliminate some – for example if you’re keen on outside space and they don’t have any. You can also find out about availability at this stage.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list, then have a quick review of the Ofsted reports of your favourites, but remember that they may have been visited some time ago, so don’t necessarily let a poor review put you off.

Step 3: Visit the setting

Choosing a day nursery is an incredibly important decision, and there’s no substitute for visiting to see it with your own eyes. You can either visit on your own, or bring your little one with you, depending on your preference.

During your visit, there are certain things to look out for, including:

  • Qualified staff with good experience who respond well to children’s individual needs
  • Key workers assigned to individual children who will monitor their progress and needs
  • Active but happy children
  • Appropriate safety precautions
  • Clean and tidy premises, but with well planned and designed activities to keep children busy
  • Appropriate changing / toileting facilities
  • Sleep facilities for those children who need to nap
  • An understanding of family cultural sensitivities
  • Correct processes around for example food allergies and other precautions
  • Try to watch a mealtime and see if children are able to start helping themselves eat and tidy up
  • Similarly watch a playtime and see how children interact with each other in an outside environment

Step 4: References

A reputable nursery should have no issue in providing other parents as references for you to speak to. You could also look on local facebook groups to see what people say about the reputation of the nursery. However it’s important to remember that everyone has different priorities and so you should look for a trend rather than being put off by a single bad comment.

Step 5: Booking your place

Congratulations! You’ve found the perfect nursery. Now there are a few formalities to conclude such as:

  • Organising a settling in period
  • Arranging for a password for anyone who might collect your child in your absence
  • Working out the hours your child will attend and also the start date.

We hope you’ve found this guide useful. For next steps, check out our directory for a list of local day nurseries. Or if you’re not convinced that this is the right route for you, then try our guides to different types of childcare.