Finding the right childcare can be daunting, particularly for new parents and families who are new to their local area. Here, our step-by-step guide to finding the right care for your child takes you through the process, so you can feel confident and comfortable you’re making the decision that’s right for you and your family.
What kind of care does my child need?
There are lots of options available, from pre-schools, play groups and day nurseries, childminders, out-of-school care and at-home care, to crèches, baby and toddler groups and children’s centres. So how do you know which one is right for you and your child? Start by thinking about the following questions:
- What are my child’s needs? What type of support do they require at their age?
- What kind of learning, development and play opportunities do I want my child to have?
- How often a week does my child need caring for?
Once you feel clear about what your child, and the family as a whole, needs, you can decide which type of care will suit you best (scroll to the bottom of the blog for explanations of the different kinds of childcare in more detail, if you need help deciding what will be the best fit).
- Make a shortlist of childcare available in your area – you can find local nurseries, pre-schools and other childcare providers through our directory or from your local authority's Family Information Service who can provide a full list.
- Check the Ofsted report for the nurseries, pre-schools or childminders you are considering. The Ofsted report will tell you whether they meet the Early Years Foundation Stage requirements covering children’s welfare and the quality of their care.
- Make contact with one or two to arrange a visit – you need to see the environment and speak to the childcare provider in person where at all possible.
Questions to ask/things to consider
When you’re visiting local childcare settings to help you decide whether they would be right for your child, try to think about the following, and don’t be afraid to ask questions! Any good care provider will be happy to show you around and answer your questions, so don’t be afraid to ask about the things which are important to you.
- Does the childcare setting (or space) feel welcoming and nurturing?
- Are parents given information about their child’s progress and achievements? How?
- What training, skills and experience do the carers and childcare workers have?
- Is there enough space, including an outdoor play area?
- Are children taken out to enjoy outings and walks regularly?
- Is/are the practitioner(s) joining in, giving attention and showing affection to the children? (Don’t forget to look down to the floor, as a good childcare provider will interact with children on their level – this can be easy to overlook when you’re trying to take in so much information at once!)
- Are the children happy and absorbed in activities?
- Is there a range of activities and resources available?
- Is the environment safe and stimulating for the children?
- What happens in cases of accidents and emergencies?
- Are the toilets and basins clean and accessible?
- Is the equipment safe and well maintained?
- Do displays show different cultures and people from different backgrounds in a positive way?
- Are facilities available for changing nappies and potty training?
- Are the meals and snacks healthy and nutritious?
- Has the setting achieved a quality assurance award?
Most importantly of all, listen to your instincts. You know your child best, and will be able to see whether or not an environment will be a good fit for him or her.
You’ve made a choice. Now what?
Your child will need time to settle into their environment, to get to know their key person, childcare team and other children, and adjust to the new routine. Your childcare provider should encourage you to stay with your child at first so that they can be gradually introduced to activities and get to better know the other children, their carer or team. By working with your childcare provider, you can help your child to be comfortable, happy and secure, and thoroughly enjoy their time.
(Keep scrolling for more information on the different kinds of childcare options available in many areas).
Pre-school Learning Alliance childcare directory: https://www.pre-school.org.uk/find-childcare
Family Information Service directory: http://findyourfis.familyandchildcaretrust.org/kb5/findyourfis/home.page
What are the different kinds of childcare available?
The Pre-school Learning Alliance provides the following types of childcare - consider the available choices in your local area and then decide what would best suit your child.
Pre-schools and playgroups
Pre-schools and playgroups are usually organised by community or voluntary groups, with the help of parents in the local area. They offer care for specific sessions, which can last for between two-and-a-half to four hours a day. Many provide extra services such as breakfast clubs, lunch clubs and holiday play schemes.
Day nurseries generally care for children from six weeks old until school age, are normally open all day and offer the choice of either full-time or part-time care. Some may also provide weekend care for parents who work shifts.
Baby and toddler groups
Baby and Toddler Groups consist of activity based groups, such as stay and plays, arts and crafts clubs and music groups, where parents attend with young children aged up to about two-and-a-half years. These groups give you the chance to meet other parents and children in a relaxed, informal environment. You stay with your child during the session and take part in activities to learn together with them. The groups are often run by parents for parents, and usually meet once or twice a week. If you can't find one in your area, you might want to consider setting one up. For more information, see the Alliance guide to setting up a baby and toddler group.
Local authority nursery schools and nursery classes
Nursery schools and classes are aimed at pre-school children aged three and four years old. Children start to attend a nursery school or nursery class in the September after their third birthday. A nursery school is a separate school that is only used by children under five years old. A nursery class is part of an existing primary school. Most nursery schools and nursery classes offer part time places and operate during term-time only.
Out-of-school groups normally provide care for school-age children, up to the age of 11. This can be: before school, after school, during the school holidays, holiday schemes and play centres. Clubs that provide for children under eight years must be registered with Ofsted. Clubs that only cater for children aged over eight do not need to be registered but can choose to register on the voluntary part of the childcare register. Clubs that are managed by schools are automatically registered under the school’s registration.
Children’s Centres offer all families with children under five a range of services, information and support in their local community. The support available varies according to local need, but most centres will offer the following: advice during pregnancy, health visitor services, drop-in sessions, adult learning, employment support, debt advice and much more besides. Many centres also offer childcare, baby and toddler groups and crèches.
Childminders are based in their own homes and provide childcare for small groups of children aged up to eight years. They give your child the chance to meet and play with other children, while being cared for in a home environment. They are usually self-employed and decide which hours they work.
A home-based childcarer is a person (over 18 years old) who is employed by a parent to look after children in the family home. Home-based childcarers can care for children of any age and can work flexible hours. They can choose to register with Ofsted on the voluntary part of the childcare register.
A crèche provides short-term occasional care for children under the age of eight and can take many forms. A crèche may be offered to you if you are attending training, visiting a leisure centre or may be provided in shopping centres. A crèche must be registered with Ofsted if it operates for more than 4 hours a day and for more than 14 days per year.
Written for the Pre-school Learning Alliance by Melanie Pilcher, Policy and Standards Manager at the Alliance.