Choosing a childcare provider can feel like a minefield. You want to ensure that you make the best decision for your child and your family. But the best isn’t necessarily the most popular, or the most expensive. If you don’t do your research, you could end up spending a lot of money and experiencing a lot of stress. So how do you choose? You’ll find my top tips below.
1) Give yourself time
There is a lot of competition for childcare places, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to come to a decision. This means that it is something that you need to consider a few months into your maternity leave. Ask locally about what the drill is. Where I live, it’s important to look three-four months before you want your child to start, but I have friends that live in London who had to get their childcare arrangements in place much sooner.
2) Childminder or nursery?
Deciding between a childminder and a nursery is a very personal decision. We didn’t want to rely on an individual. If a childminder is ill, you can be stuck. If a childminder wants a certain week off work each year, you have to go with it. We didn’t want to be bound by that.
We also wanted a place where we could potentially book our son in for an extra day if a work commitment came up. I’d heard that nurseries tended to be more flexible than childminders with this. It had also become apparent that our little boy really enjoys being around other children and we thought he’d get the opportunity to meet plenty of other kids in a nursery environment.
3) Make a list
When choosing a childcare provider, I think it’s a good idea to make a list of the ones nearly. I wrote the following details underneath the name of each nursery:
- Distance from home
- Ofsted rating
- Date of Ofsted inspection
- Opening times
- Other information
This meant that I could compare, at a glance, what the opening times were and how long it would take us to get to each place.
4) Don’t be swayed by your friends
It’s natural to ask your friends which nursery they’d recommend. But don’t be swayed by somebody else’s opinion and do your own independent research.
My son’s current nursery has been perfect for us. We are really happy with it. But if a friend asked me my thoughts, I’d advise them to do their own independent research, because what works for one, doesn’t work for another. Every child’s needs and every family’s needs are different.
5) Ofsted isn’t everything
All childcare providers in the UK are assessed by Ofsted. This information is publicly available and easy to obtain online.
I found it useful to look Ofsted reports up. Mainly because they document any concerning incidents that have been raised and you can read about how the provider responded to them.
I took the Ofsted feedback on board, but this wasn’t the only factor I considered when choosing a nursery. I’d advise others to keep it in mind, but not to have this as their overall deciding factor.
6) Go and see as many as you can
I realise that this could be tricky, given the pandemic. But you should still see as many nurseries as possible, even if you’re only able to have a virtual tours. We went to see six nurseries in total, over a period of two weeks. It was really useful to meet the staff and see them interacting with the children firsthand. We were also able to see the space that our child would potentially be in, which was much more useful than looking at pictures.
7) Decide on what you feel is important
There’s no escaping the fact that kids are expensive and if you decide to send your child to nursery, it’s going to cost you money. So make sure your family is getting what’s important form the service. Everybody is different and every child has different needs. For us, it was important to find a childcare provider that had a lot of outdoor space. Our son loves being outside and we don’t have a huge garden, so picking a nursery where he’d be able to spend time outdoors was important to us.
I was also keen to find a nursery where the staff seemed friendly. We wanted somewhere where our son’s emotional needs would be met, rather than the big focus being on academia. So the staff having a friendly demeanour was important to me.
8) Ask questions
We went into each nursery with a list of questions and more came into our minds during the visit. You will potentially be handing your child over to these people, so it’s important to ask as many questions as you have. If you think of others after you’ve visited, then call them up and ask.
9) Go with your gut
After seeing a number of nurseries it became clear that there were two that we’d be comfortable sending our son to. The final decision came down to our gut feeling. Our boy has been attending his nursery for just over a year and we are exceptionally happy with the staff and his development since he started.
10) Remember that you can change your mind
When choosing your childcare provider, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. You are handing over the most precious thing in your life and the pressure to make the right decision can feel intense. However, it’s important to remember that if you’re not happy with your initial choice, you can make a change. If a childcare arrangement isn’t working, then it’s okay to pull your child out. You’re in the driving seat.
Is it worth it?
You might think that the research that we carried out when choosing a nursery was a bit intense, but i am so glad we took the time to do it.
Choosing our son’s childcare provider wasn’t an easy decision. But I believe that doing this legwork has really paid off for us. Not only does our son kick his legs with glee when he arrives at nursery, but we love the staff, the nursery has been really receptive to our feedback and we felt they treated us very fairly when the pandemic hit.
Some decisions are worth taking a little time over and I believe that choosing your childcare provider is one of them.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also be interested in my other baby and toddler tips.