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Baby & Toddler, Motherhood

Getting it right when choosing childcare | Tips for choosing a childcare provider that’s right for your family

The image shows a child colouring in. The picture is being used in an article about choosing a childcare provider.

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 when choosing childcare

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) What next? Childminder, nanny, or nursery? 

Deciding between a childminder and a nursery is a very personal decision. Should I send my child to nursery? Would a childminder be better? Could we afford a nanny to come to the house? What will be the best option for our family? There are a lot of questions to address before deciding what to do next. But you need to weigh up the pros and cons for yourself when choosing a provider, to work out what is the best option for your family. You also have to remember that there’s no right or wrong answer. 

In the end, we didn’t want to fully rely on a single 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. 

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3) Make a list of childcare providers

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:

  • Address
  • Telephone
  • Distance from home
  • Website
  • Ofsted rating
  • Date of Ofsted inspection
  • Opening times
  • Cost (each week / month)
  • 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) When you choose, don’t be swayed by your friends

When you’re choosing childcare, it’s natural to ask your friends for advice and to find out 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 first hand. 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 the provider 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 childcare providers, 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.

Taking the time to work out where to send your children

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.

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