Choosing a day nursery

From September, Archie will be starting at a local day nursery for a couple of mornings a week. It’s been a tough decision because selfishly I’d quite like to keep him at home with me 24/7 but I know it will be really good for him because he’s so sociable and loves exploring. Choosing the right nursery was quite a long process and it’s actually the second time I’ve done it as I’d chosen one where we lived previously too. I thought I’d share the main things I considered as part of the selection process in the hope that it might help you if you’re just starting out in your research.

day nursery


Clearly this is crucial in making sure you’re not too far away in case of emergencies so consider whether it’s better to be closer to home or at work (should these be different).

Owner managed or a franchise?

Some nurseries are privately owned by one or a few people whereas some will fall under a larger national franchise chain. There are pros and cons to both here but it’s worth looking into how the nursery is structured and how much flexibility they have to make changes. It’s also a good idea to look at their history because it’s quite common for franchise chains to take over privately run nurseries and it can take them some time to embed their ethos/ structure.

Ofsted rating

It can be tempting to use this purely as your selection process and I think it’s a helpful guide (Excellent or Very Good ratings are generally preferred) but you have to take into account the date of the inspection, what was highlighted in the report and to bear in mind it’s only part of the overall picture.

Do they have a waiting list?

Some nurseries will be very popular so it’s common to have a waiting list. Usually nurseries will take more new entrants in September (coinciding with those starting school) but once you’ve decided on the nursery it’s worth getting your child’s name down as early as you can, especially if you’re returning to work.

Which weeks of the year is the nursery closed?

This is important if you’re working so you know the days when you won’t have childcare but it’s also a useful indicator of how their staff holiday works. If they close for so many weeks of the year, it’s generally a sign that staff won’t be allowed to take holiday at any other time which provides a level of consistency for your child.

Timings for drop-off and pick-up? Do they offer half-days?

Again pretty vital that you know the drop-off and pick-up times from a work perspective. And it can be useful to choose somewhere that offers half days to provide added flexibility.

Cost (inc. registration fee)

Clearly important and can vary a lot! Having looked at my local area (Bedfordshire) I’d say that around £70 a day is quite typical.

How big is the outside space and how often do the children play outside?

For me, this was key because Archie loves playing outside and I think it’s great to have somewhere they can run around and burn off some steam!

How many children are in each group and how are they grouped?

I’d say around 10-15 children per group (class) is quite standard and mostly it’s done on age but it’s good if they consider other development factors too such as ability to walk, talk etc.

What’s the child to staff ratio? And what’s the staff turnover?

Most nurseries will go by the statutory guideline:

  • 1:3 for 0-2 year olds
  • 1:4 for 2-3 year olds
  • 1:8 for 3-5 year olds

In terms of staff turnover, clearly you want this to be as low as possible to provide consistency for your child.

Will your child have a key worker? How is the key worker chosen?

It’s quite typical for a nursery to assign your child with a key worker who is their (and your) main source of contact. But it’s worth asking how that person is chosen and whether there is flexibility should your child build a better relationship with someone else.

How can you see your child’s progress and how do they log this?

Most will operate some form of online system where you can see photos and snippets of their day’s activities plus a more simplified paper daily report which summarises what they’ve eaten, how long they slept for, general mood etc.

Is food cooked on-site? Do they cater for allergies etc.?

Generally it’s better if food is cooked on-site and it’s great if they have a sample menu for you to look at so you can ensure there’s enough variety and that they cater for any allergies.

What kind of activities do they do? How is the day structured?

Most will do some form of outdoor play, indoor play, story time, music time, baking, colouring, painting etc. but it’s worth asking about how this is structured – clearly you want a bit of structure but too much can be difficult for younger children.

What’s the sleep environment like?

Some nurseries will be quite flexible and, for example, be happy to push your little one in their pushchair to get them to go to sleep. Whereas others will have a designated area for sleeping, which might just be a specific space on the floor. Speaking to my friends’ experiences though it’s worth bearing in mind that they will probably nap differently at nursery than they do at home – often they’re so stimulated that they tire themselves out enough to sleep pretty much anywhere!

What’s their discipline policy?

Personally I think it’s important to know this to ensure your discipline practices at home match what they do at nursery, otherwise it can be pretty confusing for your child.

How many settle-in sessions can you have before starting?

Some nurseries will offer a set amount of settle-in sessions whereas some will be very flexible and offer as many as your child needs before they’re fully comfortable.

Other external sources of recommendation

Personal experience is so valuable in providing you with a realistic view of what the nursery is like so it’s worth trying to speak to a few mums locally or asking on an online local mums group.

Overall impression when visiting

This is probably the most important and is a bit like buying a house. What’s the general feel of the nursery? Do the children look happy and engaged? Is there a good level of cleanliness? Are the staff friendly and how do they interact with the children?

If you get a good overall feeling about a nursery and you’re comfortable with all areas covered above then I don’t think you can go too far wrong. I would say the more you can communicate with them about your expectations and any specific needs you/ your child has the better – it has to be a two-way relationship and a joint effort to making it work.

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