Choosing a nursery for your child can be a daunting prospect. When I started looking for a nursery for my son, I visited a lot of different settings before I found one that felt right. That feeling that it’s the right place for your child is difficult to define. But you know it when you find it.
Of course, there are also more tangible factors that are equally important to consider. Check out our guide to 10 important factors when choosing a nursery for your child.
When should you start looking at choosing a nursery?
It was surprising to see how far in advance you need to start looking for a nursery place. I started looking in January for a place in October. I half expected them to laugh at me for looking so far in advance. Little did I know that actually, I should have been looking much earlier than this.
Depending on where you live, the waiting lists for nursery places can be lo-o-o-o-o-o-ng. As soon as you know when you want the nursery place from, it is worth starting to make enquiries. It is important to allow time to visit several different nurseries so that you can make comparisons.
If you live in England or Wales, the Government has an official tool to help you choose registered and regulated nurseries.
Is it in a good location?
I chose my son’s nursery because I liked the atmosphere. The children there all seemed to be happy. The staff were friendly and caring. What I didn’t consider very carefully was the location.
Once I was back at work and rushing to make it in on time for early morning meetings, it hit home that the nursery was actually quite far away from my office.
It is important to think about whether your chosen nursery is in a convenient location. Think carefully about the time it takes to travel to and from the nursery. It might be worth doing a practice run and timing it to see how it goes.
If you can only get to the nursery by car, it is also important to consider the financial implications of any extra petrol. Although it may not seem like much, it can add up when you’re doing the journey twice a day, five times a week.
How large is the nursery?
Nurseries can vary from small homely settings accommodating a handful of children to large multi-room complexes for almost 100 kids. The size of the nursery does not necessarily have any relation to the quality. Choosing a nursery is more about what you feel is right for your child.
If you know that your child is most suited to a sensitive, nurturing environment with lots of individual attention, then it may best to choose a smaller nursery. On the other hand, if you have a budding extrovert who loves to mix with other children, then a larger, more stimulating environment may be better suited.
What meals are provided for the children at the nursery?
This is an important point to ask about. Most nurseries provide a nutritious hot lunch if your child is there all day. But not all of them do. Some require you to bring a packed lunch each day.
It is worth considering whether you will have the time to make this each morning. On the other hand, it does mean that you have control over what the staff give your child to eat. This can be helpful if your child has any allergies.
If you know you’re going to be heading out the door early, then finding a nursery that provides breakfast can be a life-saver. Equally, if you are in a job that often requires you to stay late, a nursery that provides your child with an evening meal can be a great help.
Ask about the type of food that the nursery offers the children. It can be helpful to see a typical weekly menu. Check that the food appears to be of good quality and is age appropriate.
What happens if your child is still having milk feeds?
When I started looking for a nursery, my son had not yet started eating solid food yet. I was worried about how he would have his milk feeds while at nursery. As it turned out, by the time he actually started nursery, he ate three solid meals a day. He could easily manage without milk during the day.
Most nurseries provide cow’s milk for the children once they are over a year old. For younger children, it is likely that you will need to provide formula milk or expressed milk for them to have at nursery.
If you are providing formula milk, there is a financial implication to consider. It won’t make any difference if your child would be having formula milk anyway. But if you’re buying it especially for nursery, then the cost of this is something to bear in mind.
Are nappies provided?
A key financial consideration is whether nappies are provided. Until you have reliably toilet trained your child, nappies are essential. Some nurseries provide these for you. Other nurseries ask for you to bring in your child’s own.
Thinking about how many nappies your little ones gets through in a week, it could save a pretty penny if the nursery provides nappies for you. Of course, if you are using cloth nappies rather than disposable ones, this will be less of a consideration.
Where will your child sleep at the nursery?
My son rarely, if ever, naps during the day in his own bed. His favourite place to be is in his baby carrier, snuggled up to me. This was a big concern for me when he started nursery. I was worried that he would not be able to nap well in a cot at nursery.
At all the nurseries I visited, I asked to see the area where the children have their naps. Some of them were in separate rooms, while others had little cribs and mattresses to lay out in the main room. Many of them were lovely and calm, with relaxing music and soft lighting.
One of the important things to ask about is how often the staff check on children while they are sleeping. It was also important to me to ask about how staff help the children to get to sleep. I wanted my little one to be cuddled if he was unhappy, rather than left to ‘cry it out’.
Now that he has started nursery, my son has naps there during the day with no problems. At home, I still can’t get him to drift out without the help of the carrier!
Is there access to a safe outdoor area at the nursery?
Children thrive in the fresh air. Having a safe outdoor area to play is a vital part of a good nursery. This is especially the case if you live somewhere without a garden, where your child doesn’t have this opportunity at home.
Check to see that the outdoor space is away from the road and that fences are securely in place.
What provision is there for non-mobile babies?
Non-mobile babies and rampaging toddlers are not a good mix. Most nurseries tend to have separate areas for younger babies to keep them safe.
If your little one is starting nursery before they are crawling, it is worth asked questions about the provision for non-mobile babies. Consider whether there is somewhere safe for them to sit or lie inside. Ask whether there is a buggy available to take them outside for walks.
How much does the nursery charge?
While you can’t put a price on your little one’s safety and happiness, nursery fees are an important consideration. They can vary quite a lot, and some can be extremely expensive. Some nurseries also charge a fee for applying for a place. This is something to watch out for as the fee is often non-refundable, even if you do not get offered a place or choose to take up a place elsewhere.
So, there you go – 10 of the important factors to consider when choosing a nursery for your child. Choosing a nursery is a big decision, but often the most important thing is that it feels right to you.
Last updated by Robert Edwards, May 2022