A warning…this post is a long one. So feel free to go grab that coffee, go sit in that comfy chair and enjoy reading…
10 months of blissful maternity leave was coming to an end and I remember the very thought of leaving this precious little daughter of mine in someone else’s care made me pretty nervous. I mean, she’d been attached to me for the past 9 months and I knew every little thing about her. But the time had come to go back to work and so I had to do what I could in choosing the best possible nursery for my baby.
At the time it was quite a daunting process; websites were full of advice on 50 long questions to ask the nursery, Offsted reports were confusing and I was struggling to work out what this all meant for my daughter Romilly, then just a 10-month-old baby. I mean if she goes to an ‘average’ daycare does that mean she will be behind in school, then her A-levels and then…she doesn’t get into her university of choice. Ha, I am kidding! I wasn’t quite this dramatic about it, but it did throw around all sorts of questions about whether I was giving her the best start.
Now, 3 nurseries later, and by no means a Pro at it…I do feel somewhat more comfortable in choosing a good daycare facility that works for both us as parents, and her (a now nearly 3-year-old Toddler). So I’ve pulled together a list of 10 tips that I think are a good basis, but by no means a must. Because at the end of the day, I feel like our inbuilt mummy-gut does tell us what is right and that’s the best thing to trust. But here it goes anyways…(and spoiler alert: Number 10 is the winner by far).
10 Tips for choosing the best childcare for your baby/toddler
1 – Area: This may seem obvious as clearly, you need it to be near where you live, but actually if you are two working parents then one thing that we had to consider was actually whether it was on the route to work, and also how long it takes to get back to there from where we work. There will be times you might get a call to come pick up your sick baby who has been crying since 9am…hardly fun for them to have to wait an hour now. So my tip for a working mummy and daddy is to consider a nursery near your workplace too.
2 – Outdoor space: This is a big one for us, but more of a really nice to have. We’ve had one nursery in a town with not much outdoor space, and another two in a more rural location. I know this isn’t always possible to have a choice on this, but it’s definitely a consideration. The nursery she is at now is located on a farm and we couldn’t be happier with that. It means they have a great outdoor play area and also go for walks. Our toddler is an absolute outdoorsy-kinda-girl (we used to nickname her Bear Grylls), so that’s why this was important. So I guess this tip is more about knowing what your little one loves; maybe it’s climbing, or painting or reading, and check if that nursery is incorporating lots of it!
3 – Security: I bet your mind has now jumped to the thought of some bad person walking into the nursery to steal your child, but while that’s probably always a secret dark worry in the back of a mummy’s mind…it’s also not what I meant when I wrote this tip as it’s not as likely. What is, however, is a child escaping. Nope, not a joke and has actually happened to one of the nurseries we looked at. Which is why I think it’s a good thing to keep an eye on when looking around. Most of them, however, are well equipped with anything from passcode doors, or buzzers with parents secret passwords, to cameras and locks placed too high up for any child to reach.
4 – Food: You might have spent hours everyday mushing up fresh fruit and veg and making sure your baby get’s the best food, only to find the nursery aren’t so fussed about what they give them. A lot of nurseries now have a proper kitchen and a chef (or designated cook) to create a good warm meal for their lunchtime. But not all so worth asking and maybe ask for your visit to be during a meal time so you can see what it is likely your baby/toddler will be eating. This hasn’t really been a problem before anywhere we have been, but we definitely like knowing that our little one is getting a good range of lunches and healthy snacks. And although we haven’t, I know that you can ask for your child not to receive any sugary snacks, if you feel this isn’t something you want.
5 – Excursions: No this doesn’t mean your nursery should be offering Ski-trips in the Alps, or a Culture trip to Barcelona (I mean great if they do!), but I’m thinking more along the lines of going out for walks. The nursery she’s at now has even hired a toddler-friendly bus to take them into town, visit a library and learn to buy something at the shops with their own money. She literally still talks about this trip weeks later so I know she loved it. Others have done little walks to a forest or local area. Ask upfront if they do this, as some will even have prams and bring the babies along. It’s a great way for them to get out of their usual environment and learn new things. I knew our nursery was a winner when they asked us to bring overalls for when they go out in the rain!
6 – Size of class: This was something that we didn’t really think about the first time, as generally, they have a baby-to-staff ratio and maximum capacity that they stick to. Where we did see it make a difference is that the smaller nurseries grouped the ages together and toddlers that were 1 or older would often still be in the baby room until they were nearly 3. This was only an issue when we tried to get her to drop her dummy and didn’t want her crawling around with it in all day, but unfortunately being in the baby room with babies who were still allowed dummies made that difficult. At the next nursery, she was put straight into a toddler room (1 room before the bigger pre-school age of 2 and half+), and the dummy was dropped instantly. We also noticed her language came on leaps and bounds so definitely worth checking how they split the classes.
7 – Daily Diary: This is more of a thing in the early baby days, but was more important to me as a mum than what I thought it would be. Apart from all the other emotions you have leaving your child all day, a big part of this is a feeling of missing out and knowing what they are up to. Our first nursery gave us a paper diary that was kept in her bag and they filled it in each day with details of everything from nappy changes to what she ate and how much, to what she played with. There are some nurseries that even have this online system a parent can login to and see photos of what they have been up to that day. I would always ask what their method is of recording, as well as their developmental checks as it’s good to know upfront. And also not always a given. Now she’s older we just get told everything we need to know when we pick her up, but I still really appreciate it.
8 – Flexibility: This is a huge one for us. With my husband’s slightly unpredictable work schedule (and only a limited number of days where I can let it affect my work), we have on occasion needed to put her in on a day she doesn’t normally attend. We’ve had 2 of the 3 nurseries be really great with this, and one that just wasn’t. We are very honest upfront and ask how much notice they need in order to get her in on an unscheduled day…and most of the time they are pretty happy to oblige. Think about whether this might ever be the case for you, and speak to them right at the beginning. If you get a sense that makes them uneasy…you’ll probably find it’s a no-go later when you’re really stuck.
9 – Professionalism: Although they are going to be a family away from their family, and you want that feeling to come across, they are still a business. This is one where we have learned from a not-so-good experience with one where it wasn’t run particularly well, and resulted in a LOT of staff leaving. There were other signs too that it wasn’t particularly treated like a business and unfortunately made it quite difficult at times. There is a fine line though, and one where they are treating you like just one of the many paying customers isn’t a great feeling either. Find the balance. It’s always about balance.
10 – People: I’ve already let on…this is our absolute GOLD DUST tip when picking a nursery. It’s outweighed Offsted reports, facilities and even how big their garden to play in is. In the baby days, I went to see a few nurseries, and the one that won by far was definitely because of the warm friendly faces that talked to us as we walked around on the visit. Some, however, did act like they were too busy for us or my daughter to even care, rushing around all stressed, barely asking a question about the little baby potentially joining. Just. No.
They will be the family away from family, and you want them to feel at home with these people. If you warm to them straight away…chances are so will your bab. Of course if tip no. 9 isn’t evident, then there is always a chance that some (or all in our case) of the kind faces decide to leave. But a friendly manager and room leaders should lead to happy staff. And we particularly go for the chilled-out type that we know is a perfect fit for our toddler.
Phew! So that’s it. I know I didn’t mention Price, or range of activities, or reports/reviews. But to be honest I feel like Price is a given (and completely personal), the range of activities is also a given and will often be different wherever you go…but never particularly alarming anywhere we’ve been…and well…as you can probably tell from my Golden tip, I believe other things far outweigh those pesky reports. I probably won’t feel that way looking at schools, but for now, I want a toddler who’s happy and learning new things…not studying early for her GCSE’s.
(Romilly after her first day at Nursery)
This list is definitely not exhaustive and entirely based on our own experiences. So let me know if you have any other pearls of wisdom to share with other mamas facing the same decisions. And as for the mamas sobbing into their coffee at the thought of it…I feel you…a lot of us feel you!
But when you get to the day where you drop your bundle-of-joy off and she goes bounding over to her new friends to play and flashes you a ‘bye bye mummy’ smile and wave…you’ll know all is well again.