Choosing a Nursery

toddelrsI thought we would start our new round of blog posts with a very important topic that is at the start of a child’s educational life: a nursery. The EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) framework, setting standards for the care, learning and development of children below 5 in the UK, has recently been revised, so this is a topical issue as well. Read on to find more information about this.

Often parents ask me what the best school is for their children. However, even more important is picking out the best nursery for them. The youngest students I teach are 2.5 years old. They come to me for baby classes and for help preparing them for the 4+ assessments. I can easily tell how good a nursery the children are in by how well they learn, how coordinated they are and most importantly, how happy they seem.

Choosing the right nursery is arguably one of the most influential decisions you will make for your children. While there are Ofsted reports for most good and well-established nurseries, their language is not always easily understandable. Most parents tend to choose nurseries based on distance/convenience, word-of-mouth and their own visits to the centres.

However, while most adults can tell what a good place should look like for a 4 year old, it is difficult to anticipate what is needed for a baby or toddler. Recent research has identified the most important components of a quality day-care and nursery centre for children below the age of three.

These are:

  1. Continuity of staff: It is important for very young children to build stable relationships. They need to see the same faces every day, so make sure you ask about staff turnover during your visit. Also, identify a key person who will be in charge of your child’s well-being. If you do this during your initial visit, you can observe how they interact with your child.
  1. Playing to learn: Young children learn best though play. When you visit the nursery or day-care centre, be sure to observe how play is integrated into the space and routine. Staff with early childhood training will understand how play can help develop a child’s mind, body and spirit. Talk to your child’s prospective care-giver and ask how your child’s particular personality will be taken into account when planning their play activities.
  1. Communication: Children start to communicate orally in the first year. It is important that their nursery teacher fosters this communication and allows them both structure and freedom. This will help your child learn how to express his or her needs, with words rather than actions. During your initial visit, do not worry if your child is quiet and tends to be shy. There is no need for them to ‘perform’ and the nursery staff should understand this and not push your child.
  1. Space and activities: Physical activities such as crawling and walking are important for your child’s development. Make sure that there are several different types of safe spaces for children’s senses to be stimulated. Is there indoor as well as outdoor space? Is the outdoor space covered and protected from the elements?
  1. Routines and hygiene: Another very important thing for young children is the predictability of structure. Does the nursery have clear routines for mealtimes and sleeping? Is the nappy changing area clean and hygienic? Look around the space to see if the toys and surfaces look clean and well-kept.
  1. Safety and training: It is important that staff be trained in first-aid procedures – in fact the latest EYFS revision has mandated that all newly trained staff should have a Paediatric First Aid (PFA) certification. Ask how dietary and allergy information is shared. The toys should not be choking hazards and there should be enough staff to keep an eye on all children simultaneously: for babies the legal ratio is 1 adult to 3 babies and for two year olds it is 1:4. Also, a high quality nursery will have staff trained in early childhood development.

These are some of the main things that research has shown is vital in determining the qualinurseryty of an early childhood care facility.

Choosing the right nursery is vital in ensuring your child has access to the best atmosphere for optimal development. The foundation set by early childcare has implications throughout life, both academic and nonacademic, so it is important to be well-informed. You can read more about the research for the care and education of children under 3 here.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, the Early Years Foundation Programme has been recently revised. You can read a one page summary of the changes here. The link will lead you to more information about the programme, if you are interested.

What are your thoughts on nurseries and childcare institutions? Do you have any tips or stories to share? Or do you have any questions I can answer? Post a comment and let me know.