Nursery choices and places – what to do and when to do it

If you’re planning to send your child to nursery, follow our countdown to making that all-important childcare decision, starting from pregnancy!

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If you’re still basking in the news that you’re pregnant, the thought of childcare provision is probably the furthest thing from your mind. But if you’re planning to return to work and pop your wee one in a nursery, it’s time to get organised as many nurseries have waiting lists.

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From 3 months pregnant

Decide when you’re going back to work

Okay, so you’re not even on maternity leave yet, but the big decision about when you might need childcare needs to be faced now. Even if you’re unsure, start thinking about some dates.

From 4 months pregnant

List your  nursery needs

What kind of nursery care will you need? Do you need the nursery to be open early or late? Should it be close to home or to an older child’s school? Make a list of both essential and desirable elements and refer to it while making your preliminary search.

From 5 months pregnant

Suss out the local choice

Don’t worry, tracking down a list of your local nurseries doesn’t have to be a headache. The Children’s Information Service has a list of both state and private childcare provision including nurseries grouped by area.

Or visit Ofsted website, which allows you to search for your nearest nurseries by postcode, and also lists the latest comprehensive inspection reports.

But remember that a good Ofsted report doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best nursery for your child. Natasha 30, mum to April, 2, said, “There’s a nursery near me which had a brilliant Ofsted report but when I visited I didn’t like it. The second nursery didn’t have such a great report but staff were cheerful and friendly and spoke directly to April – so that’s where she went.”

Next step is to visit your shortlist. We have a list of 12 must-ask questions for you to take with you. When you go, check if there’s a waiting list and put your child’s name down now. You may not want the place eventually, but at least you’re in the queue.

From 6 months pregnant

Do the sums

Your head’s probably already buzzing with what this child is going to cost you, but now’s the time to figure out the fees. Yes they can be expensive – the typical cost of a full-time nursery place for a child under 2 was £152 a week in England, £146 in Scotland and £131 in Wales in 2007 – higher in London and the South East – according to The Daycare Trust.

Depending on income, help may be available through tax credits – check your eligibility. Some employers offer childcare vouchers – part of your salary is paid tax-free but can only be used for childcare. Three and four year-olds are entitled to 121⁄2 hours of free nursery care per week – either at an LEA nursery or through the nursery grant, which can part-fund your child at a private nursery.

From 2 months after birth

Ask other mums

Now you’ve got a new baby and your life is all about mingling with other mums, it’s good to get their opinion on the local nurseries on your shortlist. Another mother’s views can often be more telling than an Ofsted report, so pick other parents’ brains.

It worked for Zara 29, mum to Vikki, 7, Ollie, 5, and Scarlet, 3, from London. “When I was choosing a nursery for my youngest child, Scarlet, I asked other mums about their experiences. One nursery was recommended by a number of mums and when I visited, it had a happy atmosphere. It was also comforting to see many of the staff were more mature than at some other places I’d visited. Scarlet has been there part-time for a year now and is really happy.” 

From 3 months after birth

Pay a second visit

The only way to get a real feel for a nursery and whether your child will fit in is to take your little one along. Once there, ask yourself, does it feel warm and welcoming? Are there lots of fun, educational activities on offer? Do the children seem happy and cared for? What’s the baby room like? Do the staff seem enthusiastic? Most importantly, can you imagine your child being happy there?

Rochelle, 30, mum to Kiki, 2, and Eden, 11 months, says her daughter chose her nursery. “When we went to look around, she went straight off to play with the other children and really liked it. Later I had a look at the Ofsted report, but it was the fact she was instantly so happy there that swung it.”

Once you and your little one are completely happy, sign on the dotted line. Some nurseries will ask for a non-refundable deposit, but once you’re signed up at least you can relax until it’s time to go back to work!

Which type of nursery?

There are two main types available:

  • Day nurseries: typically accept babies from 3 months to school age. Open for full days year round. Great for working parents.
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  • Part-time nurseries: usually for children aged 3 – 4, though some take younger ones. Typically open school term times only for morning or afternoon sessions. Great to help a child socialise and give mum a break!

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