Sunday, 15 March 2015

How do I choose the right nursery for my little one?

It is that time of year again...registration season! It seems to creep up on us all and gets earlier and earlier every year! Choosing the right time to send your little one to nursery can be a difficult decision to make, and trying to decide which nursery to choose can be even harder! In this post I have tried to help a little by explaining some of the benefits of sending your child to nursery and then I have given you some tips on what to look for when choosing a nursery. Good luck!

What will your little one gain from attending nursery?

Whether it is just a couple of mornings a week, there are so many benefits to attending nursery. Here are just a few of what I think are the most important ones:-
  • Personal and social skills - being in an environment with other children will really help your little one's personal and social skills develop. Their confidence will grow as they explore and feel secure in their environment and  they will also develop their independence. Having lots of others to play with every day will develop those all important social skills, for example turn taking, sharing, group play and more. These skills are invaluable and will help them immeasurably for when they start school.
  • Lots of stimulating, fun activities - a good nursery will provide lots of amazing activities and learning opportunities for your little one. This is great for their development and will keep them stimulated throughout the nursery day!
  • Cognitive and language skills - with all the great activities on offer and the opportunities for social interaction and learning, you will see your child's cognitive development and their language skills really develop. The qualified staff will ensure that the right activities are provided and they are trained to identify the best way to support each and every child in their care!
  • Trained, qualified professionals - it is super important to any parent who exactly is looking after their children during the nursery day. Staff should be qualified and trained in their field and this means they can provide the best start in your little one's education and nursery experience. 
  • Routine and structure - I have mentioned in previous posts the importance of routine and structure. By going to nursery, they will be introduced to daily routines and have a somewhat structured environment. This is excellent for their development and for preparing them for the more structured environment of school.
So you've decided it's time to give your little one the great experience of attending nursery. But how on earth do you choose the right one? With the plethora of nurseries out there, each one claiming to offer a different type of educational benefit for your child, how do you know where to start?

Here are some tips for choosing a nursery for your little one:-

  • Visit - shortlist some nurseries based on factors that suit you such as location, educational philosophy, language of instruction, fees etc and then arrange to visit each one. I can't stress enough how crucial visiting the nurseries is. Choosing a nursery is an important decision and one that can't possibly be made without you seeing how both you and your child feel about the place. 
  • Ask the right questions and don't be shy! As a parent you need to feel 100% confident in the nursery and any good nursery will welcome all your questions, no matter how weird and wonderful you may think they are! Here are some questions I think are useful to ask:
    • Age range of the children in the class - the classes should be split into age groups as activities and learning should be age appropriate. I would recommend there being no more than an academic year within one class (for example children aged 2 or above but less than 3 on 1st September would go into the same class), some nurseries even split their classes into 6 monthly groups as at this age, children develop so fast and 6 months can actually be quite a big gap!
    • Staff/Child ratios - this is crucial to your child's safety and development. Ask how many staff will be working in the room with your child and what the adult/child ratio is. You want to make sure that your child will have enough attention and be safe.
    • Staff qualifications - ensure the staff are qualified as this is very important for the quality of care your child will receive.
    • Open-door policy - does the nursery welcome visits and parents? How do they welcome and communicate with their parents? For example do they have communication diaries, do they chat to parents on drop-off and pick-up? Are staff happy to see parents and spend time with them? Are they open and friendly?
    • Settling in procedures - ask about the procedure for settling in and discuss your child's needs. Also ask what their policies are for toilet training, weaning and behaviour management. It is important you agree with the nursery's philosophy.
    • Daily structure - ask how the day is structured, do they have lots of different sessions? Young children need to change activity or location regularly or they will get bored, on the other hand too often and they will not settle. There needs to be a balance. Ask what sort of activities are built into the nursery day, for example do they have regular physical fun activities, music activities and outside time?
  • Bring your little one along! - even if they are too little to verbally tell you what they think, you will find out a lot by letting your little one spend time in the environment. Go with your gut instincts!
  • Look for the following:
    • Quality of provision and curriculum - you should be able to see a range of interesting and stimulating activities out in the classrooms that develop different areas of learning and weekly planning should be up for parents to see. The teaching staff should be able to explain to you what the learning objectives and outcomes are for the activities they have planned.
    • T.v. time - is there t.v. time built into the schedules? Can you see t.v.s or laptops playing while you are walking around? In my opinion this a big no no. We do not send our children to nursery to sit in front of screens, they are there to play, learn and interact with their peers. While there may be an occasional treat of something to watch, for example on party days or the last day of term, it should not be a regular part of the nursery day or too frequent.
    • Safety - is the environment indoors and out safe, clean, secure and welcoming? 
    • Activities - are the children able to choose what activities they want to do
      within their environment? They should be able to decide what they want to do and when. There is nothing wrong with encouragement from staff and in fact it is important to encourage the children to try a range of activities but they should not be forced. The toys and resources in the classroom should be at child-level and easily accessible for the children. There should be continuous provision in the classrooms (where there are several different areas all providing activities throughout the day, offering choice and stimulation). Some nurseries still unfortunately have "classes" where they will have one activity out per session and the whole class take part. This goes against modern Early Childhood recommendations and we know that young children will not benefit from this kind of learning. There should also be a balance of child-led activities (for example, a group of children playing shops in the role play corner) and adult-led activities (for example, a child is sitting with a teacher and they are grouping compare and sort bears by size).   
    • Children - do the children in the classrooms seem happy, settled and stimulated? Are they well-occupied?
    • Staff - do the staff appear professional, relaxed, calm and friendly? Do they get down to the child's level (sitting on the floor, crouching down to talk to them etc)? 
  • Try and keep notes on each nursery and look for the same criteria every time so it is easier to compare and make your decision in the end. It may be that as soon as you walk into a nursery you instantly know that it is the right one! If so then great, but at least with these tips, you can make some further enquiries before taking that all important final decision.
Good luck with the nursery hunt, remember it is a very important time in your little one's development and nursery can be a huge benefit! Take the time to ensure that the nursery you choose is the right one for you and your little one and you should see them grow, develop and thrive!

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See you soon!

Katie is an Early Years specialist in Dubai, where she 
manages an EYFS nursery. She has a special interest 
in psychology and early childhood development. 


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