Choosing the right kind of childcare setting can be a difficult decision. There are different types of childcare providers:
- day nurseries and pre-schools for under 5s,
- breakfast clubs, after school clubs and holiday schemes for school-aged children,
- childminders who care for children of all age ranges
- nannies and home-based childcare
The best childcare settings expect questions and are happy to answer them.
Remember, not every childcare setting will match your child's personality, so be prepared to look around. Don't get disheartened – there's a suitable childcare setting out there for you and your child.
- Visit the setting to get a feel for the day-to-day routine, and take your child with you to see whether they like it too. Visit when it is in full flow and, if possible, make a return visit so you can see the setting at different times during the day and week. Ensure you see the whole setting and not just the area your child may enter when they first start.
- Before the visit, think about first impressions: the phone call; how easy was it to access information; how helpful was the setting in giving information and arranging the visit? Were they polite and professional?
- Does the setting have a friendly feel? Does it have plenty of space inside and outside? If there's no outside space where do children play in the fresh air?
- Check the equipment and facilities on offer. Is there a variety of creative equipment, such as painting stations, sand pits and play areas? Are they kept at a high standard? Are the children's paintings and other work displayed on the walls? It's important your child is offered a number of creative and stimulating experiences throughout the day, within a friendly environment.
- Think about the children and their opportunities. Can children choose when they want to play outside or are there set times? Are children able to freely choose where they play and with what? Do the children in the different areas/rooms look happy, settled and well-occupied and engaged in the activities? Is there a wide variety of available activities, such as: creative and messy activities; books; music and singing; physical opportunities; imaginative, active and quiet play.
- Ask about safety and security. What happens in an emergency? What precautions have been put in place? Do they have finger guards on doors? Is it secure? Do they have visitor control systems in use? Are all staff vetted prior to employment? Are all the indoor areas safe, clean, well-lit, welcoming and well decorated? Are the rooms an appropriate temperature? Is there a safe, secure and clean outside area for the children to play in? Your child’s safety should be top priority.
- Ask to see the latest Ofsted inspection or view it online at http://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report
- How many staff members are there? There should be at least one member of staff for every three children aged under two, one for every four two year olds, and one for every eight children aged between three and five.
- Are they well trained? Do they have qualifications at the levels needed to best help children learn and develop at their own pace? Do they receive regular training? Will there be a key person with special responsibility for your child and with whom you can talk about how your child is getting along?
- Do the staff and children talking and play together. Are the staff questioning and responding to questions in a way that interests the children and are the children encouraged to ask questions of their own?
- How do the staff deal with challenging behaviour or children’s individual needs? There should be a written policy in place so ask to see it.
- Talk to staff about their flexibility. Can they provide childcare that fits in with your work hours? Ask about costs. Ask about contracts. Do they charge for late pick-up? Ask what the fees cover; for example are nappies and meals included?
- Check what food is provided. Are menus displayed? Is there a healthy, balanced diet on offer? Is water available whenever children want it? Does the setting take into account individual requirements?
- Did you and your child enjoy your visit?
- Was the nursery visit relaxed, friendly and informative?
- Did the staff answer your questions in a clear and concise manner?
- Did your child settle and appear happy and relaxed?
- How did the nursery staff interact with you and your child?
- Did the nursery appear clean, safe and secure?
- Is the nursery able to support any individual needs your child may have?
- Did the nursery make you feel welcome, confident and relaxed?
Find out about the financial help you can get. Working parents can get up to 70% of their costs back through the childcare element of Working Tax Credit, when you use childcare that's registered or approved. Call the Tax Credits Hotline on 0345 300 3900 to find out what you can claim.
If you have a child aged three or four-years-old, or you have a two-year-old who meets the eligibility criteria, you are eligible for 15 hours of free early learning a week for 38 weeks of the year or 570 hours a year.
If your employer offers childcare vouchers ask whether the setting will accept them.