Childcare: How to choose a nursery

Choosing a good nursery for your child is an important decision and there are all sorts of considerations involved, from the practical to the emotional. Taking time for the research can be challenging, but is the best way to find something that suits you and your youngster. Read on for guidance and advice on how to narrow down your search.

Toddler plays with multicoloured bricks in childcare setting


Every child – and family – is different, so it can take time to find the right nursery childcare. Taking a pragmatic, step-by-step approach can make it more manageable. So how can you choose a nursery?

List your needs and preferences

Let’s start simple. What do you need from the nursery? Consider the age of your child when they will join nursery, your required drop-off and collection times, nursery location (near home, or near work?), whether you want feeds and meals to be provided.

Have you got a limit on budget? Do you need the nursery to be open all year round or term-time only? List out any other crucial features.

This will help you start creating a list and narrowing it down. For example, some nurseries will accept children from birth while others may have a minimum age.

Next, think about your preferences. Do you want your child to have a certain amount of outdoor time each day? Are you looking for an emphasis on education and learning, or a less structured approach? How important is a daily routine? Will your child benefit from a smaller, quieter setting or a more lively environment? Are there any facilities or activities that you definitely do (or don’t) want?

You can often get a good gut feel about a nursery from its website, so take time to explore their sites and earmark those that seem to match your requirements.

Further considerations

A few other, less obvious things to think about when choosing a nursery might include:

  • Does the nursery feed into a pre-school or directly to a Reception class? This can help ease the transition to school as your child will know some of their peers.
  • How flexible is the nursery – is it easy to reduce/increase the number of sessions per week?
  • What are their Ofsted reports like? Look for Good or Outstanding ratings.
  • Safety/security measures
  • Reviews and references from other parents – these are often available online

Visiting your shortlisted nurseries

Visiting nurseries is essential to get a real feel for the childcare approach, staff, facilities and structure of a typical day. Covid restrictions often mean that you need to book a visit in advance, but you should still be able to attend in person.

Useful things to look for on a nursery visit include:

  • Did you and your child receive a warm welcome?
  • Is there a good range of activities and resources available?
  • How interacting and caring are the staff with the children?
  • Does the setting look clean and well looked-after?
  • Can you imagine your child settling in here?

Questions to ask potential nurseries

Write a list of questions to ask as part of your visit to make sure you get the information you need to successfully choose nursery childcare. Examples include:

  • Will I receive daily progress reports on how my child is doing and what they get up to?
  • What does a typical day involve?
  • What do you consider ‘bad’ behaviour and how do you manage this?
  • What is staff retention like?
  • Is there a mixture of older and younger staff?
  • Is there a waiting list to join?
  • What does the application process involve?
  • Where will my child take naps?
  • Will my child have a main key worker?
  • Is there a space for quiet time if my child needs this?
  • What is the potty training policy?

It might take a number of visits before you and your child feel confident about a setting. Nurseries recognise this and will usually let you re-visit several times. Most will also offer a trial session or two as part of the process.

What’s next?

Once you’ve been through all the steps to choose a nursery for your child, and come to a conclusion and picked one, you may then need to pay a deposit to book your place and complete various paperwork. Remember that in addition to the Universal Entitlement, many working families can receive an additional, free 15 hours a week for children aged 3 and 4, totalling 30 hours of funded childcare. To find out whether you meet the eligibility criteria, visit the government website.

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