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Choosing a Good Nursery

Choosing a good nursery is a big decision for most parents, but one that often causes great anxiety and raises many questions. The first step that the parent can take is to visit a number of nursery settings to be absolutely confident that the one that they have chosen is right for their baby or child.

Knowing something about the nursery in advance of the visit can be helpful. The good nursery will have a reputation locally and will be known for its friendly approach and welcoming setting. The parent can also check out the following:

⭐ Inspection report - provides information about the quality of care, health and safety, and other key issues (

⭐ Prospectus/website - gives information about the environment, the facilities, the keyworker system, how learning and development are fostered, and the nursery’s aims.

⭐ Policies - include everything from opening and closing times, admission, staff training, settling in, anti-discriminatory practice, emergencies, accidents and illness to allergies or food intolerances.

If the above systems are in place, parents will see that the nursery takes the responsibility of caring for young children very seriously indeed.

Visiting the nursery

When the parent visits the nursery, they may chat to parents who are already there about their experiences and observations. They may also ask the manager and nursery staff questions about a range of issues that are important to them. Practitioners, who listen to their questions and respond with warmth and sensitivity give the parent the confidence to leave their baby or child in the care of others. If the parent feels that their skills and expertise are valued, a joined-up approach to care will be achieved between the setting and the home.

Here are some questions that the parent might want to run through with the nursery manager and staff during their visit.

What do I do if I have any concerns?

If the baby or child has a dietary, health or medical requirement, the parent will need to share the information with the nursery so that misunderstandings are avoided. Any information will be treated in the strictest confidence. If the baby or child exhibits absolute indicators or ‘red flags’, practitioners may find themselves in the unenviable role of having to discuss their concerns with the parent. However, if the concern is handled in a supportive and non judgemental way, the parent will be more likely to seek professional advice. They will also feel confident that they can pursue questions or concerns with staff in the future.

Are comforters allowed?

Starting nursery is a key period in the infant’s life and an emotional one for the parent. The best nursery will not discourage the parent from bringing in a favourite blanket or comforter. Studies show that a comfort object can provide emotional comfort and security during times of separation, since it is associated with home. However, it is always helpful to have comfort objects labelled or with some other form of identification.

Does the nursery close for staff support and training?

Although inconvenient, short-term closure for staff training is essential to ensure that practitioners are supported to meet the physical, social, intellectual, and emotional needs of the babies and children in their care. Training can make practitioners feel more confident in conversing with parents. Likewise, parents appreciate that the staff are well-qualified to meet their child’s needs

Is there an open-door visitation policy for parents?

An open-door visitation policy usually indicates that the setting is informal and welcoming. Lunchtime visits may be particularly important to breastfeeding mothers who work in the vicinity of the nursery. However, unauthorized visitors should not be able to enter without valid reason. The parent must also inform the nursery if they are going to be late or if their baby or child is to be collected by a different adult. A contingency plan will ensure that their baby or child will not leave the premises with an unknown adult.

Is there a rapid staff changeover?

Some change of staff is inevitable in any childcare setting. However, a high turnover may reflect unhappy staff or a lack of support or direction from the nursery manager or employer. Staff turnover often decreases when practitioners know that their skills are valued and that their work makes a real difference to the health and future welfare of the children in their care.

Evidence suggests that regular swapping of keyworkers or constant change-over of staff can prevent an attachment bond developing, which is a risk factor for stress. If stress levels remain elevated throughout the day, areas of the infant’s brain involved in memory, attention, behaviour, and emotion may be severely affected. The baby or child needs to have a secure and trustworthy relationship with a stable keyworker who provides emotional security and protection against stress. Studies on babies and young children show that stress levels can double during the first nine days in an unfamiliar setting.

If the baby or child has not had the opportunity to develop a strong attachment to a calm, nurturing and predictable keyworker, they may initially protest by crying or become subdued and withdrawn during the day. Very often, compliant behaviour is seen as acceptance or settling in, but cortisol levels are often elevated. Some children may freeze or stiffen without an attachment figure. This type of behaviour may go undetected, which increases their vulnerability to any additional risk factors that they may experience later on.

Every baby and child should have access to a trusted keyworker whenever the parent is not available to them. It is especially important that the keyworker is emotionally available to the child if they are experiencing insecurity or stress at home.

What is the check-in procedure?

Even though busy practitioners may have little time to spend with the parent during the daily check-in, finding time to talk to them is important and benefits everyone involved. Some nurseries ensure that extra adults are available during check-in or settling in times. Drop off times may also be staggered.

Saying ‘Goodbye’ can be a painful experience for both the parent and the child. However, if the separation is carefully handled by a regular and sensitive keyworker, the child’s distress will not last long.

The parent may also feel guilty at having to leave their baby or child, anxious for their welfare or jealous that another person is looking after them. The keyworker can reassure the parent that their baby or child is in good hands and that attachment to a particular keyworker is a sign of healthy development.

How is information shared?

Daily exchanges of information between the parent and the keyworker may include how the baby or child slept that night, what they did at the weekend, whether or not they had a day time nap, activities they enjoyed and other care or developmental issues. Conversations that are open, honest, and positive give practitioners the opportunity to share development and progress with the parents. The sharing of information also enables practitioners to meet the infant’s sleep, feeding, and other needs more consistently.

Information may also be exchanged in a daily journal, which helps the parent see how their baby or child is getting on and what they can to help at home. The parent will feel more involved when they have information about nursery activities in the day.

Some nurseries publish a weekly or monthly newsletter or have a bulletin board that provides information about activities and other special events. Most nursery settings have open evenings, open days, or informal meetings, which give parents the opportunity to find out about the facilities on offer and to talk to the staff about the work that they are doing.

The nursery environment

The parent will pick up a variety of important cues during their first visit. The following may be important to them:

⭐ Is the room warm, bright, well-decorated and welcoming?

⭐ Is the room well lit (preferably with natural sunlight) and well ventilated?

⭐ Are the walkways and corridors clean and uncluttered?

⭐ Is the kitchen area spotless?

⭐ Are there separate suitable nappy changing facilities?

⭐ Does the room have a cosy area?

⭐ Do the toys look clean and safe?

⭐ Are they age appropriate and of good quality?

⭐ Do the children look happy, interested, and relaxed (bear in mind that babies and young children behave differently mid-morning to late afternoon)?

⭐ Is there evidence of quality adult involvement with the children?

⭐ Are practitioners approachable, warm, friendly, enthusiastic, welcoming, and interested?

⭐ Are the babies or children organized into different age-groups?

⭐ Are the activities geared to each child’s stage of development?

⭐ What opportunities are there for sensory play?

⭐ Where will my baby or child sleep?

⭐ Is security a high priority?

Children must not be able to wander out of the room without being noticed. Staff should also be aware of the importance of personal hygiene and follow appropriate procedures. The parent may also ask about staff to baby/child ratios. The recommended ratio of adults to babies under one year is currently 1:3, the ratio of adults to toddlers aged one to 2 years is 1:3, the ratio of adults to children aged 2 to 3 years is 1:4, and the ratio of adults to children aged 3 to 5 years is 1:8.

What else should I expect to find in the nursery?

The good nursery has a regular routine that includes a balance of play and rest. Activities might include:

⭐ Time for unrestricted exercise and movement.

⭐ Opportunities for exploration and play.

⭐ Quality interaction with a regular keyworker.

⭐ Music making, singing, rhymes, and stories.

⭐ Group and individual activities.

⭐ Meal times, meals, snacks, and nap time.

Television should play little or no part in the routine. The best nursery places high value on having fun and giving babies and children plenty of variety, stimulation, and interest. A caring nursery will have put some thought into the amount of time that babies spend in high chairs, container seats or similar restraining devices.

Is the outdoor space safe and designed for baby play?

Facilities will vary considerably from nursery to nursery, but a well-maintained outdoor area or garden that has been designed with babies or children in mind provides opportunities for sensory play and learning. Fresh air and sunshine also promote healthy development and help children to sleep better at night.

Here are some questions that parents might ask:

• Is there special play equipment for each age-group such as a play house or small slides and strollers?

• Are the babies separated from toddlers and older children to prevent boisterous play?

• How often are the babies and children taken outside?

• Are they taken outside in different weathers?

• Is there an area where children can play under cover?

• Are the children taken on outings?

If the nursery does not have enough space for an outside play area, regular outings to the park can provide an opportunity for outdoor learning and play.

Good quality care

In a society that encourages parents to work outside the home, good quality care has a crucial role to play in facilitating the healthy emotional development of pre-school children. Babies and young children flourish in all sorts of environments, but the real issue is the quality of care.

Parents need to feel that their baby or child will be happy, safe, and well cared for in the nursery and that they are given plenty of opportunities to learn and develop. If the nursery does not have a friendly feel or the quality of care and learning and developmental opportunities are not there, then parents should look elsewhere.

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