Choosing a nursery

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nurseryLooking for a nursery for your child is a highly emotional decision. Many mothers feel guilty about leaving their children at nursery to go back to work so they want the best possible childcare for their child when they are away. So does money buy the best childcare? Some parents may mistakenly believe that more expensive nurseries are better. However, research suggests this is not true. The FCCC study (Sylva et al. 2007) found that the cost of childcare was not necessarily associated with better quality care. Other parents may believe that having good nursery facilities is the most important factor. Children do need a stimulating environment and a good outdoor space to play in but there are other more important factors that will affect a child’s happiness in a nursery setting.

So what makes a good nursery?

Good quality childcare involves well-trained staff. Research shows that the more experienced the staff the better the quality of childcare given. When staff had high level qualifications such as NVQs in childcare, they provided better care.

Children also need stability. They need to be able to form strong emotional bonds to their carers and this is only possible if they have access to the same carer regularly and consistently. When choosing a nursery, it is important to find out how often the staff change, as if a member of staff leaves that your child has become attached to, it could be very difficult for them.

High staff-child ratios are important. Ask what happens if staff are off sick. When I was looking around nurseries, I noticed that some rooms only had one member of staff in and I made sure I asked questions about why this was the case. Nurseries have to follow government guidelines about staff-child ratios but they may not be strictly enforced. The government also recommends that children have a key worker and it is important to ask how this works. Staff and key workers should be able to spend enough time with each child so that the child can form a secure emotional bond to them.

Not surprisingly, adults who are sensitive, empathic and attuned to a child’s feelings have been found to be better carers. Good carers enable infants and young children to feel confident in themselves, encourage them to communicate and talk, to think and have ideas, and to learn and discover.

You might also want to look at how much stimulation the children are given. How much importance does the nursery place on educating and talking to a child? Stimulation is very important for children’s intellectual and language development. Nursery workers need to ask children questions and to respond to the children’s vocalisations or talk. You might want to observe how much the nursery workers are talking to the children they are caring for before choosing which nursery you prefer.

At the end of the day, you need to trust your instincts about whether the nursery will look after your child well. Try not to choose a nursery based on convenience alone.




Why are childcare ratios so important?


Laurel Tree House childcare centre

At one point the government proposed to allow childminders to look after two babies under one, instead of one. They also wanted to increase the number of children between 1 and 5 years old that childminders could look after from three to four.

The plans would also have allowed nursery staff to look after four babies instead of three and six 2-year-olds instead of four. The government argued that it would not lower standards of childcare because staff would have to have higher level qualifications to care for children but it would drive down the costs of childcare. However, there is no evidence that relaxing childcare ratios would lower childcare costs as nursery staff may demand higher wages for looking after more children and childminders may charge parents the same amount.

So why do I think that low child-to-staff ratios are so important?

Young children need to form a secure emotional bond with the adults caring for them. This is why nurseries and pre-schools have a key worker who is responsible for each child and the first person to attend a child when they are upset. Higher child-to-staff ratios mean that staff would find it harder to deal with each child’s individual needs. If one member of staff is the keyworker for six children rather than the current four, the chances of them having to deal with two distressed children at once is higher. It also means that they have less time to share happy moments with each child and to give them individual attention and stimulation.

Childminders have to walk children to and from schools and pre-schools every day. Higher child-to-staff ratios means greater safety issues on these walks. It would be very difficult for a childminder to manage two babies, two under-fives and up to four other children under eight at road crossings and in unenclosed playgrounds but this is what Truss suggests. This is not to mention the fact that childminders would have less time to pay attention to each child if they have more to deal with.

Good carers enable babies and young children to feel confident in themselves, encourage them to communicate and talk, to think and have ideas, and to learn and discover. All this becomes more difficult with higher child-to-staff ratios.

For all these reasons I am glad that childcare ratios are not going to be relaxed.

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