Day Nursery – Finding the Right Nursery

Almost all parents will eventually be faced with the reality of having to put their son or daughter into some kind of childcare. What a parent chooses to do will depend entirely on their individual circumstances and there are several options, including hiring a nanny or a registered childminder.
However, most children in the UK will eventually attend a nursery.

The timing of when to send your child to nursery care will also depend on individual circumstances, but for many parents in the UK, the question of childcare often arises around the time that the mother approaches completion of the 52 weeks of statutory maternity pay.

In the article below we address some of the key questions and concerns you will face if you decide to place your child in a day nursery.

The difference between a day nursery and nursery school

Firstly, a day nursery will offer full or part-time care for babies and children from as young as six weeks’ old, up to the age of five. They typically open during business hours to allow working parents to drop off their children before work and pick them up again afterwards.

A nursery school, also known as pre-school, and especially those run by the local authority, may be a cheaper alternative to a privately run nursery but often have long waiting lists. They often only cater for children between the ages of three and five years old. Pre-schools tend to provide a formal curriculum and have trained teachers on hand to provide a range of educational experiences that will prepare the children for ‘big school’.

Plan ahead to secure the right nursery place

Not every local authority in the UK has adequate provision of early years childcare – in fact, in 2016 fewer than half of all local councils had enough childcare available to meet the needs of full-time parents in their area. This means that acting as quickly as possible is crucial, particularly if you want to secure your child a place in one of the more popular nurseries.

Begin by asking friends, neighbours and local families for their day nursery recommendations and, of course, look online to see what’s available. The sooner you begin, the less rushed you’ll be when the deadline approaches. The less hurried things are, the better placed you’ll be to help your child transition into day nursery as calmly as possible.

Once you have done some research and identified your top nursery picks, it is a good idea to visit each of them, even at a very early stage. The sooner you start the search, the sooner you can develop a feel for what it is you want from nursery care and this will ultimately help you make an informed decision with confidence.

Ensure the nursery is registered

All day nurseries in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland must be registered and inspected on a regular basis by the relevant authority. The inspection certificate should be available online and should be displayed prominently at the premises of the nursery itself. If you cannot see it, ask the manager to see a copy. The relevant regulatory bodies are as follows:

  • In England: Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education)
  • In Wales: CSSIW (Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales)
  • Scotland: Care Inspectorate
  • Northern Ireland: local Health and Social Care Trusts

Ask lots of questions about the day nursery

The inspection report will be full of essential information about the nursery and how well it meets all the relevant statutory criteria. However, it will not tell you everything you need to know about whether the care and environment provided by the nursery is right for your child. The only way to properly assess this is for you and your child to visit the nursery and to make observations. And, of course, you will want to ask lots of questions: speak to parents of children who attend the nursery, the nursery staff, and, if you can, ask for references and testimonials.

Questions to ask a day nursery – checklist

By asking the following questions, you are likely to get a good idea of the kind of care, learning and social environment a day nursery will provide:

  • What might a typical day at nursery look like? For example, what kinds of activities will children perform and what are the day nursery’s routines?
  • Do staff receive ongoing training? This will help you determine whether the nursery is committed to ongoing evolution and improvement.
  • What is the level of staff turnover? If staffing at the nursery is relatively stable, this may indicate that staff are valued and happy in their work. A happier workplace for staff means it is more likely that the children are cared for in a stable and positive atmosphere.
  • How does the nursery provide for both physical and emotional development? Children need a variety of learning stimuli and environments. If the nursery attends to physical and emotional needs, it is a good indicator of a broad educational experience for your child.
  • How often do children go outside? Regular trips outside provide stimulation and help a child’s development. If a nursery has a good outdoor space at their disposal, children can get regular vitamin D from the sun as well as plenty of outdoor play.
  • What special events are held throughout the year? from Christmas, Diwali, Easter, Eid al Adha, Hanukkah and Vesak, to educational events for Black History month, World Book Day and World Environment Day, a comprehensive special events calendar may be a sign that a nursery is not simply a nursery but also part of a thriving community that will deliver a broad range of cultural and educational experiences for your child.
  • Does the nursery have a copy of all its policies? For example, health and safety, fire emergency and food hygiene policies.
  • Is there flexibility with drop-off and pick-up times? This may be very important if you’re working hours are liable to change, if you frequently get stuck in traffic or if you’re a commuter who must suffer the ordeals of an unreliable train service.
  • What is the nursery’s sickness policy? This will help you determine when your child should be off school with a specific illness and for how long.
  • Does the nursery have an open-door policy for parents? Some nurseries may be very flexible about when they allow parents to drop-in and say hello to their child during the day, others less so.
  • What are the meal times and what are the meal options? This is very important as up until this point you will likely have had total control over what your child is given to eat.
  • What is the nursery’s key person policy? Nurseries should have a key person policy that ensures continuity of care for your child.
  • What is the nursery’s security policy? You will want to know that your child is safe from people simply walking in off the street.
  • What is the nursery’s security policy for outings? Every nursery should have a strict nursery policy for offsite outings so that you can allow your child to go with confidence.


Once you have found the day nursery that works for you and your child, you can book your child’s place and arrange for start times. This may feel daunting, but it is also really exciting and is a journey you and your child can undertake together. It will doubtless take some time for your son or daughter to adjust to their new surroundings just as it will take you some time to get used to the new reality of having them in daycare. As such, expect some hiccups along the way, but by taking time to plan ahead, you can at least ensure that the transition to day nursery runs as smoothly as possible.

Further Reading