Choosing a nursery can be daunting, infuriating and downright confusing. But this guide for dads should help you make that crucial choice and find somewhere that will keep your little one safe and stimulated when you’re at work.
- Shop around
All nurseries look lovely in the brochures or online, but you’re not going to know for sure until you step through the door. Most offer regular open days or can let you (and your child, if you want) have a nosey around during the week.
Have a look everywhere, in every nook and cranny. Does it seem safe? Does it seem friendly? Is there evidence of fun activities? What’s the outdoor area like? You might be taking a child into the nursery room, but you should have a look at the kindergarten / pre-school areas as well to see what they’re like too; that’s where your little one will be ending up.
You might want to have a look at the nursery’s Ofsted report, though do bear in mind these inspections aren’t always recent. You’ll get a clearer picture with what you can see and hear yourself.
- Meet the people
People make places, especially nurseries. How welcoming are the staff to you, and your child? Do the children look bored or excited? Is the room full of laughter and singing, or tears? (Remember, though, that nurseries are often a place of tears, especially at drop-off time, so don’t let that make you feel like the little ones aren’t necessarily being cared for.)
- Location, location, location
Is it close by? You’re going to have to make this journey dozens and dozens of times over the next couple of years so make sure it’s one you’re comfortable doing. We’d all love a top-notch nursery just a short stroll or scooter push from the house, but the chances are you’re going to have to drive. If so, what’s the parking like? Is it going to be a pain carrying a two-stone child up a hill and a flight of steps every day?
- Can you keep in touch?
Does the nursery offer you a chance to see what your child is up to during the day? Most nurseries update in real time so you can track the progress of your bundle of joy all the time they’re out of your sight – even down to what they’ve eaten, how they’ve slept and whether they’ve had a poo. You can even see photos of your offspring covered in a variety of messy foodstuffs before you’ve even left work to collect them up in the evening.
Just as important is whether the nursery is easily contactable over the phone during the day, in case you need to speak to someone.
- Try it out
Most nurseries offer taster sessions so you can see how your son or daughter gets along with the people and the place. This will give you a rough idea of what happens during the day and how the staff are going to feed back to you. Can they remember how your child ate, or slept? What games did they play? Don’t be afraid to ask anything.
- Prepare to be considerably poorer
Chances are you’ve already pored over pages of calculations or spreadsheets of figures to work out whether you can afford this in the first place, and how many sessions per week. (If not, just think of the most ridiculous amount of money, double it, treble it, then lay down in a darkened room with a wet flannel over your face and cry for a few hours.)
Nurseries all offer slightly different packages in terms of start times, food options, pickup times, and those niggly penalty charges for being a few minutes late in picking them up, and so on. Work out what you feel comfortable with, and be prepared to pay a slice of it upfront.
Most nurseries will charge you for every week (except maybe closing down over Christmas) but others can be a bit more flexible if you give notice of when you’re going on holiday, for example. This can make a big difference to your overall bill over the course of a year, so it’s worth taking into account.
If you’re working for a decent full-time employer, you should be able to claim some costs of childcare back against tax in nursery vouchers (though the most recent budget of 2017 means this is changing). Make sure they take these as it will leave you better off.
- And don’t forget… you can change your mind
If things aren’t working out, a good nursery will want to listen to your concerns. If you feel like something just isn’t right, have a chat with your child’s key worker or nursery manager to let them know before you take any drastic measures. But if it’s time to move on, chances are your child will settle nicely into their next nursery, so don’t worry.