01 - Make a list
Draw up a shortlist of childcare providers using information from your local Family Information Service. Remember to check:
- The hours that childcare providers can provide childcare
- The hourly, daily, and/or weekly cost
- If they have places available for your child
Our 'Childcare finder' tool can help you easily browse through information about childcare providers in your area. For more on additional sources for finding childcare in your area, visit our 'Where to find information about local childcare' guide.
02 - Visit your shortlisted settings
It's a good idea to visit several settings and ask questions in person about the childcare provided. It might help to take a friend and/or your child on the visits to help you decide.
What to look for:
- Trained and experienced staff, ready to learn and respond to your child's individual needs
- Busy, but relaxed, children who seem happy and purposeful
- Safe and clean premises - welcoming and friendly with outside play space
- Cultural sensitivity and responsiveness to children's home life
- A staff team and group of children who reflect local ethnic and cultural groups
- Fun activities planned each day - childminders, nurseries and out-of-school clubs all need to plan their days with children's interests and enthusiasms in mind
- Planned exercise and quiet times to relax are important
- A big welcome for you and your child
What to ask:
- What is the ratio of staff to children? How many children do you care for?
- What qualifications and/or experience do you have?
- What are the daily routines and how can you incorporate my child's and other children's routines?
- Do you operate a key worker scheme (whereby one member of staff has main responsibility for your child)?
- What are your policies on discipline and how do you manage children's behaviour?
- Do you provide meals, snacks, nappies, etc. or will I need to provide them?
What will your child enjoy?
Here's a list of the things children said were most important when Family and Childcare Trust visited nurseries and asked children for their views:
- Friends - check a stable group of children attend so your children can have fun with friends
- Food - check mealtimes are relaxed and fun and ask if children can help themselves to drinks and snacks
- Fun outside - check the outside area is well planned, spacious and safe - children love playing outside
- Finding out - make sure there is plenty of opportunity for children to learn new things with varied, carefully planned things to do
- Feeling safe and loved - check that the staff are able to respond to individual children's needs, to comfort and encourage them and to keep them safe
These are just some of the things you can consider; remember to also think about the things that matter to you and your child, and make sure you ask about them!
03 - Check the quality
Most childcare providers (including nurseries, childminders, children’s centres and extended school services) looking after children under the age of eight years usually have to be registered with Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills). Ofsted visits all registered childcare services and makes sure that standards are being met and that children are safe. You can check Ofsted's grade and report for the childcare providers you are considering at www.ofsted.gov.uk.
04 - Take up references
Other parents' experiences of a childcare provider can also be very useful. It advisable to take up at least two references. Childcare providers should be happy to give you names of other parents to speak to about the service they provide. Do remember that what works for one family may not always be suitable for your needs.
05 - Book a place
Book your child's place and arrange details like hours, start date, and who is allowed to pick up your child. You may need to pay a retainer fee to keep the place open until your child starts.
Your child may take some time to settle into any new childcare setting that you start them in, so allow them time to adjust to their new surroundings, especially if this is their first time in childcare. Most childcarers, such as childminders, will offer a ‘settling in period', where you have an agreed length of time to assess whether the setting is the right one for your child and that they are happy there.
Dont forget that some two year olds and all three and four year olds in England can get 570 hours of free childcare, the equivalent of 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year. There are a number of additional support options that may be available to you. For more details, check our 'Help with my childcare costs' guide.
Here are some of the places where you can find out about the childcare services available in your local area.
What you need to know about the 30 hours free childcare offer, tax-free childcare, universal credit and more.
Find and choose the right childcare, understand the financial and local support available to you, and know your rights are as a parent.
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