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Parents guide to choosing a day nursery

There a wide range of childcare solutions available to you as parents. Choosing a childcare solution can be difficult but we hope to make this a little easier with our guide to choosing childcare. Our guide shows you what to look for and which questions to ask. Personal recommendation by family or friends is always good to listen to but you should remember everyone has different standards and needs so always go and visit yourself. It is best to visit several nurseries if possible before making a choice.


Always check if the nursery is registered with OFSTED (compulsory). The registration certificate should be displayed, also a valid insurance certificate should be visible.

Ask about the last OFSTED inspection rating. This should really be Outstanding or Good. You can ask to see a copy or it should be available online. The report will show the quality of care, nursery education and the appropriateness of equipment and facilities.

Does the nursery have any awards or belong to any professional organisations?

Clean premises

This is a really good indicator to how good a childcare facility is. Does the nursery look welcoming, is it bright, colourful, well decorated and a good temperature. You should look for a clean environment (we don't mean immaculate in terms of untidy - lets be honest that wouldn't be much fun for the kids) but you should make sure it is not dirty and a place where germs could fester. Check the washing facilities and toilets for signs that they are cleaned regularly.

There should be an outside area for physical play. Ask about safety of this i.e. fences and gates, play equipment.

Safe Environment

Does the nursery have sole use of the building? If not does anyone else have access to it while the nursery is open? (and are they CRB checked) You should look around the facility from a child's viewpoint to see if there are dangers where your child could get hurt. For example; sharp corners, slippery floors or unguarded heaters. Also ask how do they verify people collecting children, what locks are in place to ensure that they can't wander off, what fire fighting facilities and drills are in place. What are their emergency procedures?

Do they have risk assessments for activities both inside and out, especially for outings.

Well equipped

Have a look at the amount of books, toys and play equipment available. What is the condition of it? Is there enough to go around all children? Is it appropriate for the ages of children being cared for? Do they clean equipment regularly and replace if it is damaged?

Happy Kids

The most important question to ask yourself is do the children look happy. The staff may try and tell you how wonderful everything is but the looks on the kids faces will rarely lie.

Key Person

Every childcare provider should operate a key person scheme for your child.

This means that one person should be your child’s main carer ensuring continuity and a good relationship between you, your child and their main care giver. The key person for child will also be responsible for their Individual learning journal.

They will discuss any issues or problems that your child has with you personally. Ask who this will be for your child and what their ways of reporting progress and problems are. For example; do they have daily sheets on your child or a diary of their week


Do the staff look happy, well presented, calm and confident. Are they involved in the children's play or just standing around watching.

Are all staff CRB checked.(This is required by law) It is worth asking about the level of training that staff have. Ask them about qualifications etc. Requirements vary by local authority so don't assume that they will all be fully qualified. You should also ask about first aid training as well.

Staff Qualifications

At least one member of staff should hold a level 3 qualification relevant to childcare.
At least half the remaining staff should hold a level 2 qualification relevant to childcare. One member of staff should hold a first aid certificate.

Ratios of Staff to Children

Ask about the ratios of staff to children these should be;

Children under 2   = 1 adult to 3 children
2 years    = 1 adult to 4 children
3 years + = 1 adult to 8 children
If a member of staff has higher childcare or teaching qualification this ratio can be 1 adult to 13 children.


Does the nursery provide meals, snacks and drinks for your child? Are these cooked on premises or delivered? Does the nursery have a food hygiene certificate? Are the meals fresh? Do they have a sample menu? Ask if the meals are nutritionally balanced. Can they provide for special diets? How often are drinks offered.


Ask about what planned activities are undertaken. Check what the children are doing, do the children look well occupied and happy. Are they focused on learning and playing or are they just running riot? Ask if the activities are planned and whether the children have any opportunity to direct activities themselves as part of the planning.

Do they take the children on outings? Where? How do they travel?


Do your child need to be potty trained? Will the nursery be able to help and support with potty training? Does your child have to be able to put on their own shoes and coat, feed themselves or use the toilet independently?

Is there an area for children to rest / sleep. Do they have their own sheets etc. How often are sleeping children checked on?

Will the nursery give medications if prescribed by a doctor. How do they store these? Do they have a medication book.

Ask what they nursery's policy is on sickness? How long does a child have to stay off? Do they send ill children home.


Is there a uniform? Where do you buy it and how much is it? Does the nursery provide aprons for messy activities to protect the child's clothes.


Ask what the nursery's policy on discipline is? How do they deal with disruptive or violent children. (Remember this should never be corporal punishment in any way)


Ask about the fees for the nursery. Is there a deposit? Is it refundable? When do the fees need to be paid? i.e. weekly, monthly, termly.Does the cost include meals, nappies etc. Are there holiday charges if nursery is open all year round and you want a holiday. If you want term time only is this possible or is there a financial penalty.

Does the nursery offer settling sessions before your child starts full time.

Are there charges for late collection of your child and for late payment of fees.

Other things to think about

What is parking like around the nursery, does it have a car park? Remember you will probably be in rush dropping off and will not want to spend valuable time searching for somewhere to park.

Was the visit relaxed and enjoyable? Always ring up if you forgot to ask anything. If you didn't take your child with you arrange another visit and take them with you to see if they like it too.


Remember if you are unsure about any aspect of a nursery after visiting either visit again to check or move on to another nursery.