CHILDCARE CHOICES – A nursery perspective Guest Blog
In the 15 years that we have been running our Harrogate nurseries, I have often pondered on what criteria parents use when deciding on childcare, and how sometimes we as nursery managers forget how hard this decision can be.
It is so easy for us to get caught up in the day to day fun and laughter and forget that our nursery may look a little tired and scruffy, and that new parents may be looking for the immaculate shiny and new, and may in fact be horrified at the hurly burly that their child will be loving once they are 2,3 or 4!! Your new baby is precious and adored and it is your job to protect them, and provide them with the very best start that you can. As well as judging on appearance, new parents are also having to learn to trust others to love and care for their little one, and the never ending stories of abuse and horror in the media do nothing to help guilty Mums with their decision to return to work.
As a Mum of 4, I know these feelings all too well, and indeed experienced so much of this with my first 2 children who were at nursery before I came into childcare. I was working full-time, commuting and feeling so very guilty and nothing but the best would do for my little ones!
I would therefore like to let you all in on 3 nuggets of truth that I have learned over the 15 years as an ‘insider’:
Firstly, and absolutely the most important factor in your decision is very personal. It is all about relationships and people. Your childcare MUST be provided by people who care and love and a child NEEDS strong relationships. No amount of money you could spend, beautiful rooms and toys or excellent teaching and curriculum could ever be as important as the emotional wellbeing of a child. They need to develop in an environment of trust and love, where they feel secure and happy with the people in their lives. It is therefore so very important that the person or people who are going to live and develop alongside your child are the right people. They must be happy, stable, experienced and love their job. And most importantly, they must work with you, the parents. All children deserve a keyperson, who should have a direct and strong relationship with your child and with you, not just at parents evening once a year and a report.
It is also important that you are personally generous with that person, talk to them about your lives, allow them to be human and allow your child to love them. As all experiences in your child’s first three years of life form the basis of their ability to form relationships, learn and develop as they should, their experiences in nursery need to be positive and meaningful. Showing your child that relationships matter and helping them to form strong bonds with others will be the single most important factor in the happiness of their future lives
Secondly and really part of the same point is to please trust in our professionalism. Although we all accept that there are horrible people out there, in my experience childcare practitioners do the job because they find children truly wonderful. It has been the most insightful experience for me, to really get to know and develop respect for the people who cared for my second two children, who came with me to nursery. I am constantly astounded by their patience, their kindness and their professionalism.
Childcare is not just about care and playing, it is a structured development plan, where we understand, challenge and support your children’s development, whilst keeping them healthy and safe. We are all trained or in training, and if you were to at some stage read our bible, the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage – google it!) you would see the level of detailed observation and planning that goes into what looks like a session of playing with water or sand. Please trust your childcarer – by all means challenge us, we are not perfect and it is good to get constructive feedback. We love learning and developing alongside your children and you know your own child better than anyone else. But also respect us as professionals and trust us please!
Finally, it is of course important that your child is in a safe environment, with equipment and resources that challenge them, whilst keeping them healthy and safe. This is where as a new parent you might find our ideas more difficult to adapt to. We believe in risk you see. Managed risk, but risk none the less. For this reason, at nursery you will hopefully see less plastic, and more natural equipment and resources than you may have at home. Obviously the tiniest of babies need to be kept safe from choking, from exposure to too many bugs, and from the more boisterous behaviour of others. But as they grow older, they need to explore their world more widely, to be in nature and to not have a sanitised perfect plastic world. They need to learn to be challenged to take risks and to understand and widen their limits. So your child at nursery will be encouraged to explore using all of their senses, indoors and outside. They will explore texture, colour, sand, pebbles, water, and even food through the messiest of play. So our environment will not and should not look immaculate, but busy and used!
And so finally to help a little in your deliberations, I have also listed the following things to look for, and to ask when visiting a nursery. Good luck, go forth and meet with those lovely people and trust your instincts!!! THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR WHEN LOOKING AROUND
1. Does the nursery have a welcoming, happy and cheerful atmosphere – are the children and the carers having fun? Do the carers talk to you and your child when you are walking around?
2. Are the children happy and settled? Does the person showing you around know the children? Do the children want to chat with you or the person showing you around?
3. Are child carers sitting with and interacting with the children or with each other?
4. Do the premises and equipment look clean but used? (Perfect equipment has not been used by children! Any experienced parent will tell you that an environment where children are active and enjoying themselves will NEVER be pristine!)
5. Do the children have opportunities to learn, explore and have fun in a natural environment outdoors? (Children need to learn about their world and so outdoor play environments should give them opportunities to explore mud, sand, leaves, grass, and build, run and jump. A ready made road and climbing frame isn’t nearly as challenging as crates, planks and den building equipment.
QUESTIONS TO ASK ON A VISIT
1. How long have your baby room child carers been at the nursery and what experience do they have in caring for babies?
2. How many of your staff hold child care qualifications? (The OFSTED requirement is a minimum of 50%, but in a high quality nursery most if not all staff will be qualified or in training)
3. Will my child have the same carer team each day?
4. Who would my child have as their key person?
5. Will the key person visit us at home before my child will start so that we can all get to know each other?
6. How do you cover sickness and holidays to ensure that the nursery is always open, and my children have continuity?
7. How many of the staff are fully qualified paediatric First Aid trained?
8. Is the nursery open all year (for example between Christmas and New Year).
9. Will I be able to pop into the nursery during the day unannounced?
10. At the beginning and end of each day will I be able to go into the rooms, to see where my child has been and meet the people who have been caring for him/her in person (and not just the Senior staff).
11. What is provided and what will I have to bring or pay for? (eg nappies, milk, food, suncream, uniform???).
12. What opportunities will I have to meet other parents and make friends. Will there be any social events for parents?
13. How regularly will my baby/child be able to be outdoors? (Should be at least daily).
14. How flexible will the nursery be, if for instance I need to swap a day, or come in for an extra day?
15. Does the nursery have it’s own cook, and what kind of food is provided?
16. Does the nursery use baby signing to aid early communication?