10 Things to Ask when Looking at Daycare Nurseries
Finding a good daycare nursery makes for a much smoother return to work for parents. While painstakingly visiting nurseries may not be top of everyone’s maternity/paternity bucket list, doing your homework to find a gem where your child will flourish is priceless. You wouldn’t want that first luxurious uninterrupted coffee break to be marred by worries that your little one is not in good hands.
So what are the key questions to ask when visiting a daycare nursery?
- What is the staff to child ratio?
While there are strict guidelines in place on that topic (for under 2s, it’s one carer for three children; for two- to three-year olds, one for three), some nurseries have even better ratios, especially in the older age groups. The child-to-teacher ratio has an enormous impact on language and social development in the early years so it deserves special attention. Also remember to ask about qualifications, as 50% of staff must hold a childcare one. Ask the level reached by the room leaders and how experienced they are too.
- What was the staff turnover in the last year and how long has the majority of your staff been at the nursery?
It’s simple. The bigger the staff turnover, the more disruption there will be to your child’s first big experience outside the home. This is especially problematic when it comes to their key worker (the reference person they should be assigned at the start of their nursery journey) as young children only learn when they feel safe. If that bond between child and key worker keeps being severed, the child is less likely to thrive. High staff turnover also often indicates discontent with either pay or work conditions. Unhappy staff makes unhappy children. Stay away.
- What hours are you open and how flexible are you should my needs change?
Depending on the kind of job you have, you might have a greater or lesser need for flexibility. Think ahead to your future needs as the arrival of a new sibling, for instance, may mean you need to keep your older child in for longer hours or more days. It’s important to know from the start that the flexibility will be there if you need it. It’s also important to know how many weeks a year the nursery closes. By law, a day nursery must be open at least 38 weeks during the period September to June.
- If there is no outdoor space, do you take children to the park and how often?
No outdoor space or natural light is often a real deal breaker for parents. However, some nurseries without a garden or dedicated playground will actually make more of an effort to take the children on regular outings to bigger and more interesting spaces. In our view, the quality of the staff should always trump facilities, including outside space.
- What food do you provide for the children?
Some nurseries use external caterers while others prepare food on the premises. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but make sure you ask what kind of food provision there is, if the nursery works with a nutritionist and whether they can cater to any special diet or allergies. If your family is vegetarian, do mention it early on.
- How is a typical day structured and where do the children sleep?
When children are little, rhythm is essential to their wellbeing. Every nursery will have a routine firmly in place but they can vary quite significantly. Find out about meal times, snack and sleep times so you understand whether you might need to make some adjustments at home to help your child settle in at first. For instance, some nurseries offer breakfast, which means you would only give milk at home in the morning. Yet others serve a full tea at 5 p.m., again saving you the need to cook in the evening. However, you may want your child to skip that last meal in favor of a family dinner. All issues to be discussed.
7. Where do children sleep?
You may be surprised to find out that not all nurseries have a separate sleep room with cots. Sometimes the children sleep in the same room where other children play, on a simple gym mattress. If your child is used to complete quiet and darkness, this may worry you, even though children are quite flexible and usually get used to noise/activity around them.
- What is your approach to discipline and what are the procedures in place should my child get hit or bitten?
It will happen at least. Many parents fall out with nursery staff/other parents over hitting/biting/falling/pushing incidents, especially once the children become more verbal and start reporting issues themselves. You want to know the procedure in place when the inevitable happens. In terms of discipline, it is crucial to make sure you are on the same wavelength as the staff so don’t shy away from stating your preferences. If, for instance, you cannot tolerate time outs, you need to spell it out from the get go. The ensuing discussion will give you an idea of whether the nursery will be supportive of your approach or not.
- Do you help with potty training?
Regardless of whether a child is in nursery full-time of part-time, potty training is very difficult to do exclusively at home, especially if you start young and the process takes more than a few days. You need to make sure that the nursery will assist you with potty training and work with you and your child.
- What is your strategy when moving my child from the baby room to the toddler room?
Transitions can be difficult for young children and need to be managed with care and flexibility. Not all children will be ready to move from one room to the other at exactly the same age. Find out how the nursery approaches this. Some let them settle in little by little, slowly increasing the amount of time spent in the new room.
For more tips on nurseries by the same author, read “Five Things to Ask When Visiting a Nursery School” in online parenting magazine MyBaba.