How to choose: A guide to starting nursery

How to choose: A guide to starting nursery

This week is quite possibly going to be one of the most emotional yet. After spending the last 20 months with my beautiful little girl, I am getting ready to hand her over to what are ultimately strangers. There will be tears . . . lots of tears, but if I’m being honest almost all of those will probably be mine. Leaving your children in childcare is probably one of the most emotionally gut wrenching things most of us have to do, so how do you survive it?

Well let’s start with the practicalities first, in this series of blog posts I’ll be talking about how to survive starting nursery – from choosing a nursery, to visiting, and from the settling in period to coping with leaving your baby for the first time – and anything in-between!

As always I welcome your support, information, views and experiences, give me a shout or comment below if you’ve got anything you’d like to add that can help and support others looking for information.



All nurseries are different, with different atmospheres and different practices/routines so how do you find the best one for your child? Feeling like you can trust the people and place you’re leaving your child is the first step in easing that parent separation panic (yours!)

Here are our top ten tips for what to look for in a nursery to help you find your perfect match:

  1. Location
  2. Parking
  3. Size of nursery
  4. Hours, bank holidays
  5. Flexibility
  6. Educational Philosophy
  7. Costs and Payment Options
  8. Recommendations/ reviews
  9. Waiting list
  10. Book a visit

Overall make sure you research your options, you can search for local nurseries at or check out your local Families Information Service.


There are a huge range of nurseries available to choose from, but perhaps the first step is to look at where is going to be best location for you. Close to home? Work? Do you have other children at school – and what are their drop off/pick up times?

Nurseries near to work are usually convenient for dropping off and collecting but what about if you’re not at work one day? Or if you have to travel? Think about what would happen if you needed someone else to do the nursery run, how easy would it be for them?


Something that I often find over-looked is parking when considering a nursery. The last thing you need when your stress-levels are high and you’re worried about leaving your little one is to have a frantic hunt for somewhere to park.


What would you feel more comfortable with, a large nursery or a small nursery? An intimate and homely setting with small groups or a larger nursery which may have more space and equipment? How many groups are children broken down to – how many rooms are there and how many children are in each room? Is there an outdoor space with play equipment?


Does the nursery offer the hours you need? Are they open at the times you need to drop your little one off and what time do they close? What about Bank Holidays or weekend cover? Think about what you’re likely to need. Do you work shifts? There are a few nurseries that can help, but make sure you start with that point in discussions.


How flexible do you need your nursery to be? Are you likely to need to swap days around or add an additional day here and there? Always check if nurseries can be flexible with times and days if you think you may need more adhoc provisions as well as your static days.


This may not even be something you’ve heard of but it basically means the educational methods which some nurseries use. There are lots of different types but make sure you familiarise yourself with the method which the nursery you’re looking at uses. These range from the Montessori method which uses independence and self-teaching, to the Steiner Method which uses more teacher and activity led learning.


If you’re using nursery places to help you get the time to work then cost will play a big factor in choosing a nursery. Make sure you look at the charging system whether it’s half-day, full day or even by the hour. You’ll also need to be aware of the deposit needed to secure your place and how the nursery likes to be paid, either by invoice or direct debit.

There are also Government schemes called childcare vouchers where you can pay your childcare fees from your salary pre-tax to save you money. Not all nurseries accept childcare vouchers or will only accept them from certain providers so make sure you ask. You can find out more about childcare vouchers at 


When you’re researching potential nurseries the best place to start is in asking for recommendations. Try friends and family, parents in any groups you may go to or ask at your local Primary/First School.

Take a look at the OFTED reports and check them out on your local council’s website for any previous inspections. All of this information will help you find out where has a good reputation and help you piece together a picture of the nursery before you visit.

Always ask for a brochure or prospectus and check out their websites.


It’s common for nurseries to have some kind of waiting list, and it’s not uncommon the most popular ones to have ‘bumps’ registered! Make sure you take this into account and don’t leave finding a nursery until you immediately need one. Make sure you know when you’re likely to need a place and get your name on the list early (once you’ve checked them out) to avoid disappointment.


Don’t make any decisions until you’ve seen the nursery and have a feel for it yourself. Finding somewhere you’re confident will suit your child will help with any parental anxieties. If possible try and make the first visit without your child to make sure you’re not distracted and you manage to ask all the questions you have.


I hope this information has helped you on your journey to finding a fantastic nursery for your child. In Part Two I’ll be looking at what to look for on a nursery visit and I’ll give you a checklist of the questions you should be asking.

Until then I’ll be attempting to manage my own mummy anxieties ready for Annabel starting school – I’ll let you know how that goes!