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How can parents recognise quality in a childcare setting?

Parents want the best possible start in life for their children and for those who require a childcare setting, it can be difficult to find one which suits the individual needs of both the parents and child.

It is important that parents not only feel confident that they are leaving their child in a safe and loving environment, but also that they are leaving them in an enabling environment where they can learn and develop.

Maggie Bellamy, Childcare and Curriculum Advisor for Busy Bees Nurseries gives her top tips for parents looking to place their child in a nursery setting. 

Do your research

Although all childcare settings have to be registered and inspected by national inspecting bodies: Ofsted (in England) and CSSIW (in Wales), there is no single definition of what a quality childcare setting looks like. However, there are elements which as a parent you can research, look for and ask about to ensure that you are confident that the setting you choose meets your needs and provides high quality care and education.  

It is important that you consider visiting several settings; this allows you to get a feel for the staff and nursery, to compare their facilities and environments and make an informed choice.  Before you visit, it is also well worth conducting some of your own research, and online is the easiest place to start.  

Quality settings will have websites allowing you to review their facilities and explore areas of the nursery such as: staffing, menus, activities and unique selling points along with any awards gained, for example food hygiene gradings and the latest inspection reports should be available to review too.  Quality settings often have current parent’s recommendations and their contact details allowing you the opportunity to discuss the nursery and their experiences with current parents.   

Take a look around

Visit the settings as many times as you wish with your child, you may wish to take your partner, a friend or relative with you to help you decide. Ensure that you have enough time to look around and make an informed decision.

Quality settings will offer you a warm welcome every time and want to offer you as much help and support to enable you to be confident in your choice. Do not be afraid to ask questions to both the management and staff team, these professionals want to tell you how they can make you and your child’s experiences unique.

They should be itching to discuss how they can meet your children’s individual needs on a daily basis, how they use their knowledge and skills to provide initiatives and enhancements over and above the curriculum requirements to ensure that your child has distinctive experiences and opportunities to learn new skills during their time in the setting, both indoors and outdoors.

So when you visit a setting what will determine it is of a high quality and what to look for:

  • As you approach the nursery is it clean and tidy in appearance, what security systems are in place for visitors entering the nursery and mobile phones, does the environment as a whole look clean and safe? (Remember, you should not be able to walk into the nursery or be let in by another parent or visitor without having been signed in, first.)
  • When entering the different rooms are they calm, with children engaged in activities and play, and appearing to be relaxed and happy? Are older children’s independence skills visible to you, for example washing their hands, wiping their noses and pouring their own drinks?
  • The environment and equipment both indoors and outdoors should be maintained and free from damage. Are children allowed the opportunity to select and choose resources of their choice? Are these available at their level and do you see this in practice when you visit?
  • Do children have daily opportunities to play and explore outdoors when they choose, and are babies and younger children given outdoor experiences? (Is free flow in operation for children, where they can independently move between inside and outside where the building permits)
  • Are staff responding to the individual needs of the children around them? Can you hear lots of language and communication from both staff and children? Are staff and children respectful of individuals, culture and families.
  • Do you and your child receive eye contact and a warm welcome in all areas that you go? And do the staff use your child’s name when chatting with you both?

What questions could I ask during my visit with regards to quality?

  • What are the ratios of staff to children, how many children do you care for, what are your qualifications, do you offer a key person system and what will this mean to my child? (Depending on the setting, staff to child ratios are: 0 – 2 1:3 ratio, 2 – 3 1:4, 3 – 5 1:8, the key person will be responsible for your child’s in individual needs, planning and assessments).
  • What are the daily routines, and how will my child’s individual needs such as weaning, nappy and toileting as well as feeding be catered for during the day?
  • How do staff deal with unwanted behaviour and what are the nursery’s policies around discipline and behaviour? Ask if the policy is available for you to see and read.
  • If your child has additional needs what will the nursery do to facilitate your child, what links with outside agencies has the nursery experienced, is there a designated member of staff that could help you? The nursery should have a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo), who will liaise with you and other agencies if required, to provide support and care for your child’s individual needs.
  • What opportunities and initiatives over and above the curriculum does the nursery offer and how will these help your child’s development and learning? Does the nursery provide activities, for example to support language, communication, mathematics over and above the curriculum?.
  • How do you communicate with me regarding my child’s development and learning, and can I be involved in my child’s life at nursery, learning and development? Parents can be involved numerous ways, parents’ evenings, home observations, conversations about your child’s development and interests at home.

PACEY offer further guidance, support and resources to help parents feel confident in your childcare choice alongside factsheets, downloads and craft ideas to try at home. 

Author Bio:

Maggie Bellamy has a BA (Hons) in Early Years and is a Childcare and Curriculum advisor for Busy Bees Nurseries. She has worked for the company for over 5 years, previously managing one of their outstanding nurseries. Her experience also extends to local authority schools, out of school provision as well as smaller private nurseries.

Maggie’s role within Busy Bees is to offer support and guidance to a group of nurseries on how to develop their enabling environments, supporting children’s learning and development through challenging activities and the key person relationship.  A key element of Maggie’s role it to stay a breast of current research, curriculum requirements and best practice within Early Years Education and share her knowledge with other nurseries; thus ensuring the best experiences for children.

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