Just like children, no two nurseries are the same. So whether they're part of a large chain, or a small, independent set up, nurseries and their staff work together to provide a high quality childcare and early learning experience for all the children they care for.

But what is it like to work in a nursery or other group setting? Find out more about:

What is a nursery?

The term "nursery" is often used to cover a wide range of group settings for early years childcare. There are differences between settings, in terms of the services they provide, but all nursery settings offer professional, registered childcare for children under 5.

Nursery schools, maintained nurseries and pre-schools tend to cater for children aged between 3 and 5, offering early education in the couple of years before they begin "big school". Many of these settings are purpose-built and are sometimes part of the larger school building.

Day nurseries tend to provide childcare for children from the ages of six weeks to 5 years. Opening hours vary but an average day nursery is likely to open between 7am and 8am to accommodate working parents and close between 6pm and 7pm. This means that nursery staff will often work shifts.

Nursery schools and day nurseries can be run by private businesses, local authorities, voluntary or community groups, schools, colleges or employers. Settings can range in size from the very small with just 15 or so children in the nursery to large, with up to 150 children in the setting.

In England, nurseries work within the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Framework. In Wales, nurseries work to CIW's requirements and the Curriculum for funded non-maintained nursery settings.

Pre-schools offer care and education to children aged 2 to 5 years, with sessions lasting from two to four hours. These operate during term time, tend to be smaller settings and may have morning and afternoon sessions.

Nurseries tend to be organised around the ages of children and will often be split into rooms for different aged children. Each room will have a lead staff member, and the staff team will tend to remain with the same children.

What do nursery workers do?

A typical day will vary depending on where you are working but might include:

  • greeting parents and welcoming children into the setting and helping them to settle
  • setting up and clearing away after activities and planning, organising, and leading activities, ensuring that children are playing safely, including overseeing outdoor play
  • providing snacks and helping children to eat and helping children wash and go to the toilet
  • observing children to help understand their learning needs and completing relevant paperwork and keeping records
  • working closely alongside other staff.

Each child attending the nursery has a "key person". The role of the key person is to help ensure that every child’s learning and care is tailored to meet their individual needs. They will spend most time with the child and will be the first point of contact for the child's parents.

Becoming a nursery worker

A sense of fun, energy, imagination, empathy and patience are all key skills you'll need to work in a nursery. And although it is possible to work in a nursery setting without specific childcare qualifications, most settings recognise that better qualified staff can offer more support for children's learning.

Whether the nursery is registered in England or in Wales will affect its requirements for qualified staff. Generally speaking, though, at least half of the staff must hold a valid childcare qualification at level 2 or above. This level of qualification is for front line practitioners working with children and can sometimes be gained whilst in your first role.

Starting on your training path

You might start out as a student or nursery assistant whilst you work towards your level 2 qualification. Some nurseries may offer the opportunity to complete an apprenticeship and this can be a great first step.

A nursery must ensure that all staff receive induction training to help them understand their roles and responsibilities. When you start work at a nursery your training will include information about emergency evacuation procedures, safeguarding, child protection, the nursery's equal opportunities policy, and health and safety issues.

If you're a childcare and early years student, you're likely to go on a placement at a local nursery as part of your course.

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