Assessing the quality of care offered by a potential nursery is similar to choosing a school.  You need to be well prepared and do you research thoroughly.  You will need to evaluate the Manager and her abilities to handle and motivate her staff and efficiently run the centre; the staff themselves, their experience and abilities, and how well they handle the children as well as monitor and track the children’s development.  Most importantly, however, it will be about getting a feel for the facilities, the environment and general atmosphere.

Start by making an appointment with the Manager.  I recommend that you take with you a list of questions to help you assess the nursery.  Here are some suggested questions below.

Questions about the nursery

  • Is the nursery a member of the National Day Nurseries Association? This is the national charity and membership association specifically for nurseries.
  • What staff to children ratio is the nursery employing?  i.e. 1:3 for children 0-2 years old , 1:4 for children 2-3 years olds, 1:8 for children 3-5 years old
  • When was their last inspection?  Ask to see a copy of the most recent inspection report.
  • What are the facilities like?  Are they in good condition and is the space well organised?  Is it light, bright and clean?
  • What is the range of activities offered?  There should be a good range including building bricks, painting, play dough, dressing up and role play areas.
  • How are the toys stored, what is their condition, how often are they replaced?
  • Is there a good outside play area with suitable outside toys?  For example you might expect sandpits, climbing frames, a slide and scooters.  Is it fenced and safe?  Ask how it is staffed and utilised.

Questions about the childcare routine

  • What is the typical day routine and what sort of activities do the children take part in?  How does this vary by age group?
  • How do they support children who are already progressing naturally with their numbers and letters and are ahead for their age?
  • What are the main rules?  What is the policy on discipline?  How would they deal with a particularly disruptive or rough child?
  • What records do they keep? How do they assess a child’s progress both socially and educationally?  Ask to look at a child’s record book.
  • What reporting communication/reporting structures do they have in place with the parents?  What procedure is followed if a child becomes ill during the day?
  • What sort of meals are the children given?  Is the food cooked on the premises?  Take a look at a menu, how often does it change, does it cater for any special dietary requirements you may have?
  • If you have babies or smaller children -does the nursery have facilities for daily naps? Or is there a quiet room with beanbags or little beds?

Questions about the staff and processes

  • How many staff members are there and what are their backgrounds?  Are at least 50% trained to NVQ level 3 childcare or the equivalent?
  • How long have they been with the nursery?  What is the staff turnover rate?
  • How many staff hold first aid certificates and what is the back up procedure if they are ill or away?
  • How often do they hold staff meetings to discuss policies and strategy?
  • How often do they hold meetings to review children’s progress?

Once you have asked all your questions, ask to stay for a while so that you can get a feel for the general atmosphere and watch the staff in action.

Are they confident, positive and calm?  Do they appear very involved with the children?  Do the children seem engaged and happy?  Make sure you take a look behind the scenes.   The kitchen, eating areas and toilets should be very organised and clean.

Finally if you haven’t heard about the nursery word of mouth, ask for some parent references and speak to them about the nursery before making a decision.

I would recommend you look at several different nurseries to make sure you make the right decision for your child.  They will vary considerably and you need to choose the right environment for your child to learn, develop and flourish as well as having fun.

Once you have done your research, trust your instinct, parents tend to have a very good feel for what is right for their child.