Our new Head of Pre-Prep Katie Paynter talks about Navigating Nursery

Katie Paynter, Head of Pre-Prep at St Nicholas Preparatory School, explains what parents should be looking for when choosing a nursery for their child.

Selecting a nursery for your child is never an easy decision, and as a parent, you want to ensure your little one will receive the best levels of care. There are a huge number of nursery options to choose from, and in most cases your decision will depend upon whether you work and the hours you need your child to be looked after.

Playgroups usually offer shorter hours and most allow parents to sit and chat while their little ones play. Some nurseries, on the other hand, are attached to a school, which can be hugely beneficial for easing the later transition while embedding routines.

When you start your search, it’s worth booking appointments to view a wide range of places, so you can meet the staff and see how the nurseries are run. Many parents choose a nursery that’s been recommended t the by others, but a visit will really confirm whether or not this is the right place for your child – you should be able to sense from both the children and those who work there whether the nursery is happy settled and well managed.

All nurseries in England must follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework, which not only introduces children to the academic world (letters and numbers), but also focuses on their personal, social and emotional development. A balance between learning and play is so important at the nursery stage, as it helps children associate learning with fun and fulfilment.

So, during your visit, take a look at the array of toys and activities on offer, and how the nursery approaches teaching. Opportunities to play with toy ‘food’, for instance, will help little learners develop an early understanding of the importance of eating healthily and the process involved in preparing a meal.

There should be enough space and equipment for all children, so as you carry out your tours consider the age ranges present and the resources offered – younger ones, for instance, generally need more space for daytime sleeps, whereas older children won’t. Similarly, while pens will be of no use to an 18 month old, building blocks aren’t hugely appropriate when preparing a four years old for school.

Dedicated outdoor spaces are also imperative to a nursery, as they enhance physical activity, promote a healthy lifestyle and develop children’s understanding of the world. Spaces should be child-friendly and foster both personal growth and independence, and having resource trays, cupboards, tables and toilets at child -height will mean little ones are encouraged to solve problems without relying on adult support.

Equally as important is the environment, so look for engaging, colourful and interactive displays when you visit different nurseries. Is there clear organization for things like toys and art materials, and visible reminders to wash hands or hang coats?

Communication is crucial, too, and each child should really be allocated a dedicated team member of staff to monitor their progress and wellbeing. Most nurseries even keep ‘diaries’ for the children in their care, to track daily activities and development. This is the space in which your child will spend a lot of time, so you want to ensure they’re happy and comfortable. And as a parent, it’s important you are kept in the loop, and nurseries should support this!

Nursery is the step between life at home and at school, and so it’s so important that you make the very most of this time. After visiting a selection, you should have a pretty good idea of which ones are the best fit for you and your little one, but don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. This is your child’s education after all, and feeling confident and assured in your choice should be priority number one.

This article was originally published for Little London guides.

020 7225 1277