A useful one this week. The first time you visit a childcare setting it can be discombobulating. You plan to ask lots of insightful questions about the place but somehow go blank and instead marvel at just how small the chairs are. As such I’m grateful to Charlotte has three kids and Primary Years Teacher until she decided the current education system in the UK wasn’t meeting the needs of children. She successfully pitched to the Duchy of Cornwall for investment and then founded and started Free Rangers Forest School with just four families and now currently offers childcare to over 300 families.

  • Without a shadow of a doubt a nursery setting’s calibre is reflected in the team, their enthusiasm and qualifications.

  • Legally only 50 % of the team working with the children needs to be qualified. So ask for details explaining the qualifications of the team that will be looking after and educating your child.

  • I would like to see at least 20% of a room’s team hold a degree that is relevant to the post; e.g. teaching degree or an early years / child development degree.

  • You must book a tour as so much can be gleaned from looking around, and if you need or want to, the setting should let you book more than one. On the tour look for the following things in the following areas:

  • What do you think about the level of interaction between the adults and children?

  • Do adults use positive language?

  • Do adults get down to the child’s level?

  • Are adults leading the play or are they playing alongside? It is seen as outdated practice if adult practitioners are telling children what to do, as it stifles creativity.

  • Are adults encouraging independence? Would your child be able to access their bag, wellies, coat for example or follow their own ideas?

  • Are there a good range of resources? These might be wooden, they might be plastic but are they inclusive and varied. E.g. involving a range of cultures and countries.

  • What experiences are on offer? Try not to think of a nursery as an early school as it’s not what your child needs at this time; instead try to understand what opportunities exist at the setting.

  • Forest School for example is a play based outdoor offering that focusses on the holistic development of the child e.g. emotional, social, linguistic, physical, intellectual development, which in turn will lay positive and strong foundations for future learning. Other experiences might include yoga, mindfulness, art activities or languages.

  • Is the setting inclusive to all? I don’t know about you, but inclusivity is important to me and so if you feel the same, try to work out or ask if children with additional needs are welcomed and how the setting promotes their inclusion.

  • Ofsted. By all means look at the setting’s latest report. But I’d advise not to hang your hat on it. If you have concerns having read it, but you like the setting itself then raise the query with the manager and give them a chance to explain.

  • The curriculum; don’t get carried away about the Early Years Foundation stage; that’s the curriculum a setting has to legally follow if the setting is registered with Ofsted. You’ll most likely receive access to an online learning journal that explains where your child is in line with the curriculum and whether there are any concerns. I’d also suggest that your child’s level of engagement and wellbeing is measured and this too is common in most nurseries and will tell you how curious, inquisitive and happy your child is.

  • Roles. Are the roles the team hold clear to you as a parent? Do you know who the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator is and the Designated Safeguarding Lead is?

  • Communication. Ensure you understand the methods of communication your child’s nursery might use. Drop off and pick up are often very quick and aren’t always the best place to discuss your child. A good nursery will offer up quite a few methods of communication for you to access.

  • Physical (tangible) environment:

  • Imagine your child at this nursery setting. Would they be able to move around freely from inside to outside; this is called free flow?

  • Would they have the opportunity to run, jump, roll, hang upside down etc Physical development for young children is crucial and no one needs reminding about obesity levels.

  • If the nursery doesn’t have a Forest School or a beach school site, do they visit the local park? Ask how often your child will be able to access an outdoor space.

  • If the setting’s outdoor space is too tidy, my alarm bells ring. I’m sorry to say it but children’s learning is never tidy.

  • It’s muddy, sandy and wet, with most resources being mixed up and interacted with throughout the day. That’s a good thing, although it’s not terribly pleasing to the eye. That said the start of each session should see resources stored and labelled clearly so that your child can understand and access resources for themselves.

  • Emotional (intangible) environment:

  • How will your child’s emotional wellbeing safeguarded? How does the setting get to know your child? E.g. All about me form, settling in sessions with a family member, home visit, opportunities to stay and play.

  • Emotion coaching. Does the setting explicitly teach children to identify and name their emotions?

  • Ask how the setting builds in teaching empathy.

  • What support strategies are put into place if you child finds it hard to settle?

  • Safeguarding:

  • Ask to read the safeguarding policy, it should cover the following:

  • Security. How is the building laid out? Ask about accessibility and how this is managed.

  • Safe recruitment. How are staff recruited, what processes must they go through to ensure only the right people get to work with the children?

  • Training. How much is staff training valued at the setting. Who attends Child protection training and what policies exist surrounding whistle blowing?

  • E-safety. Is there a policy regarding the use of photos and how / if they are shared. Look for the setting’s GDPR policy too.

  • Forms and policies. Paperwork plays a large part of ensuring the safety of your child. Incident, accident, head injury and pre-existing injury are just some of the forms you might be asked to fill in and this is all completely normal. All of the setting’s the policies should be available for you to read.

  • Behind the scenes:

  • Does your nursery run social media channels. It’s an added pressure and arguably doesn’t directly benefit the children but for busy families interacting with the setting on social media channels is quick, convenient and easy.

  • Is the setting interested in education, are they passionate about what they do? Do they blog? Do you feel continued professional development is encouraged as part of the setting’s culture?

  • If you get a chance, talk to other families, they will provide you with honest feedback about the pros and cons of the setting.

  • Funding:

  • There are different types of funding that you may or may not be eligible for.

  • There is 2 year funding often for families receiving some sort financial support from the government.

  • There is 3 year funding. The term after your children turns three, they are entitled to the universal funding, which means 15 hours of childcare per week or 12 hours stretched across 50 weeks of the year if your setting is open all year round.

  • There is a 30 hour offer. If parents are both working. There is eligibility criteria to check, so please don’t assume you are entitled to this.

  • Love

  • As a mum and a nursery owner, I want to see that my children are loved in my absence. Do the setting really know my child and their likes and dislikes.

  • Are staff passionate about their roles. Ask some of these.

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