Tips and advice: how to choose the right nursery or pre-school for your child

The area of South West London where I live is incredibly family friendly. In Twickenham there are so many nurseries and pre-schools to choose from. As a nursery and pre-school photographer, I’ve photographed quite a few of them!  With a small child of my own, this is a topic that I’m really interested in.

This blog is my way of providing some helpful hints and advice for parents looking for the perfect nursery or preschool for their little ones. Some parents start looking while they are still pregnant and it can sometimes be a daunting task to know what they should be looking for.

going on a bear hunt

First let’s hear what parents say

I recently asked a bunch of my friends on Facebook how they chose the right nursery or pre-school for their children. I was surprised at how much variety there was in their answers. For some parents the reasons were fairly practical in nature – proximity to home, hygiene, staff retention and size. For others, it was more intuitive. My friend Laura said that the biggest thing for her “was that it was an environment that they felt comfortable in, where they can be themselves and learn to make new friendships, gain confidence, and resilience and that they would get a cuddle if they needed it”. A big thread through everyone’s answers was the quality of the teachers / staff and how they interacted with the children. That’s why I’ve also asked what head teachers of nurseries and pre-schools think.

What’s the advice of local experts?

I sat down with head of Chestnuts nursery in Twickenham, Alison Archibald, to talk about what she thinks parents should look for when choosing a nursery (for children from about 10 months to 2 years).

Alison Archibald head of nursery

Alison gave 2 big tips.

  1. First impressions matter. What does the nursery look like on the inside and out? Your first impression of the space can give an indication of how they approach childcare. Do they use bright colours or are they a nursery that uses natural tones? Is everything tidy and clean?
  2. Is it a welcoming environment? Does the nursery have an open door policy? If the staff are welcoming, it makes it easier for parents to come and view how their child is settling in. It may also mean that parents will be more regularly updated on how their little one is getting on every day. Alison gave an interesting example of what a welcoming environment would be like. She said that parents should theoretically feel comfortable enough to stay at the nursery after pick-up and feed their baby there if needed. If there is a genuine open door policy, it means there will be a closer relationship between the nursery and parents. 

Here’s some expert advice about picking a pre-school

To find out about pre-schools (children from about 2-4 years), I spoke to Aimee Kimbell, who is the headteacher at Sunflower Montessori in St Margarets, South West London. She said that finding the right pre-school is sort of like house hunting. You have a gut feeling if it’s the right place for you but you still need to check out the details.

Aimee Kimbell St Margarets Montessori

Here are Aimee’s tips:

  1. Save time by doing research online. Do they provide the right hours for you? Does it give early years grants and perhaps more importantly, do they have a place available? A good place to start is to look at your local Council’s website. Richmond Council’s site has some very useful advice about childcare.
  2. Visit a few settings but know your priorities. Compare settings for what’s important for you. Are you looking for a busy but relaxed environment with happy and engaged children? Are the staff friendly and how do they interact with the children? What is the outside space like? Is it a diverse and inclusive environment? Knowing your priorities helps you compare different places you visit.
  3. Don’t forget to ask specific questions: What’s the staff training like, particularly if a specific style of education is important to you e.g. Montessori? What is the daily routine like? What food/drink is provided to children? How do they approach toilet training? 

It goes without saying that every family is different but hopefully this list will help you on your search for the perfect nursery or pre-school for your child. 

What are the things you looked for when choosing a nursery or preschool? I would love to hear from you!