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How to choose the right nursery school for your child

Choosing a nursery school for your child is far from easy. Nursery schools cover a crucial age group in terms of child development, from around the age of 2 to the age of 5. A nursery school’s aim shouldn’t simply be to care for your child in a safe environment. It should also provide carefully selected learning resources and opportunities for real growth. It should tailor everything it does around empowering your child to become a confident, independent learner. We’re here to help you choose a nursery school which can rise to this key challenge.

The importance of early education cannot be underestimated and many parents start thinking about it around the time of their child’s second birthday. More often than not parents tend to get quite anxious, as there are many parameters to consider, lots of perspectives to take into account. After all, a nursery school represents a child’s first experience with the educational system. They feel that this first educational setting could potentially shape their child’s future attitude towards learning. And quite rightly so – the evidence so far is indeed pointing to that conclusion.

So the central question then becomes: What is the most important thing when choosing a nursery school? Is it the quality of the teachers and early years professionals who work with the children? Is it the quality of the indoor / outdoor environment and the learning opportunities it provides? Or is it perhaps that children are well-cared for and have loads of fun when at school?

As it turns out, the sum total of all these aspects of a nursery school are indeed important, to a smaller or larger extent. But the one fundamental question that has to be addressed is, “What is it like for a child in this nursery?”

Ofsted – the regulating body in England – ask the exact same question whenever they inspect a nursery school to evaluate its quality and its performance. And more specifically, the question every parent should be asking is:

What is it like for my child in this nursery school?

The answer to this question touches on all the key areas mentioned above. Here’s a summary for each area:

  • How big is the setting?: Do you feel that the size of the setting is the right one for your child? It might be overwhelming for a child that hasn’t attended a setting before to go to a 40-place nursery. It might be best to start with a smaller setting with a smaller number of children overall, and a smaller staff-to-children ratio.
  • What’s the environment really like?: Is it inviting and welcoming? Does it have good quality resources that your child would enjoy playing / learning with? Is it spacious enough? Is it bright? Does it have outdoor spaces and how important is this for your child?
  • What do you think of the staff?: Are they warm and approachable? Can they “tune in” to children? Are they knowledgeable about early years learning and can they demonstrate this to you? What is the educational approach that the setting is using? Can they explain to you in simple terms the advantages of their particular approach?
  • What do you think about the interactions between staff and children?: When I was looking for a nursery place for my eldest daughter, I was shown around a lovely setting with lots of good resources. The main room was bright, there were toys made of natural wood, and the furniture was new. The problem was that the staff (and there were several members of staff coming and going) had a baby on a bouncy chair for over 45 minutes. I challenged them on that and, to my great surprise, the staff didn’t seem to think that there was anything wrong with that.
  • What do you think about the organisation of the school?: Do they have certain routines and, if so, what purpose do they serve? Do they have clear systems and processes in place for their communication with parents? How do they monitor the quality of the services they are providing to both children and parents? Do they have good assessment systems in place to monitor the progress of the children? What is their staff-to-children ratio and what qualifications do the staff hold?

Also, what does this nursery school feel like for you, as a parent?

  • Do you feel welcomed to the school?
  • Do you see that your central contribution as your child’s first educator is valued and encouraged?
  • Do you feel the school wants to work in partnership with you to ensure consistency and coherence in relation to your child’s learning?
  • Do you agree with the educational philosophy of the school?

We have created an 8-point comparison table for you to print off and use when visiting different settings. It summarizes all the points above into a few questions you need to ask and areas you have to cover in your visit. Remember that a visit to a nursery school is a necessary step before selecting a setting – and it should be with your child for a whole session (whole morning or afternoon). Please click on the “How to Choose the Right Nursery: an 8-Point Comparison Table” link to download it.

As a parent, finding the right nursery school for your child can be difficult, but when you do find it and you see your child being happy to go to school in the morning, it can be extremely rewarding too. This will be a huge first step for them towards social development and emotional growth, and one of the most important milestones in how they will view learning in the future.