Childcare – an absolute minefield for anyone returning to work after maternity leave or even further down the line. Not only is cost a huge factor but a billion questions race through our minds when we are faced with the prospect of trusting complete strangers with our prized offspring. No one looks after your child, and loves them unconditionally, like you do but needs must so as long as they are safe and happy, well that’s all that matters really. You are the only one that can decide what’s best for your child but there’s no harm in having a little guidance so I’ve collated ideas from various mums and dads to help! These pointers and quotes are in no way definitive but might give you some food for thought when deciding what to do.
+ A wide range of activities available (home corner, reading area, junk modelling, construction, garden etc.) Hayley found that “it’s not possible for me to give her as much fun and sociable play as she gets there, and she loves it!”
+ Assigned keyworker who will carry out observations of your child and keep relevant records
+ More children = more opportunities to develop social skills as Lyndsey states: “After baby classes ended [our daughter] wasn’t socialising with other children and she needed that. I also needed a break due to having PND so it was the right decision for us all.”
+ Most nurseries run a 3-4 week timetable so varied options for mealtimes
+ Outside agencies sometimes provide extra activities e.g. Baby Yoga, Dance etc.
+ Often have trained teachers
+ Similar to a school setting making transition easier
+ Often open longer hours, as Abi found: “We opted for a nursery that was open 7-7 so we were covered for train delays and we didn’t need to worry about covering sickness or holidays for a childminder.” Jaime also found that “nothing was too much trouble to fit around the odd hours I need”.
(I recently reviewed Safari Kid Nursery and it was AMAZING so do try and visit nurseries to get a feel for them!)
– Varied levels of qualified staff
– Different staff during different sessions make it difficult to form bonds
– Can be busy with lots of noise, as Lisa agrees: “I didn’t want to throw [my boys] into a busy nursery environment too early. I was after a more nurturing environment where it was a bit more personal.”
– Can have very long waiting lists (up to 18 months in some areas – Walthamstow, I’m looking at you!)
– Often costly, as Christy found: “We wanted the social experience and early education that the nursery could offer him and had to accept that the nursery cost would cancel out my part time wage, but would offer him other benefits.”
+ Closer bond with one caregiver, as Eileen found with her children: “Seven years later we all shed lots of tears as we said ‘goodbye’, because our children and their childminder had developed such a close bond”.
+ May offer flexibility e.g. term time only for teachers or late pick ups
+ Home environment
+ Longer term they may also do school drop offs and pick ups so continuity of care
+ Varied activities, as Nicola found: “[The childminder] takes the kids out everyday either to the park, playgroup, a local bird wetlands centre, softplay or a farm; they do crafts every afternoon and he has made friends for life there. I love the fact that he gets so much out of going – doing certain things that I’d struggle to set up like certain crafts and being around children his own age.”
– Smaller group of children could mean less social experience
– Childminder sickness/holidays could be problematic
+ Low cost!! As Christy discovered: “He is in nursery two days a week whilst my mother has him one extra day to help out and we’ve found this is the best balance we could find for both time and finances.”
+ No worries for safety of the as they’re with someone you trust
+ Can build an even closer bond with that family member, as Hayley discusses: “It’s lovely that [my children] have a great relationship with [my mum].”
– Can be awkward to discuss if you’re not happy with the way your child is looked after
– May not have any educational or first aid training
– Limited social experiences
– Can be demanding on family members, as Nicola found: “When D. was 11 months old, he went to his Nana’s house but it proved to be too much for her as I was dropping him off at 7.30am and picking him up at 6pm four days a week.”
It is, of course, entirely possible to combine these childcare methods in many cases so your child gets the best of both worlds but whichever option you go for could massively depend on the personality of your child too. Sinead‘s family are a great example of combining solutions: “After being crippled by nursery fees, from 9 months to 3 years, my partner and I made the decision to put our boy into a school nursery and ask for flexible shift to allow for drop off and pick up.”
Don’t forget to check for information on funding for 2 and 3 year olds but watch out for any hidden costs if you go with a nursery! Sundip has written a fantastic blog post on how to pick a nursery and check out Amy’s blog too, to find out how it really feels on your child’s first day of nursery.
Use Ofsted as a starting point but the reports aren’t massively insightful so visits are the only way to find out if a setting is truly the right place for your family. Ask lots of questions so that any concerns you have are addressed (food and sleep are key!) and judge your child’s responses there. However, kids are often more resilient than we give them credit for so don’t panic if they don’t take to a setting immediately. And if all else fails, you can move them – they won’t be stuck in a nursery forever if you or they are unhappy!
Don’t forget to read our blog post on efficient parenting to make the most of your time!