Starting school can be scary - for both you and your child.
Of course you will want your child to be as prepared as possible for the big day. One of the best ways to do this is by making sure they get a good early years education.
If you decide to use childcare, picking a service can be a bit overwhelming in itself. The person or people who look after your child play an important role in their development. They must help those they care for grow up to be keen to learn, able to express themselves and happy to play with others.
The good news is that the quality of early years education in England is better than ever. We now rate 91% of nurseries and childminders good or outstanding. So how do you go about picking a service that's just right for you and your child?
Find childcare in your area
A couple of different organisations will help get you a list of all the options in your area. Your local council's family information service website site should do this. As will Ofsted's website and the Family and Childcare Trust's.
To use these online search tools, you'll be asked about the kind of childcare you want. So think about you and your child's routine and needs.
Our inspection reports should help you narrow down your shortlist. We have a dedicated webpage for every provider registered with us. Childminders may have asked us not to list their name or contact details, so you'll need a reference number to find their page. Your local family information service may be able to help you contact childminders.
Understanding types of childcare on offer
When you use our online search tool, you might notice that we use different terms. We talk about 'childcare in a home' (childminders); 'childcare not in a home' (private or voluntary nurseries); and 'nursery school' (a nursery run by a school).
Childminders work from their home and can often provide childcare from early mornings to evenings, and at weekends. Sometimes they offer collection services too. School-run nurseries may offer part-time or full-time care and may only run during term-time. Private and voluntary nurseries either operate all year round or just during term time. They offer part-time or full-time care.
What Ofsted-registered means
Most people who are paid to care for children under the age of eight must be registered with Ofsted. This includes nurseries and childminders.
If we've registered someone, it means they've passed certain checks. This should give you a bit less to worry about.
Before they register, we'll have asked them to send us a valid first aid certificate. Our inspectors will interview them to make sure they know how to keep children safe and help them learn. We'll also check that their workplace and equipment are child friendly.
We will run a police background check on a childminder and anyone who lives with them.
Things work a bit differently in nurseries. We run the background checks on the people who run the nursery and it is their responsibility to do the same for all of their staff. When we come in to inspect, we'll make sure this has been done.
Reading our reports
We inspect anyone registered to look after children age five and under at least once every four years. We'll rate them on a scale of 1 - 4 (1 = outstanding, 2 = good, 3 = requires improvement or 4 = inadequate).
The reports you can see on our website explain the positive and negative things our inspector found on the day of their visit. This includes the activities staff organise to help children learn and develop. We'll write about the way a place feels and how well staff connect with and understand children. Of course we'll also cover safety issues.
And finally... going to visit!
Once you have a shortlist of potential childcare options, go and visit them. Only you as parents will know whether a person or place is right for your child. Prepare a list of questions and take it with you. If our report identified areas for improvement, check whether they've made the right changes.
If there is anything you're unsure of, ask the staff. A good nursery or childminder will always be happy to discuss their inspection report and services with you.