There is no denying that having a baby is perhaps the most life changing and defining time in any person's life. At some point during the pregnancy, or shortly afterwards, many parents will face the inevitable questions of 'who will care for the baby when I return to work'?
Choosing the right nursery for your child is probably one of the hardest decisions a parent will ever make. It's certainly one of the first 'big' decisions you'll make on their behalf, and you'll want to be certain that the people who will care for your child want the very best for him or her just as you do. But how can you be sure?
In my role as an Early Years Consultant and Trainer, visiting literally hundreds of nurseries every year, I have been shocked at the poor quality of care, education and service available to so many of our youngest children every day. I have witnessed care that has ranged from totally unacceptable through to mediocre, and whilst good and outstanding quality childcare is available in the UK today, it remains hard to find and is sadly the exception rather than the norm.
One thing that all nurseries I've visited have in common, regardless of the quality of care being offered, is that as businesses they're almost always thriving and I find this puzzling. Simply, I find it impossible to understand why a parent would choose to put their child in some of these places!
Indeed, it's got me thinking: is the Ofsted grade awarded to the nursery really an accurate indicator of what happens there every day? Does the early years industry offer sufficient choice for parents? What is acceptable practice and would parents know what to look for and what questions to ask when they visit a nursery?
Being greeted by a manager who looks like they have been dragged through a hedge backwards with greasy hair and stained clothes; realising that all the staff below the manager are teenagers; witnessing toddlers who are undressed down to their nappies and vests so that their clothes are kept clean whilst eating; babies being left to cry themselves to sleep; and large rooms full of toddlers all put down for their afternoon nap at the same time.
Some of these scenarios may sound ok in certain occasional circumstances, others may sound down right extreme, but the sad reality is that I've witnessed them all.
Yes, I have actually visited a nursery where the staff undressed the children at meal times to keep them clean and having spent several hours observing practice at this nursery, I then met with the staff to present my findings to them.
So, I took off my jacket and started to undo my blouse. I invited all the staff to do likewise and get undressed down to their underwear before starting the meeting with coffee and cake. Of course, they stared at me in utter amazement! "What sit in our underwear to eat? Are you completely mad?"
"What's wrong?" I asked. "You clearly think it's ok for children to be treated in such an undignified manner." Suffice to say that was a very long staff training session!
Experiences like this certainly raise the question as to what is acceptable practice and what parents reviewing a nursery should ask about or look out for to determine if the quality of care is of a high enough standard. Some of the following may sound obvious, but I'd urge you to consider these when making a nursery visit:
- Is the Manager presentable and knowledgeable in his/her field?
- Are all of the staff presentable, friendly and vary in age and levels of experience?
- Do all, or most, staff have a Paediatric First Aid certificate?
- Do all, or most staff, have at least a Level 3 qualification?
- Does the environment appear clean? Does it smell clean? And are the resources well maintained and of a good quality?
- Is there is ease of access to the outdoor space for children of every age?
- Can children mix across the age ranges and this is valued by staff?
- Is the food prepared and served on site and are meal times valued as social occasions by all? Can you chat to the chef about food preferences for your child?
In order to help parents feel better equipped to make the right decision relating to their child's care these questions are an ideal starting point. However, I'd also urge you to visit on a number of occasions before making any commitment and don't be afraid to challenge what you see.
You can also refer to my recently published book The Definitive Guide to Choosing a Nursery.