Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Seven Simple Steps to Choosing a Good Nursery School

Seven Simple Steps to Choosing a Good Nursery School

Choosing a nursery can be a daunting process for you as a parent. You clearly want the best experience for your child but you may not be able or willing to stay at home all day yourself. Other people who may be able to help you include family, a nanny, a childminder, a playgroup or a nursery. If you have decided that a nursery is the most suitable solution for your family’s needs the next question is: “Which one?” This blog is intended to help you make a good choice.
I outline seven simple steps. I believe that all of them are important, but depending on how well you know your area you may want to change the order you take them in.   

Step one:
Decide what you want for your child & write a list of questions;

 You are the expert on your child. You know their habits, needs and wants, their special talents and challenges. You know what upsets them and what delights them. Now you need to find a place with a group of people whom you can trust to take a genuine interest in your child. So what is it you are looking for?
-      People who care?
-      People who are professional?
-      An attractive place?
-      A clean and safe place?
-      A place nearby (does it have to be within walking distance?)
-      Do you need cover between 8 to 6 so you can return to work?
-      Do you want to take a part-time place and leave time to do things together (trips to the park, art activities, swimming and visiting friends and family)?
-      Does your child need a place during term-time only, or all year around?
-      What price are you willing to pay, if any, for the quality you are looking for?
-      Will you and your child have any friends there?
Not all of these questions will be relevant to you and I’m bound to have missed some, but it will be helpful to write your own short list and then use the internet and/or local magazines to pre-select a few nurseries you’d like to visit. With your list ready at hand, check each nursery off immediately after your visit so you can compare them afterwards. 

Step two:
Contact candidate nurseries to arrange visits;

Hopefully step one will have narrowed your search down to just three or four nurseries. You are now ready to call them all and to arrange a first visit. With your list at hand it will be a good idea to make some notes on how friendly and welcoming they are on the telephone. Be prepared to leave a message if the use an answer phone system. Do they answer straight away or phone back quickly if you leave a message? Remember that once you have chosen a nursery it may be important to you to be able to contact them quickly if necessary.
Once you speak to them, are they pleased you called? Do they listen to your questions and do their best to help you? Can they send or refer you to further information straight away? Does the call leave you feeling keen to go and visit?

Step three: 
Visit without your child: notice your first reaction, then look and see;

There’s no doubt about it: first impressions count. Each nursery is different and you will probably get a feel for a place within minutes. It may not be so easy to put into words, but do make a note as soon as you leave. Do the children appear to have access to lots of interesting activities for them? Can they play inside and outdoors? Do they move around freely?
It’s important to look around and focus on the people, children first. Do they look happy? Are they occupied? Are they kind to one another and considerate? Are they busy playing? Do they look like they are interested in what they are doing? Are they friendly and trusting with the adults in the room?
When you look at the adults, how do they occupy their time? Do they interact with the children? Do they observe them? Do they speak quietly and calmly or are they loud and overbearing? Are they well-spoken, gentle and polite and would you trust them as role models for your children?
When you speak with the adults, are they keen to answer your questions and do they appear knowledgeable and confident? Are they kind and do they seem to love the company of children? Do you see them as professionals? Can they answer some of your questions? Do they prioritise the needs of the children they look after, or ignore them to answer your questions? Remember it could be your child on future occasions. 

Step four: 
Visit with your child: watch and ask;

The first visit, without your child, may have already eliminated some of your options but you may still like all the nurseries you pre-selected. In the second visit the focus is on your child and the staff’s interactions with your child. How does your child appear to feel about this place? Does it seem scary to them? Is it loud and chaotic or is there a pleasant buzz of activity and excitement? After some time, is your child taking an interest, perhaps even joining in with an activity? Do the other children seem kindly disposed towards newcomers? Does your child get smiles and attention from them and/or the adults in the room? Do they allow your child to explore unfamiliar things and make a bit of a mess perhaps? How do they respond to children who appear to overstep the mark at times (if this happens).
If you have unanswered questions from your last visit, or new questions, this may be a good opportunity to ask one of the teachers in the room. 

Step five: 
Talk with Head, Teachers, and/or Administrators about their approach;  

Perhaps you can have a few minutes with the Leader of the room, perhaps the school has organised for a person to be available just for you and your child. If not, you can phone up afterwards and talk to an administrator. If the nursery school has a strong ethos then all the staff will be informed and keen to share it with you. 

Step six:  
Talk with your child and your partner;

Your child is going to be the one attending the nursery, so their opinion if, of course, very important. Maybe you can just simply ask direct questions. If this doesn’t work so well you can try a drive-by with an invitation to go back for another visit. Your child’s reaction is bound to tell you more. One of the reasons that I suggest you only visit a smaller number of pre-selected places with your child is to prevent confusion and uncertainty for them.   

Step seven:
Check your conclusions with Ofsted & others, friends & neighbours;

Ofsted reports, websites and official documents can tell you how well organised a nursery school is and how they intend to run their provision. What they can’t tell you is what that feels and looks like in practice. That’s why a visit is so important. If you have visited with your partner or a friend then you can compare notes. If not, the grapevine is an important tool to learn more. Don’t be shy to ask around. Other parents will usually be glad to share their experiences with you. 

My wish for you:

If you follow these steps you and your child will have learnt a lot in the process and know what you like. You will also have started with what you want, rather than with what others say. That’s why we put step seven at the end, not at the beginning.
I hope that this will help you to find a place you and your child will come to love and cherish. The early years are so important. You owe it to your child and to yourself to get it right. Good luck in your search!

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