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Choosing the right nursery, pre-school or childminder

Whether you’re returning to work after maternity leave, or just looking for a few hours of nursery time for your toddler, choosing the right early years setting can feel like a minefield. Here’s some guidance to help you make an informed choice.

You know your child best and you may find that one nursery, pre-school or child-minder will be more suitable than another to meet your child’s needs. Asking lots of questions will help you to build up a clear picture, so don’t be afraid to do so. Here are some of the things you might want to ask:

  • What sorts of activities do the children do? Is there a time table for the day?
  • How do you accommodate a child’s individual routine?
  • How do you let parents and carers know about a child’s progress?
  • What extra support can you offer children with additional needs?
  • Are there outdoor and indoor play areas for children?
  • How much do sessions cost? What additional charges might there be?
  • What is your policy on funded hours/voucher schemes to cover the costs of childcare?
  • Do you take the children on trips out?

Arrange to have a look around a nursery or to meet a childminder, so you’ll be able to get a feel for whether the environment will be right for your child. Don’t forget that personal recommendations can be a great starting point, so talk to other parents and find out where their children go and what they’ve heard about certain places. All settings will have an Ofsted report so have a look at that too.

Find your local nurseries, pre-schools and child minders on the government website.

During the early years, children grow and develop really quickly, physically, mentally and emotionally. This is a time when they’re quickly learning new skills and gaining new experiences, and any experience they have of pre-school education will help to support their learning, and help them to be ready for the routine of school.

Getting help with your childcare costs

Financial support is available so that children can take advantage of early years education, and get the best start in life.

The government introduced a scheme to provide free early learning places for all three and four year olds in England, giving them 15 hours of free early learning sessions each week for 38 weeks of the year.

Some early years settings will offer 30 hours a week for many children. This free childcare offer can be taken in various forms, whether that’s with an accredited childminder or at a nursery, playgroup or pre-school setting.

Also, some families are also entitled to free childcare from the age of two. Visit to check your eligibility.

Children at school

Educating a child with special educational needs

Many children and young people will have special educational needs of some kind during their education. Early years settings and other organisations can help most children and young people overcome any barriers quickly and easily.

What do we mean by ‘special educational needs’? A child might have:

  • Learning difficulties, meaning they may find it harder to develop basic skills in an early years setting
  • Social, emotional or mental health difficulties, meaning it’s harder for them to make friends, control behaviour or relate to adults
  • Sensory or physical needs – such as hearing impairment, visual impairment or physical difficulties
  • Communication problems that means they may struggle to express themselves or understand what others are saying
  • Medical or health conditions, which may slow down their progress, and might mean they need medical treatment that affects their education

If you have concerns about your child’s development, make sure you talk to your chosen Early Years setting, your Health Visitor and your GP. They’ll be able to give you advice and support.

Each early years setting has a designated SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator), who will assess your child while they’re there, and talk to you about getting the right support in place.

Find more information:

Page last reviewed: 14-04-2021

Next review due: 14-04-2024