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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.

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?
  • How do you let parents and carers know about a child’s progress?
  • What extra support can you offer little ones 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?

When you go to have a look around a nursery or to meet a childminder, 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.

During the early years, children grow and develop really quickly, both 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.

Happy little boy colouring

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. From April 2017, 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. If you have any issues using the online checker please either visit your local children’s centre.

According to the current guidelines:

  • If your child is born between 1 April and 31 August, your child is eligible for their free place from 1 September following their third birthday, until they reach the statutory school age.
  • If your child is born between 1 September and 31 December, then your child is eligible for their free place from 1 January following their third birthday, until they reach the statutory school age.
  • If your child is born between 1 January and 3 March, then they’re eligible for their free early learning place from 1 April following their third birthday, until they reach the statutory school age.

Check your whether your child is eligible for any of the above funded sessions.

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: 18-05-2018

Next review due: 18-05-2021