10 tips to help you find the right pre-school for your child

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Choosing a pre-school or nursery is a really important decision to make but sometimes a tricky one, too. I was really lucky to find a pre-school which suited both my children’s personalities and needs and one they were both very happy to go to.

Here are my 10 tips to help you also find the right pre-school for your child.

1) Think about what you value in a pre-school.

Would you prefer a more formal, academic approach or a more creative one? For example, one of my friends opted for a Steiner pre-school for her child. She preferred a more creative setting, with less focus on academics, as felt there was enough time later for a more formal education.

Think about your child’s personality and what type of setting would best suit him/her. My son was a little ball of energy and I wanted somewhere where he could work off his energy and not feel out-of-place for being so active. But I also wanted a setting that would be a calming influence on him at the same time.

Is having a garden/outside space attached to the pre-school important to you? Some pre-schools don’t have any outside space. I preferred outside space at the pre-school my son went to, especially because he is so active.

Think about the activities you value in a pre-school setting. I knew one mum who was sending her son to a pre-school that included tennis and ballet in its activities (quite unusual in a pre-school) as she wanted him to have opportunity to try these activities.

2) Start looking around at pre-schools early.

Leaving it too late to put your child’s name on a waiting list risks you not being able to get your child into the pre-school of your choice. Pre-schools with a good reputation may get booked up early.

3) Look at Ofsted reports.

You can access these online. Ofsted grade the pre-school’s quality so Ofsted reports will be helpful to you when considering a pre-school. However, I would advise looking at particular areas of concern, rather than simply just looking at the overall grade.

For example, not having a proper complaints procedure as an area of concern would not sway me against sending my child to that pre-school. In my opinion, other aspects of a pre-school are more important.

Ofsted reports provide also provide considerable information about a pre-school other than how it was graded in its last inspection.

For example, when considering my son’s pre-school as a possiblity, through reading its Ofsted report, I learnt details such as times and days it was open, the food it offered at snack time, the fact that it had a garden and types of activities it offered.

To access an Ofsted report for a particular pre-school, click here.

4) Visit several different pre-schools.

This will enable you work out what you want and don’t want in a pre-school. It will also help you make comparisons about different pre-schools and help you make your choice.

5) Ask other parents for recommendations and opinions. 

This will give you first-hand, insider knowledge of particular pre-schools. Real honest opinions from a parent’s perspective are invaluable!

6) First impressions of the staff are important.

Observe how staff interact with the children. Do they speak kindly? Do they get down to a child’s level when talking to him/her? Do they use words and sentence structure appropriate to a child?

If you are keen on a particular pre-school, bring your child along and watch how staff interact with him/her. One friend of mine visited a local pre-school with her daughter and the pre-school leader didn’t include her daughter in their conversation at any point.

7) Observe the children when you visit a pre-school.

Do they seem happy? Anxious? Bored? Are they occupied and do they seem stimulated? Watch how they interact with staff. Simply observing can be revealing.

8) Observe the building and layout.

Is the building look in a good state of repair? Is it clean? Safe? Ask yourself whether you think the building would be an ideal space for pre-school children and whether you would be happy with your child spending time there.

9) Consider factors of convenience such as location and times.

Location and times of the pre-school are worth considering. Location is important. Pre-school is only for a few hours a day so you probably don’t want to spend a big chunk of that time travelling to and from it!

Also, if you send your child to a pre-school close to where you live, other children at the pre-school are more likely to live nearby, so gives your child chance to build more lasting friendships and more opportunity to see friends outside of pre-school.

Some pre-schools offer a choice of mornings or afternoons. What would be more convenient for you and your child? Some pre-schools offer lunch and some don’t.

Would you prefer your child to have lunch at pre-school? For myself, it was important that my chi have lunch there sometimes as it eases my day a little if I only have one mouth to feed at lunch (and less wreckage to clear up after, too).

10) Go with your gut feeling!

It will almost certainly be correct. Ask your child what he/she thinks, too. Children tend to operate on gut reactions rather than over-rationalise initial feelings like adults can do.

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