How to choose a nursery for your child

With a new school year starting, many young children will also be ready to start nursery. To help parents navigate the difficult process of selecting a nursery, Ivy Education blogger and tutor Oliver Ford spoke with Wendy Challen - Ivy consultant and former head teacher - to reflect on how parents can approach this new adventure for their child with confidence and clarity.

Choosing a nursery as a parent can feel incredibly tough. Not only do you want your young child to be happy and safe, in an environment where you feel utterly comfortable leaving them, but - given the competitive schooling ladder in London - many parents are also concerned to choose a nursery that sets their child up to gain a place at a top school in the future. Nursery is the start of a much longer educational journey for children, after all.

So, what is the best plan for choosing the right nursery for your child? The task might be more straightforward than you think, but it is important that you are clear on what a good nursery should look like, and what you should expect from it. And to know that, it is necessary to clear up a prominent myth about nurseries and schooling.

The myth of ‘feeder’ nurseries

Demand for school places in London is high, and therefore parents look for any competitive edge that their children can gain, even down to the choice of nursery. As part of this process, many parents believe that certain nurseries are ‘feeder nurseries’ for specific schools (and thus become more desirable places to send a child).

There are a number of reasons why this is not a good starting point for choosing a nursery. First of all, specific nurseries do not offer a guaranteed pathway to entry at specific schools, despite expectations to the contrary. More broadly, nurseries are not accurate barometers of later school entry in general. Ultimately, your individual child is the most important factor: their personality, aptitude and enthusiasm are what will get them into good schools, not their nursery. So, your choice of nursery should be based on your child as they are now, and helping them grow, not where they will be in the future.

Perhaps most vitally, however, if you choose a nursery based on the potential for school entry in the future, you may well overlook the more central aspects of what makes a top-class nursery. It’s therefore essential you understand what a good nursery should offer.

What makes a good nursery?

A good nursery is like an extension of home, but with an additional learning component. Therefore, it will be both compliant and safe - to create that home-like sense of security in which your child can flourish - but also have specific goals and aims in respect to each child’s academic progress. At a good nursery, you can expect that they will have a clear vision of what they want to achieve with each child and can clearly identify whether or not they are reaching those targets.

Good staff are vital to both of these elements, of course. All of a nursery’s staff should work with a combination of quality and passion, but in particular the head has to stand out as someone that can articulate a broader vision for the nursery and implement strong leadership to bring this into reality.

Finally, it shouldn’t be overlooked that a good nursery should be, well, fun! It should be a happy place, where your child looks forward to spending time - as they make new friends and learn new things - and be somewhere you are completely happy to leave them. The process of choosing a nursery absolutely should not leave out considering the sense of fun and enjoyment that the right nursery will bring.

Tips on how to choose a nursery: a little ‘common sense’ and trusting your gut!

When deciding between nurseries, there are a number of ‘common sense’ checks you can make. Do your research, first of all, by reading up about the nurseries you are considering (both their promotional literature and by searching online). Speak to other parents who have gone through the same process while you are at it, too.

As you visit nurseries, pay attention to if the staff impress you or not. Do they come across as friendly, responsible, and educated? Take care to be as observant as you can be about the nursery’s environment. Is it clean, first of all? Remember that the nursery can be thought of as an extension of home: you should have the same standards of cleanliness for the nursery as you would your home, if not higher.

Meanwhile, you want the passion that we earlier identified as a hallmark of top nurseries to be visible on the walls: are there carefully constructed displays and posters, for example, that reflect the pride the nursery has in its students and its work with them?

Trust your gut and your instincts on all of this. If you have reservations, then don’t attempt to downplay these just because you don’t have feel that you have the expertise or attempt to explain them away. You have to feel comfortable in the surroundings that you will leave your child in.

The role of an educational consultant

It might well be the case that all of the above advice still doesn’t help you get started in your search for a nursery, given the range of choices available to you. Or, understandably, you might still feel in need of more advice.

This is where the role of an educational consultant comes into its own. Not only do they have the expertise as to which are the best nurseries, but they are also able to tailor their advice to your individual child and make recommendations accordingly.

This personal touch is much more important for your child’s later academic success than just choosing particular nurseries based on reputation alone. If your child is happy and attends a nursery where they are able to thrive and grow both intellectually and personally, then they are much more likely to view education positively and continue to succeed going forward.

If you are interested in discussing choosing a nursery with Ivy Education, please get in touch with us at Meanwhile, you can find out more about Wendy Challen’s experience on our website.