I started looking for daycare (day nursery) when my baby was four months old. All the moms in my classes that I would meet up with for coffee were talking about waiting lists and needing to register a year in advance – I was just still trying to get my head round being a mom. One mom started visiting childminders and nurseries and reported back to the group so that really kick-started my process as I didn’t want to be left with no options and forced to use one I wasn’t really happy with.
Where I live there are four nurseries. One is closer to my house, the three others are about a mile away towards town so that means getting caught in traffic and all of them are in different directions than my commute to work.
My husband works from home and is a contractor himself so he is unreliable and unpredictable with day-to-day needs. I needed a nursery that I could drop-off and pick-up while not adding an hour or two on top of my commute with traffic (yes this is possible a friend of ours works at a nursery & I thought of sending her there but it’s 8 miles and 20 min without traffic in the opposite direction from work so at the very least that would be 50 min extra in the morning and 50 min after work) . Other than location I had no idea what exactly I was looking for and what nurseries offered apart from what I had heard from other moms and scanned online. Yes I knew to look for OFSTED rankings (UK certification) and knew that Outstanding was the best, but reading some of the reports it seems like it’s a very tick box kind of process so I only used that as a guide and made sure that none of them had recently gone down in ranking or were not in the top two.
How I Chose
I visited all four nurseries before making any decision and I am glad that I did that. I even visited some twice to take my husband and it was good to be able to ask more questions I had based off of another previous nursery visit.
For me it seemed like they all basically provide the same things: separate room for babies – 2 years, the same amount of staff per child, no shoes in the room, a menu that is cooked on-site, an outside play area, all diapers (nappies) and wipes included in the cost, will help potty train, will do the same sleep schedule you do at home, and a daily record of what they ate, drank and dirty diapers.
They all had space available eight months later when I need full-time in September. However September is a ‘good’ month according to all the staff because that’s when the next school year begins and there are usually lots of spaces available as the kids move rooms. I’m not sure if say July is as easy to find space as September. Also I am taking a whole year of maternity leave so if you don’t want to or can’t take the whole year then I would start looking for a nursery six months or more before you need it. Believe me it’s a lot less stress and rushing around when you know you have time to look, time to think, and time for a spot to still be available. If you don’t need full-time it’s harder to get a spot because they have to pair you up with someone else who is part-time using the days that you aren’t so another reason not to leave it late.
What I did:
After visiting all of the nurseries in person, the mom from my class and I decided that we wanted to send our babies to the same one. We think this will be good for them because they are already familiar with seeing each other over the past three months (we meet once a week for coffee and do baby yoga and sensory together). It probably will be an easier transition for us as we both feel terrible about leaving them at daycare for 10 hours a day!
I saw all four nurseries my friend saw nursery 1 & 3 – but she trusted my complete dismal of Nursery 2. We both liked 1 & 3, and when the fourth one I saw wasn’t as good as the other two, she didn’t bother seeing that one in the end either.
Nursery 1 – has parking, next to the doctor’s office, young friendly staff, accommodating, biggest grass garden
Nursery 2 – closest to me, lots of parking, won’t get stuck in traffic, biggest building, large outdoor space with access to woods, veggie patch
eliminated immediately – because of staff not looking the part (sloppy gave the impression they were out back smoking cigarettes every break), gave the vibe that this was just a job and not something they loved and the building was big but it felt soulless
Nursery 3 – no parking just two drop-off spaces, lots of light and feels most like a home, young friendly staff, very accommodating and flexible, veggie patch, organic meat/fruit/veg, sensory room, dedicated role play area, outside every day twice a day, walks outside around the park, trips to the library
Nursery 4 – no parking two drop-off spaces, had amazing toys and zoned areas, young friendly staff, best sensory room, pilates, music class, dedicated role play area, smallest garden
eliminated – even though it offered loads of extra and in lots of ways it was very similar to Nursery 3, because it was so similar it was easy to compare and contrast. The space ended up feeling too small, compartmentalized and claustrophobic and on the tour I felt like I was being ‘sold’ to. They didn’t have a veggie patch as well, the menu only changed twice a year and rotated every two weeks and they served snacks that I would have to opt out of my child eating and would feel bad when they saw what other kids had and they didn’t.
We discussed a lot over coffee, with our partners, and we both agreed on one. I’m not sure what her thought process was or if I just ‘sold’ the one we are going to more than the other I’ll never know. But my husband and I made the decision together and hoped she would choose the same. The nursery we both decided on, my friend and I got different information from during our tours. By talking and seeing it twice we were able to get all of the information we needed and double-check we heard everything correctly.
In order to choose between Nursery 1 & 3, I went through the basic’s and determined that they were not important/different enough to be deciding factors between the two.
Location – I had to accept that I was adding to my commute no matter what so when the nursery closest to me was the most disappointing this no longer became a factor as all the other ones are clustered nearby.
Parking – Nursery 1 had four or six spaces right out front while Nursery 3 only had two drop-off spaces that you can’t use if they are taken and may be blocked in.
Hours Open – Nursery 1 was open till 6:30pm while Nursery 3 6:00pm
Cost – they were roughly the same but Nursery 3 offers a 10% discount if full-time
Both had a separate room for babies, the same amount of staff per child, no shoes in the room, a rotating menu made in-house, an outside play area, all diapers (nappies) and wipes provided, will help potty train, will do the same sleep schedule you do at home, and a daily record of what they ate, drank and dirty diapers.
Then I moved on to other factors.
How did I feel? – Nursery 1 I felt was more like an office space with blinds drawn while Nursery 3 felt more like a cozy home with lots of windows and natural light.
How did I feel about the staff? They both had staff in nice clean uniforms and everyone looked friendly, like they wanted to be there and young.
The outside space? Nursery 1 had the biggest garden with loads of grass while Nursery 3 was much smaller and no grass but they had a veggie patch.
What ultimately swayed my husband and I to choose Nursey 3 was things that we want our child exposed to:
Food – they serve all organic meat, fruit and veg and were willing to consider adding organic milk.
Meals – the babies and up eat sitting at a table instead of on the floor, their menu rotates every two weeks and four times a year as opposed to a one week twice a year rotation like others, they also served no snacks that I would have to opt out of
Outdoor– they didn’t have a huge garden or grass but they grow vegetables with the kids which I love, and they made sure all the kids went outside at least once a day no matter the weather
Day Trips – the went to the park, library and even the grocery store
Settling in sessions – they offered free sessions before our start date to help her adjust to being in a new environment starting from an hour and working our way up as many as she needs
After my friend and I decided on Nursery 3 we convinced two other moms from our class to join as well so all four of our kids will now be at the same one. I think this and all my rationale was really important to me as I consider she will feel that nursery is her ‘home’ since she will be spending 10 hours a day there! So I wanted to ensure that her new ‘home’ vibe and values and compatible with our home 🙂
Do you have any other factors that I haven’t thought of? Let me know if you found this strategy useful in selecting your daycare!
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