Finding the right nursery to suit your family can be a difficult and scary time because it usually signifies that it's time for mat leave to come to an end and the impending return to work. It's tough to trust a stranger with your precious little love nugget, but sometimes you have no other choice if you have to go back to work and don’t have relatives or friends close by to give a helping hand.
I'll admit, our approach to finding a nursery for Harris was pretty slapdash because I was trying so hard not to think about going back to work and was pretending that I still had lots of time left. I damn right went and freaked out when I had a call to say I was due back in eight weeks’ time and needed to discuss what my plans were.. I decided right there and then that I was handing in my notice, I was going to be a SAHM. A week later, I called my manager to retract my resignation and apologise for messing her around. My brain was scrambled - I was about to start leaving my baby for long days at work, and I was terrified. I so desperately wanted to quit my job, but financially it just didn't make sense for us and I did want Harris to be around more babies his age. However, as I've mentioned in a previous post, going back to a working environment after over a year off was pretty difficult to get my head around. This, coupled with not having a lot of time to make arrangements, met for a few stressful weeks but we got there in the end.
Honestly, we went and visited one nursery and we just knew that we didn't need or want to see any others. Everything about it was appealing - it was affordable; staff came across as upbeat and welcoming; the babies and children seemed happy and well looked after; meals were provided and included in the cost; and it was less than a five minute walk away from the house. I think we filled out the paperwork the following day and handed it in along with our deposit; Harris then had 4 settling-in sessions the following before beginning his two full days each week.
There are a lot of factors that have to be considered when choosing a nursery although for us, you could say it was relatively easy to find the 'right' one. Apart from the obvious, having qualified and well-trained teachers, and being available on our preferred days, we didn't have any other real criteria that we felt had to be met other than being close to home. Our choice of having childcare closer to home rather than work made more sense to us because, as we don't drive, it meant we didn't have to take Harris in his buggy on public transport during rush hour - this is something you might want to consider if, like me, you feel quite anxious in crowded places with a pram. It also offers the added bonus of less travelling time in the mornings and evenings for all of us!
Price and affordability is probably the biggest deciding factor for a lot of families too. If I'm being completely open, I didn't even compare the price of the nursery we chose to any others because I knew the one we really liked was within our budget and I was happy with that. However, a nursery can be more expensive than a childminder and we still have to pay our usual fees if we are away on holiday. Family and Childcare Trust report that, in Britain, the average cost of 25 hours of childcare for a child under 2 years old is £116.25 - that's over £465 per month. Considering most nurseries operate for ten and a half hours every weekday (typically from 7.30am til 6pm) this means that this is the average costs for less than 2.5 days in nursery per week. So, what about the cost to those who have no choice but to return to work full time? Crazy, right?! The total cost for a full time nursery placement doesn’t even bear thinking about, and for us it just wasn’t financially viable.
Something that I think a lot of other parents think about when choosing childcare is how much attention their child will need in order to feel secure under someone else’s supervision. Harris was always what I describe as a ‘high-needs’ baby in that he would scream unless he was attached to someone, ALWAYS. Naturally I was worried that he wouldn’t get as much attention at nursery where the staff to child ratio is one to three, but he seems to have adapted well and enjoys some time to play on his own now too.
Reliability and stability is another important factor for parents. I find it difficult enough to take time off work if Harris is unwell and unable to go to nursery for whatever reason, so I couldn’t also deal with the possibility of having a childminder be ill and calling in sick leaving me with no childcare. In a nursery setting, there is usually plenty of staff to cover should anyone be off sick so at least that’s one less thing to worry about!
Harris has been going to his nursery for just over four months now and the change in him is phenomenal despite it only being two days per week; the nursery staff always have such pleasant things to say about him. I firmly believe that being around other kids has worked wonders for his development - he's now walking and saying lots of words; and his cheeky little personality is really beginning to shine through. He has the freedom to toddle around and play all day, but also sing songs and read books; as well as create pictures and go on outings to places like the police station or library. So, whether you're choosing a nursery or not just remember that there are pros and cons to all childcare... but it will all work out in the end!
Stacey and Harris