WhichSchoolAdvisor.com itself provides part of a solution for this with our detailed nursery reviews but we have not visited every nursery yet - and that will take (considerable) time! With that in mind we sat down with Laura Henry, ex UK OFSTED Inspector, and an International Award Winning Early Years Trainer and Consultant, to ask what tools are available to parents so you are armed to make the right choice for your own, unique, child.
Laura Henry is very well known in the Early Years industry. Not only is she incredibly knowledgeable, with an impeccable CV and a deep understanding of child development, she is a mother of two boys and was a working parent throughout their childhood.
She understands and has great empathy for working and stay at home parents alike.
If you are going to look for a high quality nursery, the most obvious place to start is, before you go anywhere, to understand what that means in practice. For Laura ‘quality’ in Early Years Education stresses the importance of child-centred learning. She says:
‘A truly great nursery puts the child at the centre of every aspect of their operation. The starting point of everything must be the child.
On top of that, relationships are vital, with positive relationships being a key element of the EYFS. However, I prefer to refer to them as personal relationships, as the warmth and quality of attachments is a vital starting point for children’s adjustment into nursery life. Remember that a child’s emotional environment is just as important – if not more so – as their physical environment’.
Laura advises parents to visit lots of nurseries to really inform themselves of what it available and to define what their own ‘non-negotiable values’ are in a nursery.
"If you think you like a nursery, visit two or even three times, and take a trusted second pair of eyes if you can. A grandparent is ideal.
"People don’t buy houses or cars without checking them at least this many times, so why would you only visit a nursery once before sending your precious child there?
Don’t be swayed by other parents telling you that their child’s nursery is the ‘Best Nursery’ – only you know what the best nursery for your own, very specific, very individual child will look like’.
Laura advises parents to really focus on the ‘last class’ or oldest group of children – this is in effect a demonstration of the eventual outcome of your child spending time at that nursery. Look for happy and engaged children who are allowed to learn in their own unique way.
For this age group, Laura has seen many nurseries now giving homework to children. She believes that homework is unnecessary, and possibly even harmful for children under 7. That said, for children age around 3-4, taking a library book home is a nice way to share a little of nursery life at home – any more than that and parents should really be questioning the value of the task.
So what are the key elements for Early Years success and how can a parent judge this without an expert OFSTED inspector to hand? Laura advises asking doing your own homework, learning about the ages and stages of child development (the EYFS Development Matters document being a great starting point) then probing the following issues:
Lastly, Laura gives the age old advice of trust your gut - and not just at the point of choosing a nursery.
Keep on monitoring your child’s happiness and progress and do not be afraid to move them as, Laura believes, you will do more harm by keeping a child in an unsuitable setting than by making the transition to a new one.
Need some ideas on which nursery to choose? Have a look at our ten best nurseries feature...