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Our Parent’s Guide to Day Nurseries For New Parents

From how much a full-time place costs to what your child will do each day, find out everything you need to know about day nurseries with our expert guide.

What is a day nursery?

A day nursery is a childcare centre that looks after children from birth to five years, though the exact age ranges vary from nursery to nursery. Some nurseries don’t take babies or young toddlers, or they may only take children up to four years old.


Staff at day nurseries are trained to develop a stimulating environment that will help your child to thrive. They will help your child learn, using a curriculum specially designed for children under five.


Day nurseries cater for parents with full-time or part-time jobs, so are usually open from about 7am until 7pm.


Most nurseries are open all year round, except bank holidays and Christmas. Some may close for certain periods during the year, for training or holidays. This means that you will have to take the same holiday or make alternative arrangements during that time. You’ll be given plenty of warning.


Although day nurseries are often referred to simply as “nurseries”, they’re different from nursery schools. Nursery schools are for children between three years and five years old and are often attached to a pre-school or primary school.

How many children will be at my child’s day nursery?


The number of children at a day nursery will range from about 20 to 100 or more. However, it’s unlikely that all these children will be there at the same time.


Day nurseries need to have a certain number of staff depending on how many children they’re caring for. This is roughly one staff member for every:


  • Three children under two

  • Four children, or five children in Scotland, between two and three

  • Eight children aged three and over

The exact ratios change based on how qualified the staff are, the size of the setting, and the length of each child’s care session.


Nurseries usually group children by age. This means your child will play with toys and join in with activities that are suitable for her stage.

Do day nurseries have to be registered?


Yes, day nurseries must be registered with the appropriate authority:


England: Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) Scotland: Care Inspectorate Wales: CSSIW (Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales) Northern Ireland: Health and Social Care Trust


The authorities regularly inspect day nurseries in their country to make sure that they’re providing good quality care.


If you’re interested in a particular day nursery, ask the nursery manager for a copy of their latest inspection report. You can also request a copy from the authority directly or, in England and Scotland, you can simply download it from their website.

How much does a day nursery place cost?


Depending on where you live, the average cost of full-time day nursery care is between £210 to £280 per week for a child under two. It’s slightly less for older children, as they don’t need as much individual care.


If you need help with the cost of childcare, you may benefit from one of the following schemes:


  • Free childcare: three-year-olds and four-year-olds are entitled to between 10 hours and 16 hours of free childcare per week, depending on where you live. In England, this has been raised to 30 hours per week for children of working parents as of 2017.

  • Tax credits: if your family has a low income, you may be eligible for certain tax credits, or universal credit, which may ease the cost of childcare.

  • Childcare vouchers: ask your employer if they have a childcare voucher scheme. This is where the money is diverted from your salary before it’s taxed, and put into an account that you can use to pay your nursery. In 2017, childcare vouchers will be replaced by a new tax-free childcare scheme.

What will my child do at day nursery?


Day nurseries are all about creating a place where babies and children can play, learn, eat and rest. Daily activities will provide opportunities to do artwork, listen to stories and dance to music, and there’s usually an outside space to get some fresh air.


Children will also be able to enjoy free play, where they can choose what they would like to do. Your child will have plenty of opportunities to socialise with other children.


Most nurseries have a key worker policy, which means your child will have the same main nursery worker during her time there. Their key worker will have a quick chat with you every day to tell you what your child has been up to.


By necessity, day nurseries have their own routines and children are encouraged to follow them. For example, your child may be put down for a nap after lunch if they are there for the whole day. This doesn’t usually apply to babies, who are more likely to have their own routine.


A good day nursery will ask about your child’s routine before they start, and will help them adapt to any changes. Check out the pros and cons of day nurseries, and how to help your toddler if they’re struggling to settle in.

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