Nurseries and playgroups are some of the most popular childcare options for many parents. However, some children attend nursery from a young age due to their parents returning to work, while others may not start nursery or playgroup until they are toddlers.
If your child isn't already attending nursery, you may start to notice around the ages of two or three years that your little one is ready to spread their wings a little, and you may want to begin sending your child to nursery or playgroup. Of course, every child is different, but if you feel that they are ready for this transition, it can positively affect your little one.
For babies 0 – 1
It varies from nursery to nursery; some offer care for babies 'from birth', but babies generally start nursery at 3 months. If your child is starting at nursery at this age, then you should choose your nursery carefully. As every parent knows, between the ages of birth and 1 year, babies need an almost unlimited amount of care and attention, so you'll want to make sure that they're getting as much personal care as possible. Our staff to baby ratio is at least one staff member to three babies. In addition, all children are assigned a key person to ensure that parents have a clear contact line with their child, and all issues can be encountered and dealt with as swiftly as possible.
When you visit a nursery and are considering entering your child at this age, check what provisions are in place for them. For example, is there a dedicated space for babies away from older children? Is the setting quiet and busy (which may be perfect for older children but not for such young children), or is it calm and peaceful? Is it a setting in which your little one could be put down for a nap? Although the amount of sleep your little one needs changes substantially over the first year of their life, usually, they will be asleep for more than half the day. As such, a quiet and soothing space is vital when you're considering a nursery for a child of this age. If you're looking for more guidance on the average sleep time for children of this age, you can find a handy table here.
You should also check what health provisions are put in place. Some nurseries will automatically send a child home if they are sick more than once a day. Others may wait longer working on a case by case basis. Policies regarding medicines also differ. With your written consent, some may be willing to administer a single dose of medicine in a day; but others may not be willing to do this. Ensure you have checked the nursery's policy and that you're comfortable with it before enrolling your little one. Don't be worried that all nurseries are the same if you're not happy with the first one you visit, and don't be afraid to ask questions. Attitudes and policies vary from nursery to nursery – there will be something out there that you're comfortable with.
Between 1 and 2
30% of children start nursery school between these ages, and there is still a great debate about whether or not this is too young. The argument is intense, and previous generations of parents are sometimes more sceptical of entering children under the age of two into a nursery. However, the pressure to return to work when your child reaches this age is increasing.
In 1981, less than a quarter of women returned to work a year after giving birth. By 2001, it was up to 67%, and now 76% of mothers have returned to work when their child is aged between 12 and 18 months old. However, data raises concerns that suggest there could be modest effects upon later behaviours such as increased aggression and disobedience.
However, this often overlooks the academic, group and language skills are enhanced by entering children into nursery care at this age. Moreover, much of the research is conflicting, and even some of the most respected figures in child development acknowledge the contradicting and overlapping results.
When viewing a nursery for a child of this age, you should take the emerging personality of your little one into consideration. If your son or daughter self-entertains and is extroverted, if they enjoy interacting with new people, then a larger nursery may be the best option. Equally, if your child is more shy and wary of meeting new people (of any age, other children included), then a smaller nursery might be a wiser choice. Depending on the amount of attention they need, you should consider the staff to children ratio.
The more children each key worker is responsible for, the less individual time and attention your child is guaranteed to receive. Children interact with more external objects at this age, so when you view nurseries, consider what toys and things your child will want to play with. It might be that they're fascinated with objects of a certain colour or shape. Make sure to consider how their environment will shape the experience they have in a nursery. Fundamentally look at the skill and knowledge of the practitioners.
This will vary from setting to setting. The induction process you go through as a parent should be detailed and involve providing the nursery with a great deal of information about you as parents and your child's preferences. The nursery should also offer settling-in sessions to see how your child gets along in the new environment. This can often give big clues about how easily your child will be able to settle in.
At this age, if your child is experiencing some difficulty settling in, having a talisman of home can make the transition easier. For children of this age, this might be a larger item such as a blanket or teddy. Whatever you choose to do, be aware that this item is likely to get dirty and may be damaged by your child or others, so make sure it's easy to clean and easy to repair.
Between 2 and 3
More children start nursery when in this age bracket than in any other. They're busy and more independent, often pushing their own opinions by testing their boundaries (and your patience). They're generally able to eat using a fork and a spoon and use 2-4 word phrases, and often they'll be showing more interest in other children.
All of these are great signs that your little one is ready to start nursery, and from a later academic point of view, starting nursery at this age could help with their long term academic development! For example, one particular government-funded study had shown that children who began nursery under the age of three performed better when they went into school.
If your little one is still nervous about starting nursery, never fear. This is perfectly normal and has no cause for concern. As with 1 to 2-year-olds, a familiar object from home can make all the difference. Given the increase in age and understanding, this can be a smaller object such as an additional button sewn into a jacket that they can touch and feel connected to home.
3 and above
More than two-thirds of children begin nursery before their third birthday, but this isn't to say that children must necessarily begin nursery before this age or begin it at all. From the school term after your child's 3rd birthday, they are eligible for at least 10 hours of free preschool childcare each week.
The entitlement lasts for up to 6 terms before the child reaches compulsory school age, at which point they must go to school. However, whilst most local authorities will allow your son or daughter to attend school starting the term they turn 5, they don't legally have to attend until the beginning of the time after their 5th birthday.
If your child has been more emotionally dependent upon you, waiting until after their third birthday may be the best choice. They will generally be more independent and curious by this stage, so the adjustment to nursery life may be easier. In addition, there is a study that shows that children who start nursery under the age of two after spending all of their time in parental care exhibit higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) for up to 5 months after they start nursery, even if they show no outward symptoms of stress.
Ways Children Can Benefit from a Nursery Environment
Developing Communications Skills
8 Ways in which Children can Benefit from a Nursery Environment By becoming more socialised and interacting with their peers and nursery practitioners, your child will also develop their communications skills, increase their vocabulary and language through a wide range of different contexts.
Learning how to communicate their feelings and opinions and interacting with their peers and adults other than their parents is vital for their development. Playing with other children at the nursery also provides an ideal opportunity to better understand other people's feelings and empathy.
Increased Independence and Confidence
A nursery may be the first time your child has been away from you for a short period, which can be daunting for you both at first. However, it gives your child the opportunity to be independent, has the freedom to explore and make other relationships, which is critical for their long-term wellbeing.
That added independence can nurture your child's self-confidence, help to develop their personality, disposition, thoughts and ideas, and encourage them as they discover more about life outside of their family unit. In addition, learning to complete basic tasks by themselves, participating in activities, and spending time with others will help develop their confidence and build a foundation that prepares them for school and life in the outside world.
Learning New Skills
The nursery offers a wide range of activities, resources and experiences to stimulate and engage your little one. Having so many different things for your child to discover and explore helps develop their interests and encourages them to try new things out for themselves. It's an exciting new adventure, and the bonus is, you can leave the messy play to nursery!
Both academically, socially and emotionally, your little one will be learning new skills every day – for example, learning how to hold mark-making tools, putting on their coat, learning mathematical concepts and helping tidy up. These are all valuable life skills and build the foundations for preparing your child for adulthood.
Routine and Structure
The nursery provides a routine and structure to your child's day, which can include meal times, naps, indoor and outdoor activities. This routine helps them to feel more confident and secure, in control of their feelings and is great preparation for school. When a child knows what to expect and when to expect it, they can play more of an active role in tasks. For example, before lunch, they need to wash their hands. Then, they need to help tidy up (hopefully a routine they will also continue with at home!)
At the nursery, your child will participate in activities, constantly learning new things and exploring the outside space. Keeping children busily engaged in play opportunities helps to build their physical stamina and supports large motor skills development, which will certainly be needed for school and beyond!
Interaction at nursery with other children and adults supports developing their immunity to common infections such as colds. In addition, being outdoors in the fresh air and getting daily exercise is good for wellbeing and will help keep your little one fit and healthy.
Become 'School Ready'
Many of the activities, routines and skills your child learns at nursery will help to prepare them for school and ease their transition. In addition, nursery helps extend your little one's social development in preparation for school by forming key attachments outside the family unit.
Preparing to be Life-Long Learners
Many of the benefits above help to build the foundations of your child's future. The nursery encourages critical thinking, positive dispositions to learn, tenacity and confidence. Nursery prepares children for the outside world and their journey into adulthood.
Nursery helps prepare your child for school.
Nursery helps children to be confident in relating to other adults and being in a learning environment. This environment supports them in developing skills such as knowing when to ask to go to the toilet and washing their hands. Children will also gain experience in sharing and taking turns without throwing a tantrum.
Nursery helps children develop social skills.
Socialising with other kids is vital for your child's development. Going to nursery helps them develop their social skills and learn how to make friends before they arrive at school. If both school and nursery are local to your home, they may even have some friends already, which will help them settle in quicker.
Nursery is good for parents too
Nursery practitioners will be able to give your children the best possible care whilst you do what you need to do to be a great parent, whether this is going to work, doing a food shop or simply having a well-earned rest. Professional practitioners can also offer advice and opinions on your child's development.
Deciding what age is right to send your child to nursery is a very personal choice, depending on when you need to return to work and what you feel is best for your child. The most important thing to remember is that you don't need to feel guilty, whatever age your child is. As long as you choose a good nursery, your child will be well looked after and continue to develop happily and healthily.
A Few Benefits for You!
It's not just your children that can take positives from a nursery. From a parent's perspective, looking after an energetic pre-schooler can be pretty full-on so that it can provide some much-needed me-time even for just a few hours a week. Raising a child is tremendous work, and while they are your everything, you need time and space to be yourself, even if it's to catch up on chores (or have time with friends!)
Creating the perfect work-life balance is what most of us strive for, don't we? Whilst nothing is truly perfect. However, nursery time for your child can help you begin to build a comfortable balance between the two.
More Quality Time Together
With your child keeping busy and active at nursery, it takes the pressure off you to do things, thinks up educational, fun activities, or keep them entertained. Without this added pressure, you can relax more and enjoy your quality time, just being together.
Toys everywhere, messy play activities, crafts and meal times to clear up after – let nursery worry about some of it! Even if your child only attends for a few hours a week, this will benefit you both equally and make your time together even more special.
Entering your child into a nursery can be challenging no matter what age you choose to do it at if you choose to do it at all. Whatever age they begin nursery will have its advantages and disadvantages, but it's important to remember that these usually balance out. Whatever you decide to do, there are several options, and you should always ask questions; a good nursery will be happy to answer them.
The DoE impact study shows that 2-year-olds benefit most if they receive early education and care for an absolute minimum of 10 hours per week by the age of two. ... The early years education and care was clearly seen to have evened up the playing field in this respect.
The majority of children start nursery between the ages of 2 and 3. By this age children are independent and curious, and are growing more interested in other children. These are all signs that your child is ready to start nursery and begin socialising with other kids.
Young children are better off going to nursery than staying at home with a parent, according to new research. A recent report suggests going to nursery is more beneficial for helping youngsters develop social and everyday skills, while by contrast staying at home can lead to poorer speech and movement.