The terms “nursery” and “pre-school” are often used interchangeably to signify childcare options, but there are subtle differences between the two. A nursery is generally set up in order to entertain and amuse children while promoting socialisation skills, whereas a pre-school will have an educational component as well. Selecting the proper option for your child will depend upon many variables, but the most important issue should be that you find a setting with which both you and your child are comfortable!
What is a Nursery?
A nursery, also called a day nursery, will usually care for children from the age of six weeks up until the end of primary school in an established facility. The ages accepted will vary, often depending upon if there is an established baby unit or if there is space to accept school age children, so be sure to enquire at each nursery you visit.
- Nurseries may be public or private, and may be run by the council, your local community, your employer or as a for-profit enterprise.
- Nursery hours are almost always business hours, therefore opening around 8 a.m. and closing around 7 p.m., and often closing throughout the Christmas period.
- Nurseries generally provide a variety of social activities built into the day.
- Nurseries generally accept children for either full or part time hours.
- Nurseries must be registered and inspected by the Office for Standards in Education, and most staff will have certification and training in childcare.
What is a Pre-School?
As the name implies, a pre-school is an educational setting available for children not yet old enough to attend kindergarten. Many parents select this childcare option because it is a structured environment with lessons that will ready their children for attending school. Pre-schools do not usually accept children under the age of three or over the age of five.
- Pre-schools may be public or private, and many will have waiting lists.
- Fees for pre-schools vary.
- Pre-schools generally follow a prescribed national curriculum.
- Most pre-schools will accept no more than twenty students at a time.
- Pre-schools must be registered with the Office for Standards in Education.
- 50% of any pre-school staff must be qualified in childcare/early childhood education.
- Pre-schools usually run for two or three hours either in the morning or afternoon and require appointed adults to collect the students.
What to Look for in a Nursery or Pre-School
Once you have decided whether you would prefer to send your child to a nursery or a pre-school, there are certain basic criteria you should judge during your visit. Remember, as you tour a nursery or pre-school you have every right to treat this as your chance to interview the staff and decide if the establishment meets your standards.
- Consider your welcome. Were you and your child made to feel welcome by the staff and other children?
- Are the other children busy with activities? Do they seem to be enjoying themselves?
- Are the premises clean, bright and suitable for the number of people inside?
- Are the facilities available appropriate for the number and type of activities being conducted?
- How does the staff interact with the children?
- Does the ratio of staff to children seem adequate?
- Were you given information on all of the staff’s backgrounds and qualifications?
- Do the disciplinary methods used adhere to your own parenting philosophies?
- Are there any outdoor facilities, such as a playground, available?
- Does it seem as though all required healthy and safety practices are being followed?
- Will the establishment be able to cater to any medical, allergy or diet requirements your child might have?
- Overall, do you feel impressed with the establishment? Remember, gut reactions are as important as anything else!
When choosing a nursery or pre-school, remember that you are looking for an establishment that nurtures healthy, happy children through a variety of activities. The nursery or pre-school you ultimately select will have a hand in teaching your child social, education and ethical lessons, so choose wisely and trust in your good judgement!