Choosing the right childcare

Choosing the most appropriate kind of childcare to support your child's learning and development is a big step for many parents. Making the right decision can feel overwhelming when there are so many options available to you.

First steps

Make a shortlist of different childcare available in your area then make contact with them to arrange a visit. You can find nearby settings through our directory or from your local authority's Family Information Service who can provide a full list.

Once you arrive at your shortlisted childcare option, the provider should be happy to show you around. They should discuss how they will settle your child and support their development and learning of the children. You can also ask to see their policies and procedures. Before you visit, it’s worth checking their Ofsted report to make sure they meet the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) requirements covering children’s welfare and the quality of their care, learning and development.

Good questions to ask

  • Does the setting (or space) feel welcoming and nurturing?
  • Are parents given information about their child’s progress and achievements?
  • What training, skills and experience do the carers and childcare workers have?
  • Is there enough space, including an outdoor play area?
  • Are children taken out to enjoy outings and walks regularly?
  • Is the practitioner(s) joining in, giving attention and showing affection to the children?
  • Are the children happy and absorbed in activities?
  • Is there a range of activities and resources available?
  • Is the environment safe and stimulating for the children?
  • What happens in cases of accidents and emergencies?
  • Are the toilets and basins clean and accessible?
  • Is the equipment safe and well maintained?
  • Do displays show different cultures and people from different backgrounds in a positive way?
  • Are facilities available for changing nappies and potty training?
  • Are the meals and snacks healthy and nutritious?
  • Has the setting achieved a quality assurance award?

We have produced this About Our Childcare brochure specifically for parents to help guide your decision.

Making the right choice

Each child and family is different, and as such, the most appropriate type of childcare will depend on your own family circumstances and the specific needs of your child.

Some questions to consider:

  • What are my child’s needs? What type of support do they require at their age?
  • What kind of learning, development and play opportunities do I want my child to have?
  • How often a week does my child need caring for?

We provide the following childcare options, which are each unique in their own right. Think carefully about your choices and then decide what’s best for your child.

Pre-schools and playgroups

Pre-schools and playgroups are usually organised by community or voluntary groups, with the help of parents in the local area. They offer care for specific sessions, which can last for between two-and-a-half to four hours a day. Many provide extra services such as breakfast clubs, lunch clubs and holiday play schemes.

Day nurseries

Day nurseries generally care for children from six weeks old until school age and primarily cater for the needs of working parents. They are normally open all day and offer the choice of either full-time or part-time care. Some may also provide weekend care for parents who workshifts. They are run various different groups including local schools or councils, members of the community, a workplace or by a private provider.

Baby and toddler groups

Baby and Toddler Groups consist of activity based groups, such as stay and plays, arts and crafts clubs and music groups, where parents attend with young children aged up to about two-and-a-half years. These groups give you the chance to meet other parents and children in an informal environment. You stay with your child during the session and take part in activities to learn together with them. The groups are often run by parents for parents, and usually meet once or twice a week. If you can't find one in your area, you might want to consider setting one up. For more information, see our guide to setting up a baby and toddler group.

Local authority nursery schools and nursery classes

Nursery schools and classes are aimed at pre-school children aged three and four years old. Children start to attend a nursery school or nursery class in the September after their third birthday. A nursery school is a separate school that is only used by children under five years old. A nursery class is part of an existing primary school. Most nursery schools and nursery classes offer part time places and operate during term-time only.

Out-of-school care

Out-of-school groups normally provide care for school-age children, up to the age of 11. This can be: before school, after school, during the school holidays, holiday schemes and play centres. Clubs that provide for children under eight years must be registered with Ofsted. Clubs that only cater for children aged over eight do not need to be registered but can choose to register on the voluntary part of the childcare register. Clubs that are managed by schools are automatically registered under the school’s registration.

Children’s centres

Children’s Centres offer all families with children under five a range of services, information and support in their local community. The support available varies according to local need, but most centres will offer the following: advice during pregnancy, health visitor services, drop-in sessions, adult learning, employment support, debt advice and much more besides. Many centres also offer childcare, baby and toddler groups and crèches.


Childminders are based in their own homes and provide childcare for small groups of children aged up to eight years. They give your child the chance to meet and play with other children, while being cared for in a home environment. They are usually self-employed and decide which hours they work.

Home-based childcare

A home-based childcarer is a person (over 18 years old) who is employed by a parent to look after children in the family home. Home-based childcarers can care for children of any age and can work flexible hours. They can choose to register with Ofsted on the voluntary part of the childcare register


A crèche provides short-term occasional care for children under the age of eight and can take many forms. A crèche may be offered to you if you are attending training, visiting a leisure centre or may be provided in shopping centres. A crèche must be registered with Ofsted if it operates for more than 4 hours a day and for more than 14 days per year.

You’ve made a choice. Now what?

Remember that your child needs time to settle into their environment and need to get to know their key person, childcare team and other children, and adjust to the new routine. You are encouraged to stay with your child at first so that they can be gradually introduced to activities and get to better know the other children, their carer or team. By working closely with your childcare provider, you can help your child to be comfortable, happy and secure, and thoroughly enjoy their time.