Whether you’ve just become pregnant, or you’re a new mum, considering your childcare options can feel overwhelming. Our good friends at Parental Choice shared their insights this week into choosing childcare that works for you.
You’ve only just had your baby and people are already asking what your plans are for when you return to work. You may not really want to think about it while you are gazing adoringly into the eyes of your newborn, but as experts in childcare, we’d suggest you get your thinking cap on before it’s too late.
Here we highlight the three main options.
What is a nursery?
A nursery is a place where multiple children are cared for from the ages of 0 to 5 years. They can be any size, from converted Victorian houses to Industrial built complexes, but all will have different rooms to cater for the multiple age groups. Younger children are cared for by staff with a strict ratio of one carer to three babies and this goes up to a ratio of one to four children between the ages of two and three, and then one to eight children between the ages of three and five. The rooms tend to get bigger and busier the older the children get, in order to accommodate their growing size and enthusiasm.
Just like any big decision in life, you really need to investigate things for yourself, and a nursery that works well for your local friends may not work so well for you. All nurseries will have opportunities available for you to go and see the setting in action, although these will be set around the daily structure for the children so as not to disturb naps and quiet times.
It may seem a bit odd when you first go and visit a nursery. The younger children tend to be kept in the same room all day and there are usually large windows through which to observe. At certain parts of the day the activity will be frenetic, with lots of singing and running around, whilst at other times it may be a lot calmer, with staff sitting on the floor and children cuddled up or climbing all over them. The best way to view the rooms is to see how comfortable the children are in expressing themselves. If they are happy to be noisy, cuddly, upset, tired etc with the carers then that means they feel secure in their environment. Being able to be themselves and interact with their caregivers is the best way to gauge how content the children are with their care. It isn’t always about the prettiest room or the brightest smiles, but about the overall feel of the place that will help you decide if it suits you.
Open all year
Fixed location and opening hours. Limited flexibility on early or late collections.
Can be noisy and distracting for quieter children when in a room of 15 or more children.
Rooms for ages
Children can be limited to one area for the whole day for play and sleeping, but this does tend to get bigger as the children grow.
Can have long waiting lists and you are dependent on what days they can offer you, which may not always be what you need – definitely register early!
Always have cover
They cannot care for your child if your child is unwell, so you will need to ensure back up care or take the day off to care for your child at home. Be aware, children can be out of care for up to two weeks with illnesses such as chicken pox. Plan ahead!
How do childminders work?
A childminder is a person who can care for other people’s children within their own home setting. There are limits as to how many children they can look after at any one time. They are limited to six children under the age of eight, with no more than three children under the age of five and one child under the age of one. This is great if you have multiple children you want to be cared for together, but not so great if you and your best friend want your babies to be cared for by the same person at the same time. Again, it’s about priorities.
Childminders tend to stick to their local area and often collect older children for the school run, so part of visiting the local school gates is part of the daily routine. They do supermarket visits, go to the park and visit local playgroups, just as you would as a parent. It is a really lovely familiar way for your child to spend the day, albeit with limited company. This suits some families more than others, so make a note on your priorities list of where this sits.
Small home setting
Limited number of charges they can care for and strict adherence to age guidelines
Socialising with age groups
Different children have different needs – ask how your child’s needs are met when balancing multiple children
If your child is not a sibling, there can be an imbalance amongst the children at playtime.
Collect older children from school
Limited to local area and usually just one school so you need to plan in advance whether this works for you.
You may need to provide your own food and nappies, and if your carer or child is sick, will need to have a back-up solution available.
Nannies – does Mary Poppins exist?
Well, technically, no, but a really good nanny can come pretty close!
A nanny is a person who comes to your home to care for your children in their own environment. A nanny can either live in (reside in the house with you) or live out (live elsewhere and come to your during their working hours). They can work whatever hours you agree and can start as early or as late as you need. A nanny will follow your routine and take your child to and from whatever groups, classes, activities and appointments they need, whilst ensuring they are cared for. A lot of nannies form local social groups as well, so they have other carers to meet up with and your child can socialise with other children outside of their home if it suits you.
A nanny’s responsibilities focus solely on their charges, and they will carry out any duties required to support them, including cooking, feeding, tidying up and laundry. But this extends as far as the children only, so don’t expect them to cook large family meals or clean your whole house.
Finding a good nanny can seem pretty intimidating too, but there are a number of ways you can go about finding the right person for you. Word of mouth is a huge seller for most nannies and you can ask friends who have had nannies where they sourced their childcare from and any advice on what to ask and what to expect. If you don’t have anyone local who can provide advice, then nanny agencies can help you find the perfect fit for your home by doing the leg work for you. Always check for in-date childcare qualifications, first aid training, DBS certificates and up to date references as a bare minimum when taking someone on.
Most people think nannies only work long hours, but some actually prefer smaller jobs that fit around their own studies and lifestyles too. An after-school nanny will collect your kids from school at the end of the day, cook their dinner and help them unwind. She can follow your bedtime routine so when you walk through the door instead of hitting the ‘witching hour’ you are greeted with happy, cherubic children and a sense of calm.
Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Well it is, but it also comes with a price tag!
Wait! A nanny costs how much?
This is where you need to sit down and take a breath. You need to know what your costs and obligations are as an employer.
When it comes to agreeing a salary, a nanny will work out her rate by the hour from her net wages (what she goes home with) whilst you have to pay her in gross wages (her full salary inclusive of National Insurance and Tax). For example, a nanny who charges £12 per hour net can be charging around £14 per hour gross. On top of this you have to pay additional NI and pension costs, which soon adds up. If it seems confusing then don’t panic! Companies like PC Payroll specifically help you work out the correct amount of money you will need to budget for, and help you get set up as an employer too. They have a really useful online salary calculator to use as well to help you work out the approximate costs when deciding on what you can afford and the hours you need.
Fitting your needs
Nannies are employees and will therefore need to be able to take annual leave and sick days as and when needed. You will need to work out arrangements around this and still have employers’ responsibilities.
In your family home
Socialising can be limited unless a busy social calendar is organised by yourself for the nanny to stick to.
Can attend playgroups
Any additional costs of groups and outings needs to be paid on top of the salary – best to provide a weekly budget for ancillaries that can support days out and activities.
Peace of mind for long days
The more hours a nanny works, the higher the cost. Make sure you get advice on becoming an employer and setting yourself up with payroll.
At the end of the day, choosing the right childcare is about what suit you, your family and your budget. The right childcare should support your working life and bring balance to you and your home. Remember, what works for one family may not always work for all families. Another thing to keep in mind is that childcare is fluid. You are not locked in for life with your first choice of care and it may be that in order to balance your needs and those of your growing family, you need to explore other alternatives through the early years.
All nurseries and childminders are required to register with Ofsted. This means you can check out their rating on the Ofsted website and read what the inspectors felt about each setting. Both are required to deliver the Early Years Foundation guidelines. Nannies can also register with Ofsted, but it is not compulsory. The main advantage to you as an employer is that you can pay them with childcare vouchers if you still have them or use your tax-free childcare allowance.