How to choose a nursery or pre-school for your toddler

March 13, 2014 1 Comment

The time comes upon every parent to release their children on the wider world, and send them to a local nursery or pre-school so they can terrorise someone else for a change. We are going through such an experience ourselves right now, and with I must say, a healthy choice of establishments in our area, I did get my proverbial knickers in a twist in trying to decide where the wee man should go.

As such, I have gathered what information I can, and prepared this ‘Dad’s guide to choosing a pre-school, nursery or child-minder for your toddler’.

Definitions: what is the difference between a pre-school and a nursery?

Nursery or pre-school

Pre-schools run during term time, Nurseries run all year round.

In honesty, I think it depends who you talk to. Both are used in the general sense of educational and play related establishments for toddler aged children. I have looked around, and obviously used my own experience to produce the fairly loose definitions below.


I will start with the definition of a child-minder as it does pose a viable alternative to both a nursery and a pre-school.

Legally speaking, a child-minder is someone who looks after children within their own home for more than two hours a day. This could be a very good set up for your child if you know of a good child-minder locally, as they may well be less expensive than a nursery or pre-school. In England, they have to be registered with Ofsted.


The definition of a nursery is a little harder to pinpoint, primarily because there are different types of nurseries that may well offer similar services to what we refer to as a pre-school.

In general, nurseries will likely be privately funded (though many will be public-funded) establishments that offer a wide variety of options for children of toddler age.

One main difference that I have experienced (again in general, as it does not apply universally) is the fact that nurseries tend to be open all year round, with the exception of holidays like Christmas. Our local nursery offers a wide variety of attendance options, from 3 hours a week, right through to all week 7.30am – 6pm.

The confusion comes when we consider that many nurseries will have a pre-school option within the set-up.


Pre-schools are by definition designed for older toddlers to ready them for primary school, and tend to offer more class-like learning. You may find they have a uniform, and often work to school hours and term times.

Many pre-schools are publically funded and attached in some way to a primary school.

For more information on the difference between nurseries and pre-schools click here.

Childcare vouchers: What are they, how do I get them?

How do I get childcare vouchers?

Childcare vouchers can save you money on early years education.

This is a scheme whereby if you are employed and paying tax, you may be entitled to received childcare vouchers if your employer is signed up to a scheme.

In very basic terms, childcare vouchers allows you to reduce your salary by a certain amount each month and set that sum of money aside in a government bank account that you have access to. Through this account you can pay for, not only childcare like pre-schools and nurseries, but also after school clubs, and various other activities for your children.

The main benefit is that the sum of money taken from your salary is done so BEFORE tax, so you will effectively make a saving on your taxable salary.

To see if you can get childcare vouchers, first check with your employer to see if they are signed up to a scheme, and ask for information on that scheme. You can then check out the available scheme. An example is Sodexo.

More information can be found on the HMRC website. They also have a downloadable PDF with further information.

Government funding

Once your toddler turns three, you can start claiming their free education. All children aged three and four (and some two year olds) are entitled to 15 hours of ‘free early education’.

When choosing a nursery or pre-school, remember to ask about how the establishment manages this funding. For example, a nursery near us state that once our son turns three they would automatically apply for this on our behalf, and reduce our monthly invoice accordingly, and it applies to attendance during 9am to 3pm (school hours).

For more information on government funded early years education visit

EYFS and Ofsted

EYFS stands for Early Years Foundation Stage, and is the basic standards that pre-schools and nurseries must meet. It is a benchmark for all early years educational institutions, so if you are feeling particularly feisty you can ask your potential pre-school how they meet this standard, and what policies they have in place.

Ofsted is the governing body of schools and education in the UK. They set the basic framework for educational services, and every nursery and pre-school must be registered with Ofsted to legally function as a childcare facility.

Click on these links for more information on EYFS and Ofsted.

Your child

adoption attachment

At the end of the day, your child’s specific needs should be put first.

When making decisions about childcare, the most important factor is, of course, you child. I have already written about what to consider about childcare with adoptive children, but in every case, the needs of the child must be put first.

Factors like location, cost, and availability all play their part, but you need to consider what is important for your child.

Sometimes, you just get a feeling; I said at the beginning of this post that we have a good choice of pre-schools and nurseries, and I believe that we have found one that is perfect for our son. He always sleeps well when he has been there.

If you are looking for a nursery or pre-school then there are a number of resources available online, but to kick you off – this is a link to Ofsted registered nurseries. Good luck.

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Filed in: Fatherhood, Parenting

About the Author:

Andrew is an adoptive father, and stay at home dad. Having adopted his son in January 2013, he is a new adoptive parent, but well versed in the adoption process. He is a married, coffee drinker, Xbox addict, and a Marketing graduate. Andrew McDougall is an alias he uses to protect the identity of his adopted son.

Comments (1)

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