Choosing childcare: what are your options?

Nursery

Your baby may not even have been born yet but already it’s time to think about who’s going to look after him when your maternity leave comes to an end. It can be a huge wrench to leave your child so you need to be 100% happy with the care you’ve chosen. Being organised and doing your research early will also help make it far less stressful. Fortunately, whether you decide to go back to work full or part-time, there are lots of options when it comes to childcare.

Family

It’s vital that you wholeheartedly trust the person looking after your child. And who can you trust more than your own family? Many parents choose to keep childcare within the family and a 2009 study found a third of grandparents were involved in their grandchild’s care.

Day nurseries and work place crèches

Day nurseries (not to be confused with nursery schools) offer care and learning activities for children from about four months to five years. Their hours vary but they tend to open from about 7am until 7pm and some are happy for you to arrange care outside their usual hours.

Work place crèches are similar to day nurseries and are a service offered by some companies to their employees.

The cost of sending your little one to a day nursery or crèche can vary, but on average day nurseries cost between £25 and £50 per day.

Sure Start Children’s Centres

Sure Start are government run children’s centres that aim to give every child the best start to their early education. They provide childcare for children between the ages of three and 14, between 8am and 6pm, Monday to Friday.

Your child can also attend his free early years part-time (12.5 hours per week) education at a Sure Start Centre. These government funded early education places are guaranteed to all three-and four-year-olds.

Find your local Sure Start.

Nursery schools

Nursery schools provide childcare and early learning during school hours, usually from 9am until 3.30pm. They tend to care for three-to five-year olds, although many nurseries will take younger children, sometimes from as young as two.  Most give the choice of full or half day sessions and some offer childcare outside school hours and in the holidays. Nursery schools are usually part of an infant or primary school and many are based at Sure Start Children’s Centres.

Montessori nurseries are another option. These offer the same kind of care as other nurseries but the philosophy behind the way children learn is very different. Rather than following a structured day of planned activities, children are self-motivated and learn from their own experiences rather than listening to a teacher. The teacher’s role instead is to watch over and care for the children while they play and learn, rather than teach in the traditional sense. Find out more about Montessori nurseries.

If your child goes to a state nursery school you won’t have to pay. Private nursery fees can be very expensive, usually starting at around £800 a term though fees can be much higher.

Pre-school and playgroups

Pre-schools and playgroups are generally privately run, often by volunteers. They provide part-time childcare with play and early learning for children under five. Three and four-year-olds can get their 12.5 hours of weekly early learning at pre-schools and playgroups.

Sessions tend to last from a couple of hours to a whole morning, some every day, others just a few days a week during term time. It varies but sessions usually cost between £4 and £7 per hour.

Childminders

Woman reading to child

Childminders offer more one-to-one care

Registered childminders offer children under 12 years old care and learning in their own home. They can look after small groups of children together and offer more one-to-one care than nurseries and pre-schools. Registered childminders are Ofsted inspected, have police checks, public liability insurance, as well as first aid and childcare training.

They tend to work 8am until 6pm but are generally flexible and many will work weekends. Prices vary according to where you live and how many children are being cared for but they tend to start at about £2.50 and range to about £7 per hour.

Nannies

Nannies can look after children of any age in your own home. This cuts out the stress of having to take your child to daycare and, as many nannies live in the family home, their hours can be flexible. On the downside, you may find it uncomfortable having someone in your own home and a live-in nanny can be expensive.

Prices vary greatly and start at around £6 an hour. As their employer, you’ll also have to pay their tax and national insurance contributions.

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