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Nurseries

Nurseries take children from a few months old to five years. Care is provided by a mixture of qualified and unqualified staff.

Advantages

• Stability - an established nursery is unlikely to shut.
• Child-centred - staff are there to entertain your child. He or she won't have to wait for attention until someone has finished the washing up.
• Social aspect - your child can interact with a large number of people, both children and adults.
• Quality - nurseries have to be registered with the local social services and adhere to minimum standards of safety, space and staffing.
• Feedback - experienced nursery nurses will keep written records of your child's progress and development.
• Fun days out and organised events as your child gets older.

Disadvantages

• Inflexibility - nurseries have regular opening and closing times and you usually have to book sessions in advance.
• Environment - the busy atmosphere is not right for all children, especially if they are timid.
• Expense - nursery care costs more than a childminder, although less than a nanny.
• Waiting lists - some nurseries have immense waiting lists. You might have to put your child's name down before he is born!

When you visit a nursery look for:

• Staff playing with children and talking to them, rather than chatting to each other;
• Lots of good, well-used equipment;
• Signs that children relate well to staff;
• Children playing happily with each other.

Jane found a "warm, friendly atmosphere and carers who had time to talk and were a good source of advice. Between them, they'd looked after loads of babies!"

Ask about:

• The number of qualified staff employed and the ratio of staff to children;
• Staff training and government inspections;
• How they deal with sickness;
• Meals and menus - your child may have special dietary requirements;
• Policies on discipline and behaviour;
• How often the fees are put up!

All nurseries, including private ones, are registered with social services and all staff are obliged to have a police check for previous convictions.

Ask to see the nursery's current registration certificate. After checking that the nursery fulfils all the legal requirements, allow yourself a 'gut-level' assessment. Is this a place where your baby is likely to be happy?

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