The complete guide to choosing childcare

Finding the right childcare is an essential priority for parents and comes with many challenges. With so many things to think about, it can be a difficult task to get right.

Every parent wants their child, or children, to be happy, so the burning question is how do you choose a childcare provider that will cater to their needs? After all, how will you really know if your child will be happy? Will you get feedback about how your child is doing? And what if your child doesn’t like it?

If you’re in the process of finding childcare, particularly if you’re a new or first-time parent, knowing what to look for in an early years’ setting and what questions to ask is essential. Here, we share some of our top tips on things to consider before choosing a childcare provider and what you might want to ask while you’re shopping around.

What are the different types of childcare?

When you’re looking for childcare, understanding what’s available in your area is the vital first step. There are several different options you can choose from, depending on your needs. If you’re looking for out-of-home childcare, there are two ways to go – day nurseries or registered childminders.

Day nurseries – or crèches – are arguably the most formal childcare setting. They are usually independent businesses with their own premises and staff, and can cater for several children at the same time. In some cases, nurseries are attached to a school or are provided at larger workplaces. Many nurseries are open for similar hours to schools and cater for different age groups. They usually provide meals and snacks and can care for children all day if required. They tend to charge by the day rather than the hour, so they are often the most expensive form of childcare.

On the other hand, registered childminders are also independent businesses run by self-employed childminder educators, who look after children in their homes. They usually look after several children, of varying ages, at once, and may even care for their own child. There are strict limits on how many children a childminder can care for – six children under the age of eight, with no more than three under the age of five. Childminder early educators are highly skilled and qualified professionals whose job is to help children develop and grow in a nurturing, home-based environment. They must be registered and inspected regularly by either Ofsted or an approved Ofsted childminder agency, like @Home Childcare, and possess the relevant childcare and health & safety qualifications.

If you’re looking for more informal childcare, in the comfort of your own home, then a nanny (sometimes called a home child carer) is an excellent alternative to a day nursery or childminders. Most good nannies will be DBS checked, have childcare qualifications and enjoy working with children. However, if you do choose to hire a nanny, you will be classed as their formal employer. You will be responsible for things like paying National Insurance and workplace pension contributions and providing paid holiday leave, unless it is a nanny who is directly employed by an Ofsted agency like @Home Childcare. And nannies are less regulated than other forms of childcare, so you need to be confident that you hire the right person for the job. If you hire a nanny through an agency like @Home Childcare, they will ensure suitability checks and other processes are completed so you can be more confident you have found the right person.

Other less formal forms of childcare include family care provided by grandparents or other family members or informal care from friends. However, if anyone looks after your children in their own home in return for payment, they will be formally considered a childminder and must be registered.

How to choose the right childcare

Choosing the right childcare is a big step. With so many options and things to consider, the decision can feel overwhelming. Every child is different, so the most appropriate type of childcare for your child will depend on their specific needs and your family circumstances. Here are some of the things to bear in mind when looking around to help you make the right choice:

Do your homework

As we said above, finding out what childcare is available in your area is an essential first step in finding the right setting for your child. So, do some research into what’s available and draw up a shortlist. Your local Family Information Service is a good place to start, or you could use resources like our childminder directory to find the perfect fit. Some of the things to consider here include:

  • Are they registered and qualified?
  • What hours do they work?
  • Do their opening hours fit with your working patterns?
  • How much do they charge?
  • Is it hourly, daily or weekly?
  • How many other children do they care for?
  • What age groups do they work with?
  • Do they have places available?
  • Does your child have any additional needs they can cater for?

Visit some settings

Once you have your shortlist, it’s a good idea to whittle it down to your top two or three settings and then pay each of them a visit.

This will allow you to see the setting and its suitability for your child, and ask any questions about the service. If allowed, you could also take your child along to see how they feel about it. Some of the things to look for on your visits include:

  • The ratio of staff to children
  • Happy children, and friendly and experienced staff engaging with them
  • A busy but relaxed environment
  • Safe and clean premises that are friendly and welcoming
  • Cultural sensitivity and diversity
  • Responsiveness to children’s needs

While you are there, you may also want to learn about their daily routines, policies and discipline, if meals and snacks are included, and if they operate a ‘key worker’ scheme where one member of staff has overall responsibility.

Check their credentials

Most childcare providers, including nurseries, children’s centres and services like after-school and breakfast clubs, must be Ofsted-registered. And childminders must also be registered with either Ofsted or an approved childminder agency, like @Home ChildcareOfsted – or the childminder agency – regularly inspects all registered childcare services to ensure that the children or safe and standards are being met. You can check the Ofsted inspection reports of any @Home Childcare registered childminder educator here or visit

Get references and recommendations

Many parents rely on recommendations and word of mouth when choosing childcare, as this will give you a better understanding of other families’ experiences of a childcare provider. So, once you have decided on your favourite provider, check out their references.

Most providers will be more than happy to put you in touch with other parents to talk about the service they receive. You can also look at online review sites or Facebook groups to better understand other local parents’ thoughts. It’s important to remember that what works for one family may not be suitable for you, so recommendations should be used to help you make the final decision, not the main thing to rely on when choosing childcare.

Remember tip one – do your homework thoroughly!

Book a place

Once you have chosen a childcare provider, it’s time to book a place. Some things you’ll need to arrange include hours of care, start date and who is allowed to drop off and pick up the child. If family or friends are allowed to do this, it’s a good idea to introduce them to the childminder, so they know who’s who. You may also need to pay a deposit or retainer to secure your child’s place until they start.

Some two-year-olds and all three- and four-year-olds in England are eligible for 15 hours a week of free childcare for 38 weeks of the year. Depending on your circumstances, there may also be additional funding options available to you, such as 30 hours childcare and disability childcare allowance. Feel free to give us a call to find out more. Once your child has started, it’s important to remember that it may take some time for your child to settle into their new childcare setting. So, if things don’t go well in the first few days, give it time to properly assess whether the childcare setting is right for your child. Many providers offer an agreed ‘settling-in’ period to allow your child enough time to get used to their new routine.

How can @Home Childcare help? 

At @Home childcare, we understand that finding the right childcare can be a daunting task for many parents, so we’re here to help you make the right decision. Our registered childminder early educators promote children’s learning and development in safe and nurturing home-based environments.

They all share our passion for providing quality care and education to improve children’s outcomes and help them reach their full potential. To find an @Home Childcare registered childminder early educator near you, get in touch to see how we can help.

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