Nurseries are the first wobbly steps your little ones will take in to a new world, where there will be no mums, dads or grandparents but teachers and a bunch of similar age children who they will call friends in a matter of days. Choosing the right nursery should be a decision well thought out and considerations should involve points beyond fees and basic infrastructure. It is going to be the foundation of your child's formal education. Hence, it becomes important to ask the right questions before you make a final call. While basics remain the same for all parents, there are certain things working parents need to pay more attention to for obvious reasons.
We, at Connector, have brought you a list of things you should consider before you finalise the first school for your little one.
Staff to child ratio
This is one of the most important aspects to choosing a nursery. It is important to know staff to child ratio as your child will need more personal attention as they leave the comfort of their own home. Additionally, babies (45 days - 1 year) would need more attention than toddlers (1-2 years) and toddlers need more personal attention than children aged 3 years or more. Therefore, parents should ask for respective staff to child ratio in a nursery before taking a final call.
Kelli Allen, Head of Nursery and Preschool at Aga Khan Early Learning Centre (AKELC) said, “Having an age appropriate child to staff ratio is crucial for supervision, safety and to ensure the wellbeing of all children. Having a lower child to staff ratio is one indicator of a high-quality programme. At the Aga Khan Early Learning Centre (AKELC), our average child to staff ratio is 5 children to 1 adult. For younger children the ratio is much smaller (3 children to 1 adult), and as the children grow so do the ratios. Children need a caring adult nearby to provide a safe and enriching learning environment. When we are on field trips or have children with additional needs we reduce the ratio of children per staff.”
Development focus areas by age group
It is obvious that you want your child to learn new things at nursery (in a fun setting, though) and want them to develop physical, social, communication and emotional skills. However, it is important to check out activity plans in detail as activities should differ for every age group. Babies a few months to a year old would only need some interactive sensory classes and basic art & craft classes. Children aged between 2-3 years old should be involved in various activities including art & craft, basic maths & science, storytelling, role play, physical activities and more.
Dr. Vandana Gandhi, Founder and CEO at British Orchard Nursery (BON) said, “Every child at BON ranging from toddlers to the foundation stage has baseline assessments with 680 assessment goals in-line with the UK EYFS curriculum and BON 3 year rolling curriculum plan. This ensures the target of 100% child development and learning is met and followed through.”
“A typical day in BON includes circle time, learning about the current term/week theme and reinforcing the learning of basic shapes, numbers, letters and colours. The children are encouraged to use their imagination in different role play and sensory areas along with the important physical activities taking part in the outdoor area and gym. All our nurseries offer the Gym Juniors program to children of all ages. All our children, no matter their age, enjoy arts and crafts activities, water play, sand play and many other exciting activities.”
Exposure to multiple languages at an early age
According to different studies, the human brain can pick up different languages fairly easily between the ages of 3 and 5 years. Learning different languages enhances the cognitive thinking and children with multi-lingual capabilities have better understanding of things than those who know just one language. If as a parent, you want your children to pick up languages in addition to your mother tongue, you must ask nurseries about their language curriculum.
Vaishali Kapoor, Head of Raffles Nurseries said, “At our nurseries, Arabic is a part of the curriculum and the lessons are conducted twice a week. We encourage parents to speak their mother tongue with the children at home as we deliver the programme in English at our nurseries. Research has established that language and mother tongue play a huge role in the development of personal, social and cultural identity. Children with a strong foundation in their first language are confident learners and have a high sense of well-being. Offering mother tongue languages in the nursery will be very beneficial to the children and we too are taking the first step in introducing this programme and in fact one of our Raffles nurseries in Umm Suqeim has already pioneered this aspect.”
If you are a working parent, nursery operating hours is a very important factor to consider, as not every nursery opens early and closes late. You need to shortlist nurseries whose timings fit around your working hours. There are a few nurseries which open at 7 am and close by 6.30 pm but it may not match with your schedule, hence detailed consideration of every possibility is a must.
Also, you may want to know if a nursery is open all year round. There are a few nurseries which have usual school breaks and some operate throughout the year. Bear in mind the extra cost you may need to pay for a nursery that operates all year.
Affiliation with schools
Some nurseries have affiliations with schools, which may be beneficial to you. If you have a particular school in mind and want the transition process without any extra hassle of going through the admission process, parents can always opt for nurseries with an affiliation to particular schools. Also, if you want your children to go from nursery to school with the same group of friends, choosing an affiliated nursery is a good decision. In any other case, just a strong foundation is enough.
Food and hygiene conditions
Tabassum R Khan, Founder, Creative Kids Early Learning Centre said, “Hygiene and safety standards are important criteria while choosing a nursery as it is a measure of the quality of efforts and the attention to detail towards the wellbeing of the children. At Creative Kids ELC, we have been using the Zoono Antimicrobial fogging treatment every month ensuring near 100% hygiene standard. Besides all this, for a parent, it is always important to take a tour of the setting during a day session, when we can see the teachers and children involved and engaged. Happy children reflect a happy place and a happy environment, and it gives a good idea about a nursery.”
Vaishali Kapoor further said, “It is very important to have all the health & safety policies in place. Parents should be looking for the following: infection control policy, accidents and emergencies, allergies & intolerances, healthy eating guidelines and hygiene procedures during meal times and toileting. Other factors include general safety: safety rules for handling children to their parents, building and facilities safety - child supervision/security guard/child: adult ratios, fire/lock down procedures, child protection policies, and risk assessment in all areas to minimise accidents.”
If you cannot drop and pick your little one to and from the nursery, it is advisable to find a nursery that provides a transportation facility. You may need to incur a few extra charges but it will make your life a lot easier and your child will be attending nursery without it affecting your work.
It can be a massive reason for a parent's anxiety. Getting your child ready for good toileting habits is always an area of concern, but we all know that children learn good habits faster when they see their friends maintaining some good habits too. You may try to train them at home but you can also ask the nursery if they give toilet training, and if yes, what is the process and how do they maintain the hygiene standards while training multiple children at the nursery.
Here’s a comprehensive list of questions you can ask nurseries.
- What are the group sizes of a child’s class?
- What is the educational qualification and experience of the staff?
- Is there high staff turnover?
- Do you offer your staff professional development?
- What are the schedules and routines?
- What activities do you offer my child?
- Are there enough toys and equipment?
- Do you have a clinic, nurse and doctor visits?
- Do you have a toilet and changing area close to the classroom?
- What are your safety and supervision policies?
- What is your sick child and health policies?
- Do you have a pool, stairs or other unsafe areas in the nursery?
- How do I get feedback on my child?
- Do you have an open-door policy for parents?
- Are you an accredited Nursery?
- Are you up to date and in good standing with all the Ministry requirements?
- What are your hours, fees and admissions requirements?
- Do you offer breakfast and snack?
- Do you have additional classes to enrol my child?
- Do you teach other languages?
- What does the curriculum include? Why was it chosen?
- Do you have parent information mornings? Do you do parent education sessions?
- How can parents be involved in the nursery?
- How often is the Nursery cleaned and sanitized?
- Do you offer transportation?
- Do you accept children with additional needs?
- How do you individualize or support my gifted child?
- Do you send out the weekly lesson plan and newsletter, so I know what my child is learning about?
- How will you settle my new child into the Nursery?
- Will you assist with toilet training?