Nursery, Nanny, Pre-School, Childminder…? How to Choose the Best Childcare

This week I’ve asked Claire Cain to address the issue of different forms of childcare. Claire is a very experienced childcare professional, who is unusual in having had experience across a number of childcare fields. Here she gives her personal view on how this range can meet the different needs of children as they grow up. There is discussion on the benefits and potential pitfalls – and I’d love to hear your experiences and views on this as well!

Nursery, Nanny, Pre-school, Childminder

As a qualified Childcare practitioner, I have worked in the four main areas of Early Years Childcare as a Nanny, Nursery Nurse, Childminder and in a Pre-School. I have seen firsthand how each can promote children’s growth and learning development, also how they can be the wrong choice for some children.

Some children struggle to settle regardless of the type of setting they attend (especially the older they get and if they are not used to being left by parents/carers), as such, I have found that a large Nursery setting with its bright, bold colours, lots of noise, other children and unfamiliar adults can be daunting for children that are new to the Childcare ‘scene’.

Such children need a Key Person in place immediately, to provide comfort and stability in the new, unknown environment. In addition to this they will need time and understanding, as they will likely be emotional, confused and may become upset by the situation.

There are always children for whom a Nursery is not the correct environment, I have found in my experience as a Childminder that young babies (and slightly older children not used to being left) find a Childminder’s home an easier place to settle and begin their Childcare journey. The type of environment, by its nature, is calmer and altogether more familiar to them and they are usually able to receive more attention and 1:1 time than a Nursery setting is possibly able to provide.

The benefits of both Childminder’s and Nurseries are clear. In the case of a Childminder, there is much more freedom as you are able to take daily trips to the park, shops, library etc, doing activities familiar to the child that they may do with their own families.

With a Childminder the activities are done in such a way as to promote learning and link into a particular theme and the learning goals of the EYFS.

In a Nursery setting, a child gets used to other children on a larger scale than is possible in a Childminder setting and the whole experience is usually more structured, both in routine and activities.

As for having a Home Nanny, in my experience I believe this to be the least beneficial Childcare for a child. As in some cases, the parents are around in the home for some / most of the time that the Nanny is in charge of the child’s care, which can be confusing and upsetting for the child as they may want their parent’s attention.

This may also make things difficult for the Nanny when attempting to engage the child in activities and could confuse discipline in the home, as the child may not be sure who is controlling the situation, their parents or the Nanny.

There are benefits to a Nanny, similar to a Childminder, mainly keeping the home-life continuity and access to daily family type activities.

The type of Childcare I highly recommend is Pre-School for 3 – 4 year olds. I believe whichever Childcare is chosen for a child’s earlier years, a Pre-School is the best preparation for a child before they start school, not least because the set up of a Pre-School is very similar to that of a Reception class at school and the EYFS curriculum is the same.

A Pre-School education is the only one of the four types of Childcare setting that I believe EVERY child benefits from and is essential to their learning and development, an excellent base for them to start their  school life.

Through my professional experiences, I would personally choose to send a young baby to a Childminder. This is to ease them into the interaction with peers and new adults, keeping the continuity of a home-style learning experience.

As the child gets to around 2 years old, I would consider starting them at a Nursery maybe a couple of days or half days a week to allow them to get used to the structure and routine and also the fact of there being alot more children, before they start Pre-School aged 3 years. I would also continue with the Childminder care if full time provision was needed.

In conclusion, in my opinion, the only way parents can ensure that they make the best choice  of Childcare for their child, is to follow their instinct as a parent as to where they feel their child will be happy and settled, because as we all know, a happy, settled child will be more able to learn, grow and develop than a child that does not enjoy the experiences of the setting they attend.

It is always tempting for parents to choose the Childcare setting that is ‘easy’ for them in terms of location, opening times etc, but they must be mindful of the fact that it may not be the best option for the child, no matter how easy it may make their life.

Parents mustn’t be afraid to move their child from a setting if they feel it isn’t the right place for them. Any child centered and professionally minded setting should be in agreement for what is best for the child and support the parents in their decision.

Regardless of circumstances, EVERY individual child’s needs are paramount and need to be treated as such at ALL times.


Many thanks for the image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mommy2seamus/ there’s lots of wool pictures on there too!

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  • Nick Mitchell Dec 7,2014 at 3:57 pm

    The availability of childcare provision is not covered yet it is a factor that can determine what form of care parents can use. If they need childcare at 06:30 what choices do they have? How about at 20:00? What about on a Saturday?
    Rare to work 9-5 Mon-Fri these days, yet many forms of childcare are open 8-6 Mon-Fri. When care is needed outside of those hours the options are dramatically reduced. Some childminders provide overnight care, a few nurseries may open late. For some parents, especially those in rural areas, there may be little choice.

    Individual needs of each child is important but that child is part of a family so while something may not be ideal for them, it may be ideal for their siblings and parents. Parents do not choose the easy option, they choose what will work best for their family taking into account many factors which includes hours of care needed, location of care, number of children involved, cost, educational benefit, as well as if the children are happy with their care provider.

  • Penny Webb Jul 10,2012 at 3:29 pm

    Hi Kathy

    I think your last sentence sums it up well ‘However, parents and carers should be fully informed of their choices and the more discussion there is about this, the more informed the choice can be.’

    I am sorry that I did not make myself clear – I was not disagreeing with Claire’s blog in general as it contains useful information for those trying to make the best decisions for their childs childcare. In, fact Claire and I agree on many points – as stated in my response and in particular that the child’s interest should always be at the heart of decisions.

    It was not these comments that I was suggesting to be ‘dangerous’ – it was Claire’s personal opinion about what she would choose for a child because as someone with a wide range of expereiences and clearly knowledgeable about childcare – it may lead some parents to consider that as Claire would personally follow this course of action – then they would as well, – without considering the rest of Claire’s sound adivce and therefore the needs of their own child.

    I personally would not include personal opinion about such an important aspect, within an informative blog about childcare choices.

    I apologise for any misunderstanding that has arisen from my personal opinion on the content of informative blogs.

    • Kathy Jul 10,2012 at 3:43 pm

      Hi Penny,

      Please don’t apologise! I had hoped the blog would raise some discussion and we could see a range of views – just as you have done, in fact!

      I do take your point that my articles are fact based and I have maybe mis-filed this one. It will now appear in the ‘viewpoint’ section, which is more chat than fact.

      Best regards


  • Penny Webb Jul 10,2012 at 11:20 am

    An interesting article based on first hand exeriences and of course personal opinion.

    I also have a lot of different experiences, mother, grandmother, emergency foster carer, childminder, volunteer in pre school, lecturer assessor, quality assurance assessor in childcare taking me into all types of setting and as local authority staff.

    I totally agree about following instinct – and to do this parents need to visit 2 or 3 of each type of setting, to enable their instinct to inform their choice. Of course this is not always possible, lack of choice or vacancies in their area and lack of time being potential barriers.

    Whenever a parent visits my setting, I always suggest they visit other childminder settings – and other types of settings, before making a short list of those they wish to visit a second time. Even those who are sure I am the right setting for their child at the first visit, I insist they go home and think about it before confirming that would like to secure the place for their child.

    Once a place is secured – then there should be several settling in visits – and a short term contract to cover the first few weeks of care – just to make sure that the child and the parents are completely happy before the full contract is agreed and signed.

    By doing this it is far less likely that a parent will have to move their child from my setting ‘because it is not right for them’

    The one thing that concerns me is the suggestion that a child should move setting so often in its first 5 years of life. Choose the right setting and a child should be able to stay within that setting until they move onto school. Settings should be able to meet the changing needs of the child and therefore to provide continuity of care which is vital for children to develop secure attachments which in turn leads to a secure base from which to learn, develop and reach their full potential.

    I agree that not all settings will be right for every child – and sometimes a childs individual needs do not become apparent until 2 or 3 years of age and in these cases it is better to move the child to a setting that is more able to meet those needs. However generally speaking. changes of setting should be kept to a minimum.

    Speaking as a registered childminder, I do not believe that children need to go to bigger group settings just to prepare for school,. I provide the full EYFS curriculum for the children in my care which is delivered through play, exploration and real life experiences. The children benefit from lower ratio’s than in group settings and individualised planning.

    And to ensure the children experience larger and wider groups of children and adults, we attend things like community events, soft play, and childminder drop in sessions – and meet together with other childminders and their minded children.

    Parents may decide they wish their child to attend a few sessions at a pre school / playgoup – and I will of course enable this to happen – but currently I have 6 children on my books and none of the parents want their child to attend pre school/ playgroup/ school nursery.

    I hasten to add that through my experiences, I know that all good settings will offer the full EYFS curriculum and meet each chid’s needs – my point is that I think it is dangerous to suggest (even through personal opinion) in a pubic forum that one type of setting or even a variety of settings at different ages is ‘best’ – when clearly what is ‘best’ for each child will be different.

    I think Claire has a very clear idea about what she would choose for a child – but sometimes our views change when we consider the needs of the child.

    My second daughter – also called Claire has recently been viewing local schools for her twin sons who are due to start school in Sept 13 – and due to being born 9 weeks prem in August, will be not only be the youngest in their year group but developmentally still 3! Anyway my daughter had set ideas that the small village school would be best for the twins due to size of class / school. However when discussing with me after viewing several schools – she was unsure – even confused and did not know which school to send the twins to. So I asked her what her gut feeling was – and she replied the much bigger school because the children were happy, and engaged in their work – and ‘Oh I don’t know mum – it just seemed right’

    The twins now have their names down for places at the bigger school

    • Kathy Jul 10,2012 at 12:43 pm

      Hi Penny,

      Many thanks for taking time to respond to this blog.

      I thought it was interesting just to hear Claire’s views on a topic much discussed between parents, carers and childcare professionals. It’s also very interesting to hear from you how some of the points made can be balanced, such as attending childminding groups and soft play to support social skills.

      Claire does state very clearly throughout the piece and at the end that it is the child’s interests which should be at the heart of the decision making. I don’t agree that it is ‘dangerous’ to discuss this in public – surely this is just the sort of thing that parents, carers and professionals should be discussing? As in the example of your daughter, parents must (and will) make their own decisions, even if it initially looks counter-intuitive, but not everyone understands about the different types of childcare or even knows what is available to them.

      Everyone working in childcare will have an opinion on what is ‘best’ for children – whether it is scrapping the EYFS, making it a graduate only profession or having the Government subsidise all childcare. And I am sure that there will be people who hold opposing views to those in the blog, just as there will be those who agree with it.

      However, parents and carers should be fully informed of their choices and the more discussion there is about this, the more informed the choice can be.

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