My friend is soon to pop out her first, and over lunch the other day she grilled me about all the questions you need to ask a childminder. I eventually sent her my list of questions and I realised that it might be useful for others. When I was pregnant with my little man I initially chose a nursery for him, however, our financial circumstances changed and therefore we decided a childminder would be more cost effective. I have to say, how very glad I am that I chose a childminder instead of a nursery, it’s so much more personal and the activities they get to do are more varied.
So when Nate was a few months old I visited and interviewed 6 different childminders, to try to find the perfect fit for both Nate and our family. Please note that choosing a childminder or nursery is a very personal decision, and you should use your gut instinct, not just the answers to your questions. These are the people that will be part-raising your child, so it is one of the most important decisions you can make, especially if you work full-time and your child is in full-time childcare (like Nate is).
What questions should I ask a childminder / nursery?:
- How much? Ok, you may not want to come right out with it like that, but childcare can cost more than your mortgage, so it is important. When I was looking, a few years ago, the childminder hourly rates in Milton Keynes varied from £3.50-£5.00 per hour. This will vary based on location, will increase with inflation and depends on what is included.
- What is included in that cost? For example, will lunch be provided? Snacks? Nappies and wipes? Milk? If you work full-time and you can choose a childminder who provides lunch, it will certainly make your mornings easier, I really wish I didn’t have to make lunches everyday BUT at least I am choosing exactly what he will be eating. Again it might be easier for nappies and wipes to be included in the price, but if they are, it is likely they will be very cheap nappies, so this is not necessarily a selling point.
- How often will you be charged and how do they take payment? Most childminders are flexible but its good to check that they don’t want to be paid weekly by cash, that would be hard work.
- Do you accept childcare vouchers? Nurseries are more likely to accept childcare vouchers, but some well-established Childminders will also accept them. We save about £80 per month by paying some of our bill through childcare vouchers. Obviously this will change with the new scheme the government is bringing in.
- Free education and childcare for 3 and 4 years olds – do they provide this funding within their care setting? 15 hours a week of free childcare is available to your child the term after they turn 3 years old, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be at your nursery or with the childminder, they can also be at pre-schools or other settings such as Sure Start centres. (Some 2 year olds will also be eligible).
- Do they need a deposit to hold your place and how much is it?
- What are their working hours? This is vital to ensure that they are open when you need them to be. One of the nurseries near to my place of work doesn’t open until 8:45am each day, since I start work at 8:30am, this would not work for me. As well their working hours you should check if they allow a grace period if you happen to be running late one day, will you be charged if you are 10 minutes late or not?
- Will they do collections and or drop-offs? There are two things to think about, do you need or will you need them to drop your little one off at home on occasion or even regularly, and do they offer that service? This is quite a rare service though. Or, do they do pick-ups and drop-offs at local schools and pre-schools? My childminder drops off and collects locally, but the pre-school I would like my little man to go to is not local, so this is now an issue for us.
- How many children do they look after and what are their ages? Do they have any children of their own? If they are rated by OFSTED they will have adult child ratios that they have to stick to, but they are allowed any amount of children over the age of 8 years old, so it is good to check. You may be interested whether there are any children close to your child’s age. My little boy had 3 children close to his age when he started and they are all best friends still…2 years on.
- What activities do they do with the children, do they go on any trips or regular outtings and will you be charged? Nurseries don’t tend to take children out of the setting, and if they do it is usually an annual trip to a farm or zoo that they will make a big deal of when you look around. Childminders have the flexibility to take children away from the setting as often as they like, and that is what I love most about who we chose. They go for weekly walks to feed the ducks, go to the cinema, zoo’s, farms etc all on a regular basis, and they even rent a bouncy castle once a month. I so love that Nate gets to see the outside world, and be exposed to things that we haven’t yet had the chance to expose him to. For example, they took him on his first train ride and his first coach ride, he loved them both.
- What happens if your little one is sick and what happens if the childminder is off sick? The expectation is that if your childcare setting is closed you do not have to pay, but good to check. However if your little one is sick, you will likely have to pay, some childminders will negotiate this and may offer those days at a reduced cost, since they have one less person to take care of, however, this is their livelihood so it makes sense for them to still charge when your child is not in attendance.
- What happens when your little one is on holiday? Does your childminder have any holidays booked or any closure days? As above, if your childcare setting is closed, you shouldn’t have to pay, but you will need to know in advance how much of the year they will be closed. One of the nurseries close to me are only open during term-times, which is no good for working parents, the other nursery closes for 4 weeks a year, still a lot of time off you will need to take for that. My childminder only closes at Christmas, so that is perfect for us.
- What happens at nap time? Where do they sleep? I was quite precious about nap time for my little man. He was 9 months old when he went into full-time childcare so I really wanted him to be able to nap and in a quiet environment as he had always napped in his cot, and at that time for 3 hours. One childminder said he would nap in the pram in the lounge (I was not happy with that!), whereas another one had a separate room with several travel cots in.
- Do they have a garden, is it big, does it have play equipment? It’s not essential to have a garden, or even a big one, but probably a nice perk.
- How do they provide updates to parents? Those that I visited mostly used diary sheets/folders for keeping parents up to date. My childminder uses Tapestry an online early years journal which they use to diarise his day with the added bonus of both pictures and videos. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to see a video of your little one playing with his friends or performing a little task – something you don’t normally get to see.
- What settling in period do they provide/recommend? For a baby/child that has never been with a childminder or nursery before, settling in sessions are vital, and the longer a period that they use to settle them is likely better. We spread ours over a month, starting from a few hours and ending in full days.
- Do they need any equipment such as a car-seat or pram? Most will likely have all the equipment they need, but I was asked by one childminder I interviewed to provide his car seat, this could prove problematic on days your child is with you at home, meaning you may have to buy a second child seat.
- What qualifications do they have? (If any) It may be surprising to learn that childminders and nursery staff do not need any formal education to become childminders. One important check though is a CRB check, they should already have the certificate to show you, and anything else, such as first aid and any early years qualifications are a bonus.
- What was their latest OFSTED rating? They should have a printed copy handy, but if not you can check on the OFSTED website, the information is freely available to all. An Outstanding rating may be preferable but it may not be affordable, plus Outstanding is becoming harder and harder to achieve/maintain.
- What vibe do you get? This might be more important than the answers to all of the above. How do you feel in their setting, do you feel comfortable? Do they appear organised? Do they they treat mums and dads equally? (This is a bugbear of my hubby when we had a childminder fill in one week, they completely ignored him as the dad). Make a note in case you forget later after visiting various childminders/nurseries, they may all blur.
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