Childcare Options For Babies & Young Children
If you're planning to return to work, here are some options by age…
Day nurseries – offer childcare for babies under one and up to five, and are always registered with Ofsted. They are usually open year-round from 8am-6pm. For three- and four- year-olds, they follow the same Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum as nursery schools.
Childminders – offer paid-for childcare for more than two hours a day, usually in their home but sometimes in yours, and they should always be registered with Ofsted. Duties include providing a safe and loving environment and helping with children’s physical, intellectual, emotional and social development.
Private nanny or nanny shares – are paid for by the parent, and this involves signing up to a nanny agency and interviewing prospective candidates. Nannies can be live-in or live-out, and if you want to bring the cost down, a nanny share is a good option. This means your child will benefit from socialising with another child of a similar age, while being taken care of in a home environment.
Nursery schools – offer education for children aged from two-and-a-half to five, following the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum. They are registered with Ofsted to provide childcare and are usually open part-time. Your child’s first 15 hours a week are free and private nurseries can also provide free nursery places if they are registered with both Ofsted and the local council. Any payment for extras or additional time will be charged directly.
Independent schools – some offer an education for children from the age of three before they officially start school. Schools must be registered with the Department of Education and are usually only open part-time, in keeping with school term time. The first 15 hours a week are often free, but check with the school as this can vary.
There are childcare options out there you might be entitled to. Here are three examples…
Free nursery education – all families in England are entitled to free part-time childcare or early education for 38 weeks of the year (a total of 570 hours which you can use flexibly with more than one childcare provider) from 1st January, 1st April or 1st September following your child’s third birthday. Nationwide there are 30 hours of free childcare for working families which can also be used flexibly or even stretched to cover 52 weeks of the year.
Free education nursery providers – those offering free nursery education for three- and four-year-olds include maintained nursery schools or primary school nursery classes. Maintained nurseries are council-run, usually open 9am to 3.15pm, and free to all parents/carers, offering up to 15 hours of care a week. Many provide before and after school childcare too, but generally don’t offer nursery places for two-year-olds. Check the application dates with your local council as you need to apply well in advance, usually in February for a September start.
Tax-free childcare – for every £8 you pay in, the government will automatically add £2, up to the value of £2,000 per child per year (or £4,000 for disabled children). Just remember to choose a childcare provider that has signed up to receive Tax-Free Childcare payments. You can deposit money into your childcare account using a debit card, standing order or bank transfer. The government top up is automatic and you can use this money when it shows as ‘available’ in your account to make one-off or regular payments to your childcare provider.
Zoe Blaskey, the founder of Motherkind & host of The Motherkind Podcast advises preparing in the following ways...
Validate your child's feelings. It's natural to want to talk our children out of their emotions – for example, they might say they don't want to go to childcare or nursery and it's a parent's instinct to want to say "Don't be silly, you'll be fine, you'll love it when you're there." But validating the harder feelings makes you child feel more seen and actually helps them feel more confident. Instead, try saying something like, "It sounds like you're a bit worried about starting nursery – is that right? I'm here."
Focus on yourself, too. Mirror neurons in our brains mean that (in very simple terms) emotions are contagious. So it's important that the caregiver is also feeling positive, grounded and calm. Simple breathing techniques are a brilliant way to feel steady and more in control.
Prepare your child properly. Psychologists say the most effective way is through role play, so grab some teddies or dolls and act out a day at nursery. It's also useful to have a picture of their new caregiver up on the wall somewhere so their face doesn't feel alien. Finally, do the walk or drive to nursery a few times before the first day so it feels familiar.
Lean on home comforts. Transitional objects offer a child comfort and support during a time of change. A great example is your child's teddy. Let them take it to nursery with them on their first day. Don't worry about it becoming a crutch – once they're settled, they're bound not to need it all the time.
Focus on reconnecting at the end of the day. That means lots of cuddles and eye contact. You'll inevitably want to know what they've been up to but firing questions at them can feel overwhelming and they could clam up. Instead, tell them about your day or talk about what you can see on the way home. Then, once they're settled at home, it's more likely they'll open up about their own day.
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