Early Years

HIGH FIVE – What’s the difference between day nursery and preschool, pre-prep and reception? What am I entitled to? And how will my child react? Georgina Blaskey investigates the choices for under-fives.


Sending your child to nursery is the first milestone in their education. For some children it can be an exciting journey, the prospect of which leaves them totally unfazed. For others, it can be a daunting, nerve-racking first rung on the learning ladder.

It’s essential to investigate the options fully and choose the right path for your child. Blocking out the gossip from well-meaning friends and neighbours is a good first step – and nothing can replace a personal visit to work out what the right fit is.


What are my options?

Your early-years options may be determined by your needs: are you going back to work after a year’s maternity leave, requiring dawn-till-dusk daycare? Do you want a few after-noons off while your child plays and learns to socialise? Do you want your child to begin learning the curriculum? Here are the options:

  • Nursery schools – provide education for children aged from two-and-a-half to five. They are registered with Ofsted to provide childcare and are usually open part time. Private nurseries are also able to provide free nursery places if they are registered with both the local council and Ofsted. In these cases, your child’s first 15 hours a week are free – any charges for extras or additional time must be invoiced separately.
  • Preschool playgroups – provide places for small groups of children aged from two-and-a-half to five to learn and play. Playgroups are usually open part time and often parents need to stay for the session.
  • Day nurseries – provide childcare for those under one year up to the age of five and are registered with Ofsted. They are usually open from 8am-6pm, all year round. For three- and four-year-olds, they follow the same Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum as nursery schools.
  • Independent schools – some provide education for children aged from three to 11. They have to be registered with the Department for Education (DfE) and are usually only open part time.
  • Childminders – provide paid-for childcare for more than two hours per day, usually in their own home. Their duties include providing a safe, loving environment and helping with children’s physical, intellectual, emotional and social development. All childminders are registered with Ofsted.

What should I look for when choosing a nursery or preschool?

Visit armed with questions and queries about how each nursery, playgroup or preschool operates and how children learn. The impartial education website gettherightschool.co.uk has compiled these questions to help guide parents and aid decision making:

  • What resources and equipment do you have to support children’s learning?
  • How are activities planned and organised to meet the Early Years Foundation Stage?
  • Do you provide any additional help and support to under-fives with special educational needs?
  • How many children do you have attending?
  • What sort of activities do the children do?
  • How is the average day/session organised?
  • How do staff manage bad behaviour?
  • What qualifications and experience do the staff have?
  • How long have you been operating?
  • Do you have outdoor and indoor areas for children to play and learn?
  • Do children have a rest during the day?
  • What time do sessions start and finish?
  • Is there a sibling policy?

What should I expect when it’s time to start?

early-years1Getting up and being there on time after a couple of years of loose timetabling can feel like an immense challenge in itself – to you both. Selecting their clothes together the night before can help avoid confrontations in the morning. Equally, keeping breakfast options limited, brushing teeth downstairs and encouraging scooting to nursery aids a quick turnaround.

Many nurseries don’t require your child to be toilet trained on starting (it’s worth checking), and you may even notice them beginning to think about going to the loo once they’ve witnessed older children taking themselves.

If your child is staying all day, they’ll need a nutritious packed lunch. If you can involve them in the making of it, they’ll be more likely to eat it. Usually, mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks are provided.

Finally, always pack a spare change of clothes, including pants, as accidents can happen.

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