How to choose the right childcare and early education

Child colouring

Choosing the right kind of early years setting to support your child's learning and development is a big step.

Making the right decision can feel overwhelming when there are so many options available to you.

First steps — identifying different types of early years setting

Each child and family is different, and as such, the most appropriate type of childcare will depend on your own family circumstances and the specific needs of your child.

Some questions to consider:

  • What are my child’s needs? What do they require at their age?
  • What kind of care and learning do I want my child to have?
  • How often each week does my child need caring for?
  • What will be the most cost-effective arrangement for our family?

Then you will need to familiarise yourself with the different types of early years providers that are out there.


A crèche provides short-term occasional care for children under the age of eight and can take many forms. A crèche may be offered to you if you are attending training, visiting a leisure centre or may be provided in shopping centres. A crèche must be registered with Ofsted if it operates for more than 4 hours a day and for more than 14 days per year.

Children’s centres

Children’s centres offer all families with children under five a range of services, information and support in their local community. The support available varies according to local need, but most centres will offer the following: advice during pregnancy, health visitor services, drop-in sessions, adult learning, employment support, debt advice and much more besides. Many centres also offer childcare, baby and toddler groups and crèches.

Pre-schools and playgroups

Pre-schools and playgroups offer care and education for specific sessions, which can last for between two-and-a-half to four hours a day. Many provide extra services such as breakfast clubs, lunch clubs and holiday play schemes.

Day nurseries/daycare

Day nurseries can take children from as young as six weeks old until school age and primarily cater for the needs of working parents. They are normally open all day and offer the choice of either full-time or part-time care and education. Some may also provide weekend provision for parents who work shifts. They are run by various different groups including local schools or councils, members of the community, a workplace or by a private provider.

Nursery schools and nursery classes

Nursery schools are aimed at pre-school children aged three and four years old. Children start to attend a nursery school or nursery class in the September after their third birthday. A nursery school is a separate school that is only used by children under five years old. A nursery class is part of an existing primary school. Most nursery schools and nursery classes offer part time places and operate during term-time only.


Childminders are based in their own homes and provide early education and childcare for small groups of children. They give your child the chance to meet and play with other children, while being cared for in a home environment. They are usually self-employed and decide which hours they work.

Home-based childcare

A home-based childcarer is a person (over 18 years old) who is employed by a parent to look after children in the family home. Home-based childcarers can care for children of any age and can work flexible hours. They can choose to register with Ofsted on the voluntary part of the childcare register.

Out-of-school care

Out-of-school groups normally provide care for school-age children, up to the age of 11. This can be: before school, after school, during the school holidays, holiday schemes and play centres. Clubs that provide for children under eight years must be registered with Ofsted. Clubs that only cater for children aged over eight do not need to be registered but can choose to register on the voluntary part of the childcare register. Clubs that are managed by schools are automatically registered under the school’s registration.

Making a shortlist

Make a shortlist of different early years setting available in your area, then make contact with them to arrange a visit.

A nursery is often referred to as a 'setting'.

You can find nearby settings through our  or from your local authority's Family Information Service.

Once you arrive, the early yeras provider should be happy to show you around and answer any of your questions.

They should discuss how they will settle your child and support their development and learning. You can also ask to see their policies and procedures.

Before you visit, ensure you check their  report to make sure they meet the  requirements covering children’s welfare and the quality of their care.

Good questions to ask when choosing your early years setting

  • Does the setting (or space) feel welcoming and nurturing?
  • Do the staff look happy in their work?
  • How are they interacting with the children? Do they seem caring and affectionate?
  • Is the setting clean?
  • Is there enough space, including an outdoor play area?
  • Are children taken out to enjoy outings and walks?
  • Are the children happy and absorbed in activities?
  • Is there a range of activities and resources available?
  • Is the environment safe and stimulating for the children?
  • Are parents given information about their child’s progress and achievements?
  • What training, skills and experience do the carers and childcare workers have?
  • What happens in cases of accidents and emergencies?
  • Are the toilets and basins clean and accessible?
  • Is the equipment safe and well maintained?
  • Do displays show different cultures and people from different backgrounds in a positive way?
  • Are facilities available for changing nappies and potty training?
  • Are the meals and snacks healthy and nutritious?
  • Has the setting achieved a quality assurance award?
  • Are the setting's policies and procedures in place and available for you to see easily?
  • Can you be put in touch with some other parents for a reference?
  • How flexible can the childminder/setting be with last-minute extra days that you may need?
  • Is there a high staff turnover? If so, how does the setting ensure a sense of continuity for your child?

Staff and managers should be willing to talk to you, make you feel welcome and answer any questions you have. 

But the two most important things to notice:

  • Firstly, how are the staff with your child as soon as you walk through the door? They should be showing a natural warmth, openness and interest in a new child coming through the door.
  • Secondly, what does your gut tell you? If something doesn't feel right to you, then go with your gut and look elsewhere.

You’ve made a choice. Now what?

Remember that your child needs time to settle into their environment, adjust to their new routine and get to know their key person and the other children.

You are encouraged to stay with your child at first so that they can be gradually introduced to activities and their new environment. 

By working closely with your early years provider, you can help your child to be comfortable, happy and secure, and thoroughly enjoy their time.