Childcare centreThinking about childcare for a baby or a toddler? With so many options available it can sometimes be difficult to choose the type of provider that’s right for your child. If you are lucky, then you will find a placement that works for you within a short space of time, but in many areas in the UK there is a shortage of placements. This means that you need to start thinking about childcare long before you actually need it. Some parents go as far as putting their unborn child’s name down for a place to start two years later!

When looking for a childcare placement, start by contacting your local council. Most have what are known as a “Families and Children’s Information Service” who will have lists of registered childcare placements in your area. Some even offer a brokerage service and will contact the providers on your behalf. They will need to know what type of placement you are looking for, so if you are not sure about the differences between different childcare settings, then read on.

Day Nurseries

Day Nurseries tend to be privately run, for-profit businesses, although you do occasionally get those run by charities, etc. They are strictly monitored in the UK and have to be registered with the national regulator (Ofsted in England, Estyn in Wales, Education Scotland in Scotland) and undergo regular inspections. They also have to follow government guidance regarding early years education and as part of this they offer structured activities that encourage your child to develop their skills.

Day Nurseries may offer placements for children aged 3 months and up, however, some only offer placements for children aged 2 and older. That is because for children under the age of 2 years, a greater staff-to-child ratio is required. Most nurseries will offer placements for children until they are ready for infant school.

Most nurseries will provide food and snacks for your child, however, you may have to supply formula / breastmilk if required. Some even offer an evening meal. The cost of this food is included in your fees, and some nurseries will also include nappies, though most will simply ask you to supply your own.

Day Nurseries tend to be open Monday to Friday, all day, often from around 7.30am until 6.30pm to fit in with office commutes. Most will have a fixed hourly rate, but there may be discounts applied if your child attends a set amount of hours per week, or if you have more than one child attending. If your child is sick, you will still need to pay for your place. Policies for charges when your child is on holiday vary from nursery to nursery.

Some will charge you the full rate, whilst others will give you a discounted rate for a set amount of weeks. Whilst this may seem unfair as you are paying for something you are not using, it’s important to remember that the placement still has to cover running costs and they cannot simply offer your child’s place to another child for the time that you are on holiday.


Mothers at a playgroupPlaygroups tend to be community based groups, often led by a committee of parents or other groups such as churches and charities. They are not suitable placements if you are looking for something full-time, as they tend to operate a set number of two to three-hour-long sessions each week. Like Day Nurseries, playgroups have to be registered with the national regulator, and will undergo regular inspections.

Playgroups tend to focus more on play and socialising your child, and therefore are a great way of getting your child ready to start pre-school or school. They are also ideal if you are simply looking for a couple of hours a week of childcare to allow you to have some time for yourself. As many playgroups rely on parents volunteering to help out at the sessions, playgroups are another way of meeting other parents in your area.


Child-minders care for a small number of children within their own home. If they are caring for children under the age of 8, they must be registered with the national regulator and undergo regular inspections. For pre-school aged children, they must also follow the national guidance on early years education. Registration involves background checks, home visits, training, including paediatric first-aid training, and a requirement for public liability insurance.

Child-minders can offer flexibility with hours, and some child-minders can take your child to and from school or nursery. There are many other benefits to using a child-minder. Children of different ages mix together in one setting, so younger children can learn from older children, and you can have siblings in the same setting.

Child-minders can take children out on local trips such as to the supermarket, to teach them about interacting with the world. Some child-minders also work with other child-minders in the area to run group activities, such as a regular craft group, or charity fund-raising events. However, if your child-minder is unable to care for your child due to a holiday or illness, then you may need to seek alternative arrangements, sometimes at short notice. Your child may also find it harder to adjust when starting school if they are not regularly exposed to large groups of children.

Most child-minders will have a fixed hourly rate, and like day nurseries, most will probably charge you during the times that you are on holiday, though this may be at a reduced rate. Unlike day nurseries, many child-minders will ask you to provide a packed lunch for your child, as there are currently extra regulations involved with providing food for children in child-minding settings that have to be adhered to. However, most child-minders will supply snacks as part of their fees.

Nursery Classes (Pre-School)

pre-schoolNursery Classes, (not to be confused with Day Nurseries) also known as Pre-school, are attached to schools and offer free child-care placements as part of the entitlement to free early years education for 3 and 4 year olds, with some 2 year olds also being eligible. Currently, 3 and 4 year olds, as well as 2 year olds from low-income families in the England, Wales, and Scotland, are entitled to a set amount of free childcare hours each year. Whilst you can use this entitlement with most Day Nurseries and some Child-minders, many parents opt to use this entitlement within a school based nursery class, usually at the school that their child will be attending once they reach age 5.

Nursery Classes are regulated in the same way as other childcare placements and follow the early years curriculum set by their national government. They also provide the child with an introduction to school life, with many having a uniform and a structure similar or the same as the school day. Some schools have set hours for the nursery classes, for example, Monday – Friday, 9-12, which may not be compatible with your working hours. However, schools offering “wrap-around care” are increasing in number, operating in a similar way to a private Day Nursery, with extended hours that can be paid for by the parent to fit in with working arrangements.


NannyNannies are childcare providers who operate in your own home. Nannies are not self-employed like child-minders, instead you are the employer and responsible for setting and paying their wages, national insurance contributions, holiday pay, etc. Furthermore, there is no requirement for Nannies to be registered with a governing body, or to have mandatory background checks. However, many agencies do supply these checks, as well as additional training.

Nannies are a lot more flexible with many offering evening services. Many nannies also have additional duties included in their role, such as housework or grocery shopping. Unlike other childcare settings, nannies can provide care even when your child is unwell. Nannies can also take your child to activities, such as dance classes or parent and toddler groups.

Traditionally, nannies tended to live within the family home with rent costs covered as part of their employment benefits, however, there are nannies who live in their own home, coming to you as needed.

Further Information

For more information on childcare settings, see our articles on Tips For Choosing Childcare and Childcare Funding.