When I was pregnant I planned to return to work when Vicky turned six months. But that came round so quickly and for various reasons I just didn’t feel that we were ready for that yet, so decided to stay at home with her for one year. I thought I had it all planned out in terms of childcare when I was pregnant. I visited all the local nurseries that were somewhat on my route to work and found one that I really liked and signed her up even before she was born. I didn’t even consider other childcare options. Two months before I returned to work full time though I suddenly wasn’t sure, for a number of reasons, whether sending her to this particular nursery was really the right thing to do for us and so we started looking into the different childcare options.
What to consider when choosing childcare
There are several different childcare options out there – including the main four which are nurseries, childminders, au pairs and nannies (or nanny shares). But with pros and cons of each, it’s not easy to choose between them.
Before we looked into each option, my husband and I sat down to work out what we needed from our childcare. While it is important to prioritise the care of your child, for us, it was equally important to find a solution which allowed us to factor in our different working patterns.
So if you are currently in the process of deciding what type of childcare to go for for your baby or toddler, here are some questions we found useful to consider:
How flexible is your work?
Do the hours you and your partner work tie in with the standard nursery operating times? Is there the potential you and your partner may both need to start early or finish late on the same evening? Is it possible to leave early if you needed to pick up your child? Not everyone is fortunate enough to have an understanding boss who appreciates the issues that working parents encounter or a job which can realistically facilitate this.
Do you have family you can call on?
If you opt for a nursery, on occasion your child might be taken ill. In this event, do you have family nearby, such as parents, grandparents or other family members, who can pick your child up from nursery if necessary?
How important is location?
Having to get across town to pick up your child from nursery can extend your day and be difficult in rush-hour traffic. Are there nurseries or childminders which are close by, practical and easy to get to, such as on your way to or from work?
How important is privacy to you?
Having live-in or home-based childcare is great, but ask yourself honestly how you would feel about having someone that isn’t family in your house each day.
How important are training and experience?
Would you be comfortable leaving your child with an au pair who might still be relatively young themselves and not specifically trained to look after children?
What about your budget for childcare?
Using an au pair is probably the cheapest option (but bear in mind you need to have the space to give them their own room and provide food). Costs for a nursery and a childminder are normally fairly similar going with a nanny is the most expensive option.
However, if you would rather have one-on-one care for your little one, you could consider sharing a nanny with another family to cut costs. But this obviously comes at the expense of some flexibility.
Also bear in mind that any Ofsted-registered childcare allows you to use childcare vouchers if your employer is already signed up to the scheme It’s not a massive amount that you can save with this scheme but every little helps, right?
Now you’ve asked yourself the important questions, let’s take a look at the four main types of childcare available alongside their pros and cons.
The four main childcare options: pros and cons
Ofsted-registered, nurseries offer care and early-years education for newborns through to children aged five. They may have limited places as there must be a certain ratio of staff to children based on age. There are also nurseries attached to schools which might be an option if you want to prepare your child for entry there, or if they have siblings in attendance.
Advantages: Highly regulated environment which is very safe. Your child gets to socialise with other children, which will benefit the development of their social skills.
Disadvantages: Can be somewhat impersonal as children won’t always get one-to-one care. If your child has specific behavioural needs, this may not be the best option. They have specific opening and closing times which you will need to work within.
Registered by Ofsted, childminders typically care for children from newborn all the way up to school-age or older. Typically, they care for the child in their own home, often alongside an allowed number of other children, and will take part in early years development and learning activities.
Advantages: A slightly more flexible arrangement than a nursery in a more intimate setting. Your child gets to socialise with other children. Some childminders work in pairs or with assistants which can provide greater provision.
Disadvantages: Lack of one-to-one attention when other children are being cared for too. You may be left without care if your sole childminder is sick or taking a holiday.
In the UK an au pair can be aged between 18 and 30. They typically have travelled to the UK to gain work experience and improve their English skills. They may not have childcare training or experience, and you will need to fulfil various obligations such as provide accommodation and living expenses, as well as the chance to study at a language school, in exchange for childcare.
Advantages: Your child is cared for from your home and receives plenty of attention. They will also carry out light housework. High level of flexibility as they are living with you in the family home. Good option for wrap around care for school kids.
Disadvantages: Au pairs are often not trained in childcare, they can also be very young and may not be fluent in English. They are expected to work up to 30 hours a week including baby sitting in the evening and should not have any sole charge of children under the age of two. Your privacy will be affected because they will live with you. As they are home-based, your child may not get the chance to socialise with other children as much. They typically only stay for one year, so you will find yourself someone else to look after your child regularly.
Nannies have specific qualifications and experience which enable them to look after children on a one-to-one basis within the family home – they may or may not live with the family. Unlike an au pair, a nanny is an employee entitled to specific workers’ rights.
Advantages: Personal care for your child at all times from a trained childcare specialist. A high degree of flexibility, with some nannies prepared to work overnight when needed. They also conduct light housework. You could thing about sharing a nanny with another family if you want to cut costs.
Disadvantages: The most expensive of the childcare options and you will be responsible for their tax, National Insurance and any other deductions, either directly through a PAYE scheme or using a payroll service that handles this for you. Although the nanny may take them to classes and playgroups, this option doesn’t provide as much interaction with other children. May affect privacy as care is conducted in the family home.
When weighing up our priorities and needs, we had to consider a few aspects. Firstly, we do not have family nearby who could drop off or pick up our daughter from a nursery on days when both my husband and I start work early or finish late. We were also not very comfortable with the idea of someone else being in our private space every day, let alone having someone live with us. What’s more, both my husband and I work from home from time to time, so home-based childcare could have become a real distraction.
We opted to use a childminder to begin with as we felt a more intimate setting would be the better for our 12 months old daughter. An overwhelming benefit was discovering that Ofsted-registered childminders operate almost like mini nurseries, giving us the assurance of having a fully trained, vetted and qualified individual looking after our daughter. Now that she turned 18 months we could see that she was ready for more and she is now attending a nursery where she is exposed to more structured play and learning with a bigger group of children.
I don’t think that there is a right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing between the different childcare options. Each option comes with its own set of pros and cons and you need to weigh them up against your specific family dynamic and needs in order to decide what works for you and, most importantly, your little one.
What type of childcare did you go for and why? Let me know in the comments section below.