Whether your child is 3 months old or 3 years old, the first time they come to nursery without you can be a really big deal. How will they cope without you? Will their Key Person understand what they need? How will they get on with the other children? Not to mention how you might feel about being apart from your child.
So, what can you do to help this transition go smoothly?
Choosing a nursery
In my opinion, this really starts when you choose your child’s nursery. If you feel comfortable with the setting and feel you can relate to the staff and build a relationship of trust with them your confidence will transfer to your child. There’s lots of information available online about different settings – you can google their latest Ofsted report and have a look at key policies such as how children are kept safe and how they support children’s behaviour on the nursery’s website. Many nursery websites will have information about their ethos, such as a Mission Statement and aims. You can also look at the statutory framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage to find out the legal requirements for Early Years settings. This is a good way to research some facts and will help answer some of your questions.
The next thing to do is organise to visit the nurseries on your shortlist. Having completed some fact finding, you will be able to use this time to gather informal information about the setting. Often a Senior Member of staff will show perspective parents / carers around the nursery. I always suggest to parents that they observe how the children already attending are during the visit. Do they appear to be happy and engaged in their play? How are staff interacting with the children – do they get down to the child’s level to talk and play with them? Do staff members appear to be enjoying spending time with the children? How are staff members interacting with each other? Good communication is essential for staff working together with a group of children. It’s great if you get the chance to speak to the staff working directly with the children. Useful questions to find out more might be: “how long have you worked here?” “What do you enjoy about your job?” Settings caring for babies under 2 years should have at least 1 member of staff who has suitable experience working with children under 2, so it’s good to find out “How long have you worked with babies?” and perhaps “What do you do if all the babies are crying at the same time?”.
Ultimately, I would suggest that it’s about how a setting feels. A bit like finding a home, what’s important to one family will be different to another. Remember, if you feel comfortable with the staff and the environment, this will rub off on your child when they start.
Before your child starts
Most nurseries will offer the opportunity for your child to visit before they start. At Hardmoor we invite all children to come to at least 3 “taster sessions” where they can stay for up to an hour each time to get to know their Key Person and where to find their favourite toys! It’s also a good opportunity for you to trial leaving your child for a short period of time so that they get the idea that they will spend time here without their main carer – and that they come back. We also carry out a home visit for all children starting nursery, we feel there is a great benefit for children to meet their Key Person in their own home to help create a link between home and nursery. Make the most of these opportunities to meet your child’s Key Person and build that relationship so that your child sees, hears and feels the positive communication between you.
Use photos of the nursery (from the website/Facebook page or a photo you have taken of them on their way to nursery) to talk about going to nursery and the people that your child will see there. Many settings use online learning journals such as Tapestry. We use these to capture observations of children to inform our assessment of their development so that we can plan activities that interest them and take their learning forward. Did you know that families can also upload photos and comments? We love seeing what the children are getting up to outside of nursery and like to share these photos with the children.
Those first few days / weeks…
There are lots of ways your child can take a bit of their main carer with them. For babies, a muslin or soft toy that you have slept with so that it smells of you can provide comfort in their new environment. For older children, you can give them a kiss to take with them – by kissing the palm of their hand before you leave or giving them a small token such as a paper heart to keep in their pocket. At Hardmoor children decorate a wooden heart when they visit, these are displayed on the pathway into nursery so that children can look for their heart and remember that shared moment between their family and nursery.
Be positive! Hopefully the pre-start activities will help you to feel prepared and you are able to show your child you are confident they will have a nice time at nursery. Always say goodbye to your child – don’t be tempted to sneak out! Part of being confident is the honesty that you are leaving and will come back after story time/tea time etc. Make the goodbye short and sweet, if you have agreed to stay a little while when you first drop off then do – play together or sit with your child while they have their breakfast, but when you say you’re going have a quick hug, say good bye and leave the room. It is normal for children to cry for a short while, but having had the chance to start building a relationship with their key person before they start will help that Key Person to comfort the child better. It is also normal for parents/carers to sometimes call about an hour or so after drop off to see if their child has settled – we are used to this and are always happy to assist you.
What if my child is still struggling?
First port of call is to speak to your child’s Key Person. They and their colleagues will have lots of experience at helping children to settle in to nursery. All children are different and will take a different amount of time to settle in, sometimes other changes happening in the child’s life, however small, can impact them and might make the transition to a new setting more difficult than you expected. By working together and combining your knowledge of your child with our skills and experience, we will find a way to support your child to feel confident about coming to nursery.