Tips for Parents: Identifying Quality Childcare

Good childcare encourages babies and young children to develop and learn. It helps them to share, make friends, and find out new things for themselves – and therefore have a happy experience.

1. A Caring Response to Children

Whether you choose to use a childminder or send your child to a pre-school, crèche or nursery, one of the key things to notice is the way that adults respond to children. There is no exact method for finding the right carer but it’s a good idea to look at the way adults react to children already in their care. Ask about how children are normally settled in. In a nursery or pre-school, one person in particular – a ‘key worker’ or ‘key person’ – should be appointed to look after your child as they settle in and beyond. Ask also how babies and toddlers are supervised when napping.

2. Talking and Listening to Children

Look out for how carers talk and listen to children. Communication plays an important role in helping children to feel special. It is also an essential ingredient in helping them to learn. Adults who are good with children are able to chat to them and bring out even the shyest child. They are also able to develop children’s language by adding to what a child has said. Look out for:

  • Whether children appear keen to talk to the adults.
  • Whether adults make eye contact with the children.

3. Positive Attitudes

The overall attitude that the adults have towards children can provide you with clues.

  • Listen for the way that the adults talk about children they already have in their care.
  • Is a nappy change seen as a nuisance?
  • Is a boisterous toddler seen as ‘bold’ or ‘naughty’?
  • Do the adults look miserable when supervising outdoor play or are they interested in what the children are doing?

Working with children is a tiring job, but in a good childcare environment you will see adults who enjoy being with children. Ask to see references for childminders.  

4. Good Play Opportunities

  • To develop all their skills, children need lots of different ways to play.
  • Dressing-up clothes and props for pretend play help children’s language.
  • Cycling tricycles and climbing help their physical skills.
  • Look out for a range of toys, natural materials and resources, and ask about how and when they are put out.
  • Children should be able to reach toys and resources for themselves and well organised childcare practitioners show children how to tidy away too.

Find out if children play outside for long periods and how this is organised. Look out for equipment that helps children to play in the following ways:

  • Pretend play: dressing up, farm sets, play people
  • Physical play: tricycles, climbing frames, balls
  • Construction play: bricks, train sets, Lego, jigsaws
  • Exploratory play: play dough, water, sand, objects that seem strange to children
  • Creative play: paint, musical instruments, a range of equipment for drawing, junk for model-making
  • Table work and activities using fine motor skills: jigsaws, threading beads, stacking, etc.
  • A quiet corner and a good selection of children’s books:appropriate books for the different stages of the pre-school child’s development

The space in a pre-school room should be divided into different areas to allow for different activities.

Young children benefit from being able to play freely rather than doing formal learning tasks. Adults who are well organised provide activities, games and toys that stimulate children because they have thought about all the children’s needs and interests.

When visiting a nursery, crèche, pre-school or childminder’s home, look at what the children are doing rather than be dazzled by jazzy equipment. Look also at what adults are doing while the children are playing.

Ideally, young children should have time to play and explore for themselves as well as an opportunity to spend time with an adult who takes an active role in their play. Thoughtful adults are available to help children and look for ways to extend children’s learning, perhaps by asking the odd question.

During your visit:

  • Ask about how activities are chosen.
  • Look to see how involved children are in their play.
  • Notice how the adults respond and interact in children’s play.

5. Observing the Children and Planning their Activities

 To plan well for children, the adults need to note down what skills and strengths each child has. From this they can plan different kinds of play that will help children to learn and develop skills. You might like to find out how the childcare option you are considering does this, and how you will find out about your child’s progress and interests.

While looking out for all these indications of good childcare, check out the professional level of qualifications that staff members hold. Some practitioners have degree level qualifications and above. A FETAC Level 5 qualification means that the person is trained to look after children without needing supervision. Below this level, staff should always be supervised when working with children.

Childcare for Babies

It is particularly important to understand what babies need when you are looking for childcare. Babies should be cared for by the same person every day, someone with whom they can develop a special relationship. In a crèche or a nursery this is their key person or key worker.

Look out for adults who carry babies, point out objects to them and give plenty of physical reassurance. Babies learn language best when it is wrapped in love. Listen to the tone of voice that is being used and watch to see if the adults sing and play with them.

As well as play and language, the routine care of babies is important to their development. Nappy changes and feeding should not feel like a conveyor belt system as these are special moments for babies which help them to gain trust and feel secure.

Here are some important things to find out about people who might care for your baby:

  • Will the same person look after your child every day?
  • What would happen if this person is sick or on holiday?
  • How are babies held? Is eye contact made?
  • How are babies fed and put to sleep? Are these tasks done by their key worker?


Who to Contact with Queries or Concerns about a Childcare Service

If you have any queries about childcare services you should contact your local City or County Childcare Committee office.

There is an office in each City and County -  a contact list is available on the Dept of Children and Youth Affairs website.

If you have any concerns regarding the operation of a pre-school service, you should contact the Pre-School Officer in your local Health Service Executive (HSE) office.

More Information

This information is an extract from the free Barnardos publication 'A Parent's Guide to the Child Care (Pre-School) Regulations'. 

Baby » Childcare

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