Childcare & working from home, Education, Expat life

All you should know about childcare options in London

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Following the article about children’s centres and the best free baby activities in London, one of the most important topics for young working parents remains childcare. I will be honest with you straight away, people do not lie, it is rather expensive, but it is not impossible. There is a variety of childcare options in London. And it turns out there are lots of childcare advantages too.

In this article we will look through:

  • What childcare types are better for my child?
  • Where and how to search for the legal childcare?
  • What certificates, registrations, and checks should I enquire at childcare institutions?
  • What are the ratios of staff to children?
  • How nursery costs vary across London?
  • What to look for?
  • Why is it good to send my child to childcare in London?

Let’s go!

What childcare types are better for my child?

The best childcare is the one that fits you and your child’s needs. If your baby feels happy and calm at the nursery, someone’s home or his own, then with no doubt, go for it.
Below I will discuss the three most common childcare options in London.

1. Nursery

It is one of the most well-known options around the world. Since I was born in Latvia and lived in many diverse countries, such as China, Argentina, Czech Republic and more, I find the system of nurseries in England, particularly in London beyond my expectations. It already seems to me too good and safe to be able to leave my child there. I will explain.

I believe the government has already thought through what nurseries should look like and obliged them to perform in a certain way.

  • Staff qualifications and checks (see below for more information);
  • Nursery registrations (see below for more information);
  • Nursery hygiene and safe work practices. Nurseries are required to carry out risk assessments both of the home and out in the community. Also, it is important to keep the premises tidy, let kids wash their hands before and after their meals and walks. Some of the nurseries let children brush their teeth after each meal, which is a very nice routine too;
  • Education development program. Nurseries are required to deliver the Early Years Foundation Stage and provide activities that are based on your child’s interests and that help them to progress in their development;
  • Number of nurses per child required depending on a certain age (see below information on ratios of staff to children);
  • Facilities on-premises. Every nursery shall be well-equipped with the kitchen, little toilets, a range of toys and games. The amount of things for kids development I have seen around nurseries and childminders is fantastic. It is about the same amount you can find in each children’s center around London.
  • Food safety. Every nursery carries information about its food suppliers and/or relevant certificates. In London, it is also very important to meet the needs of every child, would he be a vegan, vegetarian, allergic to some type of ingredients, consume gluten-free or lactose-free food, etc.

Of course, every nursery is different and not all of them are ideal for your little one. When I first time sent my 19-months-old baby to the nursery, I realized there is no one in this world who is going to care about my child more than I do. Within a week I found some things I asked to change or add to my toddler’s routine. And this was perfectly fine to do.

However, the way the system operates, regardless of its high price, is much better comparing to the majority of other countries.

early kids development program, playing with dough

Why choose a nursery?

In my humble opinion, the nursery is best for letting your kids socialize and it has space to do so. There will always be one nurse per every three children under the age of two and apprentices to help. Interaction is one of the main reasons I sent my child to childcare, he was craving for other little humans to play with. Besides, kids copy each other. They sleep together, eat together (and they eat what is given) and engage with each other in many different ways.

My son started to brush his teeth properly and got potty trained much quicker. Just in three weeks, he got super extra mega independent politely declining his booster seat, instead, he preferred just regular chair; and he started to ask to put him in his cot, he didn’t see the point of me singing a lullaby to him anymore.

2. Childminder

Childminder service is quite similar to the nursery. The main difference is that childminders receive children in their homes. Recently, lots of childminders shut down due to the fact that the government puts more and more restrictions and paperwork to be done. As a result, many childminders find it difficult to keep up with documentation and still be able to focus on kids.

baby routine with childminder, sleeping, taing a nap in a travel cot in childminder's house

To be honest, when I started to search for childcare, I was sure I would go for a childminder. However, it didn’t happen for several reasons. The majority of childminders do not have a sufficient number of children, and usually they come in different ages, for example, most of them had only a few coming part-time and some age three to five as full-time. This didn’t work for us in terms of socializing, the gap seemed to be too big.

The childminder is allowed to look after not more than six children up to the age of eight. Of these, a maximum of three can be under-fives, who are classed as “young children” and a single childminder can only have one child under one year old. This ratio includes the childminder’s own children if they are under age eight.

The other reason was that I found their homes too small, not clean enough or lack of facilities. Don’t take me wrong, I still think a childminder is a great option, however, all good childminders should be contacted way in advance, and most likely you will be asked to join their waitlist. The option I liked the most was childminders who operate with one childcare assistant or more. This way they can accept more children at once, and it feels like a little nursery. They usually speak different languages there and have additional classes, such as yoga, art, singing, etc.

toddler playing with toys

Why choose a childminder?

Childminder’s biggest advantage is that it feels like you are at home. Fewer kids (but not always), better care in terms of special requirements of food, nappies change, naps, etc. However, I must admit the nurseries I have visited always asked me about my baby’s routine and were likely to edit his diet routine if necessary.

Childminders also are able to take easy advantage of real-life learning experiences like outings to the park and library. For our understanding, childminder is more like a personal nanny. In case if I was on a business trip and my husband needed to pick Teo later than usual, childminders wouldn’t have a problem with that. Also, they could always offer nights out or evening babysitting services.

3. Au-pair/ Private and shared nannies

Private nanny is the most expensive option in London. There are some workarounds, such as

  • Contracting a shared nanny. Some nannies offer to look after your kids together with their own; some families join together, choose the house and hire one nanny for both kids;
  • Contracting a nanny from overseas as an au-pair. Usually, families prefer to choose one from their own country. In this case, they offer a place to live and food to eat massively cutting down their childcare cost;
  • Some families use childcare services only a few days a week, the rest is up to child’s grannies. Perfect case scenario, isn’t it? Unless you are an expat and have no one but yourself.

Why choose a nanny?

One big advantage of nannies is that they become a family member. Not only they can help with babysitting long hours, some nights or weekends if necessary, they also will be there for your child when he is sick. This is important in case if your job doesn’t pay you sick leaves.

Although there are a lot of childcare options to choose from, it is important to search for the legally registered childcare in London. The best way to do so is to register with They provide you with thousands of registered babysitters, nannies, childminders, nurseries, au-pairs, out of school clubs, private tutors, doulas and much more. They also offer childcare jobs.

The site is the jewel as I find it quite practical in use. Apart from being able to search for the right person or place near your home, some of the profiles have got reviews from other parents, and that makes it all different in terms of trustworthiness.

The free version of the site is a bit limited in use. If you are serious about finding the right nurse for your baby, you should go for a monthly subscription of 24.99£. You will be able to text unlimited messages and make unlimited calls to find the right person for your little one. The subscription can be canceled at any time after you believe you don’t need this service anymore and renewed when you need it again.

The other good option is to check your London Borough. As you google your postcode, you will be able to find the council that is responsible for your area. They usually have information on childcare. Southwark Council offers lists of childminder and nursery services, however, Barnet isn’t this rich in terms of information. So, I assume it all depends.

What certificates, registrations, and checks should I enquire with childcare institutions?

All nurseries’ staff, childminder, nanny or any person who is somehow involved in work with children even if he/she is on a freelance basis, should be DBS checked. The other important thing to check is an Ofsted registration.

It is important to know that every nurse or nanny should obtain relevant qualifications to work at the nursery or as a childminder, such as a Level 3 in a recognized childcare qualification and GCSEs in Maths and English at A* to C grades. Every nursery should have their staff achieving Level 3 and Level 2 qualifications. Besides everyone must have an emergency pediatric first aid or full pediatric first aid certificate to be eligible to work with kids.

In addition, they should undertake regular CPD which may include workshops, online training, reading childcare magazines, etc. As far as I know, every nursery closes twice a year for staff training for one day each time.

You have the full right to ask for all documentation. But no worries, I have been given it immediately without even asking. This is how important it is to have those documents.

What are the ratios of staff to children?

  • Under two-year-olds ratios are 1:3 (one qualified nurse for three children);
  • Two-year-olds – 1:4;
  • Three and over – 1:13 where a person with Qualified Teacher Status, Early Years Professional Status or Early Years Teacher Status is working directly with children or, if they are not, ratios are 1:8.

How nursery costs vary across London?

So, how much does childcare cost in London? Based on areas we have lived in and research we have made, North part of London is considered to be more expensive than the South, however, South-West is one of the most expensive regions. Also, nurseries are cheaper in East London and more expensive in West London.

Nanny share works out a bit more expensive than nursery in the cheaper parts of town, but roughly the same in the more expensive areas.

In our opinion, South-East London in the Peckham area is the cheapest one. This area is best for kids in terms of the number of children’s centers, libraries, leisure cities, and overall kids’ activities for free. Comparing North-West and South-East, we could easily save up to 700£ per month.
In general, the childcare costs vary from 650£ to 2000£ per month for a London nursery, where the optimal price ranges from £1000 to £1500 per month.

Childcare funding is available too. You can read all the details on the official website.

What to look for?

Babies and toddlers need to be able to form a secure bond with their carer and have plenty of focused attention, so look for a child carer who’s warm and affectionate and readily available to meet their needs.
Other signs of high-quality care include:

  • a safe, hygienic environment;
  • plenty of good quality toys, equipment and resources and lots of opportunities for play and learning, inside and out;
  • structured days and an organized, well-managed setting;
  • nutritious food and enjoyable, sociable mealtimes;
  • positive interactions – plenty of praise, encouragement and laughter;
  • parents fully involved and consulted in their children’s care.

Why is it good to send my child to childcare?

I believe every parent knows when it is right for them and their child to get separated in a certain way. When my child was 15 months old, I started to notice he got easily bored with me, so I had to take him out to parks a lot. Since we lived in Mexico, we didn’t have lots of friends or opportunities to visit playgroups. The best option was to try out a nursery for just a few hours a day, which we did. My kid was happy, I had four hours a day to work, we were happy to spend afternoons together and visit swim classes occasionally – it was a win-win for all of us. It was good preparation for a full-time nursery in London, as I knew, the day I have to go back to work would come soon.

Judging by what changes I see in my child, childcare is a great source of letting your little one socialize with the outside world. It is important to let him develop his independence, as along with it he will develop a high level of security.

As been previously mentioned, every nursery and childminder must proceed with the special education development program. There are tons of games, toys, equipment, and resources to play and learn with every day.

Our nursery has a special online platform where we are able to watch videos and photos of what our baby was busy playing. Some of the things they let him play with I never knew existed.

On the other side, children build their immunity by interacting with others. They might get sick slightly more often, but then they seem healthier in their school age.

Of course, you may say, “I can do all of these and even more by visiting children’s centers and getting him to all these free activities. We can arrange swim classes during the weekdays, attend special events and theatres. Besides, nobody is going to look after my child like I do.” And you will be 100% right. But you should also think about yourself, your sanity and your family as a whole. It is not a bad idea to keep you to yourself occasionally, have your own space, get out of the house, build your career and become a working mom. At the end of the day, “ if mom is happy, everyone is happy!”

Wish you to spend magical days with your baby and family!
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