When should Babies start Nursery?

The question of what age you should send your child to nursery is one that parents have been asking for decades. The UK government funds nursery places for children aged between three and four years, which might suggest this is a good age to start children at nursery. However, for most parents this is too simplistic a conclusion that doesn’t fully take into account your child’s personality and development, or your family circumstances.

Often the right time for babies to start nursery is determined by when parents want or need to return to work after maternity or paternity leave. In other cases parents might choose to send their children to help them socialise and prepare for school.

What are the Options in Terms of Age? 

It is normal for parents to return to work quickly nowadays, and the Department for Work and Pensions says that 76% of mothers now return to work within 12-18 months of having a child. After grandparents, day nurseries are the most popular form of childcare for children under three. If you want or need to return to work, what are your options?

Babies aged 0 – 1

Some nurseries offer childcare from birth, but the youngest babies usually start nursery is approximately three months old. If you need to send your child to nursery at this age, check that the nursery you choose has experience with newborns and that they meet certain government standards. For example, there are recommended ratios for the amount of children to adults: for babies aged 0-2 years it is one adult to every three babies.

Between 1 and 2

In 1981, less than a quarter of women returned to work after giving birth; now that figure is just over three quarters. There is research that suggests that toddlers starting nursery after being home since birth experience high levels of stress in the first weeks of being separated from their parents. One study conducted by Cambridge University found that levels of the stress hormone cortisol doubled in children during the first nine days of childcare without their mother present, compared to the level they had before going to nursery. The levels fell but were still higher five months later, even though the children outwardly appeared settled and happy at nursery.

However, the authors of the study concluded that this didn’t mean that daycare was bad for children of this age. Their conclusion was that children need extra time and attention when returning home in order to bring them back to ‘emotional equilibrium’ ready for the next day. This shows that when choosing a nursery for your child, it’s important to find one that has strategies in place to minimise the stress toddlers experience when transitioning from home care to daycare.

Between 2 and 3

The majority of children start nursery between the ages of 2 and 3. By this age children are independent and curious, and are growing more interested in other children. These are all signs that your child is ready to start nursery and begin socialising with other kids. Plus, there is evidence to suggest that starting nursery before the age of 3 is beneficial to your child’s development. A government-funded study found that children who began nursery at this age perform better in primary school than those who went to school when they were younger or older.

3 and over

Whilst most children begin nursery before the age of 3, it doesn’t mean that your child has to, or that they have to go to nursery at all. Plenty of children are cared for at home until they are ready to start primary school aged 4 or over. However, parents often choose to send their children to daycare at this age because from the first school term after their child’s third birthday, parents are eligible for at least ten hours of free preschool childcare each week, funded by the government. 

What are the Benefits of Sending your Child to Nursery?

Parents often feel guilty about sending their children to nursery, even if it’s necessary so they can return to work and be able to provide for their family. However, there are plenty of benefits to attending nursery. For example, Kathy Sylva, a professor of educational psychology at Oxford University, has said that children who start attending nursery before the age of 2 go on to form better relationships at primary school. Here are some more plus points.

Nursery helps prepare your child for school

Nursery helps children to be confident in relating to other adults and being in a learning environment. This environment supports them in developing skills such as knowing when to ask to go to the toilet and washing their hands. Children will also gain experience in sharing and taking turns without throwing a tantrum.

Nursery helps children develop social skills

Socialising with other kids is vital for your child’s development. Going to nursery helps them develop their social skills and learn how to make friends before they arrive at school. If both school and nursery are local to your home they may even have some friends already, which will help them settle in quicker.

Nursery is good for parents too

Nursery practitioners will be able to give your children the best possible care whilst you do what you need to do to be a great parent, whether this is going to work, doing a food shop or simply having a well-earned rest. Professional practitioners can also offer advice and opinions on your child’s development.

Deciding what age is right to send your child to nursery is a very personal choice, depending on when you need to return to work and what you feel is best for your child. The most important thing to bear in mind is that you don’t need to feel guilty, whatever age your child is. As long as you choose a good nursery, your child will be well looked after and will continue to develop in a happy and healthy way.

When should Babies start Nursery?