Childcare options

Good quality childcare and early education is not only good for children; it gives parents more freedom to work, study or train for a job too. But juggling work and bringing up children isn't easy. If you're struggling with this, you're not alone.

There are lots of different options to consider when choosing childcare. It's up to you as a mum, dad or carer to choose what you feel is right for your family and child. When choosing childcare, try and give yourself enough time to visit several possible options to get a good idea of what may suit your child. It can be a good idea to take your child with you to see how they interact with staff and their reactions to the setting. Try to go when children are there so you can see if they are settled, confident and involved in a variety of activities.

All childcare providers are registered with Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills) if they operate more than 2 hours per day. This means that they are inspected against a set of national standards. You can access a copy of a childcare providers latest report through the Ofsted website. You can also ask a provider if you want to see a copy of their latest inspection report.

For more information relating to childcare and how to reduce your costs, you can also visit



Childminders are trained, self-employed carers largely based in their own homes. They are registered with Ofsted and both the childminder and their home are regularly inspected. A childminder can work with up to 2 other childminders or childminding assistants. The exact number of children a childminder can care for is regulated by Ofsted. The maximum number one childminder can care for is six children that are under eight-years-old. Childminders work across a range of hours so can often be worth exploring if your working day doesn’t fit the 9-5, Monday to Friday pattern or if you have children of different ages and you want them to be looked after together. You may also want your child to be cared for in a home environment by just one person. Childminder charges vary across the city, so it’s best to check. Prices may include food, nappies and trips/outings etc; however some may charge additional fees for these extras.

Childminders are able to offer the funded early years entitlement. Not all childminders offer this so it is best to check that your childminder does offer a funded place.

Day nurseries

Day nurseries offer childcare and, in some cases, funded early years entitlement. They are for children between the ages of six weeks and five years and many offer out-of-school care for five to 11-year-olds. Opening times tend to coincide with a standard working day, 8am to 6pm on weekdays. Day nurseries charges and opening times vary, so it’s best to check.

Nursery schools and classes

Nursery schools offer funded early years entitlement and are for children between the ages of three and five. They are open during school hours, normally only in term time for full or half-day sessions. Nurseries are free if part of a state education system (excluding meals and trips) but private ones charge per term. As always it is best to check with the school you’re interested in.

Pre-school and playgroups

Organised by community or voluntary groups, often with the help of parents, these offer funded early years entitlement places. They give your child access to different resources, equipment and activities and ensure they mix with other children. Sessions usually last between two to six hours although some may be open for longer hours, and take place either every day or several days a week, usually during term time. Some sessions may run over meal times, where children can bring in packed lunches or food is provided. They are for children aged between two and five years and costs vary, so please check.

Before and after school or out-of-school care

Some clubs are open before and after school and all day during school holidays. They offer a quiet space for catching up with homework as well as plenty of fun activities for children between the ages of three to 14-years-old (and up to 16 for children with special needs). Many breakfast, after school and holiday play schemes are linked to schools. Some of which offer a variety of activities on top of the normal school day such as music, art, sport or additional study support. Costs vary, so please check.

Other options

  • Shared Parental Leave
  • Nannies and au-pairs - provide childcare in your own home and can look after children of any age.
  • Crèches - provide occasional care for children under eight.
  • Babysitting - A babysitter is someone who looks after your children in your own home for short periods of time. Most parents need to use a babysitter at some stage whether it is to enjoy some free social time in the evening or to attend an appointment during the day. Babysitters are not regulated so it's completely up to parents to ensure they are happy and comfortable with who they use as a babysitter. Some Ofsted registered childminders offer this service, so if you are looking for an Ofsted registered provider who offers babysitting, get in touch.

Questions to consider and things to look for when visiting childcare providers

Everyone wants the best quality childcare and education, but how do you know what to look for? One way is through the Ofsted inspections which check that a provider is meeting the national standards. You can get a copy of a childcare providers latest report through the Ofsted website; by asking the childcare provider for a copy of their latest inspection or by contacting York Family Information Service.

Here are some suggested questions to ask when you visit. Add your own questions as well:

  1. What experience have you or the staff team in working with children?
  2. What qualifications or experience do you have?
  3. Have you any skills, experience or qualifications that support specific ages, needs or vulnerable groups?
  4. What do you enjoy about working with children and why?
  5. What is the role of the key person? How does the key person system work?
  6. Can I look around the building to see the rooms and outside provision?
  7. Where will my child rest or sleep? How will this be monitored and recorded?
  8. What food and drink will be provided? Request a copy of a sample menu.
  9. What activities and experiences will my child have access to, as part of their daily routine?
  10. How do you promote positive behaviour?
  11. Will my child be with a regular group of children? How old are they?
  12. How will you share information about my child on a regular basis?

What does quality childcare look like?

When you visit possible childcare options, look for these Quality Pointers. You could add your own as well:

  1. Are the children calm, safe and happy?
  2. Do children play and talk together?
  3. Are the staff listening to the children and answering them carefully?
  4. Are the staff friendly and proud of their work?
  5. Are the staff joining in with what the children are doing?
  6. Are there plenty of clean toys and equipment for children to use? Does this include messy play, sand and water?
  7. Are the resources and equipment clean and well maintained? 
  8. Are the premises clean, well-kept and safe for children with a fun outside play area (or will children go to parks and other places regularly)?
  9. Do parents have plenty of chances to say what they want for their children?
  10. How will you track and keep me informed about my child's progress?

Getting to know your child

Talk to the setting about what they will do to understand your child’s needs. Will they meet with you and your child before starting to use the childcare? Do they offer settling in sessions so you can see how it works before fully committing?

All childcare should have

Trained or experienced staff

Working with children is a skilled and demanding job. Training gives people skills and confidence. It helps staff to deliver a top quality service to your family. Many excellent childcare staff don’t have formal qualifications but lots of experience and enthusiasm.

Staff need: 

  • To respond to your child as an individual
  • To plan activities and play to help your child learn
  • To help your child be safe and secure
  • To communicate well with your child and with you
  • To respect your family’s culture, religion or language
  • To be enthusiastic about their important job

Safe and clean premises

Children deserve comfortable, well-equipped premises which are carefully looked after. Children should be able to see toys, books and fun equipment and reach some of it themselves. Fresh, healthy food and snacks should be available. Equipment for disabled children and those with additional needs is likely to be popular with all the children. When children are asked what they like best about childcare, they often talk about their friends and the garden or outside space. Your child should be in a place which is:

  • Bright and cheerful
  • Clean
  • Friendly for children with some child-sized equipment
  • Fun activities planned each day

When children feel safe and happy they are learning all the time. All children learn at different rates and so activities need to be planned with the needs of each child in mind. Childcare staff should plan the day’s activities before children arrive. Children enjoy making friends with other children. This is much easier if children attend the childcare service regularly and know who and what to expect each day. Make sure the childcare you choose provides plenty of encouragement for your child whatever his/her age, gender or abilities.