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What do parents want in a nursery setting?

Struggling to fill your places? Sarah Ockwell-Smith shares the six key concerns of discerning mums and dads…

Sarah Ockwell-Smith
by Sarah Ockwell-Smith
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I recently asked a group of 20 working parents what they most wanted from their child’s nursery.

Their responses all echoed the same six themes – so how many of the following are you paying attention to?

1. Show empathy

The more empathy shown the better – to parents, children and fellow staff members. Parents want staff to know how difficult it is to leave their children in somebody else’s care while they go to work.

Several described wanting staff to know how much trust they’ve had to place in them. Parents also want nursery staff to model empathy to each other, in order that their children grow up around good role models. They are concerned that children should be supported with their feelings, whatever those feelings may be. Their hopes are that crying children are cuddled and angry children are sat with and soothed while they calm down.

2. Be flexible

Nurseries should treat children and their families as individuals, and appreciate that all children are different, with different needs at different times. Parents are concerned that staff should respect their unique parenting styles and beliefs. They want their children to be given flexibility to move, play, drink, eat and sleep when they need to – not when a setting schedules. These times will naturally look different for each child and will change on a daily basis. Finally, parents want staff to encourage independence at the child’s pace, especially when it comes to dropping off and settling in.

3. Build a bond

The idea of children being treated as if they were at home crops up lots. Parents want more hugging and less hot-housing; a strong attachment with one member of staff, but good natural relationships with all. They want small staff-child ratios, less structure and schedule, and more free play.

4. Tell it like it is

Parents want to know all about their child’s day, even if it doesn’t seem as if anything important has happened to staff. They want more photographs and conversation, and less written correspondence. They also want to be told the truth, even if that truth hurts. If their child cried all morning after they left, they don’t want to be told she didn’t cry for long at all. If their child hurt himself, or hurt another, they want to know.

5. Embrace nature

The only point raised concerning the physical environment was voiced repeatedly. Parents uniformly want their children to spend as much time in a natural environment as possible. They want the nursery to be home-like: soft cushions, rugs and sofas, soft lighting and calm sounds with no bright lights or hustle and bustle. Nature itself matters; the ideal is free access to the outdoors all day in a natural environment, no paving or climbing frames – trees and grass top the wish list, with a forest school being the ultimate dream.

6. Love what you do

When it comes to personal attributes, passion and patience are key. Parents also want staff to be as informed as possible, especially when it comes to current understanding of child psychology and neuroscience. Knowledge of attachment theory and the clash with many common discipline methods used in nurseries was mentioned repeatedly, along with a good understanding of the developing brain and having appropriate expectations of child behaviour, based on this knowledge.

Above all, though, parents want practitioners who enjoy working in the nursery – this passion and love for the job is what they appreciate most.

Sarah Ockwell-Smith is a parenting expert, author and mother of four.

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