1. Look for a stimulating environment which is planned and organised for the children. Look at it at the level of your child. Does it look interesting and does it change with the child’s interest. Is there plenty of children’s work rather than teacher’s work on display?
2. Books and equipment should be available for the children to use. There should be reference, story and music books and the equipment should be used imaginatively. Equipment and books should not appear ‘uncared for’.
3. There should be plenty of space and time to play outside, with direct access from the building. Gleaming swings are less important than space to run around and perhaps blankets and boxes should be available to make dens and trigger imaginative play. Places to investigate, or dig in, are more stimulating to curious minds than trikes. If children appear over excited when they go outside it is usually a sign that they don’t get out enough and that there are not sufficiently interesting things outside to do. Children should choose whether they want to go outside.
4. What do they do during a typical session or day? It’s a deceptively simple question but would you like to spend the session doing it and does your child like the sound and look of it?
5. Is there provision for exploration of different kinds? For example, scientific investigation – what things dissolve in water or what things sink and float. Are children allowed to work things out for themselves or is the teacher always giving them tasks to do, showing them what to do or even doing it for them?
6. There should be plenty of time for children to follow their own interests and there should not be many interruptions to the sessions.
7. Can the children make models by themselves using glue, tape and scissors or are the models mostly done by the adults? Is there plenty of access to paints, crayons, dough and clay?
8. What do the adults mostly do and say? Are they warm and respectful to the children, do they facilitate and explain clearly? Do they look as if they are enjoying working and playing with the children? Check out the qualifications of the staff. Remember that Nursery Education means that a qualified nursery/infant teacher must be part of the staff team.
9. Is water and sand play available and can the staff explain why these are important media for children to explore, play with and learn through or do they just say that the children enjoy playing with them?
10. What are the children already like? They should be friendly, open and natural. You should feel uneasy if it is too quiet or too noisy. The children should be relaxed, but purposeful. A few children may seem to be doing nothing. They may be learning by watching others.
11. Aim to visit a couple of sessions or stay for a whole session. Alarm bells should ring if this is not acceptable to the staff. Take your child with you but work in a visit on your own as well so that you can concentrate on asking questions and hearing answers.
Information gathered from NCRNE.
“She is so positive and happy when we talk about playgroup at home which shows how much she feels comfortable and settled.”