Your child's first day at Nursery can be a daunting prospect for both you and your child, but our advice will help to ensure that your experience of Nursery is a happy one from the start.
Boost your child's social confidence
Socialising with other children is a skill that has to be learnt gradually and some children will find this easier than others. If you can introduce your child to the idea of sharing and taking turns before they start at Nursery, they'll find the whole experience less daunting. Don't expect great things at first; children usually play alongside each other rather than together until they are around three years old. Although you don't need to stand over young children while they play, you need to be close by to step in if they start to squabble over toys. If you don't have a network of other parents with children the same age as yours, joining a parent and toddler group is a great way to introduce your child to socialising while you keep a watchful eye.
Time away from parents
It will be easier for your child to settle at Nursery if they have gradually got used to being left with other carers, such as grandparents, relatives and friends. Start off by leaving your child for short periods (an hour while you go shopping, for example) and then gradually build it up until your child is happy to be left for a whole morning or an afternoon without you.
"When you are choosing a Nursery, it's usually best to visit it without your child the first time," says Diane Rich at Early Education, an organisation which promotes quality in early years education. "The next time take your child with you and see how he responds to the environment and watch how the carers interact with him." After your visits, talk positively about Nursery, the activities that go on, the other children and the staff. Chat through any worries your child has before they start for real.
We encourage you to have started toilet training with your child, in preparation for them starting at Nursery. We understand, however, that not all children will be fully able to use the toilet independently and we are prepared for occasional accidents. We don't expect children to always remember to use the toilet - they'll get plenty of gentle reminders. We will fully support your child during their time toilet training. Pack spare pants and a change of clothes in your child's bag just in case, and reassure your child that no-one will be cross if they do have an accident.
Practise at home with a little knife and fork, but don't expect your child to be able to cut up their own food - we will help with this. Make sure you tell the Nursery staff about any strong dislikes your child has, and any food allergies or intolerances.
On the first day
Allow plenty of time. The chances are, your child won't be prepared for you to just drop them off and leave on the first day, so be prepared to hang around until they are settled.
You'll probably be feeling just as anxious and emotional as they are, but try to stay cheery and confident - children pick up on your feelings of apprehension.
Explain to your child when you'll be back - don't fob your child off with fibs such as "Mummy's just going to move the car" when you make your exit. Tell your child you'll be back after snack/story time.
Leave your contact number with staff in case they need to call you.
If your child cries and won't let you leave, ask us for advice. In most cases we'll ask you to stay for a while with your child in the early days.
When you've said your goodbyes, try not to worry. If there is a problem, you'll be contacted, but in most cases your child will be enjoying their exciting new experience.
Borrow some books to help
Visit your local library and borrow some books on starting Nursery, such as Going to Playschool by Sarah Garland. When you've read them, talk to your child about all the fun activities they might be doing at Nursery, such as playing outside on bikes, painting pictures, playing with sand and water, making models, singing rhymes, baking cakes and building with bricks and lego.
Problems settling in?
Some children find the experience of starting Nursery stressful and still won't settle after a few weeks. Don't worry and don't blame yourself - just accept that children are all individuals and your child will get there in the end.
Find out from your child's key carer what happens once you've left. Do they continue crying inconsolably throughout the session or do they perk up 10 minutes later once they're distracted by an activity?
Try building up sessions gradually. Start with just 30 minutes and build up the time gradually each week until they're able to stay a whole session without you.
Try staying with your child for the session, moving away once they become engaged with an activity, but not leaving the room.
Some children will settle better if you keep your goodbyes brief - lingering may only make the whole process more painful for your both.
Don't fret about letters and numbers
We all want our children to do well, but we do not expect your child to have a good grasp of letters and numbers when they start. "It's easy to confuse what you want from early years education with what you will later want from a school," says childcare expert Penelope Leach in The New Your Baby and Child. "Young children learn by playing and therefore optimal learning means being encouraged to play." This doesn't mean your child will have free, undirected play throughout the session - we balance child-initiated play with short and fun key carer activities that are suitable for your child's level of development and will help them to learn through playing.
If you want to encourage your child's learning at home, it helps to make it fun: play games of I-Spy to associate sounds and letters; encourage number recognition by counting everyday objects like red cars in the street; bake cakes to find out about weighing and measuring; give your child dressing up clothes to encourage role-play games; let your child paint, scribble and draw so that they develop pencil control to help with writing later on.