Here’s my list of questions for picking out a nursery school

questions for picking out a nursery school

I mentioned yesterday that I plan to put Harley into nursery/play school/creche from next year. I really think it’s the best thing for all of us; it will be nice for me to have time to get things done in the morning without her, she can have awesome stimulation and socializing time, and we can both have even more fun when we are together. Plus, I think I’ll be less stressed and chaotic and more able to be present with her, with Dean and with work stuff. So yeah, win win situation. Of course, I need to find the right school, which means asking the right questions for picking out a nursery school when I go and visit.

There are a few things that I know are different for me than some people, so this list might not be ideal for you but can at least give you a jumping off point. See, at this age, I don’t want any focus on “academics”. This is the time in her life when she is just supposed to play, not be made to sit down and actively learn. She will already be learning so much by playing, exploring new environments and interacting with different people. I also don’t want her exposed to religious education – theological education is fine, so if they celebrate all the holidays or all religions, I don’t mind, but it mustn’t be a religious school in the sense of teaching just one. Anyway, here are some of my questions for picking out a nursery school:

What is the child/carer ratio?

I don’t mind if not everyone is a qualified teacher. I’m happy with teacher’s aides, assistants or whatever else they want to call it. But I want to know how many adults will be on hand for every little person – they are hard enough to keep track of, once you add too many, things can get out of control. It’s the first step in knowing Harley will be safe in her school environment.

What sort of food is prepared/made available? Can Harley feed herself/continue with baby led weaning?

I’m not a sugar Nazi. As time goes by, I’m fine with Harley eating just about anything. BUT, I want the focus to be on healthy foods. Sure, the occasional junk food isn’t going to kill her, and I don’t want to create some sort of hype around sugar not being allowed, but at school I want her to eat mostly protein, veggies or fruit. Of course if they do baking or something, it will be awesome for her to have those cookies and I wouldn’t stress about it at all. However, if this place promotes home cooked meals for breakfast and lunch (which many of them do), I want to know what sort of food to expect and how it is presented to the kids, especially to ensure that Harley isn’t spoon-fed.

What extra fees can I expect?

Creche is expensive! I mean, I sorta knew it would be, but seeing those prices has made me terrified. I’m happy to pay it, though, if the school is everything I hope it will be for her and for me. However, I’m not happy with getting nursery school equivalent of microtransactions. Will I need to pay extra for food? For bakerman activities? For excursions? What if I’m running a few minutes late – do I pay extra if I don’t pick up Harley exactly on the dot? Assuming we emigrate in the middle of the year, how does that work with our financial obligation to them?

How do they deal with potty training?

Harley is still in nappies, obviously. She will probably still be in nappies for many more months to come. I don’t want to rush her – I’ve read enough Freud to know that’s a bad idea. But how do they do it with nappy changes and potty training? Do all the kids get changed together at the same time? Are little ones encouraged to try sitting on the toilet? What kind of changing facilities do they have and what will I need to send into school with her?

How do they deal with separation in the beginning?

Harley is often fine when I walk away from her. If she is busy with other stuff, she can be left with friends or family and not really cry for me or notice I’m gone. But sometimes, the moment I put her down, she gets upset and starts looking for me, crying for me. What do they do to minimize separation anxiety for the kids? Do they let parents stay until the kid is busy and then sneak out? Do they have a goodbye song? What is their approach?

What is the mix of kids in a class?

I want Harley to be exposed to as wide a variety of kids as possible. I’m hoping that there is plenty of racial diversity, as well as gender and class differences. It’s all about learning to play with different kids, and I don’t want her to be in a socially homogenous group.

How do they handle discipline?

Obviously corporal punishment isn’t allowed, but do kids get put in time out? Are privileges taken away? Do teachers raise their voices and yell at the little ones?

What range of facilities do they have?

Plenty of schools will tout their play areas, but really look at the types of play they allow for. Are there different types of costumes for playing dress up? Building blocks? Play kitchens and stores? How about swing sets and slides? Are kids encouraged to get messy and do finger painting or collage? What are the bathrooms/changing areas like? What does the kitchen look like?

What differentiates this school from others? What standards do they hold their teachers and administrators to?

There are so many schools around. In my area, I think I pass by about 10 on my day to day adventures. What sets this one apart? What is their ethos? How do they ensure that philosophy is carried out by their teachers and staff?

And finally – will my kid nap while she’s there?

I am fine if Harley naps or she doesn’t nap, but it will sort of determine what kind of afternoon I can expect if she gets rest or not during her morning at nursery school.

What do you think of this list? Do you think I’m missing some important questions for picking out a nursery school? What did you ask and what were some weird answers that you got when you were going through this?


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  • Guild

    No questions on daily growth/activity?
    What is their daily plan? Outside play area? Jungle gyms, etc? As Harley gets older what extra activities are available for toddlers like soccer starz, etc?
    Considering Harley’s age there will be cots provided (haven’t seen a crèche without them) but do you supply bedding or the crèche? How often is the bedding cleaned?
    As your child gets a bit older she gets attached to toys, what’s the policy on bringing a toy/stuffed animal to crèche? (Some crèches don’t mind others do)
    We been to 3 different crèches. Some prepared food and provided a weekly plan. Others requested we supply the food.
    We found separation in the beginning easy as our child didn’t fully grasp concept of time but as they got older and started to realize we weren’t there, we got the crying and clinging, etc. All crèches approached it same way. Give quick kiss and hug good bye then leave. Our 1st child got attached to a particular teacher which helped ease the process. Now it’s not a problem.
    How many sets of clothes do you need to supply in their daily bag?

    We asked a lot of questions. It’s not a quick and easy decision. We visited 4 crèches before we found one we liked.

    • Zoe Hawkins

      yes yes yes! definitely loads to ask about. I had a sense of the facilities and activities, but definitely good to explicitly ask. and yikes, now i’m afraid of dirty bedding!

  • Jonelle

    This is great. Oden won’t be going to school until he’s about 3 but I’m already stressed about finding the right one. I have similar ideas about what I want and I’m finding that in Cape Town, finding a school that has everything I want but it’s religious is tough.

    • Zoe Hawkins

      yeah, it’s crazy how with so many schools out there, finding the right one is still so tricky!

  • Gerard Janse Van Rensburg

    A definite question I would ask is what is their policy on vaccination? I definitely will never send my child to a school where unvaccinated are enrolled. That’s a a serious health risk one can easily avoid!

    • Zoe Hawkins

      OOOOH! Good one – adding it to my list 🙂

  • Naxie

    good questions from you and the ones who have responded……i was thinking a bit more about the cleanliness factor. when you go to top tots, they clean/sterilize every single toy that the kids touch – maybe that’s not necessary as harley gets older but since she’s still at the age where most everything she touches goes into her mouth, it would be nice to know how often and HOW they clean stuff – same with regard to their sanitary policy with regard to the nappy changing area…..

    most of all, however – as we’ve discussed – you will just KNOW if the place is right for harley or not…’s a gut feeling……you’re doing great!

    • Zoe Hawkins

      thanks so much! definitely plan on relying on my gut

  • You need to see how H responds to the space. We passed on a great on paper school because K wasn’t keen on it, whereas the one he as at he was clearly happy there. Ito the daily schedule someone else mentioned, the school should give you that info. Re the vaccination, our school gets the local clinic to make the rounds, so those you’re interested in might as well.

    • Zoe Hawkins

      yes – definitely about where Harley seems happy. kinda that gut feeling/vibe of it.

  • All great questions and from those in the comments too. I was such a newb when it came to checking out schools I had no set list of questions and really just went with my gut feel when I visited schools (I just turned up, I never made appointments, I can’t tell you how many didn’t like that they weren’t “at their best” to show me around) and asked as I was shown around.

    I would ask how they go about informing you of what happened each day or of any incidents etc – kids bite, scratch etc you need to know how that is dealt with and ensure you get told about it somehow.

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