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How To Choose The Right Childcare For My Toddler

Picking the right childcare for your toddler can be a bit of a head scratcher.

How do you know if your child will like it? Do they cover the hours that you’ll need? What will it cost you? There are loads of options so we’ll help you weigh them up, ask the right questions and make a decision that suits your family. 

Where do I start? 

There are pros and cons to different kinds of childcare. And it comes down to what you need childcare for (for example if you need to cover specific working hours) and what you think would best suit your toddler. 


Type of childcare 

Good bits 

Bad bits 


Registered childminders have a body that overlooks their work. 

Childcare in their own home, usually with a handful of kids so can be a good setting if you have a nervous toddler or a child with certain needs. 

They work for themselves so take care of their tax and NI contributions. 

You should be able to pay some or all of their fees using Tax Free Childcare (they must be registered). 

Most offer very flexible hours and can do pick up/drop offs from playgroups or nursery. 

You can use your free hours if you get them. 

If they get sick or have holidays then you’ll need to sort other childcare arrangements, sometimes at short notice. 

Depending on their set up your child might not get access to the same variety of activities as in a nursery. 


Most nurseries cover standard working hours.

If the nursery is run by your work or the local authority then fees can be cheaper.

You can use your free hours if you get them. And you might be able to get other help to pay through childcare vouchers and Working Tax Credit.

The chance to socialise with lots of children and experience a wide range of activities. 

Usually more expensive than childminders and you often have to pay sign up fees, or continue paying even when your child is off. 

If you work shifts or any job that’s not 9-5 then it might not work for you. 


They can live in or out but they take care of your toddler in your home. 

If they’re Ofsted registered then you might be able to cover part of their fees with childcare vouchers and Working Tax Credit.

A one on one relationship can be really nurturing. 

Complete flexibility for your working pattern and childcare needs. 

They work for you so you’ll have to deal with their tax, national insurance contributions and pension.

If they get sick or have holidays then you’ll need to sort other childcare arrangements, sometimes at short notice.


Au pair 

They usually live with you and can do around 30 hours of childcare a week. 

More like a member of the family so you don’t need to worry about national insurance contributions or tax. They’re paid a lot less than a nanny. 

If they get sick or have holidays then you’ll need to sort other childcare arrangements, sometimes at short notice.

You’ll have to give them their own room and feed them. 

They often only stay for a year or less which can be hard if your toddler gets attached. 

You can’t use childcare vouchers or Working Tax Credit to pay them. 

Nursery school 

Usually attached to a local primary school or pre-school and often run by the local authority. 

They’re (mostly) free. 

Run more like a school so a great intro to primary for your toddler. 

You can use your free hours. 

Only for 3-5 year olds and you’ll need cover in the school holidays. 


You could also think about preschools and playgroups where you can use your free hours. They generally run 3 hour morning or afternoon sessions but only during term time so you’ll need cover in school holidays. 

There are still some childcare sessions available at Sure Start Centres but sadly not as many as a few years ago. 

You could also consider using friends or family but there are some rules you have to follow and it’s worth weighing up the impact on your overall relationship. 

How do I pick between them? 

  • Start with what you need. What hours do you need to cover? What location would be best for you (near home? Near work?). What’s your ideal setting for your toddler (big groups, home type setting). Then you can narrow down your options. 
  • Next, do some research on what’s in your local area on the government website or sites like Coram. You can ask other parents you know and friends and family for their suggestions. Local childminders sometimes put notices up in libraries or community hubs and post on Facebook. 
  • Then you need to visit these places (or interview a nanny or au pair). Make sure you ask about costs (including if you can use free hours etc), what experience they have, how they expect to manage and interact with your child, how they deal with any issues that come up, their approach to discipline, what activities your toddler will do, exactly who will look after them, and all the practical stuff around naps, meals and toileting. 
  • If they’re Ofsted registered you can check their rating. If it’s a childminder, nanny or au pair ask for references.  
  • Lots of nurseries and childminders are booked up months or years in advance so it’s never too soon to start thinking about childcare. 

Can I get any help to pay for childcare? 

Yes. Childcare is going to swallow up some of your income for a while but there is some help out there. 

There’s Tax Free Childcare for working families, free childcare hours when your little one turns 2 and for some people Working Tax Credit, Universal Credit for childcare and support while you study. 

You can find more detail at Childcare Choices. 

Don’t forget this is your choice, and you have to pick what’s right for your child. And you can always change the setting if it doesn’t work! 

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