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Choosing early learning and childcare outside the home that's right for your child is an important decision to make. There's a huge amount of choice out there, from nurseries to playgroups to childminders.

Most childcare providers must be registered with the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) but there are some types of childcare that do not need to be registered.

Pre-school playgroups provide care for children between the ages of two-and-a-half and five years. They are usually open during term-time only and offer sessions of around three hours in length.

You can search for pre-school playgroups using our online directory.

Playgroup facts

  • Most pre-school playgroups provide early education for children between three and five years old.
  • Groups are organised by the community or voluntary sector on a not-for-profit basis, often with help from parents.
  • They offer sessions from two-and-a-half to four hours, during term time, either every day or for a few days a week.
  • Your child should experience learning and development activities suitable for their age.
  • Pre-schools are a good way of extending your childcare and some are developing their services to offer longer sessions of full-time day care.
  • A registered pre-school is regularly inspected by Ofsted to check on the quality of the care and to ensure that the free part-time early education (if provided) is satisfactory.
  • Most pre-schools will provide places for around 25 children. 
  • There should be one member of staff for every eight children aged three to five.
  • Most staff are trained to work with children or are part-qualified to do so.

Is it for me?

The answer is 'yes', if you:

  • think it's great that your child will mix and make friends with other children.
  • don't want to leave your child for longer than you need to.
  • want your child to have access to different toys, equipment and stimulation.
  • have a childminder who can take your child to pre-school (they can supplement existing childcare arrangements).

Questions to ask when choosing a pre-school playgroup

  • What qualifications do staff hold?
  • Can you talk me through the learning and developmental activities my child will take part in?
  • How will I find out how well my child is settling in?
  • Can I stay and join in at least two sessions to be sure this type of care is right for my child?
  • Is the building/room safe and well kept (especially if it is used for other purposes e.g. a church hall)?
  • Are there lots of toys and equipment?
  • Will you keep a daily record of what they've done?
  • Are the children well supervised?

Other things to remember

  • Make sure that the leader is suitably qualified. The national standards state they should have a level three qualification in early years care and education, plus trained assistant staff.
  • Check facilities are of a high standard.
  • There should be a quiet time area for sitting-down activities (such as playing with construction toys, puzzles, drawing and story times), an area for free play, and an area for more physical play like pram pushing.