The Blands

The great nursery debate


If given the choice, is nursery care a good or bad idea for under twos? Steve Bland takes on the great nursery debate.

We’ve always been really lucky when it comes to childcare options. My parents live a short walk from our house and right from the point when Rachael returned to work after maternity leave, they have always been delighted to have Fred whenever they can and whenever we need them. They’ve raised my sister and I, and have looked after her three children when required so they know the drill.

While I have the chance I should say that they’re fantastic. Never too tired to play with our little ball of energy and always happy to be on call as early as required. With the trials and tribulations we’ve been going through of late, they, and Rachael’s mum, have been a huge support.

The other reason that we’re so glad to have a flexible childcare arrangement is because nursery is so bloomin expensive. I mean, come on... £50 a day!? Even with my limited mathematical knowledge I can work out that, that adds up to a pretty penny when multiplied over the course of a working month.

But obviously with this, you do get some positives I think. You see, we’re desperate, as all good parents are, to give our little guy the very best start in life. We want him to be articulate, well rounded and most of all, happy. But with academics and childcare experts seemingly split down the middle on the benefits of nurseries for children under the age of two, what are we to do?

The case for nurseries

The argument goes that at nursery, your child is exposed to a far greater variety of social options, situations and people, than he or she would be with a stay-at-home mum, father, or grandparent. 

It might well be true. I haven’t been into a nursery for toddlers but I imagine the fall-back position isn’t to reach for Fireman Sam or Teletubbies on the iPad. With enough staff on hand, I’m sure there’s no shortage of stimulants. Once they’ve settled down and got over any initial trepidation there’s bound to be plenty of adventure and excitement to be found!

Little ones eat their meals together at nursery and that must be good for their interaction skills although to be fair, I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of genuine interaction at 18 months. Anecdotally, the babies/toddlers that I come into contact with who have been spending time in nurseries maybe do have slightly more advanced speech than Fred.

I guess there’s also benefit in happy separation. We want Fred to grow up as a confident and independent young man and learning to be content without a parent or grandparent is a good thing.

The case against nurseries

On that last point – and I should say, I read it in another blog extolling the virtues of nurseries – I’m not sure how independent a child needs to be before they’re two.

Another alternative case was put a couple of years ago, albeit in rather extreme terms, by a Swedish childcare expert named Jonas Himmelstrand. Speaking about the system in his country, where the state heavily subsidises childcare, Mr Himmlestrand told a committee of UK MPs that long hours spent in nurseries or with childminders could lead to mental health problems and difficulties at school for children.

“Swedish schools have among the highest truancy, the greatest classroom disorder, the most damage to property and the most offensive language of all comparable nations. I would urge policy makers in the UK to rethink their approach to childcare. Emulating the Swedish approach, where both the staff-to-child ratio and the number of hours children spend in day care are both increasing, is not the answer and is actually damaging to your children’s future.”

Now I’m not saying we’re heading for a childcare crisis here but I think the point Mr Himmelstrand is driving at is that if we insist on putting our children into nursery rather than take responsibility ourselves, it could cause some problems.

There must be benefit in children spending quality time with their parents and/or grandparents, right?!

Our decision

Emulating Sweden aside, my own feeling is that Fred is getting a wonderful education and a thrill-a-minute childhood the way things are at the moment. He’s only 19 months old so he’s got plenty of time. I would never think of criticising anyone who chose to go down the nursery route but I just don’t think it’s for us at the moment.

I guess the majority of parents don’t have their own parents so close as us, and that plays a huge part. The money is important too but I think that if we thought Fred was missing out by not going to nursery, we’d find the cash to make it happen.