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When choosing childcare you should first consider your child's needs and what services are available in your area. Would your child be happier with a childminder or would he or she prefer being looked after in a nursery?

CHILDMINDERS

Childminders are self-employed and look after children in their own home. They have to be registered with their local authority and should be subjected to inspection annually. As well as looking after the pre-school child, some offer childcare before or after school.

At the outset the childminder should be informed of the child's usual routine as well as its likes and dislikes so that both parties can settle into a good rapport in the shortest possible time.

NURSERIES

Nurseries look after and educate children up to the age of five. Most are run privately while others are overseen by the local authority and are often attached to primary schools. All nurseries have to be registered and inspected by their local authority.

When selecting a nursery for your child, check to make sure the hours are suitable; also, find out what the fees are and what exactly they will cover. Some children may be eligible for a free part-time place: check with the staff at the nursery. Ultimately, however, admission depends on the number of places available.

Check what arrangements will be made during holidays, when there's illness or in an emergency. These are essential considerations for working parents. Also make sure the nursery is easy to get to from home as well as from work.

During the early years a child develops very quickly, so it is important when selecting a nursery to ensure the child's physical, intellectual and emotional needs will be catered for. Most day nurseries are run privately and look after children up to the age of five. Some offer places for babies while others cater for the three- to five-year-olds.

Before enrolling your child you should visit the nursery to check its suitability – it should be warm, friendly, welcoming and, above all, child-centred.

The early years are the most formative of a child's life, so choosing the right childcare in a happy environment will go a long way towards the child's future development.

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