Online Eligibility Checker For Free Childcare Launched

If you a parent of preschool children living in West London, discovering whether you are eligible for free childcare has been made a lot easier. Hounslow Council has rolled out an instant response service online for parents to see if they are entitled.

Monkey Puzzle has a Twickenham day nursery covering the Hounslow area, so parents should take the eligibility check to see if they qualify.

The online free childcare checker links directly to the Department of Education system and allows parents and carers to input basic details and receive an instant response.

The details you need are…

Child’s date of birth.

The parent or guardian’s date of birth, surname and National Insurance (NI) number or National Asylum Support Service (NASS) number.

If a family meets the requirements, you can then download a free childcare voucher, which can then be taken to your childcare provider to access the free care immediately, it’s that simple!

So if you live in the area why not check your eligibility and come and see us to arrange your free childcare.

Signs To Look For In a Good Day Nursery

Choosing the right day nursery for your child can be daunting, possibly the first time you will be leaving your precious child in the care of someone other than friends and family, so making the right decision is crucial for your peace of mind, while also ensuring your child receives the best early education, leaving them excited and prepared for when they attend school.

Choosing a Day Nursery

Well the first piece of advice is shop around. Even if the first day nursery you visit ticks all the boxes be sure to visit others in your area there may be an even better one nearby!

Obviously the potential day nursery should meet with all statutory requirements. It must be registered with Ofsted and meet the legal ratio of staff to children.

In theory any day nursery that is operating commercially will meet these requirements, but it’s always best to check!

Qualities To Look For In The Staff

Ultimately you will want the staff to share your views on discipline, sleeping, feeding and other care issues. A good sign when you visit a prospective day nursery, are the questions the staff ask you about your child’s health and care. They should also take the time to get to know you and your child quickly.

A good nursery usually employs happy staff, staff that receive benefits and are paid well, this should ensure that staff turnover remains low and relationships between your child and staff members develop positively.

Activities To Expect In A Good Nursery

I suppose this is the most important aspect of any nursery, All day nurseries have to follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). It’s a national structure of learning and care for children from birth to 5 years old.

The key thing here, and in all Monkey Puzzle Day Nurseries, is learning through play. Making sure the nursery places high value on children simply doing activities that they will enjoy.

The nursery should have a wide range of age appropriate toys. Look at what’s on the walls, if their are plenty of paintings and drawings that the children have done themselves this will show that their creativity is valued.

Although not required, a good day nursery will have an outdoor play area where the children can play outside everyday. Outdoor features such as sand pits, water tables and playhouses should keep the little ones occupied and stimulated.

A Good Menu In A Good Nursery

Discovering what a day nursery serves at meal times, will also indicate its quality. They should serve nutritious and varied meals, with alternatives for vegetarians and those children that have food allergies or intolerances.

Parents know how easy it is for their children to become fussy eaters, so their time at nursery is a great time for them to experiment and discover new things that they like to eat.

At all of our Monkey Puzzle Day Nurseries, we cover all of the above and to a high standard. If you would like to find out more about us why not get in touch. We are a nationwide day nursery network so why not see if a Monkey Puzzle Day Nursery is in your area.

New Tax Free Childcare System Explained

The extension of tax free childcare provision has been in the news a lot recently, but for many parents understanding the requirements to qualify can be confusing. So with that in mind lets take a look at this important sector and begin to simplify the process.

So what is it?

The tax far childcare scheme is ostensibly a money back scheme whereby working parents can get a 20% rebate of the cost of their childcare up to a maximum of £1,200 per child. The scheme will be put into operation in Autumn 2015.

Who qualifies?

Their is one key requirement here – both parents MUST be working or, in the case of single parent families, the single parent MUST be working. We could go into the fairness of the scheme, but that subject requires a blog post of its own…

Initially the scheme will be available to children under the age of five, but the Government has already indicated that it will be extended to those children under twelve.

The scheme will also be available to those on maternity/paternity leave as long as they are eligible before taking the leave.

What Are The Financial Restrictions?

Incredibly, both parents can earn up to £150,00 EACH, so a household that has a joint annual income of £299,999.99 are eligible.

What’s The Difference From The Current Childcare Vouchers System?

Under the current Childcare Voucher System parents can opt to exchange £243 of their gross monthly salary for vouchers (covering all forms of childcare up to the age of sixteen) this amount is exempt from tax and National Insurance contributions. This translates to a saving of up to £933 for those in the basic rate tax bracket, £623 for those in the higher bracket and £606 for those earning over £150,000.

The maximum any family can save is £1,866 per child, if both parents’ employers offer their own voucher scheme and they are both basic rate tax payers.

Under the new scheme, parents will be able to claim a maximum of £1,200 per child annually towards their childcare costs. This means that a basic rate tax payer with one child stands to lose out on £660 a year, whereas those basic tax rate taxpayers with more than one child and those in higher tax brackets stand to gain financially as the new scheme will not be means tested as the current voucher system is.

It is important to point out that the basic tax rate payers losses will apply to those who join the scheme AFTER 2015. Anyone currently receiving childcare vouchers will be forced to join the new scheme if it means they will lose out.

So there you have it,  you can agree or disagree with its effectiveness and fairness, but first get to understand it and make sure your up to speed with the changes so that you do not lose out.

Tips to Help Kids That Won’t Sleep

You know that feeling, you’ve had a stressful day working, cleaning, cooking and just being a mum. All you want is maybe a couple of hours to yourself or with your partner, before you go to bed and prepare for the same again tomorrow.


Your toddler won’t go to sleep, keeps calling for you and it’s beginning to happen on a regular basis – HELP!

It happens to many of us, but it is possible to solve the problem. Following are techniques that will help your child to go to sleep and you to get some much needed quality time!

The Kiss and Retreat Plan

If your child wakes and cries a lot during the night leading to a broken sleep pattern for both of you, try this method devised by child psychologist Dr Olwen Wilson. you can apply it to any child over the age of six months old and you should see some improvement in a week.

After you have completed your pre-bedtime rituals take them to bed, kiss them and then promise to come back again in a minute for another one. But, here’s the trick, don’t leave the room, back off a little so that they can still see you, leave it 30 seconds and go back and give them another kiss.

Continue this process moving further away each time, returning for yet another kiss.

Now it’s time to busy yourself in the room maybe quietly tidy the toys, before yep, you guessed it, returning for another kiss.

Next it’s time to leave the room for a little before the next kiss, and then continue leaving it longer and longer until – finally – your child is asleep. Listen, this technique is successful but don’t be surprised if you lose count of the times you have to keep going back,  just persevere.

If they wake and start crying, go back in immediately and start over again. I know it may sound a lot, but by the third night you will see some improvement.

Gradual Retreat

This works for those mums and dads that usually cuddle their child until they fall asleep.

To start with, instead of laying with them, sit by their bed or cot holding their hand and maybe stroking their hair until they fall asleep, do this every night for a week .

The following week, repeat the method but this time without contact, until they’re asleep.

You can continue this as long as you need to but make sure you move further away each time, once again perseverance is key for this to be successful.

The Checking Routine

This one is the simplest and can work in as little as a week.

Tell your child that it’s bedtime and time for sleep. Explain to them that you are going to leave the room but you won’t be far away and leave.

If they cry wait a few minutes, then return. Do not pick them up or take them out of the room, no turning on the lights or playing and, believe it or not, do not reassure them.

Simply stroke their face or hand until the crying stops and she is calm, then repeat the message and leave the room.

If they continue to cry, leave it longer this time, maybe 10 minutes (hard I know!) before returning. Continue you the pattern until they fall asleep.

All three methods have a very good success rate as long as you are strict. Obviously if your baby/toddler is sick then you should suspend the programme and start again when you are ready, when you should find it works quicker than before.

Happy sleeping!

What To Look For When Choosing A Nursery For Your Child.

We all feel a little nervous when we prepare to find a place at a day nursery for our precious little ones and, for many, it can be a stressful time. If you prepare wisely, however, know what to look for in a nursery, then when the day finally comes, you will be much more confident and happier that your child will benefit from his or hers first taste of pre school education.

First let’s look at the difference between a day nursery and a nursery school. Day nurseries is run for childcare purposes, normally following a curriculum for the 3-5 year olds, opening between 7.30-6.30 all year round except for public holidays.

A nursery school tends to operate in normal term times and only accepts children between 3-5 years old.

When doing your research the best way to begin is to contact  your local Children’s Information Service to get a list of nurseries in your area then ask other parents if they could recommend any to you, then start to narrow the list before finally contacting the chosen nurseries to book a visit.

Now let’s be honest here. It can sometimes be difficult to get a true impression when you make a pre-arranged visit as they are going to be on their best behaviour and ensuring that the nursery is tidy and in order, if they are not, then best to remove them from the list!

But you will be able to see yourself the layout, is it in a good state of repair? Secure? Do the staff and children look happy?

I am a great believer in first impressions and if you accompany that with the following checklist you will be able to make a measured decision.

Firstly can they accommodate you for the times and days you require?
Do they provide food, where is it cooked and what is their nutritional policy?
If you want them to care for your baby, do you need to provide your own formula and nappies?
Are the babies taken outside, if yes ask to see the prams and buggies.
Ask to see their security procedure.
Do they have an outside play area?
Are they OFSTED registered and can you see a copy of the their latest report?
What is the child per staff ratio, for babies and toddlers?
What is the notice period should you want to leave?

This is just what I consider to be the main questions, I’m sure you will have further ones specific to you and your children. If I were to pick one key factor that separates a good nursery and a poor one however, without doubt it will the staff and manager, if they are proficient and professional your child will enjoy there time at the day nursery.

At Monkey Puzzle we train all our staff and managers to the highest level and they are behind our growth and success nationwide. Take a look at our locations, you never know we might be on your doorstep!

Common Household Items That Are Dangerous To Children

We would all like to think that our home is a safe haven for our children. In most cases it is, but this feeling of security can also lead to complacency. It is because of this that every year thousands of children are seriously injured, sometimes fatally. The good news is that most of these injuries can be avoided with necessary child safety measures in place. At Monkey Puzzle Nurseries Health & Safety is one of our, if not the, top priority so it almost comes as second nature and I thought I would pass on some basic tips.

Below are five potential dangers and hazards that should be taken into consideration…

  • Cots, playpens and high chairs should all meet stringent safety standards and when buying one make sure this is the case. Kids can be at risk from faulty items of furniture such as getting their head stuck between bars, falling from cots where the sides have collapsed or defective high chairs. Make sure each item has the necessary Kitemark or safety stamp when purchasing.
  • Bath time. Children and water must be carefully monitored. When a baby or toddler are having a bath NEVER leave them unattended. Always check water temperature before allowing them into the water and use a non slip rubber mat to prevent serious falls.
  • Plastic bags should be hidden away for reasons I don’t need to state. Be careful when returning from the grocery store, curious minds and hands will have them away when your backs turned! The same goes for Christmas and birthdays when unwrapping and unpacking toys, remove the plastic packaging immediately.
  • Cosmetics medicines and cleaning products. We should all be aware that cosmetics contains toxins and are therefore potentially dangerous. Remember your child will view your make up as something fun and may be curious to play with them and possibly consume them or worse. Medicines should always be locked away or stored in out of reach places. A child’s eyes will see nothing more than sweets or a drink, don’t give them the chance to discover the truth! The same considerations should be made with cleaning products as well.
  • Extra long blind cords have caused tragedies in the past. Check to see how much slack there is when the blind is in the up position. If there is too much excess shorten it so that it will be out of the reach of young curious hands.

This is not meant to scare you, the odds of a nasty accident are remote, but if you take heed of these tips those odds lengthen even more. For further advice and tips the Child Accident Prevention Trust has an excellent website.

Preparing Your Child For Preschool.

The time is fast approaching, the day when you drop off your precious little one for their first day at “school”. In reality you will probably be more nervous than your toddler, but to ease the transition into being apart it’s always a good idea to prepare so that on their first day they’re excited and ready to have fun!

Your child will experience a range of emotions from being proud to be a big kid but also worried about saying goodbye to you. But remember there’s a lot you can do to prepare for the big day, make sure you do it in a low key manner so as not to make them more worried than excited.

Here are four things to focus on to make the milestone fun!

  1. Begin by reading stories that features a preschool or typical preschool activities. It would also be a good idea if the story also broaches the subject of separation. Get involved in the story pointing at the characters and asking your child how they might be feeling. Ask them what activities they would like to do most if they were there, keep the emphasis on fun!
  2. Role play! Take terms playing the roles of teacher, mum and kid even going as far as to acting out saying goodbye to you and hello to the teacher, this may entail you taking the lead and playing the child. Ask them what they think they will be doing at school and then…..DO IT!
  3. By now they should be more comfortable with the situation and, dare I say, even excited. At this time pay a visit to the school, let them see how fun things are going to be. You know the teachers will make a big fuss of them and when they see all the activities and toys available, well, they’ll be pleading with you to let them start tomorrow!
  4. Finally answer all their questions…even the difficult ones. Being honest with your child is a necessity in their emotional upbringing. The most common question to expect will be “will you be leaving me there?”, simply respond, “yes for a little time, but I will be back to get you at lunchtime”.

On the day simply stay, play then say goodbye. Hang around for about 15 minutes, find an activity that he enjoys and introduce him to other children. Once he’s becoming involved it’s time to go. Let the teacher know your leaving as it’s often easier with another caring adult offering support as you depart.

IMPORTANT! Stay positive, your child will be watching your reaction for clues on how they should feel, so don’t appear worried or upset, just say a quick upbeat goodbye, reminding him you will be back to collect them at lunchtime and off you go!

Even if your child is distressed, remember they are in the hands of trained preschool professionals who know how to cope with these situations, so don’t go back in as the distress will only be prolonged, and if you are worried you can always call to check on how they’re doing.

How To Deal With A Picky Eater.

Any parent would have experienced it at sometime and become frustrated, the dreaded picky eater!

We all want our children to enjoy a nutritious diet, but getting them to actually consume it can be a challenge at times.

So how do you, the parent, introduce new foods to your child, with an empty plate as the end result?

To begin with your child has a built-in innate sense of how much food their body needs to grow and be healthy, just as a mother knows during pregnancy you could say. It is important then to let your child decide what they eat, let it be their decision…

…although there are clever little “tricks” that can subtly get them to open their mouths and pop in a new taste sensation…

  • Structure your child’s eating so that they have three regular meals a day, with a couple of healthy snacks in between. Doctors believe that most picky eaters are grazers so ensuring that your child has set meal and snack times will mean they will be eating when they are hungry.
  • Introduce new foods one at a time and in small amounts, and don’t make a fuss! Simply place it on your child’s high chair tray without making a big deal, ideally accompanied by other food favourites.
  • When you know your child is hungry try to introduce a new food, different fruits or healthy snacks are ideal at this point.
  • SAY NOTHING! As hard as this may be try not to comment on what or how much food your child is eating, if you become the “enforcer” it’s guaranteed they will resist!
  • Get them involved! Letting your children help prepare a meal will only interest them and want to eat what they’ve created.
  • And finally, dip it! If they won’t eat their vegetables have some of their favourite dips on hand, they will be more likely to try something different if they can disguise it with a little ketchup or mayonnaise.

Remember some children are more experimental than others, if yours is picky don’t panic, their palate will develop over time, just keep to the above guidelines, be patient and they’ll be eating weird and wonderful things before you know it!

What To Look For When Choosing A Day Nursery.

Placing your child in a day nursery for the first time can be a very stressful experience. How will your child react to being apart from you for a lengthy period, how will you react to it as well! So making the right decision when choosing is imperative for your piece of mind and will help you and your child during the transition.

So what signs should you look for?

In the first instance visiting a few different ones in your local area will give you and your child a guide to what best suits you. But make sure that they are registered and inspected on a regular basis. You can download reports on any registered nursery by visiting the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). Any Ofsted registered nursery should display their certificate in a prominent position, if it is not immediately apparent ask the manager if you can see it.

Does it have a good reputation? Try to chat to other parents who either have children there or know somebody that does, a word of mouth recommendation is a strong indication that the nursery in question is offering a good service.

What are their policies?  The nursery should have clearly defined polices from opening times to procedures in the event of an emergency this will assure you that they take the responsibility of caring for your child as a matter of course.

In my opinion a good day nursery should adhere to a strict illness policy, discuss which illnesses will affect attendance and how long it will be before your child is allowed back, so that if you work during the day you can plan accordingly.

Should the staff be trained? This is simple, yes! All staff must be trained in at least the EYFS which should ensure that they create a stimulating, fun and safe environment.

What is the staff to children ratio? Once again there are regulations that must be adhered to, namely; 1 adult each to 3 children aged 2 and under, 4 children between 2 & 3 and 8 children between 3 & 5.

What qualities should the staff offer? I could write a lengthy post on this, but the key elements are that they show a detailed interest in your child’s health to ascertain if their nursery is right for your child and you. They should take time to get to know your child early on and be willing to talk to you at the end of the day about what they have been doing and how your child has (hopefully!) enjoyed it and participated. Another key aspect is the happiness of the staff, do they receive a suitable employment package? Those nurseries that offer good benefits will have a lower staff turnover thus ensuring stable, consistent care for your child.

You may well have other points that need explaining, don’t hesitate to ask if you feel it is important and one last thing the day nursery should be clean! Check all areas especially the kitchen for their cleanliness as well as heating and ventilation.

If the prospective childcare provider ticks all the above boxes then your little one will enjoy his pre-school experience, oh….and so will you!