Whether you are returning to work after parental leave, or launching into a new career after some much needed time at home with your kids, childcare choices can be tricky to navigate. There’s what other people think you should do—and what works best for your family. So what different childcare choices are there in the UK? And which one will work best for you, and your children? We put together this quick and easy comparison.

Looking for brilliant childcare?

Childminder

Victoria is a childminder in Woolwich

A childminder is a trained professional who has some previous childcare experience and has now gained the necessary knowledge in safeguarding and first aid to become registered with Ofsted. Childminders legally have to be registered with Ofsted or a childminder agency.

Outstanding childminders will bring the best pedagogy to the table—and really love working with children. A childminder’s hourly fee in England ranges from £3.50 to £9 or more in inner London, which usually covers nappies and food. A childminder can work alone or with an assistant or two, and looks after up to 6 children under the age of 8. Childminders work from their own home, so provide a familiar environment to the kids in their care.

This childcare choice suits a family that:

  • Has small children (under 8)
  • Needs part-time or full-time care
  • Wants to be able to use Tax-Free Childcare or funded hours
  • Is looking for a ‘home from home’
  • Likes the idea of a small group setting

Nursery

The image shows some toys in a nursery setting, with children in the background. Nurseries are a common childcare choice in the UK.
A nursery is a common childcare choice

Nursery is a common childcare choice in the UK. Nurseries often look after children from birth to 5. Nurseries tend to be bigger settings, businesses run by an owner and a nursery manager. Staff undergo training and generally hold formal qualifications in childcare.

Adult-to-child ratios depend on age and go from 1 adult to 3 children up to 1 adult to 13 children. For most nurseries this means less individual time with each child, but more playmates. Nurseries tend to be less flexible on the hours they offer.

Like childminders, nurseries are inspected and rated by Ofsted. Nursery costs in England go from about £5 per hour to £6-8 or more in inner London.

This childcare choice suits a family that:

  • Wants a standard form of childcare
  • Has young children (under 5)
  • Needs full-time or part-time care
  • Has a sociable child that wants lots of playmates
  • Wants to use Tax-Free Childcare and funded hours

Nanny

nanny and childminder looking after children
Nannies offer one on one care to kids

A nanny usually has less formal training than a childminder, but some have years and years of childcare experience. Nannies do not need to be registered with Ofsted, although some choose to be. They work in the family’s own home, and often only in afternoons or a few days per week.

It’s common for nannies to pick children up from school and cook them a meal, play with them and come up with something educational and fun. An amazing nanny is happy to help with things like homework, or bits and bobs around the house. Some nannies have special skills like working with special needs, or speaking a second language.

If you help the nanny arrange playdates, or find a nanny-share, this childcare choice can be more social. A nannies’ hourly wage ranges a great deal in England, from around £7 to as much as £24.

This childcare choice suits a family that:

  • Has small to school-age children (0–16)
  • Wants dedicated childcare
  • Doesn’t want to travel to access childcare
  • Needs flexibility

Stay-at-home parenting

Maybe your career choice is to step away from the office and into your home. Stay-at-home parenting is great for parents that can afford to take time away from work, and really want to focus on the bond with their child. It’s also a good choice if you don’t feel the need to see other adults all the time.

Couples could work things out with their partner so both get some time with their children and some time at work. It’s a cheap option in that your labour is ‘free’, but you also lose any income you would make during the time you care for your own children.

This childcare choice also means you have to help your child socialise with other children, and prepare them for school. But it can be a wonderful way to experience your child’s early years.

This childcare choice suits a family that:

  • Can afford for one parent to stay off work
  • Wants to spend more time with their kids
  • Can arrange playdates and stimulating activities for their kids
  • Can get outside often
  • Needs full-time childcare

After school club

If you can’t afford other after-school care like a nanny, and your child’s school has an after school club, this could work for your family. Many schools have this option for parents that can’t pick up when the school day ends.

After school clubs are run by professionals, like a teacher or childminder. They tend to provide some activity, and a snack or meal for the child. This can be a good choice if you have a sociable child. But it’s not an option for families with smaller children. There is also often a ‘breakfast club’ for parents that need to drop their children off earlier. The club only lasts a few hours so tends to be quite cheap, but differs a lot from school to school and area to area.

This childcare choice suits a family that:

  • Needs cheap after-school care
  • Needs help in evenings only
  • Has children over 5
  • Has children that enjoy spending extra time in school
  • Only need help in the early mornings, or evenings

Grandparents and relatives

The image shows a woman and child sitting together in a park, both smiling. Grandparents are often happy to help out with childcare, but it's not an obligation.
Grandparents can be a great childcare option if they live nearby and have the time

Some families are lucky to have a wider support network. Your own parents might be the perfect childcare choice—if you have a good relationship and they respect your parenting choices. Whilst some grandparents will only want to look after their grandchildren once in a while, others would be happy to do it weekly, or even daily.

It’s never a grandparent’s job to look after their grandchildren, but some love having babies around again—without the sleepless nights. This is another free option, but you might have to settle for a few hours here or there, so it’s not a great full-time solution. Unless your parent becomes a nanny or childminder themselves.

This childcare choice suits a family that:

  • Has a strong family support network
  • Has older relatives that love being around children
  • Trusts their parents and has mutual respect
  • Doesn’t mind children not socialising with other children

Au pair

childminder playing with children
If you don’t need much experience, an au pair could be the right childcare choice

It’s no surprise that Brexit has made this option a bit more difficult. But an au pair (a live-in nanny) could be a good childcare choice if you need about 30 hours of childcare per week. Usually, an au pair is a young traveller. They stay with you—the host family.

In exchange, they provide childcare and a little bit of help around the house. You pay the au pair ‘pocket money’ on top of letting them stay in your home and eat for ‘free’. But they don’t tend to be childcare professionals, and can often be very young and inexperienced. Some may not speak much English, so it’s a learning experience both for them and you. Average ‘pocket money‘ for an au pair in England is £80–£85 per week, but that doesn’t include food or board.

This childcare choice suits a family that:

  • Wants a ‘big sibling’ around the house
  • Has older children
  • Wants to provide an opportunity for young people
  • Wants a bit of help and childcare but doesn’t need a professional
  • Appreciate other languages and cultures

Help with childcare choices

We hope this article gave you a better idea of which childcare choices would work for you. If you need to find out more about Tax-Free Childcare and funded hours, we wrote an article with a handy quiz. And if you are looking for a registered childminder, an experienced early years nanny, or a part-time nanny near you, we might have the perfect childcare option for your family.

Looking for brilliant childcare?