- Start looking for childcare the year before your course starts, as places will be booked up quickly at both private and university nurseries.
- Most universities have a nursery exclusively for staff and students. This can be a convenient choice for childcare, but remember that you still need to book a place in advance and pay nursery fees. University nurseries fill up very quickly, so you should register as early as possible before arriving at university - it's worth calling to enquire even before your place on the course is confirmed.
- Get in touch with your university and ask them for a copy of your timetable in advance. If they haven't finalised it yet, ask for last year's or a draft copy. This will help you to work out how much childcare you will need.
- Make sure you apply for the childcare funding you are entitled to - either the Childcare Grant or the childcare element of Working Tax Credits
- Remember that location will affect both your timetable and your budget, as you will have to travel to the nursery. University nurseries are very popular for this reason. If you have any placements, don't forget that a nursery close to university might be a long way from your placement!
If you want to apply for the Childcare grant to help towards childcare costs, you need to make sure you're using Ofsted-registered childcare. All childcare providers who look after children under 8 years old must be registered unless:
- They care for children for less than 2 hours per day
- They only care for children they are related to
- They care for children in their home or the child's home and are not paid for it
- They care for children in the child's home, and only care for one or two sets of children
- They are mainly providing study support, sports, arts, crafts or religious, cultural or language study
- They care for children for less than four hours while their parents are nearby (eg. a crèche in a shopping centre)
- For other exemptions, see this Ofsted document on registration requirements
Other childcare providers might be voluntarily registered.
Coping with Guilt
Lots of student parents feel guilty when they start leaving their child in childcare. Here are a few tips to help you through it:
- Sticking to a rigid schedule can make things easier, as your children will know when you can spend time with them
- Remember why you're doing it. You're probably studying for the benefit of your children, too. The sacrifices that you make now will bring big benefits you you and them in the future
- If you're really struggling, your university's Student Services department should be able to put you in touch with a counsellor, who you can talk to privately