Working in a nursery
If you want to work with children, now is a really good time to start your career. Improving child care provision is high on the government's list of priorities and their aim to provide free places for all 3 to 4 year olds has created thousands of new jobs.
Nursery workers (sometimes known as nursery nurses or nursery officers) provide care and education for children aged up to 8 years old and they play an important part in a child's early life.
The exact job title varies according to the place and level of work. Alternative job titles include nursery assistant, nursery teacher and nursery manager.
Nursery workers work with groups of young children in a range of child care facilities, including nurseries, schools, children's homes, crèches, play schemes, playgroups, health centres and family centres. The working environment is usually quite noisy, untidy and often 'boisterous'.
They generally work between 32 and 40 hours a week, although part-time, flexi-time and jobshare opportunities are available. Working weeks can often involve early starts or late finishes and Saturdays.
Nursery workers are not just responsible for the care of children but also for their development - so during a typical week they are involved in planning educational play activities, as well as playing alongside them and encouraging them to participate.
Activities vary depending on the place of work, but typically duties include:
- welcoming children and parents in the morning and settling the children to various play activities, such as painting, drawing, toys, sand and water play, etc.
- organising and leading group activities such as singing, music, mime, role-play, number and word games, baking
- planning and setting out themed activity areas - such as 'drawing my house', 'going shopping', 'making birthday cards' - and helping the children to understand and complete their tasks
- talking to and interacting with the children, keeping a watchful eye on the children's behaviour, encouraging shy children to participate and maintaining discipline
- providing snacks and assisting them to eat, wash and toilet
- reading stories to groups
- ensuring that children are playing safely, overseeing outdoor play on swings, slides, etc
- clearing away after activities and at the end of the day
- completing paperwork, children's files and keeping records
- working closely with other staff at the nursery.
The role of the nursery worker also involves identifying children who need extra help or who may be experiencing physical or emotional difficulties. In such cases they talk to the parents and occasionally call on the expertise of professionals such as social workers, speech therapists or educational psychologists.
Skills & Interests
The most important qualities are a caring nature and a genuine interest in children and their development. In addition you need:
- an enthusiastic, cheerful and friendly personality
- communication and listening skills
- patience - with all children, but especially with those with behavioural problems or special educational needs
- a calm nature and the ability to keep a cool head in a crisis
- teamworking skills and the ability to get on with adults (parents, colleagues and child care professionals)
- creative skills and the ability to plan exciting activities
- plenty of energy
- a sense of humour!
Although it is possible to work in a nursery setting without qualifications, most settings tend to look for qualified staff, and there are more and better opportunities for people with childcare qualifications.
Posts that involve caring for children under the supervision of senior staff (generally known as nursery assistants) may ask for a Level 2 qualification in childcare. Posts that involve sole responsibility for children (generally known as nursery nurses/officers) may ask for a Level 3 qualification in childcare. More senior nursery nurses/officers/managers with staff and operational responsibilities may be expected to have a Level 4 Qualification in childcare.
In Scotland, the Scottish Child Care and Education Board (SCCEB) issues Certificates of Registration to nursery workers.
Depending on the level of post, nurseries may also ask for two years experience of working in a child care facility and experience of report writing and record keeping.
To be considered for an unqualified nursery assistant position, you would need recent proven experience in an under-five or school setting and be able to demonstrate some understanding of early years development. It is likely that you will be encouraged to undertake relevant qualifications whilst in employment.
Training opportunities through Modern Apprenticeships (part of the Skillseekers Initiative in Scotland) are available in some areas. Contact your local careers office for details.
Childcare Qualification explained.
Estimated salary range
Salaries vary depending on the level of the post and qualifications, but are generally in the range of £9,000 - £14,000.
Senior nursery nurses, officers can managers can earn around £15,000 to £30,000.
Please note that salary information is a guide only and there may be local agreements in place.
Future prospects & opportunities
Promotion usually depends on both experience and qualifications. Nursery assistants can become nursery nurses/officers and may then progress to become nursery managers.
Some go on to set up their own nurseries, or move in to related areas such as education.
Nursery workers can also train to become teachers.
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