Registered childcare should provide a fun, safe and welcoming place for your child to play and learn. Parents use childcare so that they can work, or to give their child extra learning and social experiences. As well as childcare for children under 5, parents often use it for school-aged children before and after school or during the school holidays. 

Our guidance should help you understand your options so that you can find the right childcare for you and your child. 

What is registered childcare?

Registered childcare means that the provider is registered with and inspected by Ofsted to look after children. 

Find out more about registered and non-registered childcare.

Find information about the age range of children in different childcare settings:

Age ranges for registered childcare settings.
Registered childcare provider Age range (this varies between providers)
Childminder from birth to 14 years old
Nursery from birth to school age
Pre-school or playgroup age 2 or 3 to school age
Out-of-school club age 3 to 14 years old

Why use registered childcare?

Only registered childcare providers can charge for caring for children under the age of 8 for more than 2 hours a day away from the child's home.

All registered childcare providers have to meet the same standards of care and learning for children. They are inspected in the same way to judge how effectively then can do that. Registered childcare providers can all provide opportunities for children to:

Registered childcare providers can choose to register to offer funding to help with the cost of childcare.

All registered childcare providers have:

  • checks to make sure they're safe and suitable to work with children
  • opportunities to complete qualifications and training to meet the needs of all children
  • first aid training
  • public liability insurance

We offer support and training for people working in childcare, thinking about registering or getting a job in childcare. 

What is a childminder?

A childminder:

  • looks after children in their own home
  • works with small groups of children
  • takes children on activities such as going to the park, beach or library
  • prepares younger children for school

Most childminders:

  • care for children of all ages, including siblings of different ages
  • offer before or after school or holiday care for older children up to the age of 14
  • choose their own opening times but can usually be flexible

Childminders can care for up to 6 children under the age of 8 at any time. Three of these can be under 5 years old and of these, one can be under 12 months old. They are allowed to some exceptions, but only if Ofsted agree. They can work with up to 2 other people at any time, but most childminders work alone.

What are nurseries, pre-schools and playgroups?

Nurseries, pre-schools and playgroups:

  • prepare younger children for school
  • allocate key workers for each child
  • sometimes offer out-of-school care for older children

They must have a certain ratio of staff per child. This varies depending on the ages of the children they're caring for. 

Nurseries usually:

  • care for children from birth until they start school
  • offer care for 48 to 52 weeks a year 
  • open between 8am to 6pm

Pre-schools and playgroups usually:

  • care for children from the age of 2 until they start school
  • offer care during term time and close during school holidays
  • open for at least one 3-hour session per day, some may offer longer sessions
A place in a school nursery does not guarantee your child a place at the school. You must apply for a place at the school if you want your child to transfer to the reception class.

What are out-of-school clubs?

Out-of-school clubs usually operate from a school site, leisure centre or other location. They include:

  • breakfast clubs
  • after-school clubs
  • holiday clubs

They can offer:

  • activities for children aged from 3 to 14 years, but this varies for each provider
  • child-led fun and play
  • sports or skills workshops
  • collection from school, either walking or by car depending on distance

They must have a certain ratio of staff per child which varies depending on the ages of the children in their care.

Just like other registered childcare these clubs can access funding to help with the cost of childcare, including funded childcare for 3 and 4-year-olds. This means you can choose different options, such as using:

  • a pre-school or playgroup during term time and a club during the school holidays
  • an after-school-club if your pre-school or playgroup finishes at 3pm

What to consider when looking for childcare

If you're thinking about childcare:

  • start researching as soon as you can, as many providers have waiting lists
  • ask other parents for recommendations, but trust your instincts
  • visit at least 2 or 3 providers to compare what's on offer

Things you can think about:

  • opening hours, including over the school holidays
  • if they're registered to help with the cost of childcare
  • fees and if there's a deposit to pay
  • what's included in the fee, for example, food, nappies or wipes
  • if you pay if your child is absent for any reason, for example, on holiday or off sick
  • how many children they care for and how many per staff member
  • staff experience, training and qualifications
  • inspection results; outstanding, good, requires improvement and inadequate
  • how they meet the needs of children with special educational needs or disability (SEND)

Search for childcare

Search our Family Information Directory to find childcare. You can filter by childcare option, Ofsted inspection result, funding and location.

Find more childcare advice

These organisations offer more detailed guidance on finding childcare:

Help if you can't find childcare

Contact our Family Information Service if you're having difficulty finding childcare or accessing services. They can help you find the childcare and other information that meets your family’s needs.

Complain about a childcare provider

Find out what to do if you want to complain about a childcare provider

Family Information Service - Dorset Council

Tel: 01305 221066
Full contact details