For many children, the long journey that is education does not only start when they enter school. It begins at home, and for many children some time between 5 months and 3 years, it continues in nurseries or pre-schools. The best of these can offer an enjoyable and smooth transition from toddlerhood to the Reception classes at primary school.
Many of the prep schools featured on this site have a nursery class for 3 to 4 year-olds attached to them – I will not go into details on these again, but you can find a list of top schools that start at the nursery level at the end of this article. Instead, I want highlight several of the most popular pre-school choices in Central London that I have often heard recommended by other parents. If your child is attending a warm and loving nursery that you do not see listed here, please feel free to share this information with other parents by leaving a comment below. The nurseries below are all oversubscribed, so make sure you also read our advice on “getting a place at a top nursery school!” and what to look out for when you visit nursery schools.
- Acorn Nursery (Notting Hill) – top nursery in Notting Hill with a lovely small garden, owned by the same lady as Notting Hill Prep School. No website, so you better do your research well to be ready for registration at birth.
- Broadhurst School (Hampstead): a small but very well known pre-preparatory school for children aged 2 to 5. The youngest children attend 3 hours per day, the older children 6. This nursery is known to provide children with excellent preparation for the tough North London 4+ and 5+ assessments at highly selective prep schools.
- Castle Kindergarten (Wimbledon): “outstanding” nursery school for children from 2 – 5 years with strong links to local pre-preps and prep schools like Squirrels, Rowans and Rokeby. High staff ratio and rich curriculum, perfect and gentle introduction to nursery school to get children ready for prep schools.
- Chelsea Pre-Prep and Nursery (Chelsea): is an outstanding rated pre-school offering early education for children aged 2.5 to 6. It is located in St Andrew’s Church Hall in a small side street running parallel to King’s Road. The impressive list of fun activities offered to children includes Chelsea Ballet School and Little Kickers sports lessons, music and drama, French and animal care
- Hopes and Dreams Montessori Nursery School (Angel) – a lovely and oversubscribed Montessori School near Angel tube station in East London. It has an outstanding Ofsted rating and offers a varied curriculum with excursions, Spanish, French and ballet and sports. There is even a small garden for children to play. The late opening till 7pm proves popular with working parents.
- Ladybird Nursery School (South Kensington): one of the longest established private nursery schools so popular that quite a few parents of children at the nursery attended themselves in the old times. Very focused on happy children without unnecessary pressure, explicitly not academic, although children learn lots in drama, music and garden activities. Very lucky to have access to a beautiful private square with playground. Very oversubscribed!
- Little Owls Nursery School (Brook Green) – the nursery of choice in and around Brook Green. Morning school for all with an optional afternoon club. Ofsted rating only “good” but the main point of criticism seems to be lack of exposure to technology – decide for yourself how important you think this is for 3 year olds!
- Little Sweethearts Montessori (Maidavale) – long established accredited Montessori nursery located in a church hall near Warwick Avenue. Children from 2 – 5 learn and play in small age groups. Wide range of Montessori and other learning materials and high staff ratio. Children move on to schools in nearby Notting Hill or Hampstead (Pembridge Hall, The Hall, Arnold House, ASL…)
- Marmalade Cat (Battersea) – this Montessori nursery school in Battersea is getting raving reviews from parents, children are happy and nurtured while also getting prepared for tough 4+ assessments in the area.
- the Minors Nursery School and Rolfe’s Nursery School (Notting Hill) – these are both part of the Alpha Plus Group and are a popular choice for parents who like to see their children to continue on to Pembridge Hall and Wetherby.
- Miss Daisy’s is a group of three popular nursery schools in Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Belgravia. The busy programme includes football, music, French and plenty of play, but the curriculum also ensures preparation for future schools. Many children move on to Garden House and Knightsbridge School, as well as Francis Holland and other prep schools in Chelsea / Belgravia / South Kensington.
- Pangbourne House, W10 – recently opened by Sophia Russell-Cobb who has had over 30 years experience working with children as Headmistress of Ladbroke Square Montessori School. She has now decided to set up her own school with a team of dedicated teachers. The nursery is part of a modern development just next to St. Mark’s Park which has opened this September. There are three classrooms fitted with all the Montessori equipment and extensive imaginative role-play activities, one art room with a wide range of art and craft materials, an outdoor garden and a large hall for games, music and other movement classes.
- Pippa Pop-ins – another very popular and well regarded group of nurseries with three sites in Fulham and one in Kensington opening in Sep 2015. It prides itself in being structured and preparing children well for assessments while offering lots of play and outdoor excursions. They offer morning and afternoon as well as full day sessions, so better for working parents than most other choices. Thomas’s Fulham, Kensington Prep and Fulham Prep are the most common destinations for children from this nursery.
- Ready, Steady, Go – group of nursery schools in St John’s Wood, Primrose Hill and Camden, excellent word of mouth from parents in the area, excellent mix of free play, outdoors and formal learning. Great choice if you are aiming for the likes of Arnold House, the Hall or Trevor-Roberts School. Rated outstanding.
- Ringrose Kindergarten Chelsea – an academically oriented kindergarten for children aged 2 1/2 to 5. Located in the St Luke’s Church Hall in Chelsea. Describe themselves very much as a “school” rather than a “playgroup”.
- The Roche School nursery, Keswick House (Putney) – rated outstanding across the board, with enviable outdoor space, highly qualified staff and the perfect mix of free play and structured learning. Many girls move on to Wimbledon High and Putney High, others stay on at the Roche School, with the Merlin School and Thomas’s popular options for boys.
- Strawberry Fields Nursery (Notting Hill) – Notting Hill yummy mummies adore this nursery and it has a glowing Ofsted review. Not big on outdoor space (or any space, for that matter!), but plenty of celebrity parents, if that’s what you’re after.
- Tadpoles Nursery (Chelsea): a popular nursery located on the grounds of community primary school Park Walk. Its founder Claire Dimpfl was inspired by Maria Montessori’s methods when she opened Tadpoles in 1993. The vegetable garden and pond give the children the opportunity to connect with nature, and Upper Nursery children are taught swimming once a week. Recent Ofsted report only “Good” (previously outstanding). It’s the more informal and relaxed nursery in style compared to other more formal “shake hands and say please and thank you” style nurseries.
- Willcocks Nursery (South Kensington) – one of the longest established private nursery schools in the area led by the highly experienced and wonderful Lavinia Taylor. Located opposite the Royal College of Music and Imperial College, the nursery has a spacious playground. Children can start in the afternoon school aged 2 1/4 years old and can progress to the morning school aged 2 3/4. Outstanding Ofsted rating.
- Willow Tree Nursery (Stamford Brook) – Plenty of room to play, a garden, highly experienced staff and an outstanding Ofsted rating, what more can one ask for? They even run a holiday club. Popular with families around Ravenscourt Park / Chiswick.
- Young England Kindergarten (Pimlico) – one of the original nursery schools in London founded in the 1960s and for decades run by the very experienced and dedicated Miss Kay (now joined by her son Henry), this nursery’s motto is “where learning is serious fun!”. Free access to stunning St George’s Square in Pimlico is a big advantage here, as is the busy programme of Ballet, Music, Little Kickers, Gardening and French (to name but a few).
Of course, always make sure you do your own research and talk to lots of other parents! This list is by no means complete.
While these are great pre-schools, as they generally run from around 9am to 3pm, they may not be the best option for working parents looking for full day care. Full-time nurseries that also offer a varied pre-school curriculum and extracurricular activities are:
- Bright Horizons – a large chain of nurseries across the UK (and the US, for that matter) that owns several daycare nurseries with an outstanding rating across London. Readers have recommended the branches in Regents Park and near London Bridge, but there are many more across London that you can search here.
- Little Unicorn Nursery is a group of nurseries located in Canary Wharf and is hence very popular with City professionals.
Prep schools that have nursery classes are:
- Abercorn School
- Chepstow House
- Devonshire House School
- Eaton Square Nursery Schools
- Falkner House School
- Garden House School
- Gatehouse School
- Hampshire School
- Hampstead Hill
- Hawkesdown House
- Kew College
- Knightsbridge School (siblings only)
- Mulberry House
- Newton Prep
- Phoenix School
- Redcliffe School
- Saint Christina’s School
- Sinclair House School
- St Nicholas Prep School
- Thomas’s Kindergarten (in Battersea)