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 London Pre-Prep 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!”
- Broadhurst School (Hampstead): a small pre-preparatory school for children aged 2 to 5. The youngest children attend 3 hours per day, the older children 6 hours per day. This nursery is known to provide children with excellent preparation for the tough North London 4+ and 5+ assessments at top 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.
- 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
- 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”.
- Strawberry Fields Nursery (Notting Hill) – I have heard great things about this nursery from Notting Hill parents and it has a glowing Ofsted review. It is very popular so do make sure to visit the nursery in person and register early
- Tadpoles Nursery (Chelsea): another popular nursery with an outstanding Ofsted rating and a glowing report. Its founder Claire Dimpfl was inspired by Maria Montessori’s methods when she opened Tadpoles in 1993: “My wish is for every child to be ready to become independent learners, to explore and to be excited to learn and be happy and comfortable”
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.
- The Little Tug Boats Nursery is an extremely popular family-run nursery for children aged 3 months to 5 years in Fulham. Parents with children at the nursery rave about the caring staff as well as the excellent learning progress of the older children. Unusually for London nurseries, they have a beautiful garden, too. It’s important to get on the waiting list early to secure a place.
- Little Unicorn Nursery is a group of nurseries located in Canary Wharf and is hence very popular with City professionals.
- Pippa Poppins – another very popular and well regarded group of nurseries with three sites in Fulham. It prides itself in being structured and preparing children well for assessments while offering lots of free play and outdoor excursions. They offer morning and afternoon as well as full day sessions.
Prep schools that have nursery class are:
- Abercorn School
- Chepstow House
- Devonshire House School
- Eaton Square Nursery Schools
- Falkner House School
- Garden House School
- Gatehouse School
- Hampstead Hill
- Hawkesdown House
- Kew College
- Knightsbridge School (siblings only)
- Mulberry House
- Newton Prep
- Phoenix School
- Redcliffe School
- Sinclair House School
- St Nicholas Prep School
- Thomas’s Kindergarten (in Battersea)