Childminders often email me to ask if they should use a childminding app. This always makes me smile a bit because I don’t actually sell apps, so I am hardly likely to be the best person to recommend them! However, my feeling on apps is that there are actually lots of really great apps and online software out there you can use to really cut down on your paperwork. BUT, in my opinion, you should only use them once you fully understand the PROCESS you are automating and the steps they are helping you to ‘skip’.
Should I use an app for learning journeys and tracking children’s progress?
I get this question a lot and always tell childminders the same thing: you are fine to switch to apps but only once you fully understand how the observation – assessment – planning cycle works. You also need to be able to demonstrate that you really KNOW where each child is in their stage of development, what you can realistically expect them to do ‘next’ and most importantly, if a child is falling behind in any of the important areas, you need to spot this.
Getting a true understanding of what is meant by all of this takes time and needs experience. Every childminder needs to have a good working knowledge of what is considered normal development for a child under five in each of the seven areas of learning and development. You don’t need to keep this information in your head – but you really need to have a well-thumbed printed version of Development Matters to hand which is the ultimate EYFS reference book for what you can realistically expect and when from any child. This is your development bible that will flag up for you if a child has fallen behind in an area. All childminders should understand this publication inside and out!
Be careful about switching to an online learning journey system or any kind of app until you fully understand the process of observation-assessment-planning. I want to compare this to teaching school children basic maths. It would be perfectly easy to give a young child a calculator and teach them to do simple sums on it. They could be taught to multiply, divide, add and subtract using the calculator simply by pressing the right buttons. They could learn to press the right buttons without a shred of understanding what it actually means to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Calculators are only a great tool once you know what they are for! All I am saying is that you need to be careful that you understand the ‘process’ you are doing before automating it.
A childminder (who has read Development Matters) would not expect a child to run before they can walk. Once you really understand normal child development and what you are doing when you are writing a ‘next step’, planning for an individual child and how to stand back and write a ‘whole child assessment’ only then are you ready to consider removing some parts of the paperwork and automating them through apps and taking other shortcuts.
Should I do ‘in the moment planning’ rather than written planning?
A question that gets asked on Facebook forums a lot is what planning people do. Lots of childminders respond that they never do written planning or that they do ‘in the moment planning’ which is something of a buzz word that I worry a lot of people use without really understanding what it means.
Like automating learning journeys and assessments, before you throw out the idea of making written plans, you should try planning on paper a couple of times just so that you understand the process of what is meant by a plan. For example, you should try writing:
- A plan around a theme for your whole setting
- A plan in each area of learning and development
- A short term, medium term and long term plan for your setting
- A plan for an individual child around a particular interest
- A plan for activities that promote a particular Characteristics of Effective Learning (COEL)
Ultimately, childminding plans don’t have to be written down, but if you do write them down a couple of times, you can check that you understand the point of making plans and how they can help you and the children to explore new things. Once you have done this a few times, then you should feel free to adopt a policy of ‘I never do written planning’ not because you don’t know how or can’t be bothered, but because no written planning IS your plan!
Should I do risk assessments in my head or write them down?
The EYFS Statutory Framework states that you must take all reasonable steps to manage risks and determine where it is helpful to do some written risk assessments. It used to be a requirement for childminders to write written risk assessments for EVERYTHING but this has been removed from the current version of the legislation to help childminders to cut back on paperwork.
In most normal day to day childminding, a written risk assessment is simply not necessary and just adds to unnecessary paperwork load.
However, from time to time, and especially when you are just starting out at childminding or doing something new, I think that it is very useful to go through the whole risk assessment process properly in writing at least once so that you know how to do it. Writing it out forces you to formalise the process in your mind so that any corners you choose to cut in the future, at least you know what you SHOULD be doing.
Use these free risk assessment forms and list of risk assessments that most childminders should do around their house, garden and trips.
Should I do an online first aid and safeguarding course?
If you have been reading this article from the top, I am sure you are going to be picking up on a theme at this point and are going to know what I am going to say. Many experienced childminders who have attended multiple first aid courses in their time, are perfectly fine to do refresher courses that are primarily based online. The same goes for safeguarding, where you sit there to listen to the same stuff that you know in your sleep, all to get the one or two nuggets of new information or legislation you actually need.
However, there is nothing like practicing choking and chest compressions on dummies that can be recreated online. And with safeguarding, it is vital that you attend a safeguarding course to hear and interact properly first before (mindlessly) clicking your way through an online version of the course. So in my opinion, you should go to online first aid and safeguarding courses only once you’ve done several of these in person.
In a fast moving digital age, don’t forget the power of the handprint.
There are lots of other benefits to starting out using paper based methods and for all sorts of good reasons, many childminders choose to continue to work in a paper-based method for lots of aspects of childminding. You may enjoy my article: Rediscovering the pure pleasure of paper – for over-digitised childminders.
If my article has swayed you at all to reconsider the benefits of paper-based observation-assessment-planning cycle, then please check out my Learning Journey Plus. It is a printable system based in Word so you can customise the pages for your setting before you print them.
The Learning Journey Plus is a complete observation – planning – assessment system and comes with 200 sample observations with next steps so you can learn how to write observations and next steps in whatever learning journey system you are using. The workbook takes you step by step through setting up the whole process from scratch or you can use it to check you fully understand the steps of whatever system you are using.
About Kay Woods and Kids To Go
Kay Woods has been writing and selling childminding resources through her company Kids To Go since 2008. Her products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, the Learning Journey Plus for planning, observation and assessment and best practice resources promoting diversity, safety and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare). She is the author of the Start Learning book set published by Tarquin and she writes the free quarterly Childminding Best Practice Newsletter.
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