From September 2023 the EYFS requires that children are within your hearing and sight while they are eating. However this is a really good rule to follow straight away so don’t wait. Here are my five tips for smoother and safer mealtimes. (Learned via lots of trial and many errors!)
ONE: Get children into good routines.
Start training ALL the children to go to the toilet and wash their hands before they eat. You should already be helping children wash their hands before they eat so it shouldn’t be too hard to add an extra step if necessary. Make sure you plan in lots of time for this, especially at first, it may take longer than you think but it will be worth it!
It is good for the children to learn simple routines such as this and seeing older children go to the toilet while hopefully inspire the younger children when it comes to their turn to potty train. (There’s nothing like a bit of gentle ‘peer pressure,’ even if you are only two!) Making sure everyone has gone to the toilet before you eat will also reduce the chance of someone needing it halfway through your meal.
Obviously babies and very young children will not be at the ‘go to the toilet’ stage yet but they can start learning how to wash their hands properly. I use a poster with simplified steps as a visual prompt for very young children so they can practise while I support them.
TWO: Get everything ready before you sit down. (This is harder than it looks – I know from experience! Don’t worry if it takes a few goes to get into a routine.)
Make sure you have everything you will need before you sit. Will you need a jug of water? Flannels or a cloth for spills or sticky hands? Tissues for runny noses? If you have lots of children invest in an apron with a large pocket that you can pop things in so they are handy when you need them.
Don’t forget something for you to eat and drink too, even if it is only something small if you like to eat the majority of your meal later. This helps you model things like good manners and will help you feel better and more rested too.
THREE: Have a useful distraction for early finishers.
It happens to us all! You have one child that has eaten everything before you have barely put the plate down and another one that can take an hour to eat half a sandwich. Children should be encouraged to start to sit and wait for others to finish eating but this can be a big ask for some little ones! I find it really helpful to have a copy of the book we are concentrating on, (currently Goldilocks and the Three Bears,) so that I can read it to the children while they eat, or I can give it to early finishers to look at the pictures.
FOUR: Make sure you plan meal times around drop off and pick up times.
The last thing you need is parents arriving in the middle of your mealtimes and disrupting everything. Plan when you have your mealtimes so that you have time for each child to finish calmly before you have to answer the door to parents. It can be really helpful to share the times you have your meals with parents and tell them that you are unable to answer the door during those times. Then stick to your guns! After all it is for their child’s benefit and safety that you are doing this.
FIVE: Train children to expect the unexpected. You cannot plan for every eventuality. Sooner or later something will happen that you do not expect. If something happens that means that you must leave the children to attend quickly to an emergency but will be unable to see them then move their food somewhere where they cannot reach it while you attend to the emergency. You can practise this with the children so they get the idea that they will get their food back. (For example if you are practising tip TWO, forget something you need and have to pop into another room to get it.) However, remember an upset child is far better than a child being injured or worse if you cannot see them choking.
Do you have any more tips for safe and smooth mealtimes? Share them in the comments below.
You may also like:
Making sure children are safe at mealtimes is just one of the things that you must do to ensure that you are following all the EYFS safeguarding requirements. If you would like some support with this I recommend the NEW 3 in 1 safeguarding pack for childminders. This pack contains three useful tools in one pack. An editable safeguarding policy, 40 multiple choice safeguarding questions and a safeguarding audit list. You can find out more by following the link below:
Why not get the children involved with some health and safety topics too?
As a childminder you have a choice about what activities you do with the children you look after so why not do some topics that could really make a difference to their lives? Taking the time to explore topics like healthy eating, making friends, sun safety, oral health, fire and road safety will not only really help the children, but it will make you feel that you are doing something truly valuable with the time you are spending with them. The ‘Be Safe Be Healthy,’ pack is a collection of 14 mini printable packs with resources to help childminders to teach 14 health and safety topics to 2-5 year old children.
Here are nine common first aid situations that many childminders have had to deal with in real life. First aid courses are held once every three years. In between times it is a great idea to check that you would know what to do in each of these situations. It is best to download the pictures if they are showing as little ‘x’ marks on your device, and then follow the links to my website for each ‘answer’ so that you can check that you’d know what to do in the frightening event of these situations happening to you.
All pictures and actions shown and described here were created with the help of medical professionals including an A&E doctor and are correct to the best of our knowledge. These situations were chosen because they are all situations that real childminders have found themselves in. Choking especially is one of the leading causes of death and life changing injuries in young children. If in any doubt about what to do, please follow the links provided to the St. John’s Ambulance website which has much more detailed information about the various scenes depicted here.
Be Safe, Be Healthy Pack for Childminders
Want to explore topics and themes in safety and health with childminded children? Check out my Be Safe, Be Healthy Packof printable colouring pages, activities, craft ideas for topics including fire safety, tooth care, making friends, stranger danger, sun safety, healthy eating, bereavement, and accident prevention.
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.
Lots of places offer help to childminders. I provide solutions.
When you’re self-employed as a childminder you’ve got to look after yourself because when your health suffers you ultimately risk losing business. Here are some tips for looking after both your physical health and equally as important: your mental health.
Learn to lift children and pushchairs properly
Back problems and joint problems are one of the biggest health problems that childminders experience often due to lifting incorrectly. It is so easy to do – you bend over to lift up a toddler who is clawing at your thigh, or swing a push chair into the boot, and feel a twang in your lower back that takes weeks to go away. As you get older, these problems increase, so if you are reading this and you are in your twenties, thinking you’re young and fit and this doesn’t apply to you, think again. Some day you will be older and you will wish you had spent the time learning to lift things properly when you were young! Some councils run training on proper lifting techniques – if you have to pay this would be a tax deductible business expense. If you can’t get on a course, check out this leaflet from the Health and Safety Executive and teach yourself to always lift with your legs rather than your back.
Don’t let children get used to being carried
A further risk to childminders is strain caused by carrying children around all day. Even if the parents carry a baby around all day in a sling at home, or have a toddler permanently balanced on their hip while doing everything from preparing lunch to sorting laundry, this doesn’t mean that you have to work under those same conditions. If you make it clear that you will not spend hours carrying around their child, then the parents will not expect you to. The long term risk of straining your back or limbs is simply too great.
Walk everywhere and get lots of fresh air
Finding time for proper exercise at a gym can be really hard when you childmind, especially if you work long hours. The good thing about being your own boss is that you can spend as much time walking around as you like! Walk whenever you can, and buy one of those double buggies that means you can speed walk while pushing it. Walking is one of the best types of exercise there is.
Don’t finish the children’s food
It can be really hard to scrape that fish finger the child hasn’t even touched into the bin when nobody is looking and there are children starving in parts of the world! But if you are trying to watch your weight, then this is a habit that you need to break. The accessibility of the biscuit barrel is hard enough to avoid when you work at home and are trying to lose weight or stick to a fitness plan. Don’t make it worse by finishing the children’s lunches.
Don’t get lonely – stay connected
Talking to small children all day can be lonely, repetitious and tedious, and leaves many childminders longing for the adult company their old day job gave them. People always suggest going to childminder drop-in groups, which is great if you live somewhere that runs them, but hard if you’re somewhere that has less going on. It is also hard if you’re shy at those sorts of things and find it difficult to walk into a group of people who already know each other and make friends. Facebook has many groups where you can meet other childminders and talk online. You can chat with other childminders on our Facebook Pages, ‘Kids To Go,‘ and ‘Forest Childcare Association‘ or join our new group ‘Childminding Club.’
Get a your vaccines
When you’re self-employed you can’t afford to be off work for two weeks with an illness that will leave you feeling tired and weak for months afterwards. Especially an illness that is preventable with a vaccine. Make sure your other immunisations are also up to date – you really can catch measles, for example, if you haven’t been immunised, especially if you live in a part of the country where lots of other people haven’t been immunised.
Enforce your exclusion periods when the children are sick
If you let children come when they are sick, as well as all the other risks to the other children that you may have considered, remember that there is also the risk that YOU will get sick. Don’t forget that if you get sick and have to close, then everybody loses out in the long run. Stick to the exclusion periods recommended by Public Health – they are there for a reason. Do you know what they are?
Don’t get bored
Boredom, like loneliness, can lead to health issues if you don’t deal with it including problems like overeating and high stress levels. It can also make it hard for you to want to open the door on the mornings. This is something we can help with – if you are bored it is time to try something new. Try doing some activities like exploring a theme each month or invest in your own continual professional development CPD as a childminder.
Our Childminding Best Practice Club is all about keeping things fresh and new and will definitely help you not to get bored.
Don’t ignore high stress levels and hope they’ll go away on their own
High stress levels can lead to all sorts of serious health problems when you ignore them. When you are stressed, childminding can be one of the worst jobs because there is no possibility of just switching the children off for a while to deal with the cause of the stress. At those times, it can feel that quitting childminding is the only option, however, there are lots of things you can try before you quit to help you to reduce your stress levels. Don’t give up childminding for the wrong reasons and then regret it.
Being self-employed as a childminder gives you freedom and has a lot of benefits including offering you plenty of time to be outdoors and walk and get fresh air. But ultimately you are on your own when you childmind and when something goes wrong with your health it can all come crashing down. Try to ask for help when you need it – and most importantly take your own health and mental health seriously.
When you make a living from being a care-giver, don’t forget to take the time to care for yourself as well.
Kids To Go was established in 2008. Our products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, and best practice resources promoting diversity, safety and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare).
Lots of places offer help to childminders. We provide solutions.
Nearly every childminder has a horror story to tell, an accident or a near miss story. One of those things you tell every other childminder you know so that it won’t happen to them and they won’t make the same mistake. Many accidents are unavoidable (children slipping over, banging their heads etc.), and are things that happen to children everywhere. But some things are more unique to childminders looking after groups of children in their own homes and out and about. Here are their stories and what they learned so that hopefully none of these things will happen to you!
Phil and Teds pushchair tipping over
“The scariest preventable accident that happened to me was with my Phil and Teds (up and down) pushchair. I was heading out on the morning school run and as I turned to lock my front door, the two year old tried to climb into the underneath section when there was nobody sitting on the top. Her weight tipped it over and the metal frame landed on her finger nail which popped off completely. I was careful never to let this happen again and very cautious about the children playing with the Phil and Teds from then on.”
Throwing cloths over lamps
“I used to have a clip on desk light in the playroom. Some of the after school children had built a den by throwing a sheet over the light. They turned the light on and left it and went outside. All of a sudden the smoke alarms were going off and the whole house was filling up with toxic fumes. Luckily I got back in and opened all the windows and saw what had happened. The sheet over the light had caused it to overheat and melt the plastic clip entirely. The lamp had fallen onto the carpet face down and kept on burning. It melted a hole straight through the carpet. I have never forgotten the fumes that came off of such a small patch of carpet!”
Lift doors closing
“I was taking a lift with a group of children. The first child walked into lift, but the second child slipped and fell down. As I reached down to help the second child, the lift doors closed and took the first child up two floors alone. All was fine, but I was absolutely terrified.”
Another childminder shared a similar story with me about taking a bus with doors at the front and separate doors at the back. Terrifying!
Strap on booster seats tipping over
“This was my own son but I was working at the time. My child was in a booster seat at the kitchen table – one of those soft ones that fold up for storage. I was changing a nappy in the living room (but could see him). He must have leant over too far and the whole chair went over. He was strapped in fine, but the chair was just an ordinary dining table chair, not as heavy as a high chair. He was ok but I felt dreadful. I won’t use the soft strap on baby seats anymore.”
Row Row Row your Boat
“We were at music time doing row, row, row your boat. The brother (aged 3) and sister (aged 18months) were holding hands. Both pulled back at same time and the little one’s elbow dislocated! Really horrible!”
Two childminders told me the same story. Both said they weren’t being especially rough, but like yanking a child by the arm to cross a road (nursemaid’s elbow), this is just something that can happen.
Self-closing park gates
“We were leaving our park play area. One child ran toward the gate with another following and the self-close gate shut in the second child’s finger and turned the nail black. I now make all the children walk with me to the gate and open it together – they all know what happened so they are also super vigilant themselves now!”
Taking buggies down the steps
“This didn’t happen to me, but a lady at the school, about ten years ago, but I’ll never forget it. She was bumping her buggy, with a very tiny baby in it, down a flight of steps in the playground. The path was closed so instead of walking round the long way, she thought this was a good idea. It was one of those travel systems where you clip the car seat to the buggy frame. On the last step she slipped and let go of the buggy. It landed upside down with baby firmly strapped inside. Baby was absolutely fine but mum was a mess, she nearly passed out. I don’t think she ever took the short cut again.”
Children standing on a pushchair parcel tray (under-basket)
“When my daughter was about two, she used to love pushing around her own buggy/stroller. One day she decided to stand on the parcel tray (you know the bit at the bottom). She was holding on to the handle bars and the whole thing tipped backwards and she cracked her head on the floor. She ended up in A&E and was keep in overnight – so scary, especially when they had trouble waking her during the night.”
Leaving children unattended while eating
“My own son was 6 at the time he choked on a nugget. I was upstairs cleaning and could hear the kids laughing whilst eating. It went eerily quiet. Then the eldest screamed at the top of her voice, “Mum he’s choking.” I never got down the stairs so fast. I grabbed him and spun him round and wacked his back. It didn’t work. The girls were now crying and he was going blue. I paused for a second and then really palm wacked his back. The nugget flew out he threw up and I burst into tears. I have never forgotten this and my eldest is 18 and she is doing first aid with me in October when mine expires.”
Out of all of the serious first aid incidents that childminders deal with, choking is one of the most common. Never leave childminded children unattended while they are eating.
Double side by side buggies vs. doorways and gates
“I had a little boy who had just started and I put him and another child in my double buggy. As I pushed the buggy though my door, he moved his leg to the side and it got it trapped between the buggy and door. He couldn’t walk for nearly a week. We now go out backwards with the double to prevent this happening again.”
Another childminder shared a similar story with me about her garden gate.
Accidentally turning on your stove
“I only have a tiny kitchen and store little ones’ bags/lunch boxes on the cooker top. I had a parcel delivered and just stuck it on there too thinking I would sort it out later. We went into the conservatory and carried on with our activities. The next thing I could smell smoke. Before the smoke alarm went off I had the kids outside in the garden safely away and went in to check. I must have knocked a switch on the cooker and it was on and burning. It had melted a little one’s bag, her blankie, lunch, nappies etc. I put it out straight away and no one was at any risk etc., but boy was I shaken up……never mind the embarrassment of having to tell mum what had happened.
We learned that fire drills do work!! And the cooker is now switched off at the wall.”
Standing up in pushchairs
“When my own daughter was small we had a big heavy travel system. She would stand up in it and ride around, and because it was very heavy it wasn’t a problem. When she turned one we bought a smaller, lighter pushchair. Unfortunately, when she tried to stand up in this one, the whole thing tipped over and she cut her head on a stone. She still has a scar.”
Parents not shutting the front door properly behind them
“Because of the way my house is set up, my front door opens directly onto my living room. I keep the front door locked, so there is no risk of children getting out in the day. But at drop off and collection time, it all gets a bit crazy and I can’t always get behind the parents to shut the door properly. Often parents don’t close it properly behind them either. I live on a busy road and I worry about this a lot. I have to be super vigilant about checking on the door every time somebody opens it.”
“When I was a nanny I was taking a little boy (age 2) down an escalator. I took him out of the buggy and held his hand to go down the escalator and as we got to the bottom where the steps go level, he turned his foot and it got trapped between the step and the side. I pulled him by his coat as no one would push the stop button. I ripped his coat and the shop took us to A&E as he had a fracture on the top of his foot.”
Children running with hands in their pockets
“When my little girl was about four, she was walking across the playground with her hands in her pockets and tripped. Obviously, she couldn’t put her hands out to break her fall and went straight down on her chin. She still has a scar.”
A similar thing happened to my friend who tripped and knocked herself out at a swimming pool. Her mum had wrapped her arms inside the towel. Never do that!
“A couple of weeks ago, I was sat at the edge of a pond feeding the ducks with two children aged two and three. As I handed the three-year-old a piece of bread, the two-year-old fell in head first. This wasn’t childminded children, but it was horribly embarrassing. From now on, if I’ve got more than one child with me, we only feed ducks from behind a safety rail.”
Changes to water temperature
“The water at our church hall never got hotter than lukewarm. It had been like that for years and was perfect temp for little hands. Unbeknown to me, over one weekend they had installed a new boiler. I was assisting children with hand washing and left the tap running between washes. The first child was fine but when the second child went to put her hand under and it was scorching hot. I am always so careful with handwashing now in public places like restaurants and libraries and shopping centres because you just never know.”
What about accidents that happen to us?
One childminder says: “What about accidents that happen to us?! That always scares me about working on my own. The worst time was when I was getting a new knife out of its cellophane and the safety blade cover came off with the cellophane and I sliced my hand open. I very nearly blacked out when I realised how bad it was… and had to go and get stitches.”
I always used to worry about this happening too, and then when my little ones were about three I read a true story called Izzy and Olly, about a 2 ½ year old girl who had saved her mother’s life because she knew how to dial 999 in an emergency. I was totally inspired by this and we would practice finding me finding me lying unconscious at the bottom of the stairs and the kids would practice calling 999. Kids thought it was a riot of course, but I had this idea that one day, just in case the worst happened, that if they knew what to do, one of them might actually be able to save my life!
Thank you to everybody who contributed their stories to this article and to the admin group who run the “Childminding For You” Facebook group for allowing me to survey their members.
If you want to share your own stories to warn others about things that have happened to you, then please leave a comment.
Be Safe, Be Healthy Pack for Childminders
Want to explore topics and themes in safety and health with childminded children? Check out Be Safe, Be Healthy MEGA Pack of printable colouring pages, activities, craft ideas for topics including fire safety, tooth care, making friends, stranger danger, sun safety, healthy eating, bereavement, and accident prevention.