How NOT to receive a “Thanks for Being A Great Babysitter” Mug this year

Last updated 12/02/2023

A post on Facebook broke my heart the other day from a childminder who had been given a mug for Christmas that said “Thanks for being a great babysitter”. Upset, insulted, underappreciated, and angry don’t begin to describe the range of emotional responses from other childminders. Of course the parents didn’t intend it as an insult. But it would be really hard not to take it that way. How can you make sure you aren’t the next victim of a ‘thanks for being a great babysitter’ mug?

Get paid in advance

Babysitters are paid when you get home tipsy after a night out. This allows you to round their pay up (or down) depending on how generous you are feeling at that point in the night. In most cases this is a terrible business model for a childminding business. Ultimately it gives parents the power to decide how much they can afford to pay you this week/month based on how much money they have left.

In my opinion, childminders should insist on being paid in advance, ideally one month in advance. This is how most nurseries are paid; why should childminders do things differently? If you offer flexible hours, why not charge a flat rate upfront, and then offer refunds or charge a surplus at the end of the month? This allows you to be flexible but doesn’t leave you entirely at the mercy of parents. Put yourself in charge of the money.

Get a contract in place

A written contract signed by both parties keeps things formal right from the very start and sets the professional tone of your relationship with the parents. You are not offering “casual care” like a babysitter. A contract shows that you offer a regular service for a set number of agreed hours.

If you allow parents to use your service too flexibly, to sometimes use you and sometimes use the grandparents or the church summer club, in other words if they can come and go as they choose then they hold all the power in the relationship. Set up with a proper, written contract from the very start. Parents should feel you are doing them a favour if you occasionally allow them to break their contracted hours with prior mutual agreement. A written contract shifts the power to you, rather than giving it all to the parent.

Offer “Exceptional Educational Programmes” in your living room

No, I’m not kidding. At their own homes with their own parents, small children ‘play with blocks’. At your setting they are ‘engaged in mathematical play’. Parents and babysitters let their children ‘paint’. You offer ‘messy play’ as a ‘structured activity’. Yes, of course it’s the same thing. But your attitude towards it, and what you call it in front of the parents alters the parents’ perception of the activity and their perception of you as a caregiver.

A few well-placed educational posters will transform your living room into a ‘highly stimulating learning environment’. Throw in some themes and make sure the parents know what you have planned. This week we are exploring ‘stranger danger’ with the children, or learning some Polish as part of our ‘diversity awareness programme’.

“Blocks are part of our educational programme”.

Practice saying this a few times in front of the mirror so you can say it to parents with a straight face!

Show off your knowledge of child development

When new children start at your setting, wow the parents by making some starting point assessments on them within the first few months of them starting. Dazzle parents by casually dropping some of the characteristics of effective learning terminology into your conversation!

Be an authority figure

Many childminders were parents first, and not only that, they were most likely parents who were good at it, and who enjoyed it. You certainly don’t go into childminding if you were one of those parents who spent the first year tiptoeing around your baby in case you broke it, or second guessing every disciplinary decision you made for your toddler! You were probably one of those parents who had most of it under control and took a lot of it in your stride. Otherwise you were probably unlikely to choose a career that means looking after other people’s children as well as your own!

Whether you were a parent first before you became a childminder or not, most likely you have more experience than many parents in dealing with children. You have probably potty trained a child before, whereas they haven’t. Whatever the issue, you have probably seen it, done it and had the t-shirt vomited on before!

Share your knowledge about healthy eating, exercise, first aid, food allergies, special educational needs. Often you have that little extra experience than they do to reassure parents that everything is normal, or have that little extra knowledge about ‘the system’ to point them in the right direction of the speech and language support in your area for example. The more that you act like an authority figure, the more this role will come naturally to you. Ultimately parents are often happy to take advice from their childminder, but nobody takes parenting advice from a babysitter!

Publicise your successes

Don’t be modest. Make sure that parents are aware of all the great things you do because their children won’t tell them anything you want them to! When the parents come to collect the child it is hugely important not just to tell the parents what the child ate and how he slept and what his nappies were like… it is also a brief but crucial opportunity to show the parents all the great things you are doing with their child. Put up photos where parents will see them. Some childminders use daily diaries. Newsletters are a great way of spreading your success stories. Babysitters don’t write newsletters.

Treat parents as if they are valued customers of your business

Babysitters don’t ask for feedback on their service. They don’t evaluate and reflect on ways to improve the service they offer or ‘treat parents as partners’. They don’t send home questionnaires about ways to improve their service or offer parents a chance to help plan for their children’s time. They definitely don’t have a plan in place for their continual professional development. Good childminders do all this stuff, because we are childcare professionals.

“Subtly” remind parents you are a childcare professional at all opportunities

“During today’s fire drill we ….”

Enough said.

Parents and babysitters definitely do not do fire drills!

Don’t become a victim of a bad mug. Always remember the childminder’s daily mantra (to be chanted on the school run): I am not JUST A BABYSITTER. I am an Ofsted-registered childcare professional, paediatric first-aid certified, DBS checked, potty-training certified, heathy-snack provider, licensed double-buggy driving CHILDMINDER.


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Kids To Go was established in 2008. Products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist and best practice resources promoting diversity, safety and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare).

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10 Mistakes Childminders make on Parent Questionnaires

Last updated 15/02/2023

Sending out parent questionnaires is something that many childminders do. They are a great way to prove in writing that you are ‘communicating with parents’ and seeking their views about ways to improve your service.

But have you asked yourself WHY you are sending them? What is their purpose? What are you trying to achieve from the paperwork you are sending home and parents are spending their evenings diligently filling in?

Many childminders are making these mistakes on their parent questionnaires. Are you?

Asking “yes” or “no” questions 

Questions on parent questionnaires need to be open-ended, otherwise you are unlikely to gather any useful information from the parent. If you send home a list of statements asking the parent to circle yes/no or true/false then a yes or no answer is all the information you will find out. How are yes/no answers meaningful?

For example, suppose you ask a parent:

  • Are you happy with the quality of food I provide? Yes/No
  • Do you feel that I am helping your child to be ready for school? Yes/No

Then you force them to circle either a yes or a no. What have you learned from those answers? Nothing helpful at all.

Here are open-ended versions of the same questions:

  • How satisfied are you with the quality of the food and snacks I provide? Is there any way I could improve this?
  • Is there anything more you wish I would do here to help to prepare your child for school

You will learn a lot more from asking open ended questions than you would ever learn from closed ones.

Doing parent questionnaires for the Ofsted inspectorchildminding paperwork

Only use parent questionnaires if you really plan to use them to improve your business. While they are a great way to prove in writing that you are communicating with parents, please keep in mind that they take up not only a lot of parents’ time, but your time too. If you are just doing them to stick them in a file to show Ofsted then you are completely wasting everybody’s time. The Ofsted inspector doesn’t care that you have stacks of paperwork – they care about how you are gathering the views of others and acting on suggestions for improvement.

Not reading what the parents have written

I heard of a childminder who was marked down at an inspection because she couldn’t read the questionnaire a parent had completed in front of the inspector. The childminder couldn’t make out the parent’s handwriting and thought it was unfair. But seriously?  What is the point of asking the parent to fill it out if you can’t read what they say and don’t care enough about their answer to bother asking them to clarify? 

Asking questions you don’t care about the answers to

For every question you write on your parent questionnaire, ask yourself: what am I going to DO with the answer I receive? If the answer is ‘NOTHING’ then don’t ask the question. Only ask questions that you care about the answers to. Only ask questions that matter and those with potential solutions.

Making questionnaires too long

Parents are busy. Really busy. Just like you. They do not have time to fill in pages and pages of pointless forms for their childminder. Parents will feel that they are doing you a favour by filling in your questionnaire. They are doing something to help you. So you should treat their time and effort with respect by not taking up too much of it, by taking a genuine interest in their answers, by responding positively to any criticism you receive and by not expecting them to write too much or too often.

Sending questionnaires home too frequently

For exactly the same reasons as above, as well as making them too long, don’t send them home too frequently. If you want parents to fill in your forms properly, then about once a year is really the maximum frequency you can expect meaningful responses from busy parents.

Taking suggestions for improvements poorly

In business one of the BEST things that people can do is to complain to you about something. If one person complains directly to you, it is an opportunity for you to fix a problem that is probably affecting other people too. Sometimes it can be hard getting negative feedback. Try to remember that honest, negative feedback given directly to you is better than parents spreading rumours and complaining behind your back.

Filing them away without acting on anything

If parents take the time to fill in your questionnaire, it is important not just to read them but to have in place a procedure to act on the changes they suggest. Perhaps you have a self-evaluation document you can use? How will you hold yourself accountable for making the change?

Not feeding back to parents about changes you have made as a result of their suggestions

Make sure you have a method in place to show that you are acting on any problems, changes or things that need improvement that your questionnaires raise – one idea is to have a ‘You asked, We did’ board for example. If parents take the time to comment and suggest improvements they will be flattered that you listened and changed something as a result of something they suggested. This will make the parents feel happy and is a very professional way to treat people!

Not asking for the children’s opinions as well

 The last thing that many childminders do with parent questionnaires is to have a small section on them to gather the children’s opinions as well. I think the best way to do this is to ask the parents to speak to their children and to write what they say. Think very carefully about the types of questions you want answers to from the children. Like the parents there is no point in asking the question if you have no intention of using the answers they have provided to make useful changes.  

In conclusion

Used properly, parent questionnaires can be a great way to show that you are communicating with parents and acting on suggestions for improvements given by others. Remember to treat everyone’s time and effort with respect by not taking up too much of it, by taking a genuine interest in parents’ answers, by responding positively to any criticism you receive and by not overusing questionnaires.


Partnership with Parents Pack

The Kids To Go ‘Partnership with Parents’ Pack includes tools to help you to improve how you communicate with parents including sample open ended parent and child questionnaires you can use for your setting. The pack also includes how to extend learning at home, working in partnership in difficult situations, your transition programme, marketing your services and sample late payment and contract termination letters. 


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About Kids To Go

Kids To Go was established in 2008. Products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, and best practice resources promoting diversity, safety and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare).

How to burn out at childminding…. in 10 easy steps

Last updated 12/02/2023

I tried nearly all of these when I first started childminding. So now I want to share. If you want to burn out at childminding… really fast…. follow these ten easy steps:

1. Save all your housework and shopping for the weekends and evenings

All childminders should buy really expensive home corner play sets for their childminding settings but should never be seen to do actual, real housework around their houses while the children are present. Children should never be given real chores to do – they are paying customers, not servants! Children learn nothing from being asked to empty a washing machine and count out clothes pegs. They should certainly never be asked to help with shopping. Parents don’t send their children to childminders so they can be given chores like real children in actual homes. You need to do all housework and shopping in your own time.

2. Children always come first

It is really important that if small children want to speak to you that you drop everything you are doing and respond instantly to their request. If you are chatting to an adult friend or engaged in a task, and a small child tugs on your skirt or interrupts you, it is important that you attend straight away to the child’s needs. Never make a child wait or he will think his needs are less important than yours.

3. Assume you will be able to do everything you did before you started childminding

Everyone knows that childminding isn’t like going out to work at a real job, so there should be no reason why you couldn’t do everything you did before you started childminding. And to exactly the same high standards. You should be able to keep up all the housework, do the shopping, look after your neighbour, continue to be a volunteer school governor, and take your own children to every single club and class you used to take them to. The childminded children will just sort of tag along and join in or watch. It’ll be easy.

4. Do lots and lots and lots of paperwork

childminding paperwork isn't really measured by length

When Ofsted come to visit you they bring a tape measure and a set of weighing scales. The Ofsted inspector will weigh your learning journeys and compare them to Ofsted standard learning journey weights which are outlined in their Inspection Guide. Policies are usually measured on length, by the metre – the longer your policies document, the better. Paperwork is great for parents too. The more bits of paper you get them to sign when they start in your setting, the happier they will feel about your ability to look after their child. So make sure you spend your evenings doing lots and lots of paperwork if you want to really impress both parents and the Ofsted inspector.

5. At the weekends, keep childminding your own kids and never ask for a break

All childminders love all children. All the time. It’s a fact. Childminders are all warm and fuzzy and cuddly types of people who want to be around children ALL the time.  If you don’t feel this way about children, then you should never let anybody find out because they will think you must be a bad childminder. At weekends you should never ask your partner to look after your own children for a while so you can have some ‘alone time’ or some time with other adults. If you ask for a break your partner will think you are weak, a bad parent for not wanting family time, will suspect you are failing at childminding and will tell you to go and get a real job.

6. Never sit and read a book while the childminded children are around

It is well known that if children see adults reading a book they will think that reading is bad. Never, ever let a childminded child catch you sitting down with a cup of tea reading a magazine or a book. Parents and other childminders will also think you are being lazy if you take breaks during the day.

7. Never let parents think you don’t know what you are doing

Most people who become childminders have a four-year teaching degree, a PhD in child development and child psychology and have taken a night course in police crowd control tactics. Many childminders (or at least those of us who want to get the best Ofsted grades) spend their weekends doing open university training on early brain development, plus politics and economics so that we can better understand how to ‘narrow the attainment gap’ in the children we look after. With all of this training, people rightly expect us to know everything about raising children, so it is important that if you have had less training or less experience than this yourself that you don’t let parents find out or they won’t send their children to you.

8. Set impossibly high expectations for yourself

Before you even open your doors on your childminding setting it is important that you have weekly plans in place for the next 5 years for your practice. As well as memorising all the Ofsted manuals, you should read through every Facebook forum and all of the back issues of the Childminding Best Practice Newsletters. Every morning when you brush your teeth you should look in the mirror and say “I am like Mary Poppins: practically perfect in every way”. This will give you the right mindset to face every day.

9. Never ask for help. People will think you are weak and don’t know what you are doing.

Never admit that you are struggling. Ever. Nobody will ever have faced the problem that you are having before and be able to offer you advice or support. Every child is different, every problem is so unique that nobody in the history of mankind will ever have faced a childcare challenge similar to the one you are struggling with. Nobody can help you so it is best to keep your problems to yourself. Only weak people ask for advice anyway.

10. Never make mistakes of any kind

I saw a great bumper sticker once. It said: “If at first you don’t succeed, hang gliding is not for you.” Childminding is like this. There is no room for error. If you do something wrong around a child, it’s pretty much game over for that child. If you ever get discipline wrong, speak to a child in the wrong tone of voice, or (horror) lose your temper and shout at one, you will mess that child up foreverInstead of doing school-readiness activities, you might just as well do prison-readiness activities. Remember that if that child turns out badly, it will probably be because of that one mistake you made when you childminded them. So just don’t screw up. Ever.


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About Kids To Go

Kids To Go was established in 2008. Products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, and observation and assessment and best practice resources promoting diversity, safety and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare).

10 Mistakes to Avoid on Childminding Directory Sites

Last updated 10/02/2023

Lots of councils and private companies offer websites where you can list details about your childminding business to help you to fill your childminding vacancies. Getting these listings right will help parents to find you and choose your service over the competition. Check your listings today, especially if you are struggling to fill childminding vacancies, to make sure you aren’t making any of the following mistakes:

Don’t hide your prices or parents will be suspicious.

Parents want to know at a glance if they can afford your service or if they should be looking elsewhere. A blank space next to ‘price’ looks suspicious and even writing ‘contact me for prices’ can make you appear to be hiding something. Ultimately, honesty saves you time from having to deal with calls from parents who can’t afford you.

EXPLAIN your prices, especially if you are a lot more expensive or a lot cheaper than other childminders.

Whether you offer ‘the cheapest childcare in Slough’ or are selling an ‘outstanding service to rival the best nursery in Cambridge’ you need to make it clear what parents are getting for the price you charge. If they scan down the list of childminding providers and your prices are higher than most other childminders in your area, then parents need to know at a glance what service you offer – meals, antisocial hours, Forest Childcare, flexibility etc. – that makes your setting worth paying so much extra for. Equally important – if you are offering the ‘cheapest after school club in your town’ parents will want reassurance you aren’t running your childminding business from the local bus shelter!

Update your listing frequently, especially if listings are ordered by the ‘last-updated’ field.

Many sites have a ‘vacancy information last updated’ field. If your listing includes this field then it is really important that you update your entry frequently. This is important for two reasons. Firstly because parents will feel that your entry looks more relevant if it is up to date. Secondly, and more importantly, on many sites the default listing order of all the entries is by the ‘last-updated’ field. Therefore to ensure that your entry appears near to the top of the listings you should update it frequently, even if you don’t actually change the information. Parents are more likely to contact you if you are top of the list.

Check that you can find yourself on the directory – otherwise it isn’t working properly and you should complain.

After you have created and updated the text on the directory website, make sure that you check it is working. By this I mean: can you actually find yourself using the website? To do this you need to pretend to be a parent. So, for example if you are trying to find yourself on your Council website, don’t type your name into the childminder search. Of course this search would bring you up.  But if you ask the website to find the closest childminder to your postcode you should expect it to bring your details up at the very top of the list. If it doesn’t do this, then you should complain to your council that their search facility doesn’t work and keep on complaining until they fix it!

List your phone number so parents can get a great first impression of you from your phone manner.

Parents want to be able to call you. They will say they are ringing to find out if you have any vacancies but really they are calling to hear what you sound like. Within the first few seconds of a phone call they will have formed any number of judgements about you based on your accent, the words you use, the noise in the background and even how you answer your phone.

There are a few points here to think about. Never answer your phone from an unknown number if you can’t speak to the person on the other end at that moment. Let your voicemail get it. If there is a baby howling in the background, if you are going to have to admit, ‘Sorry I can’t talk right now I’m driving,’ this will not make a good impression!  ‘Will you kids belt up I’m trying to hear this woman!’ will make a similarly poor impression. Let your voice mail get it. Call them back when you can sound professional. Answer calls from unknown numbers ‘hello this is Kay’.

List your email address and reply quickly to impress professional parents.

Many professional parents don’t want to take the time involved in making phone calls and would much prefer the convenience of a quick email message. For them, the key advantage of emailing is that they can email lots of childminders at once so if you have vacancies it is really important that you reply quickly. If you don’t have an email address listed you make it just that little bit more difficult for them to contact you. They are liable to contact everyone they can contact by email first before going to the trouble of ringing entries without an email address. It is completely free to create an email address on many sites like Hotmail or Gmail.

Always reply to emails about enquiries even if you are completely full at the moment and ask them if they would like to join your waiting list. You never know when your situation may change and you’ll be glad of some names to contact.

Avoid using really terrible email addresses and photographs that make parents think you would not be suitable to look after their children.

“lipstick-kisses@hotmail.com” might have been a fabulous joke when you set the account up when you were sixteen, but if I were a parent looking for a place to send my child, I might be put off contacting you if I saw that. Think carefully about the impression that your childminding email address gives to parents. “Littlelearning@yahoo.co.uk”  or “Kayslittlestars@hotmail.com” make parents go ‘yes please’. “Iboilchildren@hotmail.com” and “naughtynicola@yahoo.co.uk” and “utterly-frazzled-mum@gmail.com” should probably be rethought! Create a new account just for your childminding business and think professional!

On a similar note, many directory sites, especially those run by private companies, give you the opportunity to upload a photograph of yourself. If you are given this option, always upload a photo, otherwise it looks like you are hiding something. More importantly, think very carefully about the photo you are using. The photos that make me laugh the most are when people upload “sexy” glamour shots of themselves, dolled up in so much makeup they look like they belong in fashion magazines. Remember that you are “auditioning” for the role of substitute parent who will change nappies and do painting with small children – you are not posing for Cosmopolitan!

Avoid poor English and spelling mistakes.

If English is your second language or if you know your spelling and grammar are poor, get a friend or your council support worker to check the wording on your entry. Poor spelling and bad grammar can really make a bad first impression on parents.  Remember that parents have never met you and know nothing about you, so they will make their first judgement about you entirely from the entry on a website.

Make your entry stand out in the first two lines and think like a parent

Parents using childcare directory sites are faced by hundreds of similar-sounding directory entries. Especially if you live in an area where parents are spoiled for choice, you must think very carefully about how you will make your listing stand out from the other childminders and nurseries who are using the site. Imagine a parent scrolling through page after page of nearly identical-sounding entries for childminders. You need to grab their attention in the first two lines of your entry.

Think about what businesses call your ‘unique selling point’. What do you do at your setting that makes you special?  Why should a parent contact you instead of any of the other childminders on the list? Lead with what makes you special, rather than some boring waffle about “loving children” or (worse) some EYFS jargon that parents won’t understand.

Don’t rely only on your council listing.

Your council is one of the first places that parents looking for vacancies will go to check what is available, so, while it is important to make sure your entry is up to date and working properly, it is certainly not the only place with childcare listings on the internet. There are many private companies that offer a listing service. Increase the chances of parents finding you by getting listed in lots of places.

To summarise, think carefully about your listings on directory sites because they are an important way to help you fill your childminding vacancies. Fill in all the fields, sound professional, and focus on what makes your service unique. Most importantly, make sure that you can find yourself using the directory, otherwise however good your listing is, if you can’t find yourself, then parents won’t be able to either.


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About Kids To Go

Kids To Go was established in 2008. Products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, and best practice resources promoting diversity and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare.)

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Top 10 threats to childminders going into 2023

Updated 01/01/2023

Note: This blog originally appeared in 2019 and depressingly not a lot has changed since then. However, being aware of the ‘threats’ to your business is the first step to finding ways to deal with those them. I have added lots of tips for you to try and if you have any others that you have found effective please leave them in the comments to help other childminders. Jennifer x

Here real childminders to share what they see as the biggest threats to their childminding business. 

1. Mums and dads doing childcare favours/ granny care – resulting in lots of children using part time spaces

While many childminders do lose business to mums doing each other favours, one childminder writes that “I have a number of my parents who have a similar agreement with friends but over time the friends don’t want to tie themselves to the commitment of caring for someone else’s little one on a regular basis. The casual basis of the relationship means that it can break down easily. I often warn parents that, although favours are a nice idea, in practise these arrangements often break down and this can leave parents in a sticky situation. Grandparents are more of a threat than friends because they are more reliable.”

Another childminder finds that she gets less full time children these days, because people try to mix granny care with a childminder. “I find it rare these days to get full timers as in a lot of families grandma does one or two days a week for them.”

This childminder of 22 years writes: “Me and my co-minder have a lot of kids on our books 22 in all. Not one of them do more than 3 days a week, some only come for 1 day a week. This is very different from how it was even 10 years ago.”

Tip 1: Lots of childminders now work part-time and this can be a great way to help balance work/life responsibilities. If you decide to go part time do some research about your local area first. For example, is there a large local employer that gives everyone Friday off meaning that if you open that day no-one will need you? 

Tip 2: If all of your families are part time but you want to fill 5 days a week why not advertise one day a week as a special outings day? For example, you could offer Forest Childcare Association sessions on a day that is normally quiet and actually charge slightly more for the specialised service you provide. This way you can attract people that do not necessarily need a childminder but love the idea of the children having a special day once a week.

2. Negative press on childminders

Childminders are frequently haunted by people referring to them as “babysitters” in the press and there have been many high profile media moments where childminders are portrayed as unqualified and not as good as nurseries. One childminder writes, “there is just not enough positive press promoting our profession and highlighting differences from nurseries in a positive way.” Another childminder read an article in which childminders were described as “allowing children to eat junk food all day. Utter rubbish. I am complemented by my clients on the meals I prepare. I don’t give them sweets at all!”

2023 Addition: There are definitely lots of supporters of childminders out there and I have been heartened by things like normal run of the mill mums sticking up for childminders on places like Mumsnet. You just have to find them!

Tip 3: Be part of the solution. Visit our Facebook page at Kids To Go and share, share, share the special images we put on there, busting myths and promoting just how fabulous childminders are!

 3. 30 hours “free” childcare

For many childminders the 30 hours ‘free’ funding continues to be the biggest threat to their business with many childminders feeling obliged to offer the funded hours so as not to lose business to nurseries, but then operating at a loss. One childminder writes: “If we don’t offer it then parents look elsewhere. If we do offer it then we are over £1 per hour out of pocket (£30 a week per child).” Many childminders find that children have now reduced their hours to take advantage of the funding. Other childminders find the funding paperwork overwhelming alongside cash flow problems with delays in getting paid.

Tip 4: Read your council funding agreement carefully and see if there are ways you can make funding work for you. For example if you are allowed to specify days on which funding is available you may wish to just offer days that you normally find difficult to fill.

 4. Cheap after school clubs at schools

One of the worst things that can happen to many childminders is learning that their local school is going to open an after school club or a holiday club. One childminder writes: “we have a holiday club here that is £15 per half day but if you use a code to book then it’s half price. So 8-1 for £7.50 Everyone round here knows about the code now and I just can’t compete.”

Tip 5: Don’t compete, stand out from the crowd. Think about all the things you can offer that a holiday club cannot. For example, advertise the fact that you offer outings and a homely environment meaning, for example, that children can have a wonderful day at the beach and then relax on the sofa when they are tired at the end of the day. Many parents do not want their child stuck in a school hall for 6 weeks so try and reach out to parents who want a more premium service – they are out there!

5. Health visitors and other professionals like nursery workers not working with childminders

While some childminders have told me that health visitors have found their Progress Check reports very helpful, there are still many health visitors who treat childminders as unqualified and don’t even read them. One childminder writes: “I would like to recognised as a professional. I would like health visitors to promote childminders to parents, not to brain wash them to think that nurseries are the only and best option.”

Another childminder finds the lack of information sharing between nurseries and herself very hard to deal with which she describes as “professional snobbery, partly due to our title (I feel). There is the attitude that you’re just a childminder and can’t possibly be as qualified as them. So why should they work with you?”

Tip 6: This is a tough one and can be incredibly frustrating. However please stick with it. Sometimes the only thing you can do is to keep trying and advocate for yourself (and childminders in general!) Be olite and professional but do not take no for an answer and hopefully you will change people’s minds.

6. The demands of Ofsted!

how-to-burn-out-at-childminding-image

Many childminders hark back to a time before Ofsted did inspections and feel that it is unfair to be graded on the same criteria as a nursery. One childminder writes: “I would love to be assessed as a home from home, not in line with nurseries.” Another childminder hates the “growing amount of red tape, paperwork, Ofsted telling me I need a policy for example but won’t tell me what I need in it.”

2023 Addition: The paperwork demands from Ofsted are a lot less now which is a great relief. You are required to complete a written Progress Check at Age two and may like to have other paperwork that you find helpful but you are not required to produce the reams of assessments, etc that you were before.

7. The word ‘childminder’ is not professional

Even though the scope of the job of a childminder has come to mean so much more than it did 20 years ago, the word ‘childminder’ remains and many people see the word as part of the problem of being treated unprofessionally. One childminder writes: “I think we should change our name as childminder does us no real justice. Early years practitioner sounds better. The amount of people that say I’m just a childminder or a babysitter, even though we do everything that a nursery would. We offer support to parents that other services can’t.”

8. Lack of support and large training costs

Having a support worker at your council can be very helpful, especially when you are new to childminding or when you want to be kept informed of changes introduced by Ofsted. In many parts of the country, childminders get literally no support at all from their councils. Childminders without local support find the weekly Childminding Best Practice newsletters especially helpful , so please sign up (it’s free).

Training costs of safeguarding and first aid courses are also very expensive especially for new childminders or those who are out of work.

2023 Addition: From April 2023 the D of E’s Childminder Mentor programme goes live. ‘The childminder mentor programme will offer bespoke support by trained early years professionals in the role of area lead and mentor, to childminders across the country.’

To find out more follow this link to the Government Webpage:

9. Strict ratios make it hard to compete with nurseries – unfairness that it is different

forest-childcare-group-photo

Strict ratios on the number of EYFS children that childminders can look after make it very important to really do the maths in terms of taking on part time children. It also seems enormously unfair that nurseries have such different ratios – many experienced and qualified childminders could easily look after more children. One childminder writes: “I think that it’s ridiculous to think that a childminder is unable to care for more than 3 children under 5! you should be able to take on a new family and have 4 children + (not just continuity of care.) An individual childminder knows what workload they can cope with.”

Tip 7: You are allowed to vary your ratios in for a certain number of reasons as detailed in the September 2021 EYFS:

3.43. If a childminder can demonstrate to parents and/or carers and Ofsted inspectors or their childminder agency that the individual needs of all the children are being met, exceptions to the usual ratios can be made for example:

  • when childminders are caring for sibling babies, or
  • when caring for their own baby, or
  • to maintain continuity of care, or
  • if children aged three to five only attend the childminding setting
    before and/or after a normal school day51, and/or during school
    holidays, they may be cared for at the same time as three other young
    children.
    In all circumstances, the total number of children under the age of eight being
    cared for must not exceed six per adult.’

Reference: Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage, Published 1 September 2021

However be careful as you must have good reason for doing so and need to be able to prove that having more children does not affect the care or education you provide them.

10. Nurseries and play groups

Nurseries, play groups and other childcare providers will always represent a threat to childminders as parents have lots of choice. Schools often hand out flyers for the local nursery, but won’t hand out flyers for childminders. One childminder writes, “My biggest threat is the number of cheap nurseries opening near me!!”. Another childminder with a new nursery opening near to her writes, “I live within walking distance to the nursery and I’ve had parents round but have chosen the nursery because they offer more learning experiences. Can’t compete with them really can I?”

Tip 8: Try and get to know your nurseries, schools and playgroups as much as possible. For example, I found that the playgroup I attended actually valued my experience and would sometimes ask me to speak to parents who were struggling with a particular issue with their child. Be friendly and professional at all times – this will help build you reputation with local parents and other settings.

Being aware of threats is important in any business – including childminding

You can’t keep running along with your eyes closed hoping that if you don’t look at a problem that it will go away. Your business is important and I am sorry if you have been or are being affected by any of the issues listed here. Being aware of the competition, knowledge of what issues affect you is generally the first step to finding a solution.


More tips:

Turn ‘threats’ into ‘opportunities’

In business one strategy is to turn ‘threats’ into ‘opportunities’. In other words, if a nursery opens in your neighbourhood, you need to be aware. Then you need to make a plan for how you are going to make sure you don’t lose business to the new nursery. Why is the service you offer BETTER than that nursery for example? How do you communicate this message to parents in your area?

Take control of the issues you can: 

Promote yourself. What makes your business unique? Why should parents continue to choose you over nursery or cheaper option?

Be smart about what childminding paperwork you do. Don’t do too much. Don’t do the paperwork FOR Ofsted; do it because it is useful.

If you want to be seen as a professional by parents, nursery workers and health visitors, your Progress Checks, and other information that you share need to be of professional quality.

Remember that this is your BUSINESS, so do the maths. Check your hourly rate is sustainable. If you can’t afford to take on part time children then don’t let them fill up your spaces. Don’t offer funded hours if you can’t afford to. Write it down properly and work out what you can afford. Don’t be afraid to say no!

Good luck for 2023! And please don’t make a rash new year’s decision to quit childminding until you’ve asked yourself these 13 questions….

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Supporting children with transitions at their childminders

One important role a childminder or other early years practitioner, performs is to support children through transition periods in their life. There are many transitions a child may go through. For example, starting at a new childminder’s, moving house, the birth of a sibling or starting school.

All transitions have an effect on children. It is useful to share information with parents about what the potential effects can be so that they are not too alarmed if any of the following happen:

Physical Effects

The body’s immune system is affected by stress which might mean, that a child catches illnesses more easily in the first weeks of starting with their childminder.  They may have more disturbed sleep or not want to go to bed and may become fussier with their eating habits. (I know that children starting at my setting often eat more when they are happily settled than they do at the start of their placement when everything is new and strange.)

Emotional Effects

Children may not be able to regulate their emotions as well as normal during periods of transition. They may be more tearful or angry than normal and will require extra support from an understanding adult. Some children may withdraw, becoming quieter and they may become upset more easily than normal. Children may regress as they work out changes in their life. Some may start having toileting accidents or show undesirable behaviour such as hitting other children. Their speech may seem to regress as they may talk in a more babyish style, or they may become more clingy and want to spend more time with the parent or the practitioner.

Long-term effects of not supporting children with transitions

It is important to support children as much as possible through transition points in their life as there can be long term effects if not getting it right. A child’s self-confidence and trust in adults can be badly knocked, meaning that they are less well able to cope with future challenges, underachieve in school, struggle making friends or form relationships later in life, develop anger, leading to unwanted behaviour, or, later in life depression, anxiety and self-harm.

How to support children starting in your setting       

Starting at their new childminders is a major event in a child’s life. It will often be the first time they have been away from home for any considerable period of time and may be the first time they have had to properly interact with other children and adults other than their parents. This is especially true for children who have been isolating due to Covid related issues.

Starting at a new childminder’s should, wherever possible, not be a sudden event. This gives the childminder time to prepare both the child and the parents for this change. A child may have mixed emotions about starting at a childminders, excitement and anticipation combined with anxiety about the change. Younger children and babies may not understand what is going on but will react to the separation of their primary attachment figure. The child may be very quiet and withdrawn at first and may not eat well for the first few days. The transition to staring in a new setting is a long one and the process does not begin and end on the child’s first day at the setting.

Ways to help children and parents with the process of starting with a new childminder

Meet the parents to gather information on the child, their likes, dislikes, routines at home, medical requirements (if any) religion, food likes, allergies, their stage of development at home, etc. Parents can be given ‘all about me’ forms to complete but do this together if possible as I find that at least initially parents feel more confident and supported if you go through this information in person.

  • Acknowledge that both the child and the parents need to settle into this new routine and that it takes different amounts of time depending on each child/family. Some children may settle in very quickly, others may take more time. The younger the child the longer it may take them to settle.
  • Give the parents pictures and basic information about the childminder and her family so the child is already familiar with some of the faces they may encounter.
  • Ask for the parents to supply photos of the child’s family for the childminder to make a ‘family book’ with so they child always has pictures of their family that they can look at and talk to the childminder about. For younger children the childminder can make these into lift the flap ‘peekabo’ books to encourage an understanding of object permanence.
  • Encourage parents to provide a comfort object if the child needs it for example a soft toy or a scarf belonging to Mummy which has a scent familiar to the child that the childminder can wear when holding the child.
  • Encourage the parents to use settling in sessions, the first of which where the parent can stay and then in subsequent sessions gradually spends less time staying with the child.
  • Where practical and safe to do so arrange a visit to the child’s home before they start. This way the child can first meet the new practitioner in an environment that is safe and familiar to them.
  • Be available for the parent(s), especially in the first few days (as the parent may be feeling more anxious than the child which the child will then pick up on, resulting in the child feeling anxious too and less likely to settle.) The parent may be put at ease with lots of texts to let them know how the child is doing, or photos of what the child is up to.
  • Make time to talk to the parent at drop off and pick up to facilitate the development of good and trusting relationships as well as to exchange any useful day to day information.
  • Be mindful and respectful of the child’s feelings. At first they may want to just cuddle you rather than joining in with any activities. Take time with older, verbal children for them to be able to talk about their feelings.

How childminders can help with ALL transitions:

  • Have a good understanding of child development and the importance and role of attachment.
  • Give older child time to talk about the transition and their feelings around it. However let the children take the lead in this and do not force them to talk if they do not want to. Support children by helping them understand and label their emotions. Children will often want to spend more time with you at times of transition.
  • Share information! Work with parents to agreed ways of supporting both the child and the parent. For children starting in your setting ‘All about me’ forms can be really useful and for children leaving to join a bigger setting or to start school sharing ‘transition forms’ is a helpful way of making the transition as smooth as possible.
  • Use resources such as books, dolls, social stories and role play toys to help the child explore the situation and their feelings towards it. This can prompt children to ask questions and talk about the events they are experiencing/will experience.
  • Children with additional needs may need more support with transitions. For example non-verbal children may benefit from visual prompt cards to facilitate communication or a child with a hearing impairment may need any new vocabulary they are introduced to supported with the correct Makaton or BSL signs, especially those concerning feelings.  Children with SEND may take longer to adapt to periods of change but as each child is different it is important to know your child and their needs so that you can best support them.

What about you?

Finally I want to mention possibly the most important person in the process – you! Transitions do not just affect the child and their parents; they will have an effect on you too.

It can be nerve wracking getting to know a new child and family and heart-breaking to say goodbye to a child leaving to start school. Be kind to yourself. Do not plan any big events or complicated activities when a new child is starting. Make sure you get plenty of sleep and make sure you have a healthy sandwich prepared the night before so that you have something to eat at lunch if things get hectic. Acknowledging the fact that this is a time of change for you too will hopefully make for a happier and smoother transition time for everyone.


You may find the following products helpful:

Share information to help support smooth transitions

Super Summative Assessment and Gap Tracker Kit £15

This kit contains all the tools you need to sum up a child’s development and achievements, right from when a child starts with you, all the way until they leave to go to nursery or school.  From ‘All about Me’ forms, starting points, transition and report templates as well as sample reports, tips and of course a gap tracker for when you need it.

Build professional relationships with parents

Partnership with Partnership with Parents Pack

An essential tool to help you build and develop your partnership with parents. From help advertising and attracting new families, through to daily communication and letter templates to send to help deal with tricky situations in a professional manner, this pack has everything you need.

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8 Things Ofsted wants childminders to STOP doing – by Jennifer Fishpool

Change is upon childminders again! The new EYFS Framework becomes statutory on the 1st of September 2021 and with inspections up and running again and now potentially only once every 6 years, there is more pressure than ever on getting it right on the day. But what about the long stretch of time that falls between inspections? With a six year gap it would now be entirely possible to look after a child from when he was a baby until when he starts school without any paperwork you create for him ever being seen by an inspector. So should childminders stop doing all paperwork?

There is a growing rumour that Ofsted have banned paperwork and some practitioners say that they are going to stop doing ANY except the statutory requirements. This represents a gross misunderstanding of the expectations on childminders. Before you throw the baby out with the bathwater let’s make sure we really understand what Ofsted is asking.

1. Stop ticking boxes on ‘trackers’ and highlighting copies of Development Matters

Trackers are the biggie which lots of people have been talking about. Ofsted have NEVER asked you to highlight copies of Development Matters or to spend hours colouring in boxes on individual trackers. Childminders should be focusing on providing a broad and balanced curriculum for children and one of the reasons Ofsted do NOT want you to use trackers in this way is because some settings were so focused on getting the children to achieve and exceed each one of the ‘statements’ that the children were getting a very narrow learning experience.

However, all that being said, don’t throw away all those trackers just yet! Many practitioners find them very useful and if that applies to you there is no need to stop using them as long as you consider their limitations. If you find yourself using them as a curriculum, a list of goals or next steps for children, or worrying if children miss steps or do not develop in the exact order written on the paperwork then STOP! This is not how trackers should be used. If you use a simple tracker which is quick and easy to use and helps you spot any gaps in learning or key points that may raise concerns, then great, this is a useful way to use this type of assessment.

2. Stop writing pages of meaningless observations

childminding paperwork

It is our job as childminders to constantly observe children to assess their development and needs. However, STOP making pointless observations that simply generate paperwork and don’t really add value for either the childminder or the child. If you know and the parents know that the child can use a spoon you don’t need a photo and accompanying write up to prove it. Think about what you really need to observe and whether writing it down will add value to what you already do. Let me be clear that you should not stop doing written observations altogether, as done properly and with clear purpose, they are extremely useful.

(If you are new to observing children and how to get the most benefit from it without it taking too much time look out for our ‘Don’t Panic! Beginners Guide to Observations,’ coming soon.)

3. Stop generating ‘data’ and ‘evidence’ in general

The new EYFS and Development Matters are intended to give you an opportunity to refresh your setting’s curriculum to ensure that it focusses on your children’s needs. You should stop spending time unnecessarily gathering evidence and you should certainly spend less time generating ‘data’. Data includes photographs that serve no proper purpose and next steps that are not followed up. Instead spend time creating a broad and balanced curriculum.

4. Stop assessing children unnecessarily

Stop doing any assessments that are not beneficial to the children you are looking after. Pages and pages of ‘next steps’ in learning journeys are not helpful. Especially if they are not acted upon. If you instead ‘know’ inside of you from your knowledge of Development Matters what comes next, you don’t need to write this out anymore. You are allowed to use your ‘professional knowledge’ of child development and the child.

5. Stop making learning journeys without asking yourself why you are making them?

Please notice that I did not say to stop making learning journeys. This is another hot topic of debate on forum discussions and many childminders are overreacting and throwing away their learning journeys. Ofsted does not want you to do this as long as you are making them for the right reasons.

So why make learning journeys?  Do not make learning journeys with photographs of observations and little circled areas of learning and development FOR the Ofsted inspector. They are not interested and may not even ask to see your learning journeys. These documents should only be generated for you and for the parents and only if you find that making them is helpful. Many families enjoy receiving them and you may secretly enjoy making them. However, many parents are perfectly happy with WhatsApp messages and you are allowed to use your ‘professional knowledge’ as long as you really do know where each child is at in his or her stage or development. Personally I think a balance is a good solution. I will still send my parents lots of photos as I love taking them and they love receiving them, but I will not be printing many out and will only include the occasional observation in a much shorter ‘learning story,’ to help me remember where each child is and to provide a lovely memento for the parents when the child eventually leaves my setting.

6. Stop doing unnecessarily detailed written planning you then don’t stick to

STOP doing any paperwork at all that has no use aside from the fact that you think Ofsted might want to look at it. For example horrifically detailed weekly plans that you don’t stick to. The new Development Matters makes it clear that it is up to childminders to use their professional judgment and knowledge to observe children and to plan for their next steps. Julian Grenier led on the revision of Development Matters for the Department for Education. He is clear that you should use Development Matters to help you use your knowledge of each child to facilitate holistic learning that helps children to make progress “without generating unnecessary paperwork.”

This video is a nice overview of the new EYFS and how it links to Development Matters with its goal to “improve outcomes for all children, especially disadvantaged children, and to reduce teacher and practitioner workload.”

7. Stop hitting the target and missing the point with the Early Learning Goals

The Department for Education does not want you to feel restrained by the Early Learning Goals and actually they are primarily there for reception teachers to assess their children against at the end of their time in the Foundation Stage.

The most important point is that a childminder should not write a curriculum plan around a learning goal because the ELGs are really narrow. For example, one of the ELGs under physical development is that children should be able to ‘move energetically, such as running, jumping, dancing, hopping, skipping and climbing’. A childminder could read that and decide that since jumping is obviously important that they would buy a trampoline, but not waste their time with ball skills since those are not specifically mentioned. That is pretty much what the Department of Education does not want you to do with the ELGs. Your physical development gross motor skills curriculum should not exclude spending time doing ball and other PE skills

8. Stop doing anything ‘for Ofsted’

They always say this, but nobody really believes them. With inspections now every 6 years, of course you are going to want to get the best grade you possibly can at your inspection because you will be stuck with whatever you get for a long time!  So, of course you should prepare carefully for your inspection as you always would by being mostly ready for inspection all the time, by being the best childminder you can be all the time, but by perhaps reading through a copy of our Ultimate Childminding Checklist before the big day to make sure you aren’t forgetting anything obvious.

In conclusion, childminders need to think about what is really beneficial to support our practice (and this will be different for each practitioner depending on their needs.) It is about finding a sensible balance, not stopping all paperwork.  If you only have one child you may be able to retain all the information you need on their development without writing anything down but how will you share that information with the parents? You may have more children but have a fantastic memory and still not have to write down much in order to be able to confidently tell an Ofsted Inspector the ‘story’ of each child, but will you be able to spot gaps in learning quickly I think that most of us will still find keeping some sort of records beneficial so don’t burn those learning journeys and trackers just yet!

References

Burchall, J. (2021, May). Ofsted early education update . Retrieved from http://www.theofstedbigconversation.co.uk: https://theofstedbigconversation.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Ofsted-presentation-Ofsted-early-education-update-early-years-providers-Summer-2021.pdf

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Kids To Go was established by Kay Woods in 2008 and is now run by Jennifer. We provide childminding and Early Years resources such as the ‘Ultimate Childminding Checklist’, the ‘Childminding Best Practice Club’ and best practice resources promoting diversity, safety and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare). We also have a Facebook page at ‘Kids To Go’ and a free weekly newsletter which you can subscribe to by sending an email with the subject ‘subscribe’ to jennifer@kidstogo.co.uk

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Have childminded children forgotten how to play with others post lock-down? – by guest blogger Samantha Boyd

Have you noticed on social media sites how many childminders are talking about the behaviour of the children – varying in ages – when playing since the return from lockdown? A childminder contacted Kay saying “The children are all very happy but have forgotten how to share and play so we are concentrating on turn taking, sharing and emotions as well as talking lots about family – generally the same as most first terms but the lack of interaction between kids does seem to be a bit more obvious this term. I guess six months without play groups and play dates has taken its toll.” Many other childminders that I have spoken to have been dealing with the same behaviours being displayed by children since returning back to work after lockdown.

For most children, play is where they learn about social interaction. They learn what is acceptable and what is not, and play is a safe place to act out things they have experienced. With lockdown this was denied to them for what is a long period of time (in their short lives) and deprived them of this important aspect of their learning.

During difficult and stressful times, play allows children to make sense of the world around them and helps to support their emotional wellbeing and build resilience. Returning to settings after a long period of being within their family unit, has heightened childrens anxieties, on top of what is already a stressful time with added pressures at home, such as worry about unemployment, finances, strained relationships, grief.

So what, as childcare professionals, can we do to support the children during these transitions. The following 6 suggestions came from http://www.youngminds.org.uk:

  1. Talk to the children about their feelings
  2. Talk to the children about the routines you have; or the rhythm of the day and provide a visual prompt, if this would help (Great for non-verbal or SEN children).
  3. Reassure the children – they are receiving a lot of messages regarding social distancing, washing hands, germs, illness and death – and this is all scary stuff when you are young.
  4. Keep things simple – allow children to play – explain that children do not have to give up a toy if they are still playing with it – snatching – patience and taking turns – facilitate play and have strategies in place to deal with any issues (see below).
  5. Go easy on yourself and ensure that you are looking after your own mental health.

Taking turns is a social skill and http://www.andnextcomesl.com  has some great ideas to teach this –

  1. Use a visual cue ie a talking stick
  2. Use turn taking language – “my turn, your turn”
  3. Model turn taking – show them what to do
  4. Play games that involve turn taking such as board games and card games
  5. Use a social story – see free link to a free printable and video about sharing
  6. Use a timer to indicate how long each turn will be – use oven timer/egg timer. This reinforces fairness and acts as a visual or auditory cue.
  7. Communicating and describing turns – first its x’s turn, then its yours – 5 minutes each.
  8. Use a fidget between turns such as a spinner, putty or ball.

If a child persists in snatching or aggressive behaviour – remove from the activity, explaining “You were having a hard time (taking turns with your friends) and you were not being kind. You need a break” NB THIS IS NOT TIME OUT!. Sit with the child and calmly talk to them about their feelings, the whys and what ifs. Once the child is calm, say they may rejoin the play but only if they can take turns and act kindly.

Remember sharing and turn taking are hard skills to master! So… work with parents to come up with some strategies; be mindful around the children regarding language and show by example; look after yourself.

Some great resources and further information can be found here:

www.outdoorplaycanada.ca/2020/05/13/play-first-supporting-childrens-social-and-emotional-wellbeing-during-and-after-lockdown/

www.youngminds.org.uk/blog/supporting-a-child-returning-to-school-after-lockdown/

www.kids-harbor.com/teach-child-take-turns/

 

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About Samantha Boyd

I am a mum of 3, a qualified Forest School Leader and childminder, graded outstanding in 2015 and 2020 and am currently studying a childhood studies degree with the open university. I have a love for loose parts and the outdoors and am currently working through the Curiosity Approach accreditation. I have a passion to allow children the space and time to explore and love setting up ‘invitations to play’ and seeing where the children will take it.

 

 

About Kay Woods and Kids To Go

Kay Woods Kids To GoKay 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.

http://www.kidstogo.co.uk/childminders/childminding.html

Loose parts

By Guest Blogger Samantha Boyd

Updated 12/08/2022

Loose parts is a term that is becoming more and more popular within education but particularly in Early Years settings and if you are looking to be more environmentally friendly, is a great way to recycle and reuse. So, what are loose parts and what benefit do they have to children’s play and development?

Loose parts are not toys, in fact they are the exact opposite. A toy has one purpose, to be what it was built for. It cannot be anything else. A loose part however, with a little imagination can be absolutely anything.

loose parts. Pebbles and shells in a childminder's sandpit

Simon Nicholson created the theory of loose parts in 1971. He was an architect who believed that all children were creative, and that this creativity should be nurtured and encouraged, rather than suppressed by what adults believed children should be like. So, he tried giving open ended materials that could be used with imagination and become anything the child wanted it to become – they can become parts of construction, pattern forming, used in role play and social play, anything; and he was amazed by the imagination and creativity the children showed. Actively engaged children are resilient learners who can solve problems and think outside the box.

Some examples of loose parts:

Natural: shells, stones, wood chips, pine cones, leaves, feathers, seeds, flowers

Manufactured: buttons, boxes, fabric, ribbons, nuts and bolts, pegs, pipes, guttering, straws.

When using loose parts, children can follow their own agenda, their own learning. Set up invitations to play and see what the children can do. Trust the children to know. You may need to model how to use them. Many children are not sure what to do because they have not needed to use their imaginations in this way as toys and adults have told them what to do with things. So, allow the children to explore these objects.

Ask parents to support you by asking for donations. You will be surprised at how supportive parents are.

Here is an example of some artwork achieved with loose parts.


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Kids To Go was established in 2008. Products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, best practice resources promoting diversitysafety and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare). It is the home of the Childminding Best Practice Club and the free weekly Childminding Best Practice newsletters.

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Should you give childminded children homework to support learning at home?

It is an EYFS requirement that childminders “must seek to engage and support parents in guiding their child’s development at home.” Ofsted inspectors take this requirement very seriously. In fact, many childminders miss out on outstanding by overlooking this and comments like “Although the childminder works well in partnership with parents, she has not developed highly effective systems to share information with parents about how they can continue to support their child’s learning at home” often appear on inspection reports.

Parents have mixed reactions to the idea of ‘structured activities’ and ‘homework’. Some love it and want more of it. Others don’t feel it is appropriate. In deciding what to do with your children and families, you need to look carefully at your families and at what you are trying to achieve in your setting.

 

Your attitude to what you are sending home is crucial to engaging both the parents and children

The amount and type of activities you offer as suggestions to parents is going to be important and depend very much on what YOUR parents will do. An activity could be as simple as loaning a book to parents once a week to match a theme you are exploring in your setting, or could involve you ‘assigning’ activity sheets (like the colouring pages or maths sheets from my Childminding Best Practice Monthly Packs) for example.

When I used to take the children to music club once a week, as we left we were handed a colouring page. This colouring page was different from ‘ordinary colouring pages’ because the ‘Teddies Guitar Lady’ had given it to us to do. We took that colouring page very much more seriously than others we might do during the week that followed. So if you establish these assigned colouring pages, toys or reading books as important and as things to be taken seriously, then parents and children are more likely to treat them as such.

 

Why send things home?

I think it is important to be clear in your own mind WHY you are sending things home with parents. You don’t want to feel that you are wasting your time or the parents’ time or being unreasonable. So have a clear ‘purpose’ about what you are trying to achieve whether it is helping parents out, linking learning in their home with what you are learning in your setting, or getting children (and parents) ready for school. Remember that if you want parents to take it seriously and if you want them to do your ‘assignments’ with their children then you need to take yourself (and the activities) seriously as well.

 

Share ‘tip sheets’ and other tools to help parents support specific aspects of their child’s learning and development at home

One of the best types of activities to send home are activities that a parent can use to help a child on a particular learning goal he is working towards at that time. Suppose a child is working on tying his shoes. It would be fantastic to send him home with one of those wooden shoes with practice shoelaces on them. Suppose a child is just learning how to use scissors? Then a simple art project that requires him to cut something out would be perfect.

A big thing for any parent is potty training? Could you create a ‘tip sheet’ for parents – helping them to reinforce some of the ways you do things here? ‘I noticed that your child is ready for potty training. Here are some tips…’ You could send the sheet home along with a friendly children’s book about potty training that week for the parents to read at home.

Remember that all of these types of activities, suggestions and information you share with parents make you appear to be more and more of a childcare professional in their eyes.

 

‘Narrowing the gap’

According to the Ofsted publication Teaching and Play in the Early Years – a balancing act? “Children from poor backgrounds are much less likely to experience a rich and rewarding home learning environment than children from better off backgrounds.” Research suggests that good partnership working gives parents confidence to help with teaching their children. Sending things home to children from disadvantaged backgrounds is also important because you are helping to prepare the parents as much as the children for ‘doing homework’ ready for school.

Ofsted states that The best settings were acting to break any possibility of an inter-generational cycle of low achievement… the most effective providers go out of their way to engage with parents who may themselves have had a bad experience of education.”

 

Offering challenges to children who are ahead

At the other end of the spectrum you can send home activities to show how you are ‘challenging children who are ahead’. Their parents may love the idea that you are helping them to get ready for school and will treat your assignments with all the seriousness we used to treat our Teddies Music Club colouring pages!

 

Give careful consideration to the frequency of home learning suggestions

How often should you lend books to children and expect them to do activity sheets and sit down with their child to do a jigsaw type activity? This is a difficult question because it depends very much on the type of parent and on your relationship with the parent. Some may be very receptive to the idea while others simply can’t be bothered to take the time. Others may feel strongly that they actually don’t want their small child given anything resembling a school worksheet. You have to respect parents’ wishes here whatever you may feel.

 

Don’t overdo the paperwork you expect parents to fill in – if you overdo it, parents won’t do any of it

I know that it is tempting to want the parents to document every little activity you do so that you have ‘proof for the Ofsted inspector’, but this can seriously backfire and I don’t recommend it. If you want parents to fill in a long form every time you lend them a book or a game, then they will quickly (very quickly) get bored of doing ALL parts of the task. They will see the form and decide that they can’t face the jigsaw because they can’t be bothered to fill the form and will return both unused. Ask yourself if you really need to make them fill in a form or if there is some other way you can document what you are doing for Ofsted? If you must use a form, remember to keep it simple for parents to fill in, or they will vote with their feet and abandon all of your homework ideas as too much work.

 

What sort of thing should you send home?

Some childminders lend children everyday toys. Others keep a few things special, just to be used for home sharing. Some examples of the sorts of things other childminders send home to support learning at home are:

  • A reading book – chosen by the child, or to support a theme you are exploring
  • Story sacks
  • Nursery rhyme sacks
  • Story stones
  • A group toy to be looked after for the weekend
  • Colouring pages
  • ‘Worksheets’ or activity sheets
  • Maths games and jigsaw puzzles
  • Pre-prepared art kit with child sized scissors, glue stick and crayons etc

There are lots of ways that you can support children’s learning at home and it is up to you and parents how far you want to push the idea of ‘homework from my childminder’. So much depends on the types of parents, ages and stages of the children you are looking after, but the more seriously and regularly you take your home learning plan, the more seriously the parents will take it and the more benefit to everyone there will be. If you don’t have a home learning plan for your setting, why not write one today?

Remember to take yourself seriously and aim high!

Good luck with whatever you decide to do. 

 

Communication with Parents Pack

My NEW Communication with Parents Pack includes tools to help you to create a home learning plan for your setting, plus details suggestions on specific ways you can support learning at home. The pack includes information for new childminders setting up and for experienced childminders hoping to achieve outstanding.

Pack includes:

  • Supporting learning at home
  • Attracting new parents to your setting – improving your marketing skills to get new parents to contact you, your unique selling points, WOW factors, managing the ‘first visit’
  • Audit your setting to improve what you do
  • Sharing challenging information about their child’s learning and development with parents in a tactful way
  • Parent and child questionnaires
  • Letter templates for challenging situations – late payment, late collection, unhealthy lunches, terminating your contract with a family
  • Transition programme

Use the tools in my new pack to examine what is working well and what needs to be improved in terms of how you communicate with parents.

 

Childminding Best Practice Newsletter

Sign up for the free quarterly Childminding Best Practice Newsletter using the orange sign up box on my website and I will send you best practice ideas, childminding news, EYFS tips, outstanding ideas, stories from other childminders, arts and crafts project templates, new products, and links.

http://www.kidstogo.co.uk/childminders/childminding.html

About Kay Woods and Kids To Go

Kay Woods Kids To GoKay 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.

http://www.kidstogo.co.uk/childminders/childminding.html