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Loose parts by guest blogger Samantha Boyd

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.

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 art work achieved with loose parts.

 

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

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

10 things childminders should always do when communicating with parents

Young children flourish best when parents and childminders work well together and form a ‘partnership’ but as all childminders know, some parents are easier to work with than others. Keep these 10 simple things in mind when you reflect on how you communicate with your parents.

 

1. However you may be feeling, SMILE when people come through the door every time.

Good body language makes such a difference to face to face communication. Make sure all parents get a warm and genuine greeting. Make time to listen to each parent and use ACTIVE listening skills. When you are handing over their child, you shouldn’t be packing up boxes, or tidying at the same time. When you are talking with a parent, give them eye contact and your full attention, just for a few minutes.

 

2. Show ALL parents that your setting welcomes diversity

diversity awareness logoMake sure that your resources and displays represent the ethnic, cultural and social diversity in your community and ensure that parents can see their own family background and culture represented in your wall displays. Most importantly, learn to pronounce parents’ names correctly.

 

3. Make everybody feel welcome including fathers

Stereotypical views of childcare as women’s work can make childcare feel like a no-go area for some fathers. Go out of your way to make fathers feel welcome. If you invite parents to do activities at your setting, make sure these activities are for ‘parents’ not ‘mums’.

 

4. Use whatever forms of communication work best for the parents, not for you

Communication takes many different forms and as a childminder in a modern age you need to be flexible. What works well for one parent, may not work well for another. And don’t forget fathers. They may prefer different communication methods than mothers. Ask parents about what form of communication they would prefer and try to do whatever works best for them.

 

5. Always get a written contract in place

Always get a written contract with parents because this sets the right tone for your “business” relationship right from the very start. Even if you are childminding your best friend’s little girl (in fact, especially if you are minding for a friend) make sure you get a contract because this is a business arrangement that is outside of your friendship. A contract in writing protects everyone from later misunderstandings.

 

6. Establish yourself as a ‘friendly professional’ NOT a friend

It is entirely up to you what ‘tone’ you establish with the parents of the children you look after but if you become their “friend”, it can be hard to have serious discussions about late payment or their child’s problematic behaviours later on. Instead, if you set yourself up to be a friendly professional, then you have established the necessary boundaries you may find helpful later on.

 

7. Make sure that the parent always has the impression that you are happy to talk longer with them if they need to

Sometimes an issue is too big to discuss in your doorway, especially if there are other parents around or the child is listening in. In this case, don’t try to rush it, ask the parent “when can we talk more formally” and tell them you will be in touch to arrange a time by email or text message later on.

 

8. Have two bulletin boards

Many childminders have overflowing bulletin boards full of all sorts of curling paperwork that no one except the Ofsted inspector ever needs to see. The clutter of paper makes it impossible for anybody to read the important messages hidden between the rubbish.

One way to handle this is to have TWO bulletin boards: an Ofsted inspector bulletin board with all the paperwork you have to display for legal reasons like your registration certificate and the parent poster AND a totally separate Parent Information Board on which you put things you actually want parents to see like your weekly plan of activities, menus and your holiday chart.

 

9. Invite parents into your setting for an event

Parents can make a valuable contribution to all the children’s learning by sharing their time, experiences and talents. If their home culture is different to yours inviting a parent to do an activity with you could even be a fabulous diversity activity for everyone. Hold a special event and invite parents to join you for the afternoon. 

 

10. Give parents clear ideas of how they can support learning at home

The best way to help a child in the long run is to help his parents because parents are the most important influences in a child’s life. Give lots of specific help and encouragement to parents whenever you can, give them tools to support their child’s learning at home, and take extra time to help more vulnerable parents.

 

Communication with Parents Pack

My NEW Communication with Parents Pack includes a communications audit that you can use to examine what is working well and what you need to improve. Pack challenges you to think about how parents want to FEEL when they choose a childminder and 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

10 Mistakes Childminders make on Parent Questionnaires

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?

 

1. 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.

 

childminding paperwork2. Doing parent questionnaires for the Ofsted inspector

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.

 

3. 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? 

 

4. 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.

 

5. 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.

 

6. 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.

 

7. 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.

 

8. 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?

 

9. 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!

 

10. 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.

 

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.

 

Communication with Parents Pack

My NEW Communication 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. 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. 

 

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

Top 10 threats to childminders going into 2019

As childminder numbers continue to decline (now down 27% from 2012), it’s a good time to take a look at your childminding business and check that you will not become the next statistic. I asked real childminders to share with me what they see as the biggest threats to their childminding business. Being aware of the ‘threats’ to your business is the first step to finding ways to deal with those them.

 

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.”

 

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!”

 

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.

 

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.”

 

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?”

 

6. The demands of Ofsted!

how-to-burn-out-at-childminding-imageMany 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.”

 

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 my newsletters especially helpful I find, 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.

 

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

forest-childcare-group-photoStrict ratios on the number of EYFS children that childminders can look after make it very important to really do the math 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.”

 

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?”

 

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.

 

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, Learning Journeys and other information that you share need to be of professional quality.

Remember that this is your BUSINESS, so do the math. 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 2019! And please don’t make a rash new year’s decision to quit childminding until you’ve asked yourself these 13 questions….

 

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

15 jobs childminders can do to earn extra money alongside childminding

Many childminders find that childminding just doesn’t earn as much money as they need and do a second job alongside childminding. If you are in the situation of looking to top up your income, then here are some of the jobs that other childminders do alongside childminding.

 

Nails

Doing nails isn’t necessarily a cheap business to set up but many childminders find that this can be a great side job because it can be done totally flexibly in evenings and weekends or alongside the hours you work. One childminder writes: “I’ve been childminding over 14 years and trained in nails 3 years ago. I’ve got a really good second business now. Only thing is I now work 65 hours plus a week!”

 

Evening or weekend job in a supermarket, waitressing or bartending etc.

Lots of childminders take on evening and weekend hours at supermarkets, bars or waitressing type jobs. These types of jobs tend to offer the flexible hours that you will need if you are childminding during the day. The real benefit of taking a second job in a big shop or restaurant etc. is that the pay and hours will be guaranteed. Another benefit is that you will get to enjoy some adult company as many childminders find it lonely working alone with small children all day.

 

Part time work in the job you did prior to childminding

Some childminders split their time between childminding and the job they used to do before they were childminders. For example, one childminder “works 3 days a week as a childminder and then does 2 days in her school as a teaching assistant.” When I was childminding I spent spare moments working freelance for my old boss, doing bits and pieces of marketing work, websites and writing press releases and such. The key benefit of this is that it kept my business skills going and allowed me to keep doing work that I’ve always enjoyed. If you have the skills, be brave and approach your old company (or other companies) about freelance work.

 

Tutor

Many childminders have teaching experience or come from a background in a subject (like a foreign language) that makes being a tutor a natural idea. Tutoring fits nicely into evenings and weekends and could even be done alongside after school childcare. If you are good at what you do, then you will likely get more business through word of mouth. Some people specialise in things like ‘11+ training’ which is highly sought after in certain areas and therefore pays very well.

 

eBay craft business or “market stall”

If you are crafty and creative, then you can earn a few extra pounds selling your craft stuff on eBay or Etsy. Some childminders make greeting cards, hampers and gifts for example. Another way to sell things you make like cakes and biscuits is to rent a market stall. The downside is that unless you really hit on a genius or unique idea, the money and hours you spend making the products can make it hard to treat this as a ‘job’ – more of a ‘nice little bonus when you sell something’.

 

Sell beauty products, Ann Summers or books like Usborne

A side job for many childminders is to sell beauty products such as Avon or Forever Living. You can sell to family and friends by holding ‘parties’ or set up and sell online. Another thing you can sell are books for companies like Usborne. When signing on to this sort of thing, be very careful about the amount of time and money you will need to spend from your own pocket and check that you can really make a profit. Beauty products and books can be expensive, so make sure you read all the small print and check that you can afford to lose the money if you can’t sell the items.

 

Cake making

If you are great at making cakes and are a creative, arty person, you can make cakes for other people. Another option a friend of mine did, was to make and sell loaves of bread. Before starting something like a cake business, be very careful to work out your real costs including just how much time it is likely to take you. One childminder writes: “Only problem with cake making is that people aren’t prepared to pay the price for the quality and time I put in to them. I have given up now. I think my problem was that I really cared about doing a great job. I should probably have just chucked them out quickly.”

 

Teach fitness classes

A great way to get fit yourself and make extra money is to teach fitness classes. Many childminders are also fitness instructors for Zumba or yoga etc.

Counsellor

If you are good at listening to people’s problems, you could consider training to become a professional counsellor. Please bear in mind that there are many hours of training to complete and once you have finished your training you will need to advertise to get business. But the pay is ultimately good and it would fit well around childminding as you can set your own hours.

 

Dog walking business

A dog walking business will keep you fit. Many childminders do this before school. One of the key problems with this type of business is setting it up in the first place. It can be hard to find more than the occasional hour and there is lots of competition. Another downside is that you have to be very organised to coordinate this work around childminding.

 

Photographer

There is a lot more to setting up a photography business than just taking good photographs, but some childminders find that this works well on weekends. Please keep in mind that it is a very tough, competitive market and once you’ve invested in all your equipment, there is no guarantee of work.

 

Sewing or ironing

A classic evening or weekend job is to do alterations on clothing or take in ironing. People will always need dresses taken up and clothing ironed.  Lots of childminders sew or iron in their spare time.

 

Data entry jobs and online surveys can be stead and flexible 

If you have previous office experience, this could be a great job because you can do it whenever you get spare time on your home computer. You generally get paid for data entry by the number of entries you make rather than by the hour, which means you can go back and forth to it when you get a spare few minutes. Online survey companies are another thing you can do in your spare time and get paid for. This is great work for people who type well!

 

Market research companies

You can get paid quite well for just a couple of hours of your time answering questions about a company’s products. I have done this myself on a few occasions and found it was actually quite fun.

 

Handyman (or handywoman), cleaning or gardening services

Are you good at doing little jobs around the house? Many childminders are very practical people and other people will gladly pay you to hang pictures or shelves or fix a bicycle. Cleaning or gardening is similar work that can pay quite well and be done evenings or weekends. We have a guy who comes to our house, takes all our bikes away and services them for us, then brings them back to our house when they are done. This is a clever, niche business if you are good with your hands.

 

There you have it. Some ideas to consider if you are looking for ways to make some extra money around childminding. Do something else not listed here? Please add it in the comments below.

Good luck with whatever you decide to do!

 

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

Can you name 10 reasons childminders are better than nurseries?

If you can’t name 10 reasons that childminders are better than nurseries, then you shouldn’t be surprised when you lose business to them. Parents are overwhelmed with choice when it comes to care for their children and one of the choices they have to make is whether to send their child to a nursery or a childminder. You could probably write your own list of the benefits of childminders, but could parents write this list? Could YOUR parents write this list about YOU? Or have they forgotten why they chose you to look after their child?

The purpose of this article is two-fold. Firstly, to make sure that you have a clear idea in your own mind about why you are better than the nursery down the road. Secondly, to make sure that you are successfully communicating this information to parents, both to attract new business and to retain the business you have.

 

Part 1: Here are a list of general reasons why childminders are better than nurseries. Which of the following apply to you? Can you add to this list?

  • Real-life experiences like trips to the shops, gardening, visiting the library, taking an outing to the park, cooking their lunch.
  • Flexible opening hours
  • Helping older children with homework after school.
  • Trips to soft play, music club, classes and clubs
  • A consistent key person – a secure attachment figure who doesn’t change day to day – a chance for a child to build a long lasting close relationship over a period of time
  • Care for siblings alongside each other
  • Mixed age ranges of children all playing together can have enormous benefits for all children
  • Smaller groups and more individual attention
  • A home environment offers flexibility of activities as well as simply the comfort of being in a home rather than a nursery
  • More frequent outings due to smaller number of children to coordinate
  • Opportunities to do Forest Childcare daytrips – many childminders can make the commitment to weekly outdoor outings more easily than a nursery can
  • Quiet spaces to relax – nurseries are noisy and busy

 

Part 2: What is unique about YOUR childminding business? Why should parents choose you?

The second step is to add to the list in Step 1 with the benefits of your own childminding setting. What is different about your business that would make parents want to choose your setting over your local nursery or the childminder down the street? Are you cheaper? Do you provide better meals? Do you speak two languages at home? Do you provide better outings? Do you have a sharp focus on STEM activities? Do you have lots of experience? Are you rated outstanding? Are your prices competitive? Do you offer funded places?

If you are new to childminding, this exercise will help you to think about how to write your directory listings, website entries and any other marketing materials you plan to produce like a brochure, Facebook page or a website. If you have been childminding for a while, do this exercise anyway. It will help you to stand back a little from your business and think about how you make parents aware of the good things you do so that they don’t start looking elsewhere for that ‘next best thing’. 

Not sure what makes your setting or you different? Ask a friend to help you. Sometimes it can be really hard to stand back from yourself far enough to describe yourself well. I once heard that if you register on an online dating site that you should ask someone else to write your profile because it is very hard to describe yourself well. Other people are often better at recognising your good points than you are.

 

Part 3: How do you promote your unique selling points to get “new” business?

Kay Woods Childminder ListingOne of the first places a new parent may hear about you is your online council directory or other directory listing site. These sites are increasingly the gateway through which new parents will find you. Making you and your business stand out from a list of identical-sounding entries for childminders is tough. Your top three unique selling points need to stand out in the first two lines.

Don’t just rely on directory listings to get business. Can you put up flyers at your library or school, or music club or soft play gym? Can you make a website or Facebook page? Whatever methods you use make sure that you focus on what makes you and your setting unique and that this information is clear to parents at a two second glance.

 

Part 4: How do you promote your unique selling points to retain parents’ business over time?

First a parent has to decide to place their baby with you. Then, when their child is old enough for nursery (and qualifies for free hours) they need to make the decision again (how shall I split my time between a nursery and my childminder)? When their child starts school, the parent has to make the decision for a third time (shall I keep my child with my childminder, or sign him up for after school club?) In each instance, the parents will be doing a direct comparison between you and your competition. 

5 senses art project for childmindersYou need to have a strategy for how you plan to KEEP their business. So promoting your unique selling points needs to continue long after you have signed the contract and should be a continual task on your priorities.

The golden rules for dealing with parents are to:

  • Never let them forget why they chose you in the first place
  • Always assume they are looking for the ‘next best thing’
  • Don’t let them take you for granted
  • Treat them as if they are customers who must continue to choose you over the competition

Look closely at your own setting. Which of these methods do you use to promote yourself to parents on an ongoing basis, reminding parents that you are ‘much more than just a babysitter’ and a better choice than switching to a nursery?

  • Engaging conversations at collection time about the things you did with their child that day and what the child is learning at your setting
  • Daily diaries and daily care sheets
  • Photos up in your setting were parents will see them
  • Thank you card board
  • Facebook group or page (private) on which you post activities the children do
  • Whatsapp images
  • Newsletters
  • Learning Journeys showing parents the educational fun you are having
  • Regular art projects sent home and special projects like Christmas cards
  • Weekly plans posted so parents know what activities you are doing
  • Inviting parents to join your activities so they can ‘see you in action’ with the kids
  • Big, bright colourful eye-catching displays mixing photos, artwork and great learning involving all the children
  • Sending home suggestions for how parents can support learning at home

It is a truth in any business that it is always easier to retain the business you have than to get new business. In other words, it should always be easier to keep families once you have them, than to go through the process of advertising and finding new families.

Top tip for helping parents to KEEP CHOOSING you: Get at least one nice photo of yourself WITH the child and send that photo home!

 

Communication with Parents Pack

My NEW Communication with Parents Pack includes tools to help you to write your unique selling points to get new business, to manage the all-important first parent visit and to help you to think about how parents want to FEEL when they choose a childminder. 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

Should I use a childminding app?

Childminders often email me to ask if they should use a childminding app. This always makes me smile a bit because I don’t actually sell apps, so I am hardly likely to be the best person to recommend them! However, my feeling on apps is that there are actually lots of really great apps and online software out there you can use to really cut down on your paperwork. BUT, in my opinion, you should only use them once you fully understand the PROCESS you are automating and the steps they are helping you to ‘skip’.

 

Should I use an app for learning journeys and tracking children’s progress?

I get this question a lot and always tell childminders the same thing: you are fine to switch to apps but only once you fully understand how the observation – assessment – planning cycle works. You also need to be able to demonstrate that you really KNOW where each child is in their stage of development, what you can realistically expect them to do ‘next’ and most importantly, if a child is falling behind in any of the important areas, you need to spot this.

Getting a true understanding of what is meant by all of this takes time and needs experience. Every childminder needs to have a good working knowledge of what is considered normal development for a child under five in each of the seven areas of learning and development. You don’t need to keep this information in your head – but you really need to have a well-thumbed printed version of Development Matters to hand which is the ultimate EYFS reference book for what you can realistically expect and when from any child. This is your development bible that will flag up for you if a child has fallen behind in an area. All childminders should understand this publication inside and out!

Be careful about switching to an online learning journey system or any kind of app until you fully understand the process of observation-assessment-planning. I want to compare this to teaching school children basic maths. It would be perfectly easy to give a young child a calculator and teach them to do simple sums on it. They could be taught to multiply, divide, add and subtract using the calculator simply by pressing the right buttons. They could learn to press the right buttons without a shred of understanding what it actually means to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Calculators are only a great tool once you know what they are for!  All I am saying is that you need to be careful that you understand the ‘process’ you are doing before automating it.

Active learning for childmindersA childminder (who has read Development Matters) would not expect a child to run before they can walk. Once you really understand normal child development and what you are doing when you are writing a ‘next step’, planning for an individual child and how to stand back and write a ‘whole child assessment’ only then are you ready to consider removing some parts of the paperwork and automating them through apps and taking other shortcuts.

 

Should I do ‘in the moment planning’ rather than written planning?

A question that gets asked on Facebook forums a lot is what planning people do. Lots of childminders respond that they never do written planning or that they do ‘in the moment planning’ which is something of a buzz word that I worry a lot of people use without really understanding what it means.

Like automating learning journeys and assessments, before you throw out the idea of making written plans, you should try planning on paper a couple of times just so that you understand the process of what is meant by a plan. For example, you should try writing:

Ultimately, childminding plans don’t have to be written down, but if you do write them down a couple of times, you can check that you understand the point of making plans and how they can help you and the children to explore new things. Once you have done this a few times, then you should feel free to adopt a policy of ‘I never do written planning’ not because you don’t know how or can’t be bothered, but because no written planning IS your plan!

 

Should I do risk assessments in my head or write them down?

The EYFS Statutory Framework states that you must take all reasonable steps to manage risks and determine where it is helpful to do some written risk assessments. It used to be a requirement for childminders to write written risk assessments for EVERYTHING but this has been removed from the current version of the legislation to help childminders to cut back on paperwork.

In most normal day to day childminding, a written risk assessment is simply not necessary and just adds to unnecessary paperwork load.

However, from time to time, and especially when you are just starting out at childminding or doing something new, I think that it is very useful to go through the whole risk assessment process properly in writing at least once so that you know how to do it. Writing it out forces you to formalise the process in your mind so that any corners you choose to cut in the future, at least you know what you SHOULD be doing.

Use these free risk assessment forms and list of risk assessments that most childminders should do around their house, garden and trips.

 

Should I do an online first aid and safeguarding course?

If you have been reading this article from the top, I am sure you are going to be picking up on a theme at this point and are going to know what I am going to say. Many experienced childminders who have attended multiple first aid courses in their time, are perfectly fine to do refresher courses that are primarily based online. The same goes for safeguarding, where you sit there to listen to the same stuff that you know in your sleep, all to get the one or two nuggets of new information or legislation you actually need.

However, there is nothing like practicing choking and chest compressions on dummies that can be recreated online. And with safeguarding, it is vital that you attend a safeguarding course to hear and interact properly first before (mindlessly) clicking your way through an online version of the course.  So in my opinion, you should go to online first aid and safeguarding courses only once you’ve done several of these in person.

 

In a fast moving digital age, don’t forget the power of the handprint.

There are lots of other benefits to starting out using paper based methods and for all sorts of good reasons, many childminders choose to continue to work in a paper-based method for lots of aspects of childminding. You may enjoy my article: Rediscovering the pure pleasure of paper – for over-digitised childminders.

 

Learning Journey Plus – Word document based

learning-journey-plus-workbookIf my article has swayed you at all to reconsider the benefits of paper-based observation-assessment-planning cycle, then please check out my Learning Journey Plus. It is a printable system based in Word so you can customise the pages for your setting before you print them.

The Learning Journey Plus is a complete observation – planning – assessment system and comes with 200 sample observations with next steps so you can learn how to write observations and next steps in whatever learning journey system you are using. The workbook takes you step by step through setting up the whole process from scratch or you can use it to check you fully understand the steps of whatever system you are using.

 

 

About Kay Woods and Kids To Go

Kay Woods 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

The Forest Childcare Association celebrates its fifth anniversary of promoting ‘good practice in outdoor outings’

The idea that there could be a such a thing as ‘good practice’ for taking children on outdoor outings began the day I witnessed an example of what I felt to be particularly bad practice. I was meeting a childminder friend at the park on a damp Spring day. She had her normal mix of three children including the two youngest (aged 18 months and two years) wrapped up in coats and strapped into her double buggy.

I took one look at her, pointed at the children’s feet, and laughed.

‘Oh no! You’ve rushed out and forgotten something. You’ve come out without their shoes!’ I said.

‘I left their shoes at home on purpose,’ she replied. ‘They won’t need them anyway. I really have no intention of taking them out of the buggy. They’ll be fine just watching the world go by.’

It was an awful situation and upset me greatly. This childminder had just had her first Ofsted inspection and had been awarded ‘good’. She seemed to feel that what she was doing was perfectly acceptable and perfectly normal. And anyway what she was saying was entirely right. The children would be ‘just fine’ in the buggy.

In fact, surely Ofsted would be pleased? She was keeping the children safe outdoors. Very safe. Nothing whatsoever (either good or bad) was going to happen to them while they were strapped securely into that double buggy.

So why did the situation upset me so much?

 

Forest Childcare pile of childrenWhat does the EYFS say about outdoor outings?

The EYFS actively encourages childcare providers to take children outdoors and to give them daily opportunities to spend time outside but it certainly doesn’t say anything about the quality of that outdoor time. The EYFS Statutory Framework states that “providers must provide access to an outdoor play area or, if that is not possible, ensure that outdoor activities are planned and taken on a daily basis.”

Most nurseries, childminders and nannies do fulfil the basic requirement for outdoor time, in many cases simply by taking the children on the school run or by allowing children to play in their back gardens.

But to me, the back garden and the school run have always felt like the bare minimum of care. As home-based childcare providers we are in a unique position to offer the children so much more than this.  And in my opinion we should be doing so.

 

Weekly outdoor outings to ‘wild’ spaces have benefits for everyone

Forest childcare muddy toddlersThe ‘shoe incident’ was the catalyst I needed to find a way to promote what I believe is ‘best practice’ in terms of outdoor outings. At my setting I always took the children on outdoor outings once a week whether these were simple trips to the park, duck pond, and urban green spaces, or planned trips to our local ‘wild’ areas like woods and nature reserves.

Outdoor outings contribute to learning and health, and most importantly help children grow to appreciate the natural environment.

Furthermore, as a childminder running a business I had always promoted my weekly outdoor outings to parents to help me to fill my vacancies. These outings were a ‘service’ that I offered that made my setting stand out. Outdoor outings are great for the children. They are also great for business!

 

Intentional trips where the children can move around and explore

I started the Forest Childcare Association because I believe that children deserve more than just back gardens to provide them with their daily dose of EYFS-required ‘outdoor time’.  Most people’s back gardens are tiny places, and in the cases of childminders, they are tiny, very-very-safe outdoor environments, with all the same safety checks in place as indoor environments.

Children need to be exposed to real outdoor spaces where there are places to hide and explore, where they may encounter ‘dangers’ and where the environment changes daily and from season to season.

 

Outdoor learning, says the EYFS, has equal value to indoor learning

Forest childcare is good for adults tooOutdoor play can help to counter obesity. It can also improve strength and coordination skills and counter vitamin D deficiency. Outdoor play has also been shown to help prevent mental health issues, behavioural and emotional problems.

The outdoors gives benefits to children regardless of their age. For babies, they will be intrigued by the sights, smells and sounds of the environment and reach out towards things that interest them and catch their attention. Toddlers want to explore the natural world around them by crawling and walking. Preschool children will explore more purposely, play games of imagination and enjoy challenging themselves.

You don’t have to plan anything complex to do with the children while you are out. Sometimes it’s fun to go on a scavenger hunt, or collect things, but other times the point of the trip is simply to be outside and experience the outdoors. As a childcare provider you can instruct them about important safety issues like not eating red berries, touching fungus, or stroking strange dogs, but most of what they need to ‘learn’ is for the children to discover for themselves.

They are learning about textures when they pick up a sharp rock. They are learning about the weather and self-care issues when they take their coat off because they are hot. They are counting conkers and acorns, learning about space and shape when they squeeze themselves under a branch, and learning that if they work together it is easier to shift a log than trying to do it alone

It is equally important for children to grow up with an appreciation for the environment, teaching children the importance of not littering, respecting wildlife, trees and other people’s right to enjoy the outdoor space as well.

 

The Freedom to ‘GO’

Forest childcare autumnChildminders, nannies and small nursery owners sometimes forget how much freedom you have.  While you are constrained by the limits of nursery and school runs, naps and lunches, in between those fixed points your time is essentially your own. You are your own boss and I think people forget that sometimes.

If you want to take the children to the park or the duck pond or spend the morning exploring the woods, you can!  Being outdoors and having flexibility and freedom are some of the perks of this job and you should take more advantage of them.

Spending time outdoors is good for business, it’s great for the children, and it’s good for you too!

 

The Forest Childcare Association celebrates its 5th Anniversary this month

The Forest Childcare Association is a best practice initiative that has been going for 5 years this month that encourages childcare providers to take children on weekly outdoor outings to ‘wild’ spaces. The organisation now has over a thousand members in 10 different countries – mainly childminders and small nurseries. Its principle aim is to encourage small childcare providers to take the children they look after on weekly outdoor outings to parks, woodlands or other outdoor natural spaces, and encouraging children to explore these natural environments.

Members can self-train by considering the practical concerns associated with taking groups of children of mixed ages and abilities on outdoor outings. The £15 training pack covers risk assessments, outdoor dangers (from children getting lost to poison berries) plus activities and crafts and the relevant EYFS paperwork and permissions.

The Forest Childcare Association is part of the larger ‘Forest’ movement that many EYFS practitioners are exploring and many parents are seeking for their children. Forest School training is popping up across the country and one of the downsides of this is that many childminders now worry that they have to get a Forest School qualification (and pay for training) if they want to take children to the woods. Becoming a Forest School Practitioner is a fantastic thing to do and essential if you want to teach large groups of small children how to whittle, forage and cook on campfires, but it is NOT a requirement if all you want to do is to take a group of children on a nature hike. One of the aims of the Forest Childcare Association is to provide the support, advice and a little encouragement to support as many childminders as possible to provide weekly outdoor outings and simply get outside, but without getting qualifications and excessive training that are superfluous to many childminders’ needs.

The other key aim of the organisation is to encourage childminders to explore the parts of nature near to them – the wild patches at the edges of playgrounds, finding patches of beauty wherever you live. We don’t all live in beauty spots, and the children who most need access to nature are those least likely to have access to Forest School sessions offered at their schools and nurseries. Childminders are in a unique position to help children wherever they live to find, explore and learn to love the patches of nature on their doorsteps. There is a growing impression that if you can’t provide snack time on a campfire, naps in a tent and buffalo for the children to hunt for their lunch, that your idea of ‘wilderness’ isn’t good enough! My philosophy is that any access you can give children to nature is better than no access to nature at all.

 

forest-childcare-packFor more information on the Forest Childcare Association and to join for just £15 for a lifetime membership visit http://www.kidstogo.co.uk/childminders/forestchildcare.html  or email kay.woods@kidstogo.co.uk. You can find us on Facebook at @ForestChildcareAssociation.

 

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 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.

www.kidstogo.co.uk

Getting Childminded Children Back To Nature – without Forest School Training

Many parents won’t believe this, but it’s a fact that children would like to spend more time outdoors than they do. Then why don’t they?  It’s not TV and video games to blame. It’s because they aren’t allowed to! Parents, childcare providers and society as a whole worry so much about safety issues that many adults would simply rather their children played inside or in their own tiny back gardens and were ‘safe’, than ‘risk’ letting them play outside alone as they might have done when they were children themselves.

Forest Childcare pile of childrenIf children want to play outside of their own back gardens today they have to wait for an adult to take them. The world is not the same place as it was when Christopher Robin was allowed to wander around his 100 acre wood all day long, playing Pooh Sticks and climbing trees (gasp!) completely unsupervised! As a society for many reasons (from justified fears about traffic, to out-of-proportion fears about strangers) we no longer let children visit their local woodlands, fields or even parks by themselves. Children must be continually supervised, and sadly this means that very few get casual access to their local patch of nature to play alone or in wild places any more.

And the consequence: many children today are growing up missing out on a connection with the natural world. They don’t spend enough time outdoors and they are suffering the results including obesity, mental health problems and a growing inability to assess risk for themselves.

What all this means is that one of the key positive influences that parents and child care providers can give to the children they look after is time playing in the great outdoors. Children need adults to take them to ‘wild’ places and then they need adults to stand back and give them time, space and encouragement to explore on their own while they are there. Parents are often busy, parents are often working. Therefore the responsibility for taking children on these outings frequently falls to childcare providers to give children the experiences they might otherwise miss out on.

 

Weekly outdoor outings to ‘wild’ spaces have benefits for everyone

As a childminder I always believed that it was important to take the children I looked after on outdoor outings. Once a week, whatever the weather, we would go somewhere outdoors. Our trips ranged from simple visits to the park, duck pond, and urban green spaces, to more planned trips to our local ‘wild’ areas like woods and nature reserves.

Forest Childcare for childmindersOutdoor outings contribute to learning and health. These benefits applied to me as well!  I always said that being out in the woods with the children was one of my favourite parts of being a childminder. It was wonderful watching how alive the children became when they were exploring outdoors and how recharged I felt watching them play. I also felt great because I knew that when they were out in the woods with me, I was giving them a really great experience, better than the most expensive toy in our play room, and more special than anything they would be ‘learning’ in an overcrowded nursery room.

Lots of practitioners feel exactly the same as me about the outdoors and outings, and understand how special the experiences that we can give to the children we look after are. Others may feel less confident about taking groups of children of mixed ages and abilities to the woods on their own. So I started the Forest Childcare Association to support and encourage other childcare providers to offer this ‘best practice’ policy of weekly outdoor outings to the children they look after.

It might not be possible to roll back the clock and send children out to play alone and unsupervised in wild spaces as they would have done in the past. But this doesn’t mean that caring adults can’t offer children the next best thing by taking them on outdoor outings on a regular basis.

 

Child-led Learning 

forest-childcare-group-photoOutdoor outings have benefits to children regardless of their age. For babies, they will be intrigued by the sights, smells and sounds of the environment and reach out towards things that interest them and catch their attention. Toddlers want to explore the natural world around them by crawling and walking. Preschool children will explore more purposely, play games of imagination and enjoy challenging themselves outdoors.

You don’t have to plan anything complex to do with the children while you are out. Sometimes it’s fun to go on a scavenger hunt, or collect things, but other times the point of the trip is simply to be outside and experience the outdoors. As a childcare provider you can instruct them about important safety issues like not eating red berries, touching fungus, or stroking strange dogs, but most of what they need to ‘learn’ is for the children to discover for themselves.

They are learning about textures when they pick up a sharp rock. They are learning about the weather and self-care issues when they take their coat off because they are hot. They are counting conkers and acorns, learning about space and shape when they squeeze themselves under a branch, and learning that if they work together it is easier to shift a log than trying to do it alone.

Most importantly, they are learning the importance of not littering, respecting wildlife, trees and other people’s right to enjoy the outdoor space as well. They are learning an appreciation for the environment that they will take with them as they grow up.

Wherever children live, they need to spend time getting back to nature. Natural environments give children and the adults who look after them untold benefits in terms of health and wellbeing. Weekly outdoor outings is a “best-practice” goal that all childcare providers can aim for with some support, advice and a little encouragement. Learn more about the Forest Childcare Association and join today.

 

The Forest Childcare Association celebrates its 5th Anniversary this month

The Forest Childcare Association is a best practice initiative that has been going for 5 years this month that encourages childcare providers to take children on weekly outdoor outings to ‘wild’ spaces. The organisation now has over a thousand members in 10 different countries – mainly childminders and small nurseries. Its principle aim is to encourage small childcare providers to take the children they look after on weekly outdoor outings to parks, woodlands or other outdoor natural spaces, and encouraging children to explore these natural environments.

Members can self-train by considering the practical concerns associated with taking groups of children of mixed ages and abilities on outdoor outings. The £15 training pack covers risk assessments, outdoor dangers (from children getting lost to poison berries) plus activities and crafts and the relevant EYFS paperwork and permissions.

The Forest Childcare Association is part of the larger ‘Forest’ movement that many EYFS practitioners are exploring and many parents are seeking for their children. Forest School training is popping up across the country and one of the downsides of this is that many childminders now worry that they have to get a Forest School qualification (and pay for training) if they want to take children to the woods. Becoming a Forest School Practitioner is a fantastic thing to do and essential if you want to teach large groups of small children how to whittle, forage and cook on campfires, but it is NOT a requirement if all you want to do is to take a group of children on a nature hike. One of the aims of the Forest Childcare Association is to provide the support, advice and a little encouragement to support as many childminders as possible to provide weekly outdoor outings and simply get outside, but without getting qualifications and excessive training that are superfluous to many childminders’ needs.

The other key aim of the organisation is to encourage childminders to explore the parts of nature near to them – the wild patches at the edges of playgrounds, finding patches of beauty wherever you live. We don’t all live in beauty spots, and the children who most need access to nature are those least likely to have access to Forest School sessions offered at their schools and nurseries. Childminders are in a unique position to help children wherever they live to find, explore and learn to love the patches of nature on their doorsteps. There is a growing impression that if you can’t provide snack time on a campfire, naps in a tent and buffalo for the children to hunt for their lunch, that your idea of ‘wilderness’ isn’t good enough! My philosophy is that any access you can give children to nature is better than no access to nature at all.

 

For more information on the Forest Childcare Association and to join for just £15 for a lifetime membership visit http://www.kidstogo.co.uk/childminders/forestchildcare.html  or email kay.woods@kidstogo.co.uk. You can find us on Facebook at @ForestChildcareAssociation.

 

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 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.

www.kidstogo.co.uk

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