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How childminders can cut costs and save money

Looking at ways to keep costs down has always been important in childminding, but with the advent of the 30 hours, many childminders are feeling more financial pressure than ever. I asked other childminders to share how they save costs in their settings and received lots of ideas including some really original ones you may not have thought of:

 

childminders cutting costs Replace cooked meals with packed lunches

One obvious way to cut costs is to abandon hot lunches and replace them with packed lunches brought from home. One childminder wrote, “I stopped doing main meals but still charge the same – best thing I ever did.”

I feel sad about this because studies have shown that packed lunches are rarely as healthy as hot meals and often contain low quality food and junk food. Childminders are generally more informed about nutrition than the average parent and are in a position to help give children the best start in life by offering them healthy, nutritious meals. Childminder Jan Bartram writes, “I really don’t encourage packed lunches. A lot of them are packed with cheap processed food full of sugar and salt.” I do feel that offering children a hot lunch is the best option. If you can.

According to an article in Nursery World (18th Sept 2017), which addressed the problem of settings cutting costs by offering hot meals as an optional extra rather than a default, “children from the poorest families are likely to be the worst affected”. This is because faced with the choice of paying extra for the hot meal, or bringing their own meal from home, many parents will choose to send their own. Poor children are exactly the ones who benefit the most from that hot healthy meal at lunch time, and will be the most likely to miss out.

From a childminding business sense, cutting out hot lunches can be a major cost savings for your setting and therefore it makes perfect sense. If your business is struggling then you should consider it. However, before you go down that line, there are several great suggestions from childminders who continue to make and provide hot lunches for children that I want you to consider first:

 

Cost saving ideas for childminders who provide meals

Lots of childminders suggest batch cooking and then freezing meals into portions. For this you need to have a big freezer to store things in individual plastic bags or Tupperware. Generally, if you cost it out, it works out cheaper if you are cooking a bolognaise to buy the ingredients to cook a big batch of it and freeze it, than to cook it one meal at a time. It is also considerably less work that way for you!

Pay attention to portion sizes and don’t put too much on children’s plates at once. One childminder wrote, “I will often have 3 little ones share a two slice of bread sandwich (along with fruit, cheese, veg sticks etc). Some days they eat it all and want more so I would make more; other days they aren’t that hungry, so then it doesn’t go to waste.”

portion size fishfingersUnderstanding portion sizes is also important so that you don’t accidentally overfeed small children. This link shows you what portion sizes should look like for toddlers for many common items and may surprise many people.

Buying the ingredients for the food you cook for the children when it is on sale, or buying it wholesale is another suggestion one childminder makes. “We have also found that the local butchers, fishmongers etc are willing to open an account for us as a business which allows you to get trade prices which is often cheaper than supermarkets and the meat/ fish is locally sourced.”

Another suggestion is to use your local market. Jan Bartram writes: “We buy fruit on the afternoon school run at our Thursday market. By then there are always bargains to be had. In June I took 3 schoolies and two toddlers and we bought 3 punnets of strawberries (large ones) for £1.50.”

Childminder Kay Hartburn provides all meals and snacks for her families. She writes: “I bulk cook so I can freeze some for other days. Although I don’t cook vegetarian meals I do 50% meat and 50% lentils and vegetables. Not only is it healthier it helps make the meals much cheaper. I actually love lentils and all the children eat everything I make and they love the different texture the lentils give the meals. If I have any vegetables left over I make soup or use them in stocks. Fruit is used to make other desserts like toffee apple cake or smoothie or banana bread. I do like to cook and enjoy thinking about how to use left overs in new and interesting ways the children will eat. It saves a massive amount of money.”

Whatever you do regarding providing hot meals at your setting, it is important to be honest with yourself and parents about how much the meals are costing you. You need to really sit down and do the maths, as the costs of feeding extra little mouths add up fairly quickly over the course of a week/month/year. Be especially careful with older after school children – as they can eat an awful lot more – and if you’re not careful, you will find that food costs really add up.

 

Snack time savings

childminder food safetyThe most obvious way to save money at snack time is to get parents to bring snacks from home in the same way that they send in packed lunches. However, like with the packed lunches, many parents’ ideas about healthy snacks and what a snack should be, will not measure up to what you could offer. With that in mind, here are some other suggestions for snack time savings:

Childminder Helen Qureshi asks parents to each bring a piece of fruit or something to share at snack time that day. She writes, “I started this a few months ago and it’s working very well. The children enjoy handing it over and parents are absolutely fine. One parent kept on forgetting but as we said to bring fruit or pay 50p per day they started to bring fruit. We did say it was either that or putting our fees up, so they were more than happy.”

Georgina Tattum does something similar. “I ask parents to send in snacks. I suggested they could either send in a few snacks each day or I would charge £1 per day for snacks to cover costs. They all send snacks in which is nice for the children as they get a variety. I still cook lunch and evening meals which the parents really like me doing and some parents would rather pay the £1 per day as they are busy and feel it’s easier for me to provide them.”

 

Cutting costs with craft supplies

The cost of all that paint, glue and art paper you need to look after childminded children can really add up, so it’s important to be honest about what those supplies are costing you and to keep good records. Many childminders told me that they cut costs on art supplies by simply waiting and buying things when they are sale. For example, if you know you are still going to be a childminder in December 2018, then I would be buying my little Christmas craft kits for next year this January when they are all heavily reduced and storing them in my shed for a year!

Childminder Rebecca Wilson suggested joining a “Scrapstore”. They re-use and recycle stuff for artistic and educational purposes. She writes, “Our council have membership so childminders get in free. I get the majority of my art and craft materials there, and they often have really interesting stuff that can be used in small-world, or home-corner type play. It saves money and is environmentally friendly.” Ask your council about membership or see if you and a few other childminders in your area can get together and join which is what lots of childminders do.

 

Second hand toys and equipment

An easy way to save money is to buy second hand toys and equipment. This is especially true if you are just setting up your childminding business and need to buy lots at once. There are lots of places you can buy second hand items online including Ebay and Gumtree. Facebook has a group especially for childminders to buy and sell items. They have everything from triple push chairs, to toys (I remember selling my own “Mr. Potato Head Set with one missing limb” on that site years ago!

nct nearly new saleHowever, many people prefer to pick things up and physically see them before buying second hand so if this is you as well as charity shops and car boot sales you may want to try your local NCT Nearly New Sale. When I was pregnant I got most of my baby supplies at one of these sales and it was really nice to open and close pushchairs, and test the latches on the baby gates, high chairs and travel cots etc. before parting with cash.

My advice if you go to these is if you have a particular item you want (like a double pushchair) to arrive early so you are first in the queue. Head straight for the item you want and grab hold of it. Bring your partner so they can hold the things you want, while you grab other items. Sharpen your elbows, wear trainers and remember that you can move much faster than a woman who is 8 months pregnant!!!

 

Sharing and borrowing resources

Lots of childminders share resources between them at childminder groups or toddler groups. For example, rather than each childminder making their own heuristic play set, many childminders all contribute some items and then pass the resource bag around. Your council or childminding group may be able to help you to get something like this started in your area.

If you have a local toy library, these are great thing to join. Our local library used to have a toy section which was great for borrowing jigsaws etc., but it closed down. In many toy libraries you pay a fee to join and then you can borrow what you like. Do a web search to see if you have a toy library in your area.

 

Free and discounted activities for childminders

Ask at your library about free and discounted activities run especially for childminders. Our local library runs a music group on a Wednesday that is just for childminders, only 50p per child. Compared to a private music club in our area which costs £4 per child, it is a total bargain. Libraries often have free arts classes as well as cooking and special activities around the holidays.

Always ask if places have special admission fees for childminders. One of our local soft play gyms has special childminder rates one morning a week – a great deal.

 

Apply for a childminding grant

Don’t pass up ‘free money’. Childminding grants exist for newly registered childminders in England. I got loads of brilliant toys with mine when I started that I would never have bought otherwise.

At the moment grants of up to £1000 are available to childminders who are planning to offer the 30 hours funded childcare. Check if you’re eligible and get more information here.

 

Childminding Best Practice Club – save 25% on my childminding resources

Childminding best practice club logoJoin the Childminding Best Practice Club for just £2.50 each month to receive monthly themed packs emailed to your inbox and 25% discount on all of my products for childminders. Great value for money on high quality products!

 

 

Can you think of other ways to save money and cut costs that I’ve missed? Please leave me a comment.

 

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

Why childminders should consider limiting the choices they let parents and children make

An episode of Supermarket Secrets got me thinking about childminding businesses and my own business of making products for childminders. In the episode, a jam maker with a small market stall had about 20 different types of jam that customers could choose between. As an experiment, she was asked to remove most of the jams, leaving customers with a choice of only her 5 best-selling jams. To her surprise, she started selling MORE jams than ever before.

pot of jam The point of the experiment was to show that, while people like to have SOME choice, too much choice about things that don’t really matter (like flavour of jam) can cause people to get so overwhelmed that they decide it is easier not to buy any at all. By focussing the customers’ choices around just 5 flavours of jam, the customers still felt they had a choice, but without being overwhelmed by that choice.

The experiment fascinated me. I have never thought of this before! I always thought the more choice you give people the better. But I realised I needed to rethink things. The jam experiment can be applied to many businesses, from large supermarkets to childminding businesses and even to my own business with the packs I make for childminders.

 

Limiting children’s choices

I want to start by thinking about minded children who like and need to be given the opportunity to choose things. The more choices that you can give them, the better for building and promoting the characteristics that will make them into effective learners. But anybody who has ever asked a child ‘which toy would you like to play with?’ while staring at a cupboard full of toys, will recognise the vacant, drooling expression they will get as a response. Because the toy cupboard is too big, the decision is overwhelming, and there is too much choice.

childminding in small spaces toys bookSo one way to apply the jam experiment to childminded children is to focus their choices by giving them a between two or three toys. This way, they feel they have power but without being overwhelmed. The same applies to footwear (shoes or wellies), car seat strap (which arm first?), sandwich fillings (cheese or ham?), sandwich shape (square or triangle), colour of plate (red or green) and choice of fruit (apple or banana?). Giving choices, while limiting those choices to two things you are happy for a child to choose between, gives you all the power while the child has the illusion of feeling nicely in control of his life.

Where this can really be helpful is when you are trying to get a child to try new things or to do things they don’t really want to do. They don’t want to do potty training, but if you can offer them a choice of using the potty or the big toilet, they can feel they have some power over this awful thing they are being forced to do. They don’t want to go on a walk, but if they have the choice of the park at the end of your street or the playground at the common ground, then they feel more in control. If they never want to do the arts and crafts projects or other structured activities you set up for them, have you ever tried redirecting their attention from the task by giving them a choice about something completely irrelevant: like if they would like to stand up or sit down while they work? The illusion of choice gives all the power to you, empowers the child in a good way and makes everyone more happy.

 

Limiting parents’ choices

The second key group of people who badly need their choices limited are parents. Parents have really important decisions they have to make all the time. By the time they get their child to your house on a morning, they have already made a hundred decisions for their child, some important and many not. They are ready to hand their child across to you and have some of the pressure removed from them for a short while.

If you ask people if they like to have choices, everybody will say yes. But what the jam experiment shows us is that most people would really like to have a few important choices to make, but not have to spend too much time choosing things that don’t matter very much. You can help parents and help yourself if you get parents to focus on the one or two decisions you really need them to make, and then helping them further by making the rest of the minor decisions for them.  Here are some areas where I feel many childminders overcomplicate things for parents for giving them too much choice:

 

Outings

Suppose you run your business so that parents can decide which outings to send their children on. This is a common suggestion for childminders who are offering the funded hours, to give parents the ‘option’ to pay extra for outings. I disagree with this approach.

Feeding the goatsIf you charge extra for these outings and let parents decide whether to send their children on them or not, then every single outing is a decision for the parent they may not really want to make. They will think they want power over this decision, but truthfully, they will be happier if it is out of their hands. Can we afford the entrance money for the farm on top of the hourly rate? Maybe we should wait and take our precious little boy there ourselves at the weekend? What if I upset my childminder by saying I’d rather he didn’t go?  What if he feeds his first goat when I’m not there to take the photograph for Facebook? Parents don’t want to go through this stressful thought process for every little day trip you take to something with an entrance fee (music club, soft play etc).

When you offer parents choices about things like this that don’t really matter, then you are making them sweat and worry over choices they really don’t need to make. Giving parents choices about outings is also really annoying for you, as what will you do if one parent says no?  If you have in your contract right from the start that outings are included in your fees and you take them regularly, then you have removed from that parent one extra decision they simply don’t need to bother with. By choosing your setting, they are choosing outings. Decision made. Phew.

 

Meals

child eatingMany childminders offer parents a choice of a hot meal or providing their own lunch. If you charge extra for the meal, many parents will feel they should bring their own from home to save money. If this decision is removed from parents, by stating in your policies that “a hot meal is included in your price and there is no discount if you want to provide your own food” means that you never have to deal with refunds at the end of the month, awful unhealthy packed lunches, or worse, asking parents to decide which days they would like a hot meal for their child this week, and which days they will providing it. Providing hot lunches as a default means that all the children eat the same thing, healthy things you have control over. Parents actually love the convenience of NOT having to make lunch each morning.

One childminder offered children (via their parents) a choice hot lunch for the week. It was a lovely idea, but then I thought about it from the parents’ point of view: I really don’t care if my child eats lasagne or a jacket potato on Tuesday – could you please just feed him so I can go to work, happy in the knowledge that he is being fed a healthy meal that I don’t have to make myself!

How you choose to structure mealtime is ultimately up to you, especially in light of the new funded hours, but remember that it is totally your choice what you do, so don’t make a rod for your own back by making the whole thing too complicated for yourself or for parents.

 

Prices, hourly rates and holidays

A childminder posted a question on Facebook the other day asking if she should start charging for the school run from when she leaves her house, or when she actually collects the child? She further wondered if she should still charge for the walk on days she was collecting her own child as well as the childminded ones. In my opinion, this gives the parents far too much to worry about. If you structure your payment scheme like this, then the parents will have to spend their evenings scrutinising the bill each month to make sure they have been charged correctly. You leave them with too many choices to consider.

The simple way to avoid this is to keep it simple for them by charging a flat rate before and after school. They can either take up one of your after school places at a £15 flat rate (for ex.) or they can go somewhere else. They can either keep their child with you until 6pm, or collect him earlier but there is no discount as they have paid until 6pm to hold the space.

 

My new Childminding Best Practice Club with monthly themed packs is intentionally designed to limit choices for childminders

One of the ways I adapted the jam idea of limiting choices was when I started the Childminding Best Practice Club a few months back. The key benefit of the Club is a monthly themed pack of activities (like space themed crafts) emailed straight to the childminder.

childminding best practice club space issueI really worried when I launched the Club. There are 7000 crafts with space themes for pre-schoolers online. I really worried about those 7000 space activities because I worried that people wouldn’t want to join my Club because they could just find ideas online and copy them.

But the truth is that people find 7000 preschool space craft projects completely overwhelming. You start scrolling through them and by the time you’ve looked at a few pages of ideas you are so overwhelmed you make the decision that it’s probably easier not to do space theme after all this month.

By limiting people’s choices to the seven or so ideas in the pack, that come with templates already made that just have to be printed off, childminders have responded really well to having their choices ‘focussed’ for them in this way. When offered a choice of 7000 crafts, or just 7 crafts with templates, to my surprise people have been very pleased with the ‘focus my packs have given them’ and as a result lots of childminders have joined.

 

Limiting choices focusses you on what is important

Parents are overwhelmed with choices at the moment, especially in regards to funding. In a market that is saturated with choice, often about decisions that don’t really matter all that much, you can really help parents by focussing their choices on the stuff that really matters in your setting. You can help yourself out too by limiting choices about things that cause you more work.

Research has shown that people actually feel more comfortable making choices when there are less items to choose from. Think about all the ways you can apply this to your own childminding business from how you treat the children, to your policies and permission forms, meals you provide, late fees and hourly prices.  Look at how you structure choice on your forms and in your daily routines and ask yourself: do I really need to give the parents choice here? Is this too much choice? Am I overwhelming them with decisions they don’t really need or want to make?

Aim to make things easier on children, parents and yourself. There are so many important decisions that parents have to make – and there are many more decisions that are essentially just flavours of jam.

 

Childminding Best Practice Club

Childminding best practice club logoJoin the Childminding Best Practice Club for just £2.50 each month to receive monthly themed packs emailed to your inbox.

 

 

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 Great Christmas Card Debate: how much help should you give childminded children on their Christmas cards?

I’m NOT going to do handprints again for my childminding Christmas present, I said firmly to myself as I stared at the blank calendar template. Because everybody knows that handprints aren’t really the children’s work. Ofsted would scoff and tut. Other childminders will criticise me when I post the photo of two cute little handprints calendar by 3 year oldpressed in place by ME, not them. So this year I’m going to let the children do it.

So instead I asked the three year olds to draw a picture of their families to give to their parents as a “special Christmas present”. This is what one of them did:

He spent AGES doing it so his mummy would love it. I should have been delighted. Instead I looked at it and my heart sank. Why oh why did I leave out the BLACK pen?  He always goes for the black. What on earth had I been thinking? In fact, why didn’t I just do red and green handprints with glitter and that lovely poem about growing up that makes all parents mist up every time they read it?

 

I hadn’t thought about the PURPOSE of my Christmas gift

The problem was that I’d read too many articles on social media criticizing hand prints and I hadn’t properly considered what I was trying to accomplish from my Christmas calendars. The question of how much help you should give children on their Christmas cards gets very heated debate on social media every single year. How do you feel?

 

Christmas card quiz: How much help should you give childminded children on their Christmas cards?

A: NONE. All art work sent home from my setting is child-initiated and open-ended including their Christmas cards. The parents want to see their child’s work, not mine.

B: SOME. At Christmas I like to send something home that’s a little more special than our normal artwork. I copy ideas from social media and magazines and help the children to reproduce it the best they can.

C: I DO IT FOR THEM: I like to send home a perfect footprint in clay or a handprint picture that his parents will bring out year after year at Christmas to remember when he was small. Parents don’t have time to do these things themselves. It’s also a special thank you gift for their business that’s from me as well as their child.

 

You probably have a pretty strong opinion along one of those lines of thought. But before you judge yourself and your own choices (or those of others) too strongly, remember that ALL three of those answers are perfectly valid reasons for Christmas projects. It just depends on what you are trying to accomplish.

So instead of saying things MUST be done a certain way, let’s turn the question around and ask a much more important question instead:

What are you trying to ACHIEVE from your Christmas art project?

 

I want to make a really special gift for the parents

If this is your goal, then it is worth spending a bit of time researching and preparing a nice idea. Hand prints and foot print projects on ceramic tiles will last forever and will be brought out by parents year after year. If you don’t have the budget for that, then there are lots of lovely handprint on paper designs that will also work well. If you laminate them, they will last in the attic and the parents will remember their child (and you) fondly each Christmas they take it out far into the future.

 

I want to promote my childminding business

If you want to promote your business, instead of a card, make a calendar and spend some time making it special so that the parents will put it up on their fridge for the whole year. I would recommend a picture that isn’t in Christmas colours if you are doing a calendar, because red and green glitter will look out of place in May and the parents might just take it down. Take some time to think about a really nice design that the parents will want to look at all year round, and help the children so the design is eye catching. This will remind the parents what a great childminder they chose for their child each time they look at the calendar on their fridge.

 

I want to impress Ofsted

The day you are being inspected is probably not the day to create your special gift for parents to treasure, or your calendar that will promote your childminding business. In general, I would recommend that you stay away from handprint art during your inspection because unless you’re really good at explaining the purpose of your handprint project (for example, you are doing a learning activity on counting to five, or are teaching children how to use scissors etc.) then, in general, hand print activities that require you to press the child’s hand into place and then to cut around the child’s hand, will not impress the Ofsted inspector. Time and again you hear of people being marked down at inspections for making the wrong sort of art project.  This is not to say you should never do handprint art or display hand print art for the Ofsted inspector. Just make sure that you can explain the purpose behind your project.

 

I want to promote a specific area of learning and the Characteristic of Effective Learning: Active Learning

snowman craft for childminders done by 2 year oldLots of art projects you do with childminded children are ones where you set out purposely to make a specific project that you ultimately hope will at least vaguely resemble the model or idea you are copying. This snowman is an example from my EYFS Art Project CD where the point of the project is to teach the children about sizes and placement. They are asked to put the large circle at the bottom and the small circle on the top. This is quite a challenge for many EYFS children to understand the vocabulary and the concept of sizes. I also expected the children to sit still and concentrate long enough to finish the project they had started. WITH MY HELP, the two and half year old was able to produce this lovely snowman that she then felt very proud of. Without my guidance, she would probably have placed all three circles on top of each other and the buttons straight into her mouth!  This would make an ideal project to send home to the parents if you want your present to highlight the focus on teaching and learning in your setting.

 

I want to show parents that everything we do here is child-led, promotes creativity and the Characteristic of Effective Learning: creating and thinking critically.

This is a perfectly valid reason to put out a tray of glitter and paint and glue and hope for the best. Don’t tut!  Leaving children to do free play with these items could produce a masterpiece more beautiful than any idea you have copied for them off of Pinterest or Facebook and is a very important aspect of learning. Setting children loose to simply play with the art materials, exploring them for their own sake helps to build their creativity. It also helps them to explore their own ideas, to make links between ideas, to have their own ideas and to choose the best way to do something which promotes the COEL. However, it could also produce a piece of brown-smeared paper and a toddler wearing a bowl of glitter as a hat!

 

So looking back at my calendar family portrait again, if I’d gone into it with the right purpose in mind, it would have been perfect. It was a lovely project that focussed on Active Learning and exploring families. It just wasn’t what I felt was important at Christmas which is why I’d ended up feeling disappointed with it.

Don’t let this happen to you!

Whatever you decide for Christmas this year don’t let people on social media bully you into doing things their way. What you send home at Christmas is based on what you are trying to achieve from the project. Take a moment to consider the purpose behind your Christmas art projects so that YOU get the result you are aiming for.

 

Do you want to improve your understanding of the Characteristics of Effective Learning?

Promoting the Characteristics of Effective Learning PosterFor help putting the Characteristics of Effective Learning into practice including tools, activity ideas, certificates you can give to children, poster and display ideas, CPD worksheets for your setting, examples for your SEF and a setting checklist for the COEL, check out my new Characteristics of Effective Learning Pack for childminders.

 

 

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

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

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?

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’.

Practice saying "blocks are part of our educational programme" without smirking

“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 without smirking!

 

 

 

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. Create learning journeys and make sure parents read them. Dazzle parents by casually dropping some of the characteristics of effective learning terminology into your conversation! The trick is to keep your knowledge of their child’s development just a tiny fraction ahead of their own.

 

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.

 

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.

www.kidstogo.co.uk

10 Mistakes to Avoid on Childminding Directory Sites

Most councils and many 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:

 

  1. 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.

 

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

Forest Childcare Association LogoWhether 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!

 

  1. 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.

 

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

Kay Woods Childminder ListingAfter 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 if I was trying to find myself on the Slough Council website, I wouldn’t type ‘Kay Woods’ into the childminder search. Of course this search would bring me up.  But if I asked the website to find the closest childminder to ‘SL1 6NG’ I would expect it to bring me up at the very top of the list. If it doesn’t do this, then I would complain to my council that their search facility doesn’t work and keep on complaining until they fixed it!

 

  1. 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’.

 

  1. 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 yahoo or 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.

 

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

childminding email addresses to avoid“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!

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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 including Free Range Childcare which offers a service just for childminders. 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.

 

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 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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