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If you are a childminder reading this and are under the age of 30, please just cough politely and delete this post, because this article is probably not for you. It is written by an old person. I am 41. And showing my age by writing an article in which I dare to propose that in SOME aspects of childminding, it might be ‘nice’ to move away from technology and app-based-login-to-view-my-child digitised childcare. I want to use this article to encourage you to reconsider the simple pleasure of paper – writing daily dairies out by hand and making printed learning journey albums – and why this might even be good for your business.
The most efficient way of doing things is not always the BEST way of doing things
If you are a childminder who views learning journeys as meaningless Ofsted paperwork, then you are bound to look for the fastest, easiest way of completing the task. If this is you, then go for the app! However, if, you treat your learning journeys as a valuable piece of communication with parents, as a type of marketing tool to show your business in good light, then while an app may be convenient and easy for you, it is not necessarily best for your business. Some parents love running their whole lives on their phones, but others may prefer a more ‘old-fashioned’ approach. Keep YOUR parents in mind when you make your decision to go electronic or paper, because they are at the heart of your business.
Paper is “nice” and it’s personal – like childminders
Some things are better handwritten. Some things are better handmade like homemade baking is always better than store bought. Sometimes, a book with glued in pictures, while less tidy than an online app, is simply “nicer”. Many parents like to imagine choosing a childminder for their child in a dreamy, slowing down, biscuit crumbs and soft edges, sunny days pushing children on swings sort of way. Paper-based learning journeys smell of warmth and friendliness and fit better with this image. It is a good image because nurseries cannot recreate it, however many ‘key people’ they attempt to assign to a child or home corners they install!
Paper forces you to look and think a little more carefully
When you zap off a photo and click a button on your phone, you have succeeded in finishing the task you believe Ofsted is expecting of you. But when you put a paper-based learning journey together, you have to select which photos you are going to use and why. You have to think carefully about the text you are going to write, the ‘story’ of the observation you are sharing and it’s meaning to the child, to the child’s parents and you. Paper can force you to engage with the process of observing and linking to planning more.
Paper forces you to understand the observation – assessment- planning cycle
Make sure that if you are using an online learning journey planning system that you still understand the PROCESS you are doing. If your Ofsted inspector asks you what stage of development a child is at, you need to know. You need to make sure that your automated system hasn’t removed your understanding of the system yourself.
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.
Books can make it easier for parents to engage
Do parents really want to spend their time logging on to some horrible, cumbersome online system to find out how their child is developing? Can they really be bothered? For those of you who do online learning journeys, how many parents ever really look at what you put in them? Do they bother to log on and check on their child’s development? Some parents will, but others might be much more likely to engage with the work you are doing and take more of an interest in their child’s development if you were to hand them a nice album with a few photos of their child in it and some simple observations you have written (or typed out) next to it.
Printed learning journeys are friendly and relaxing
Call me old-fashioned. Call me a technophobe if you like. But whenever I’m told I need to log on and do something, a small stress response begins as my palms sweat a little. I scowl at my device. There is yet another password to remember (can I remember it) and something will probably crash just as I get to the ‘critical’ part and waste loads of my time! In an age where absolutely everything from banking and grocery shopping, to ordering school uniforms is done online, how nice for parents NOT to have to go online. How nice to be handed a friendly, cheerful-looking relaxing book by their childminder!
Paper may be appreciated by the sorts of people who choose small childminding settings over large, impersonal nurseries
In the large overcrowded nursery down the road from your small, friendly house, that the parents DIDN’T choose to send their child to, electronic learning journeys are vital for the large number of observations and complex planning they need to do. However, you don’t look after as many children as they do, and from the parents’ point of view, they may prefer the home based paper approach. Some parents will love online systems, don’t get me wrong. But others may secretly hate them, seeing them as rather impersonal. Make sure YOUR system responds to YOUR parents.
Parents will treasure the album long after they have left you
I love looking back through my old photo albums and scrap books. While I also spend my fair share of time looking at photos on my phone and social media sites, ultimately and long term I take far less pleasure in electronic photos than I do looking through the actual physical albums I have made. The pleasure of turning the pages, lingering and relaxing is an experience that cannot be recreated by any mobile phone app. It is simply not the same.
If you make printed learning journeys, after the child leaves, his parents will have a keepsake photo album of their time with you. During their lives they will take lots of photos of big events in that child’s life. But parents forget to photograph the ordinary, everyday stuff, learning to paint, or playing with play dough, or putting on their shoes. Parents forget this stuff. You see it and can record it for them.
It’s nice to make something – an actual physical record of your own days and the child’s days – a finished product you can hold in in your hands
On days when you are feeling unmotivated, it can be nice to look back through children’s learning journeys and see all the things you’ve done with them. To watch them going from crawling to walking to running, and all those nice trips you took them on and wow moments that matter. It is motivating to see what you have done.
Even your Ofsted inspector will be more likely to flip through your photo album than to take time to look online
While perched on your couch with her laptop on her lap, observing you with the children, it is nice to distract her for a few minutes with an album she can look through. She’ll be far more likely to take a look at your work, wow moments and outings if she has an album to look through than if you expect her to look online.
You could photograph a child’s hand, but it isn’t the same as a painted handprint
Taking a photograph of a child’s hand preserves the moment forever. But it’s the handprint in paint and glitter that parents keep and treasure. Not because it is the most efficient way to record the moment but because it is the “nicest”. Parents love and treasure what is sentimental, personal and real.
Think again about switching back to paper learning journeys. It doesn’t mean you’re a technophobe. Or old. It just means you are thinking about your business, about your readers and about your parents. Who knows, some of you may even agree with me?
If my article has swayed you at all to reconsider the benefits of paper-based learning journeys, 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.
About Kay Woods and Kids To Go
Kay Woods has been writing and selling childminding resources through her company Kids To Go since 2008. Her products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, the Learning Journey Plus for planning, observation and assessment and best practice resources promoting diversity, safety and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare). She is the author of the Start Learning book set published by Tarquin and she writes the free quarterly Childminding Best Practice Newsletter.
Lots of places offer help to childminders. I provide solutions.
Is your childminding planning system simple and structured? Do you feel your plans are actually useful to your setting, or just another Ofsted chore? Keep the following in mind when you write your childminding plans:
If you feel you are wasting time with planning, then you probably are.
GOOD planning is not a waste of time. It shows parents that you are a childcare professional – not ‘just a babysitter’. Good planning helps you to stay organised, ensures that you are providing a balanced and varied experience for the children you look after, and that you have the resources you need to offer the experiences you have planned.
Don’t overcomplicate things or you won’t be able to use your system.
Whatever system you are using for your planning needs to be usable by you every single week. The more complicated you make it, then the less likely you will be to use your own system. If the system you are using currently feels too complicated for you to maintain, then it may be time to try a new system.
Involve the children and the parents in writing plans for your setting.
Ofsted loves it when children are involved in the planning for your setting. It’s great to ask older children to help think of activities for younger ones. It’s also nice to ask parents what activities or themes they might like you to explore with their children. Getting parents involved in celebrating festivals that are relevant to the children in your care (like planning to celebrate Diwali if you look after a Hindu child) allows you to tick off the ‘diversity’ and ‘parent communication’ boxes in one seriously-Ofsted-impressing-activity that everyone will enjoy!
Plan to do something NEW this year.
Planning new things is a great way to keep yourself fresh and to keep things interesting for the children too. You might want to celebrate a festival like Diwali or Easter or Eid that you’ve never celebrated before? My free 2016 Diversity Calendar could inspire you? Or teach the children about stranger danger, or mini beasts using ideas from the Be Safe Be Healthy Pack. Whatever theme you are planning to do will require a little preparation on your part, so if you put it into your written planning then it is more likely to happen.
Your planning system needs to work for your whole setting AND for each individual child.
If the system you use works for your setting, but does not take into account the needs of different children in your setting, then your system needs a rethink. A planning system must work for your whole setting AND take into account the needs and interests of each individual child.
Learning and development observations must link into your planning.
Writing observations and next steps into your learning journeys is pointless if you don’t have a method to put those ideas into your planning. All of the ‘next steps’ you record in your learning journeys MUST link into whatever planning system you are using.
Get the right mix of planned activities and unstructured free-play time.
Children need daily opportunities for free play indoors and outdoors so that they can engage uninterrupted in activities that interest them. They also need you to organise learning activities and outings for them that address the different learning and development areas and characteristics of effective learning. Making monthly and weekly plans will help you to get the balance right.
What are your plans for improvements to your setting, and improvements to yourself this year?
Part of creating a year plan is to think about what new equipment, training and other resources you may want to buy for your setting this year. A formal list of this kind, made once a year, is a great way to make sure you think about your setting as a whole.
It’s also a great time of year to make plans for your own Continual Professional Development (CPD).
You might think about more training you would like to receive? You might think about getting training for special needs children or becoming a Forest Childcare Provider? All of these things directly benefit all of the children who attend your setting.
Your long term planning is a little like a performance review. It is a chance for you to take a step back and ask yourself what you do well in your setting and what could be improved. What could you buy or do differently that would help you to improve what you could offer? If you want to become a Forest Childcare Provider, for example, how would you work in weekly trips to your schedule? How would you make time? What special equipment (outdoor gear, reflective jackets, off-road buggy etc.) might you need?
Do you want help with planning for your setting?
Is the planning system you are currently using is too complicated? You may want to simplify things to make it easier for yourself? My Learning Journey Plus workbook takes you step by step through creating a workable, flexible and ongoing planning system for your setting. Use it to create a complete planning system from scratch or to fill in gaps and improve any system you are already using.
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.
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.