From September 2023 the EYFS requires that children are within your hearing and sight while they are eating. However this is a really good rule to follow straight away so don’t wait. Here are my five tips for smoother and safer mealtimes. (Learned via lots of trial and many errors!)
ONE: Get children into good routines.
Start training ALL the children to go to the toilet and wash their hands before they eat. You should already be helping children wash their hands before they eat so it shouldn’t be too hard to add an extra step if necessary. Make sure you plan in lots of time for this, especially at first, it may take longer than you think but it will be worth it!
It is good for the children to learn simple routines such as this and seeing older children go to the toilet while hopefully inspire the younger children when it comes to their turn to potty train. (There’s nothing like a bit of gentle ‘peer pressure,’ even if you are only two!) Making sure everyone has gone to the toilet before you eat will also reduce the chance of someone needing it halfway through your meal.
Obviously babies and very young children will not be at the ‘go to the toilet’ stage yet but they can start learning how to wash their hands properly. I use a poster with simplified steps as a visual prompt for very young children so they can practise while I support them.
TWO: Get everything ready before you sit down. (This is harder than it looks – I know from experience! Don’t worry if it takes a few goes to get into a routine.)
Make sure you have everything you will need before you sit. Will you need a jug of water? Flannels or a cloth for spills or sticky hands? Tissues for runny noses? If you have lots of children invest in an apron with a large pocket that you can pop things in so they are handy when you need them.
Don’t forget something for you to eat and drink too, even if it is only something small if you like to eat the majority of your meal later. This helps you model things like good manners and will help you feel better and more rested too.
THREE: Have a useful distraction for early finishers.
It happens to us all! You have one child that has eaten everything before you have barely put the plate down and another one that can take an hour to eat half a sandwich. Children should be encouraged to start to sit and wait for others to finish eating but this can be a big ask for some little ones! I find it really helpful to have a copy of the book we are concentrating on, (currently Goldilocks and the Three Bears,) so that I can read it to the children while they eat, or I can give it to early finishers to look at the pictures.
FOUR: Make sure you plan meal times around drop off and pick up times.
The last thing you need is parents arriving in the middle of your mealtimes and disrupting everything. Plan when you have your mealtimes so that you have time for each child to finish calmly before you have to answer the door to parents. It can be really helpful to share the times you have your meals with parents and tell them that you are unable to answer the door during those times. Then stick to your guns! After all it is for their child’s benefit and safety that you are doing this.
FIVE: Train children to expect the unexpected. You cannot plan for every eventuality. Sooner or later something will happen that you do not expect. If something happens that means that you must leave the children to attend quickly to an emergency but will be unable to see them then move their food somewhere where they cannot reach it while you attend to the emergency. You can practise this with the children so they get the idea that they will get their food back. (For example if you are practising tip TWO, forget something you need and have to pop into another room to get it.) However, remember an upset child is far better than a child being injured or worse if you cannot see them choking.
Do you have any more tips for safe and smooth mealtimes? Share them in the comments below.
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Making sure children are safe at mealtimes is just one of the things that you must do to ensure that you are following all the EYFS safeguarding requirements. If you would like some support with this I recommend the NEW 3 in 1 safeguarding pack for childminders. This pack contains three useful tools in one pack. An editable safeguarding policy, 40 multiple choice safeguarding questions and a safeguarding audit list. You can find out more by following the link below:
Why not get the children involved with some health and safety topics too?
As a childminder you have a choice about what activities you do with the children you look after so why not do some topics that could really make a difference to their lives? Taking the time to explore topics like healthy eating, making friends, sun safety, oral health, fire and road safety will not only really help the children, but it will make you feel that you are doing something truly valuable with the time you are spending with them. The ‘Be Safe Be Healthy,’ pack is a collection of 14 mini printable packs with resources to help childminders to teach 14 health and safety topics to 2-5 year old children.
Here are nine common first aid situations that many childminders have had to deal with in real life. First aid courses are held once every three years. In between times it is a great idea to check that you would know what to do in each of these situations. It is best to download the pictures if they are showing as little ‘x’ marks on your device, and then follow the links to my website for each ‘answer’ so that you can check that you’d know what to do in the frightening event of these situations happening to you.
All pictures and actions shown and described here were created with the help of medical professionals including an A&E doctor and are correct to the best of our knowledge. These situations were chosen because they are all situations that real childminders have found themselves in. Choking especially is one of the leading causes of death and life changing injuries in young children. If in any doubt about what to do, please follow the links provided to the St. John’s Ambulance website which has much more detailed information about the various scenes depicted here.
Be Safe, Be Healthy Pack for Childminders
Want to explore topics and themes in safety and health with childminded children? Check out my Be Safe, Be Healthy Packof printable colouring pages, activities, craft ideas for topics including fire safety, tooth care, making friends, stranger danger, sun safety, healthy eating, bereavement, and accident prevention.
About Kay Woods and Kids To Go
Kay Woods has been writing and selling childminding resources through her company Kids To Go since 2008. Her products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, the Learning Journey Plus for planning, observation and assessment and best practice resources promoting diversity, safety and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare). She is the author of the Start Learning book set published by Tarquin and she writes the free quarterly Childminding Best Practice Newsletter.
Lots of places offer help to childminders. I provide solutions.
Nearly every childminder has a horror story to tell, an accident or a near miss story. One of those things you tell every other childminder you know so that it won’t happen to them and they won’t make the same mistake. Many accidents are unavoidable (children slipping over, banging their heads etc.), and are things that happen to children everywhere. But some things are more unique to childminders looking after groups of children in their own homes and out and about. Here are their stories and what they learned so that hopefully none of these things will happen to you!
Phil and Teds pushchair tipping over
“The scariest preventable accident that happened to me was with my Phil and Teds (up and down) pushchair. I was heading out on the morning school run and as I turned to lock my front door, the two year old tried to climb into the underneath section when there was nobody sitting on the top. Her weight tipped it over and the metal frame landed on her finger nail which popped off completely. I was careful never to let this happen again and very cautious about the children playing with the Phil and Teds from then on.”
Throwing cloths over lamps
“I used to have a clip on desk light in the playroom. Some of the after school children had built a den by throwing a sheet over the light. They turned the light on and left it and went outside. All of a sudden the smoke alarms were going off and the whole house was filling up with toxic fumes. Luckily I got back in and opened all the windows and saw what had happened. The sheet over the light had caused it to overheat and melt the plastic clip entirely. The lamp had fallen onto the carpet face down and kept on burning. It melted a hole straight through the carpet. I have never forgotten the fumes that came off of such a small patch of carpet!”
Lift doors closing
“I was taking a lift with a group of children. The first child walked into lift, but the second child slipped and fell down. As I reached down to help the second child, the lift doors closed and took the first child up two floors alone. All was fine, but I was absolutely terrified.”
Another childminder shared a similar story with me about taking a bus with doors at the front and separate doors at the back. Terrifying!
Strap on booster seats tipping over
“This was my own son but I was working at the time. My child was in a booster seat at the kitchen table – one of those soft ones that fold up for storage. I was changing a nappy in the living room (but could see him). He must have leant over too far and the whole chair went over. He was strapped in fine, but the chair was just an ordinary dining table chair, not as heavy as a high chair. He was ok but I felt dreadful. I won’t use the soft strap on baby seats anymore.”
Row Row Row your Boat
“We were at music time doing row, row, row your boat. The brother (aged 3) and sister (aged 18months) were holding hands. Both pulled back at same time and the little one’s elbow dislocated! Really horrible!”
Two childminders told me the same story. Both said they weren’t being especially rough, but like yanking a child by the arm to cross a road (nursemaid’s elbow), this is just something that can happen.
Self-closing park gates
“We were leaving our park play area. One child ran toward the gate with another following and the self-close gate shut in the second child’s finger and turned the nail black. I now make all the children walk with me to the gate and open it together – they all know what happened so they are also super vigilant themselves now!”
Taking buggies down the steps
“This didn’t happen to me, but a lady at the school, about ten years ago, but I’ll never forget it. She was bumping her buggy, with a very tiny baby in it, down a flight of steps in the playground. The path was closed so instead of walking round the long way, she thought this was a good idea. It was one of those travel systems where you clip the car seat to the buggy frame. On the last step she slipped and let go of the buggy. It landed upside down with baby firmly strapped inside. Baby was absolutely fine but mum was a mess, she nearly passed out. I don’t think she ever took the short cut again.”
Children standing on a pushchair parcel tray (under-basket)
“When my daughter was about two, she used to love pushing around her own buggy/stroller. One day she decided to stand on the parcel tray (you know the bit at the bottom). She was holding on to the handle bars and the whole thing tipped backwards and she cracked her head on the floor. She ended up in A&E and was keep in overnight – so scary, especially when they had trouble waking her during the night.”
Leaving children unattended while eating
“My own son was 6 at the time he choked on a nugget. I was upstairs cleaning and could hear the kids laughing whilst eating. It went eerily quiet. Then the eldest screamed at the top of her voice, “Mum he’s choking.” I never got down the stairs so fast. I grabbed him and spun him round and wacked his back. It didn’t work. The girls were now crying and he was going blue. I paused for a second and then really palm wacked his back. The nugget flew out he threw up and I burst into tears. I have never forgotten this and my eldest is 18 and she is doing first aid with me in October when mine expires.”
Out of all of the serious first aid incidents that childminders deal with, choking is one of the most common. Never leave childminded children unattended while they are eating.
Double side by side buggies vs. doorways and gates
“I had a little boy who had just started and I put him and another child in my double buggy. As I pushed the buggy though my door, he moved his leg to the side and it got it trapped between the buggy and door. He couldn’t walk for nearly a week. We now go out backwards with the double to prevent this happening again.”
Another childminder shared a similar story with me about her garden gate.
Accidentally turning on your stove
“I only have a tiny kitchen and store little ones’ bags/lunch boxes on the cooker top. I had a parcel delivered and just stuck it on there too thinking I would sort it out later. We went into the conservatory and carried on with our activities. The next thing I could smell smoke. Before the smoke alarm went off I had the kids outside in the garden safely away and went in to check. I must have knocked a switch on the cooker and it was on and burning. It had melted a little one’s bag, her blankie, lunch, nappies etc. I put it out straight away and no one was at any risk etc., but boy was I shaken up……never mind the embarrassment of having to tell mum what had happened.
We learned that fire drills do work!! And the cooker is now switched off at the wall.”
Standing up in pushchairs
“When my own daughter was small we had a big heavy travel system. She would stand up in it and ride around, and because it was very heavy it wasn’t a problem. When she turned one we bought a smaller, lighter pushchair. Unfortunately, when she tried to stand up in this one, the whole thing tipped over and she cut her head on a stone. She still has a scar.”
Parents not shutting the front door properly behind them
“Because of the way my house is set up, my front door opens directly onto my living room. I keep the front door locked, so there is no risk of children getting out in the day. But at drop off and collection time, it all gets a bit crazy and I can’t always get behind the parents to shut the door properly. Often parents don’t close it properly behind them either. I live on a busy road and I worry about this a lot. I have to be super vigilant about checking on the door every time somebody opens it.”
“When I was a nanny I was taking a little boy (age 2) down an escalator. I took him out of the buggy and held his hand to go down the escalator and as we got to the bottom where the steps go level, he turned his foot and it got trapped between the step and the side. I pulled him by his coat as no one would push the stop button. I ripped his coat and the shop took us to A&E as he had a fracture on the top of his foot.”
Children running with hands in their pockets
“When my little girl was about four, she was walking across the playground with her hands in her pockets and tripped. Obviously, she couldn’t put her hands out to break her fall and went straight down on her chin. She still has a scar.”
A similar thing happened to my friend who tripped and knocked herself out at a swimming pool. Her mum had wrapped her arms inside the towel. Never do that!
“A couple of weeks ago, I was sat at the edge of a pond feeding the ducks with two children aged two and three. As I handed the three-year-old a piece of bread, the two-year-old fell in head first. This wasn’t childminded children, but it was horribly embarrassing. From now on, if I’ve got more than one child with me, we only feed ducks from behind a safety rail.”
Changes to water temperature
“The water at our church hall never got hotter than lukewarm. It had been like that for years and was perfect temp for little hands. Unbeknown to me, over one weekend they had installed a new boiler. I was assisting children with hand washing and left the tap running between washes. The first child was fine but when the second child went to put her hand under and it was scorching hot. I am always so careful with handwashing now in public places like restaurants and libraries and shopping centres because you just never know.”
What about accidents that happen to us?
One childminder says: “What about accidents that happen to us?! That always scares me about working on my own. The worst time was when I was getting a new knife out of its cellophane and the safety blade cover came off with the cellophane and I sliced my hand open. I very nearly blacked out when I realised how bad it was… and had to go and get stitches.”
I always used to worry about this happening too, and then when my little ones were about three I read a true story called Izzy and Olly, about a 2 ½ year old girl who had saved her mother’s life because she knew how to dial 999 in an emergency. I was totally inspired by this and we would practice finding me finding me lying unconscious at the bottom of the stairs and the kids would practice calling 999. Kids thought it was a riot of course, but I had this idea that one day, just in case the worst happened, that if they knew what to do, one of them might actually be able to save my life!
Thank you to everybody who contributed their stories to this article and to the admin group who run the “Childminding For You” Facebook group for allowing me to survey their members.
If you want to share your own stories to warn others about things that have happened to you, then please leave a comment.
Be Safe, Be Healthy Pack for Childminders
Want to explore topics and themes in safety and health with childminded children? Check out Be Safe, Be Healthy MEGA Pack of printable colouring pages, activities, craft ideas for topics including fire safety, tooth care, making friends, stranger danger, sun safety, healthy eating, bereavement, and accident prevention.
Do you know which of the six plants pictured here are poisonous?
Britain doesn’t have a lot of really nasty poisonous plants, but as childminders there are a few you should be able to recognise. Some plants can make you very ill if you eat them or give you a nasty skin rash if you touch them. Do you know which ones they are?
Six Poisonous Plants
The quiz is a trick. In fact, ALL of the plants pictured here can harm you, causing symptoms that range from nausea and vomiting to nasty skin blisters that last for months. Some of these plants can actually kill you. But don’t overreact and go cutting down trees and pulling up flowers! Read on so you understand what the risk and real dangers are to yourself and to the children you care for.
A: Foxglove Leaves
The leaves of foxglove plants are poisonous. They contain a drug that is used in medicine to regulate the heart, but eating more than about two of the leaves can cause a heart attack. The leaves apparently taste very bitter so you are unlikely to eat them by accident! Many people who try to kill themselves by overdosing on foxglove leaves often find that they throw up before the poison starts to work.
One fatal accident involved a child who drank the water from a vase containing foxglove plants. So don’t pick foxgloves and put them in a vase in your playroom!
B: Laburnum Seeds
The seed pods of laburnum trees look a lot like bean pods. It is easy to imagine why children think the early seed pods are beans especially if you ever let them open and eat sugar snap pea pods. As they ripen, they change colour from green to black and they also harden so they are less likely to be eaten later in the season.
You certainly don’t need to cut down your beautiful laburnum tree if you are a childminder. But you should prune off the lower branches which will keep the seeds out of reach of young children or put a fence around the bottom. Most importantly is to tell the children not to eat them and explain why. Apparently it takes quite a large quantity of the seed pods to cause any real harm to a child, but don’t chance it. If a child eats any laburnum seeds seek medical advice.
People bring mistletoe into their houses at Christmas and put little sprigs over doorways to kiss under. But mistletoe is actually poisonous and poisoning can occur when you eat any part of the plant, especially the leaves. You can also be poisoned from drinking a tea created from the leaves or berries. So watch out! If someone ‘lovingly’ tries to feed you mistletoe berries while kissing you underneath a sprig, they are probably actually trying to murder you!
D: Daffodil Bulbs
The bulbs of daffodils are poisonous if you eat them. Apparently what happens is that people find them in the shed and think they are onion bulbs and then cook stews with them by accident thinking they are cooking onions. The resulting meal will taste very strange and make you sick. It could even kill you. When you see this box of bulbs you can see why it’s not as crazy as it initially sounds!
Does this mean that you shouldn’t plant daffodil bulbs on your windowsill with small children anymore? Of course not! But if there is any chance that a small child could have eaten one of the bulbs (and we all know small children who just might) then I would definitely seek medical advice, just in case.
E: Yew Tree Leaves
Yew trees are evergreen trees that are often grown in cemeteries and can be really, really old. They often have signs on them asking you not to climb them and this is actually to protect you as well as the tree as the leaves of yew trees can cause nasty skin blisters if you rub up against them. These blisters can be quite severe and last for many months. If you eat the berries, they are also poisonous and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions and can even kill you.
F: Giant Hogweed Sap
Giant hogweed is a wild plant that grows along footpaths and riverbanks that makes stinging nettles seem positively friendly! Giant hogweed can grow up to five metres tall. If the sap of the plant comes into contact with your skin, it can cause severe, painful burns.
If you touch a giant hogweed wash the affected area with soap and water. The blisters often heal very slowly and can develop into phytophotodermatitis, a type of skin rash which flares up in sunlight.
I do hope this article hasn’t made gardening with childminded children or taking them on a walk in the countryside sound as dangerous as taking them to feed the lions. These are just dangers that, like all the poisons found inside your house, you should be aware of when you look after young children.
Always teach children not to eat anything from the garden or while you are out walking unless you have told them it’s ok. Be very careful about giving mixed messages to young children. For example, everyone tells children not to eat red berries because we all know that red means poison. However, blackberry picking is great fun, isn’t it? But blackberries can appear quite red before they are fully ripe. And they’re not poisonous. How are children supposed to know? This certainly doesn’t mean you should never go blackberry picking. Just that it is important to teach children to be sensible and to watch them carefully.
For More Information
Read this RHS article for more information on plant dangers in the garden and countryside.
Sign up for the free Childminding Best Practice Newsletters 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.
Kids To Go was established in 2008. Products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, The Childminding Best Practice Club and best practice resources promoting diversity, safety and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare).
Look carefully at this photograph of a typical childminding scene.
There are six potential hazards to young children in this photo. Can you spot them, and do you know why they are dangerous?
Part of the mission of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) is to stop children being accidentally killed or injured in the home. Their website has lots of resources aimed at childcare providers as well as parents, and there is also a free newsletter that is worth signing up for.
So, how many did you spot? The six hazards are circled here:
Nappy sacks – children, especially young babies can suffocate on nappy sacks. It is tempting to let the children play with them in your baby dolls role play, but safer not to just in case.
Balloons – popped latex balloons are a leading cause of suffocation deaths in young children. Balloons are not dangerous to children when they are blown up, but please remove them when they burst.
Blind cords – children can strangle themselves on looped blind cords like these. You should tie them up.
Cleaning products – this is just an example of how easy it is to overlook things and why it is important to risk assess your setting continuously. It is so easy to get distracted half way through a task like cleaning and accidentally leave cleaning products within reach of children.
Trip hazards – watch out for trailing cables. Fasten them to the wall or tape them to the floor.
Grapes sliced the wrong way – If you are going to cut grapes up for children because you are wary of them being choke hazards then make sure you slice them lengthways. Sliced crossways they are still exactly the same diameter as they are when whole (and as a child’s windpipe).
How many did you get right?
Childminding Best Practice Newsletter
Sign up for the free Childminding Best Practice Newsletters 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.
Kids To Go was established in 2008. Products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, The Childminding Best Practice Club and best practice resources promoting diversity and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare).
If you are a childminder and you provide food as part of your childminding service then you have to register as a food business with your local authority. Food safety is very important for childcare, because children are a vulnerable group and can be more seriously affected by food poisoning than some other groups of people. So food safety is not just a ‘meaningless piece of legislation’ or another ‘hoop to jump through’ for childminders.
I spoke with the Food Standards Agency and the Environmental Health Officer at my council to find out exactly what childminders have to do.
How do I know if I have to register as a food business?
If you ever prepare food for the children who attend your setting then you probably have to register as a food business. If the children only eat food they have brought from home in their own lunch boxes then you may not have to register. Your Environmental Health Officer at your local authority (council) will talk you through it.
I’m a new childminder. How do I register as a food business?
When you register your childminding business with Ofsted, the details you provide to Ofsted will also be used to register you as a food business. This will happen automatically so you don’t need to do anything. This only applies for registrations made on or after 1 January 2014, and only if you tell Ofsted that you plan to provide food as part of your childminding service.
I registered before January 2014. Do I have to register as a food businesses?
If you are a childminder who registered with Ofsted before January 2014, who provides food as part of your childminding service, then you should contact your local authority Environmental Health Officer and register yourself. It is free to register and it is very unlikely that you will ever be inspected. You will be sent important information on food safety to help you to keep the children’s food safe.
Do I need to go on a proper food safety course?
No. However, childminders who provide food as part of their normal childminding service are responsible under food law for ensuring that food is prepared, stored and handled in compliance with the food hygiene regulations. The Food Standards Agency has produced a special pack called Safer Food, Better Business For Childminders which you should read. Your local authority and many private companies may run food safety courses if you would like to go on one, but this is optional. There is no requirement for food handlers to attend formal courses or to acquire food hygiene qualifications.
Do I really need to keep all my food receipts and if so for how long for?
Yes. Keep all of your food receipts for four weeks from the date when the children ate the food that is listed on the receipts. That way if there is a safety problem with food you have provided (like an outbreak of food poisoning) then you have a traceable record of the individual ingredients in the food the children have eaten.
Do I have to use fridge/freezer thermometers?
Food that is stored at the wrong temperature can quickly become unsafe to eat. In order to make sure that the food is stored at the correct temperature you need to check every day to make sure that your fridge is set at 5°C or below and your freezer is working properly. It is a legal requirement in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to keep high risk food at 8°C or below. Make sure your fridge is operating between 0°C – 5°C to ensure the food inside is kept at 8°C or below.
The reason for the thermometer is to check the actual temperature of the fridge is suitable. Some fridges will have a digital display to show what temperature they are set, but most fridges simply have a dial inside with numbers the numbers ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5’ on it. These numbers don’t relate to actual temperatures which is why you need to check the temperature with a thermometer. Even if your fridge is one that displays the actual temperature, you should still check it occasionally with a thermometer to make sure that it is displaying the correct temperature.
Where can I get advice on food safety and registration?
It is important that food handlers have adequate knowledge to prepare and supply food that is safe to eat. If you have any further questions about how the legislation applies or if you would like free advice on food safety, contact your local authority (council) Environmental Health Service. You can use this link to find your local contact: The Food Standard Agency website provides further information.
Do I really have to list all the allergens in the food I prepare?
From December 2014 new rules will be introduced requiring all food businesses including childminders to provide allergy information on the foods they provide to the children. The Food Standards Agency has produced guidance on the 14 allergens that must be declared in any food that you prepare. It is very important that you become familiar with the allergens listed here.
To comply with legislation you should always ask parents if their children have any known allergies. If any of the children you look after have an allergy then you should speak to the parents about it and plan for how you will ensure at your setting that the child does not come into contact with the food that could harm them. One way to do this could be to make a list of all of the food you prepare that contains the allergen to prevent that child from coming into contact with it.
The Food Standard Agency has lots of information about food allergies and there is even an optional online training course that you can take if you would like to learn more.
Childminding Best Practice Newsletter
Sign up for the free Childminding Best Practice Newsletter 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.
Kids To Go was established in 2008. Our 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).