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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

How to do Forest Childcare when you live in urban, built-up areas

Members of the Forest Childcare Association make a commitment to take children on weekly outdoor outings all year round. This is a big commitment, and no small undertaking, no matter where you live. But let’s face it: if you live in a beautiful part of the countryside, with footpaths and scenery on your doorstep, it is easier and more natural for you to make this commitment than for childcare providers living and working in urban and built-up areas. Offering Forest Childcare to any child is fantastic. But if you are in a position to offer Forest Childcare experiences to children in urban areas, especially those who may not otherwise have access to the outdoors, then this puts you in a place to make an enormous and very positive influence on their lives.

 

The children who most need Forest Childcare experiences, are the least likely to get them

Forest Childcare birds in the city parkChildren who live in the countryside with countryside parents are already likely to spend lots of time outdoors, so Forest Childcare days provided for them may simply be a nice extension of how they already spend their weekends and time with their parents. But for children who live in urban or built-up-concreted-parts of the country, access to wild places and even parks is much more limited. Forest Childcare Days for many urban kids, may be all the ‘wild time’ they get.

 

Urban Forest Childcare is about doing the best you can with what you have

Forest Childcare in cities and towns is about actively seeking out the wild spaces that you can find near you and doing the best you can with what you have. Regular weekly visits are important because they allow children to build familiarity with the places you visit. You may need to seek out the parks in your city and it may take some planning in order to work out how you will be able to visit them on a regular basis.

urban forest childcare leaves by the fountainUrban Forest Childcare provider Tes Carlow writes, “We have explored parts of the local park we don’t normally see, ie away from the play area. We have a prom by the Thames and use that for ‘seaside’ school! Lots of opportunities if you look for them. Children can easily see things from a different perspective, take them on a different route or through a different gate and they learn all over again.  It’s fun and living in a town has enhanced my learning with respect to being completely flexible with Forest Childcare ideas and crafts.”

 

Anything you can do outdoors is better than doing nothing

Forest Childcare is about making the most of outdoor ‘wild’ spaces with small children where you live. Not everyone has forests, beaches and sheep on their doorstep. Forest Childcare is about trying to explore the wild spaces that exist at the edges of the playgrounds. It’s about stopping to see the trees and finding patches and parts of nature where you live. It’s about actively seeking out nature and giving the children access to it. I don’t want people to feel that in order to offer ‘Forest Childcare’ to children that you have to live in or near to countryside. Anything you can do, and especially the harder it is to find, the more important the experience for the child who would otherwise miss out.

 

Ignore anybody who tells you ‘it isn’t proper Forest School’

The aim of the Forest Childcare Association is to encourage childminders and other small childcare providers to take children on weekly outdoor outings to ‘wild’ spaces. It is not to offer ‘a watered down version of the ‘Forest School’ experience’ as is sometimes said. It is totally different. If all children had access to those nurseries where you spend all day outdoors, cook snacks on a bonfire and sleep in a tent, then that would be amazing, but that is not the world we live in. And I don’t want people to think: I can’t offer that, or even close to that, so I won’t try at all.

In my opinion, the chief goal of the Forest Childcare Association (which is to get all children outdoors weekly year round) is actually a much better experience for them than the intense and fun, but often short (only 8 week) experiences often offered in schools and nurseries as ‘Forest School Experiences’. I am trying to encourage childminders to get outside and go for it, without the need for specialised training that is frankly more than is required to simply take the children on an outing to the woods.

Forest childcare found a leafWith that in mind, and in reference again to my point above but is SO important, I’m going to shout it out here again: ANYTHING IS BETTER THAN NOTHING when it comes to wild time with children. Whether you live in the Yorkshire Dales, or inner city London, you can, and should feel free to join the Forest Childcare Association and offer Forest Childcare to children at the level that you are able to provide in YOUR circumstances and in the place where YOU live. Don’t let anybody tell you that what you are able to provide in terms of time outdoors isn’t “good enough outdoors to count”. It does. So there. Rant done.  Be creative. And let’s get the kids outside!

 

If you don’t have a car, take a bus or go by train

If you don’t have a car, then you will need to plan carefully around public transport how you can make your visits happen. But I would challenge you to be brave and try it, because especially if it is hard to find the wild spaces where you live, then this makes it all the more worthwhile to the children to take them there.

Could you consider taking the train?  Taking the train is great fun for children and the journey is part of the adventure.  Taking a bus ride is complicated with a push chair, I do understand, but if you can do it, to get children to those wild spaces once a week, you are making a fabulous commitment to them and their future.

 

Urban Forest Childminder Silvia Bouakkaz takes the children treasure hunting on the Thames foreshore

urban forest childcare - Thames Bank

I love Silvia’s positive attitude to Forest Childcare. She writes, “We live in central London but we just love the outdoors and try to make the most of what we have. We do not have the seaside but we have the river Thames so……..off we went. It was a fantastic day out, as you can see on the pictures we went on a treasure hunting on the Thames foreshore just behind Tate Modern. We managed to find a few items on our list, it just felt like we were in the seaside. FANTASTIC !!!!”

 

Urban green spaces are vanishing, and Forest Childcare can help to teach the next generation to appreciate them

Less and less children have access to wild spaces to play in so more children than ever grow up with limited chance to spend time in nature. Even if children have places near to their house like parks and small green spaces, they cannot visit them today without an adult accompanying them. So children rely on adults to provide Forest Childcare experiences. And when you do, you are helping to raise a generation of children who will value and appreciate these wild spaces so that they will turn into adults who want to preserve these places for the future.

You are teaching children to love these places.

You are teaching them to respect these places.

If children learn to love and respect these places, they will strive to preserve them for the next generation.

 

This photograph is a “lie”

Forest Childcare misty sept morningThis is one of my favourite ‘Forest Childcare’ photos. I use it a lot because it is one of my best childminding memories, the little boy I looked after, chasing after my own daughter through the misty September morning park. It looks like we live out in the countryside somewhere, and created for the parents who saw this photograph up on the wall in my playroom an ideal dream of what childcare with me must be all about.

I don’t think anybody realised that the tree in this photo is only a few meters away from a busy main road which doesn’t show in the picture from the angle I took the photograph. The children are running because they can see the swings and are excited to get there! Behind me was an ugly fence blocking the park from the local failing secondary school. But it was right after the school run and at that moment, the park in the morning mist had fallen silent and was utterly beautiful. As the children ran for the swings they suddenly stopped and discovered conkers beneath the tree at the age when conkers are still magical. I felt enormously privileged to be there in that moment outdoors with the children.

So the photo isn’t a lie at all really. It was looking for the beauty that was near me, sharing it with the children and making the most in that moment of what we had.

 

Childminders are ideally placed to offer “Forest Childcare Days” to children who would not normally get access to outdoor ‘wild’ places

Urban children, especially less well-off children whose parents don’t or can’t take the children to outdoor places themselves – these are the children who can most benefit from having a childminder who takes them on a weekly basis to wild, natural places. If you are a childminder, living and working in a built up environment, then you may be the ONLY person in a child’s life to give them these outdoor experiences.  It is something to offer that child that nobody else can.

 

Join the Forest Childcare Association for only £15 for a lifetime membership

Forest Childcare Association Logo

When you join the Forest Childcare Association for only £15 I will send you a pack of information including risk assessments and safety considerations associated with outdoor ‘wild’ outings, all the permission forms you need, business materials to help you to promote yourself as a Forest Childcare Provider to parents (including the right to use the logo) and a book of 50 crafts and activities with outdoor themes including treasure hunts for the very young.

 

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

Childminding in small spaces

Not everyone who childminds is lucky enough to have a dedicated play room in their house. Even some people who have the space for one, would rather tidy the toys away at night and turn what Ofsted calls your ‘childminding setting’ back into your family home.  In my blog this week I’ve asked several childminders to share their space-saving tricks with you and how they manage without dedicated play rooms to keep childminding from overrunning their house.

If you are reading this as an email rather than online, you probably want to right click on the little red x-es and download the photos so you can see the pictures!

 

Make a toy and activities selection book

childminding in small spaces toys bookWhen you are childminding from a small space, you can’t keep everything out where children can see it, so instead you could do like Claire Toms does and put photos of all the toys and play options into a book. The children can flip through and point to what they want to play with. Not only is this idea a perfect space saver for small spaces, it is a  great way to promote literacy as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Under-sofa toy storage unit

childminding in small spaces under couchThese storage units are a perfect place to hide the toys at the end of the day after the children have gone home.

 

Roll-away art materials storage unit

Arts and craft materials take up a lot of space. Claire Toms keeps hers on a trolley that rolls away under the stairs.

childminding in small spaces 2

 

Keep the toys in a shed in your garden

Michelle Fitzpatrick solves her storage problem by using the garden. “I have a big shed in the garden which the children can assess like a playroom and a lots of toys are stored there too. I don’t have a huge house or garden but we manage.”

 

Roll-up sleeping mats

childminding in small spaces bedrollsChristine Emery stores the cushions for story time/cosy corner in a nest of tables! I think this is such a clever idea.

 

 

Make clever use of your hallways

This childminder minds from a small flat, so she makes the most of her space by using her hallway. The boxes of toys on the floor in the hallway are easy for the children to access, but mean she doesn’t have to look at boxes of kids toys in her living room.

 

using your corridor

 

Use your conservatory

I totally love Katie Harper’s indoor sandpit in her conservatory. What a clever idea and a great use of space!

 

Use your radiators for displays

childminding in small spaces clip onto radiatorsBecky Pattison has clipped a roll-able poster onto her radiator. She makes them herself. Then at the end of the day she simply unclips them and rolls them away.

 

 

 

Back of door display hangers

childminding in small spaces overdoor hangers

Therese Wallace uses back of door organisers for her childminding paperwork that lift down easily at the end of the day.

 

The key to a small garden is to be very organised and think small

childminding in small spaces gardenchildminding in small spaces garden 2

I love how Katie Harper has organised her small garden. She has EVERYTHING in it, just smaller. She has animals, small world play, play house, fairy garden, natural materials and fun, and everything has it’s own neat little area. She has done a wonderful job organising a tiny outdoor space to make the most of it.

 

Notice boards that lift down and replace with a picture

my front hall during childminding hoursmy front hallway after childminded children have gone hoome

When you work as a childminder there are a few things that you are supposed to have on display at all times: your registration certificate, paediatric first aid certificate, and the Parent’s Poster showing the phone number for Ofsted etc. If you put these things onto a bulletin board, then you can take it all down each night and your front hallway doesn’t have to look like you are running a B&B.

Hang posters on strings that can be easily lifted down when the children leave, or put photographs into hanging plastic wallet displays that can be removed. Aim to spend no more than 5 minutes preparing your walls for the children in the morning, and have the whole house back to adult space 5 minutes after the last one leaves at the end of the day!

 

Do you want some printable posters for your childminding setting?

ABC poster chart by 26 childminders - 1 page versionMy Posters Pack is a collection of printable posters for your childminding setting including educational posters (ABC charts, days of the week), bulletin board signs and notices, things Ofsted likes to see (welcome posters in many languages, diversity poster, house rules, ‘who is here today’, areas of learning and development poster, characteristics of effective learning poster) plus toy box labels and display ideas for all types of childminders. I have posters for large spaces and tiny spaces and it’s all available as part of my Posters Pack. You can customise the posters for your own setting before you print them.

You can also see inside other childminders’ houses so you can get ideas of how to use small and large spaces effectively. The prize piece from the pack is a totally unique ABC chart (printable in 3 different sizes) designed by 26 childminders from across the UK.

 

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

Rediscovering the pure pleasure of paper – for over-digitised childminders

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

chocolate fridge cakeSome 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

Learning Journey PlusDo 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?

 

Learning Journey Plus – Word document based

learning-journey-plus-workbookIf 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 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

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

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

 

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

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

 

2. Children always come first

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

 

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

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

 

4. Do lots and lots and lots of paperwork

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

8. Set impossibly high expectations for yourself

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

 

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

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

 

10. Never make mistakes of any kind

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

 

Childminding Best Practice Newsletter

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

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

 

About Kay Woods and Kids To Go

Kay Woods Kids To GoKay Woods has been writing and selling childminding resources through her company Kids To Go since 2008. Her products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, the Learning Journey Plus for planning, observation and assessment and best practice resources promoting diversity, safety and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare). She is the author of the Start Learning book set published by Tarquin and she writes the free quarterly Childminding Best Practice Newsletter.

Lots of places offer help to childminders. I provide solutions.

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

Three solutions for childminders who fear losing business to the 30 hours problem

In September 2017, each childminder will have to decide for themselves whether to offer parents some or all of the 30 funded hours. With the new funding rates, some childminders will find themselves better off and that offering the 30 hours could even be a good business opportunity. But many childminders are worried that they will HAVE to offer funded hours, and at less than their current hourly rates, or risk losing business to nurseries and other childminders. The uncertainty of the hourly rate, poor communication from some local authorities and anxiety about planning ahead is making this a very stressful change for many childminders.

 

What should you do if you feel you HAVE to offer at least some of the funded hours? 

Not everyone feels they have a choice when it comes to offering the funded hours. Many childminders feel they will HAVE to offer the 30 hours or they will lose business to nurseries or other childminders who do. So if you are going to offer the 30 hours, here are three things you should consider:

 

 1. Look into how you can exploit the ‘top up loop hole’.

hobsons choice childminding service - childminding humourThe legislation is leaving a nice loop hole that you can and should exploit about “extra charges”. Many local authorities refuse to call them “top up charges”, but that is essentially what they are. For example, if you are currently charging £5 an hour and your local authority says it will pay you £4 an hour for funded children, then you should seriously consider charging parents £1 an hour directly for ‘activities, outings and food’ etc. so that you are not out of pocket. I’m sure with a bit of creativity you can work this loop hole to make sure you don’t end up worse off under the funding. You will have to be careful about how you phrase this because the extra charges are not supposed to be “compulsory” or “conditional on taking up the space”. But I do feel that these extra charges give you some flexibility around your hourly rate and could be applied creatively where needed.

 

2. Look into “blended care” and find a partner now

Lots of parents are expected to split their 30 hours between different carers, such as a pre-school and a childminder. The government thinks that lots of parents will want to do this, and it could be a good business opportunity for you if you grab it now. If you plan to offer “blended care”, then you should get in contact with your proposed partner as soon as possible. Check out some working models of how you might offer blended care on the 30 Hours Toolkit published by the Families and childcare Trust.

3. Consider putting your prices up on under 3s and after school care

While this sounds awful, it may be necessary and I know that some nurseries will make up the shortfall in their funding this way. Many nurseries charge more for baby rooms now because of the extra staff needed, so if nurseries will make up the funding shortfall by putting their prices up in their baby rooms, why shouldn’t childminders?  If you feel pushed into offering care at a lower rate than works for you, then this is certainly one option you could consider.

 

Approach this an opportunity not a threat

Really consider carefully whether you should do the funded places or not. Don’t just throw the idea out as impossible, or reluctantly take that pay cut and feel angry at the world. Make a business plan and work out how much this is likely to cost you (or benefit you) with realistic estimates of how many children you are likely to have on your books at any point in time.

It is also important that you talk to YOUR parents so you get a feeling for what they will be likely to do – will they stay with you even if they have to pay a “top up fee”, or will they run for the cheapest care option going?

The most important thing to remember over the next few months is to have the attitude that you are not going to let nurseries or other childminders steal your business. Don’t let yourself slip into the feeling of inevitability, that it is all somehow out of your control and the government is going to destroy your childminding business!  Every childminder is in a different situation so do be very careful not to pay too much attention to every horror story you read on Facebook which could be very different from what will be happening in your local authority. You can and will retain and even work all this change to your advantage, if you stay on top of the changes, plan ahead and keep a positive attitude.

 

Two articles from industry leaders with sensible 30 hours’ information

If you are worried about the introduction of the 30 hours – then have a read of these two articles which are the two best sources of sensible information I’ve read on the subject to date:

This article by Pacey will put your mind at ease about a lot of the rumours you might have heard, so read this, including the comments section.  It’s a good article and answers a lot of questions.

This article from Nursery World gives you information on the national funding formula minimum rate and what that means for childminders.

You might also want to read my blog about hourly rates and setting sensible pricing:

 

Childminding Best Practice Newsletter

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

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

 

About Kay Woods and Kids To Go

Kay Woods Kids To GoKay Woods has been writing and selling childminding resources through her company Kids To Go since 2008. Her products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, the Learning Journey Plus for planning, observation and assessment and best practice resources promoting diversity, safety and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare). She is the author of the Start Learning book set published by Tarquin and she writes the free quarterly Childminding Best Practice Newsletter.

Lots of places offer help to childminders. I provide solutions.

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

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

If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys (for childminders)

I have always hated this expression from when my very first boss would use it. ‘If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’ he’d say. The problem was, he DID pay peanuts. So every time he used the expression, he made me feel that was how he thought of me. He paid peanuts. He’d hired a monkey. Me.

 

Childminding pricesDon’t let parents pay you ‘peanuts’

Feeling that you are being paid peanuts is awful. Feeling undervalued in any job is demoralising, but when you are childminding it can feel doubly awful because you are the one who sets your own prices. It is not parents who are paying you peanuts. When you are self-employed, you are the one who decides what you are ‘worth’. You are no longer the victim of a horrible boss.  You have undervalued yourself. If you let these feelings go ignored you can end up resenting the parents, your partner, other childminders and ultimately the children you care for.

 

But how much is ‘peanuts’? What is a GOOD hourly rate for a childminder?

This is a difficult question because childminding hourly rates vary enormously across the country from as little as £3 per hour (per child) to as much as £7 an hour. If you are childminding in many parts of London, for example, then you may feel you are being paid peanuts if you are paid only £5 per hour, when that same hourly rate would put you near the top of the hourly price range in many other locations across the country.  So when you compare yourself to others, make sure it is to other childcare providers in YOUR area.

 

When you are just starting out, how should you decide a good hourly rate?

If you are new to childminding the best way to decide on an hourly rate is to look at what other childcare providers in your area charge. This will also give you a good idea about the ‘market’ in your area – in other words – what parents are looking for and what they are willing to pay. You should find out what both nurseries and childminders in your area charge per hour.  As well as looking at the prices, you should also look at what is offered for those services.

Here is an example. It’s actually a real example of how I decided my original hourly rate TEN years ago in Slough (home counties) where I was trying to set up my childminding business.

The very cheapest childcare in my area were childminders who charged between £3.50 and £4.50 per hour. Next on the scale were many mid-range nurseries that charged between £4.50 and £5.50 per hour. The services these nurseries and childminders advertised all seemed very standard. The “best” nursery in our area (with a waiting list) that took the children to swimming lessons, had Ofsted outstanding and cooked lunches on the premises charged £5.50 per hour. The most expensive childcare in the area was an outstanding childminder who had been childminding for 15 years from her farm location outside of the city. She charged a massive £6.50 per hour and always had a waiting list.

So, where I lived, it seemed reasonable that parents would be willing to pay somewhere between £3.50 and £6 per hour for childcare, depending on the type of service I decided to offer.

 

How do you decide on your ‘price point’?

Once you have the range of prices in your area, you then need to make a decision about how you want to fit in on this scale. You also need to consider your ‘market’. Do you have lots of parents willing to pay high end prices in your area?  Or do most people where you live want the cheapest childcare going?

Suppose you decide to become one of the most expensive childminders in your area? If so, you will be competing with the top nursery, nannies and other top childminders in your area. If you are going in at the ‘top end’ then what services are you going to offer to parents that will make your higher prices justifiable to them? How will you compete with the nursery that offers ‘swimming lessons’ or the ‘growing up on a farm’ experience offered by the top childminder? This is especially difficult if you are new to childminding as many top childminders and nurseries have years of experience and the reputation that goes with it, neither of which you have if you are new. One of the key benefits of deciding to offer a top end service is that you often attract parents who want longer hours for their children. So you get the added benefit of longer, contracted hours at a higher hourly rate. Getting rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted can be a huge benefit if you intend to go in at the ‘top end’ and there is no reason why you shouldn’t try to attract parents who are looking for ‘the best’ even if you are new as long as there are enough parents in your area looking for that service.

Alternately, you may decide to go in at the lowest cost end. You may want to try and offer cheap and no frills childcare – like Easyjet for parents!  Parents bring their own food and snacks and children can come and go flexibly. Many childminders who offer a low cost childminding service are happy to be flexible regarding hours and this suits and helps many parents enormously. The low cost business model for childminding can make it easy to attract many parents, especially parents who have low paid jobs themselves where they are making only marginally more per hour than they pay you to look after their child.  The downside is the lower rate, and the risk that taking children for five hour slots in a day can make it impossible to take on full timers.

Other childminders decide to go ‘middle of the road’ on their prices. Childminders who choose this option are not trying to compete with nurseries or nannies, or with childminders who offer low cost. If you go middle of the road with your prices then finding ways to stand out is crucial if you want to attract parents. You have to think very carefully about what makes your service unique.  If you are neither the cheapest, nor the best, why else should parents call you, instead of the next childminder on the list?

When I had to make this decision ten years ago now, I decided that I wanted to go ‘top end’ and offer a quality service. I couldn’t possibly compete with the childminder with 15 years’ experience who raised children on her farm. But I felt that by having all-inclusive prices, home-cooked meals and weekly outdoor ‘Forest Childcare’ outings, I could easily compete with the top nursery in our area. So I matched my hourly rate to theirs offering ‘all the benefits of a nursery but in a home environment’. That was my tagline. And it worked for me.

 

Are parents really looking for the “cheapest childcare”?

Don’t get me wrong. Many parents really do choose a childminder because it is the cheapest childcare can they find. But for the vast majority of parents, price is only one small factor in the decision. Parents will pay more for childcare if you give them a reason to. They will find money if you give them a reason to spend it. So don’t start off by assuming that the only way you will attract new parents is by undercutting the competition. Setting your prices too low can result in you regretting it later on by feeling undervalued for the work you do.

 

Low prices may actually put some people off

Many parents think that they are looking for cheap childcare. But really they are looking for ‘the best childcare they can afford’. Many parents (people) believe that if they pay more for something that it must be better. They may actually seek out higher hourly rates because they will feel that if they are paying more, then what they are getting must be better.

Recently I had to buy a new toaster. I walked up and down the rows of toasters in the shops horrified at the range of prices and weird and wonderful extras I could get for an appliance that I essentially wanted to be able to ‘heat bread reliably at breakfast’. Did I buy the cheapest toaster? Even though it did exactly that? No, because somehow I allowed myself to believe that some of the extras I was being offered might be worth it. But more importantly because when I looked at the cheapest toaster I thought to myself ‘what’s wrong with it?’ Why is it so cheap?  It must not be any good if they are selling it that cheaply. It will probably break in a year.

 

A parent who pays peanuts can get a childminder who feels underpaid and undervalued

Feeling respected is very important to people’s wellbeing. When you feel that you are being paid less than other childminders, this can seriously harm your enjoyment of the job. If other childminders in your area charge more than you, then think about the impression you are giving parents about the service you offer and consider putting your prices up.

Many childminders still charge the same fees per hour as they did 10 years ago. It is easy to say be brave and tell parents that you are putting your prices up. But this is so much easier said than done.

 

Give yourself a clause in your contract about reviewing your prices

If you are starting out, then make sure you put a clause into your contract that tells parents your prices are renewed annually at a certain date (1st April for example). Then it will come as less of a shock to parents that your prices are being reviewed and are going up. And you won’t feel guilty asking because it was in your agreement.

 

How to put your prices up if you don’t have a review clause in your contract

Putting your prices up takes a lot of nerve and you are right to feel nervous about it. You don’t want to upset families and drive them away. But you also don’t want to grow increasingly resentful of them (and their child) which can happen if you ignore your feelings.

If you look after just one family, then you may want to discuss your feelings regarding the pay rise with them and come to a mutually agreed amount. If you explain how you feel, perhaps in a letter, not in the morning as they are rushing to work, or when they are tired and their child is whingy at collection time, but when they can sit down and discuss this together, then you may all be able to come to an agreement that is reasonable and will keep everybody happy.

If there are multiple families involved then I wouldn’t ask their permission if I were you. Imagine if you were a nursery. Would a nursery send a letter home asking ‘look, I hope you don’t mind but I’m thinking of putting my prices up’ and it is demoralising to ‘ask them for a pay rise’ when you are self-employed. Just make the announcement like your nursery or any kids sports club would do. Parents will moan and groan, like you would do. But unless you are being unreasonable, they are very unlikely to actually leave you over a small price increase; they will most likely grumble, then do it, and then forget about it.

 

pile-of-peanutsDon’t feel like a monkey by offering your service for peanuts

I have carried that expression on with me throughout my life. When I left my first job I made a promise to myself never to work for someone who ‘paid peanuts’ again because it left me feeling very bad about myself, including when I started childminding and became my own boss. When you are not being paid what you feel you deserve for your work, it can really get you down. If this is you, it’s time to take the brave step of asking for the money you feel you are worth. Good luck!

 

Childminding Best Practice Newsletter

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

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

 

About Kay Woods and Kids To Go

Kay Woods Kids To GoKay Woods has been writing and selling childminding resources through her company Kids To Go since 2008. Her products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, the Learning Journey Plus for planning, observation and assessment and best practice resources promoting diversity, safety and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare). She is the author of the Start Learning book set published by Tarquin and she writes the free quarterly Childminding Best Practice Newsletter.

Lots of places offer help to childminders. I provide solutions.

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

Do you know what you are allowed to do when you take childminded children to the woods?

 

How much do you know about what you’re allowed to do and what you’re not allowed to do when you are taking childminded children on an outing to the woods? Answer true or false to the following 10 statements:

 

  1. You have to have a Level 3 Forest School qualification to take the children to the woods.

FALSE: Forest School training courses are popping up all over the country and lots of childminders are signing up for them. They are essential if you want to run a Forest Kindergarten (outdoor nursery) and a great idea if you want to teach groups of nursery children how to do whittling and build a forest fire. However, it is a myth that you must have Forest School training or any kind of special qualification in order to take childminded children on normal outings to the woods.

Forest Childcare for childminders

  1. You need to do a risk assessment before every trip to the woods.

TRUE: You should carry out a risk assessment to identify any potential hazards each time you go on an outing, even if it is for a place you have been before. Changes in weather and the personalities of the different children you are bringing all introduce new ‘risks’ and new ‘variables’ into a trip and you should consider these when you plan your trip. You don’t necessarily have to write your risk assessment down, but you really should think through your risks before each and every trip.

 

  1. You must get parents to sign a permission form for every outing you take.

FALSE:  When children start at your setting it’s a good idea to get them to sign to say that they are happy for you to take the children on ‘regular outings’ and also to take the children out in the car. If they sign this once, then you don’t need to ask for permission every time you go out. In fact, permission for outings is no longer strictly necessary at all. In Sept 2014 the requirement for ‘written parental permission for outings’ was removed from the EYFS Statutory Framework. Many childminders still get permission from parents anyway, especially to go on ‘special outings’ or ‘day trips’ because it is nice to feel that the parents are on board and it’s also just a great way to advertise your service.

 

  1. It is bad for children’s health to take them out when it’s raining and very cold.

FALSE: Rain is not bad for children’s health. Nor is cold. Have the attitude that there is no inappropriate weather for outings to the woods, only inappropriate clothing. Taking children out in all kinds of weather, all year round, is great for their health and wellbeing. Put the children in water proofs, wellie boots, hats, gloves and bring spare clothing. Remember to think about your own clothes as well as the children, because if you get cold or wet you won’t enjoy yourself and you won’t want to do it again!

 

  1. Your childminding insurance won’t insure you if you’re out in the woods.

FALSE: I don’t know about ALL insurers but if you are insured through Pacey or Morton Michel, then your public liability insurance covers you for any normal outings you take including playgrounds, woodlands and parks as long as those outings are within the UK. Don’t forget that you will also need to make sure your car has business car insurance on it if you intend to drive the children on your outings.

 

  1. You should not allow the children to climb trees.

TRUE: While your public liability insurance should cover you for any NORMAL outing and activity you would do with the children in the woods including hiking, bug-hunting, treasure-hunting and den-building, certain activities including tree climbing, whittling, using tools such as saws, fire-making and cooking on fires may be restricted by your insurance provider. If you plan to do any of those types of activities with the children you care for, you are advised to first contact your insurance provider and to check their small print.

 

  1. You must get parental permission for every activity you might do with the children while you are in the woods.  

FALSE: Many childminders fear that if they took the children to the woods they would need to have parental permission forms for every little thing: ‘I give my child permission to carry twigs, to pick up leaves, to splash in puddles and risk slipping over on mud etc.’ This attitude can severely limit what you feel is ok to do with the children you look after, and simply isn’t necessary. Being outdoors and in the woods comes with risks. While it is important to try to minimise risks, you can’t wrap children in cotton wool and part of the learning of being outdoors is learning to manage some of its risks and dangers.

 

  1. If the parents say it’s ok, then the childminded children can play in the woods at the bottom of your street on their own.

FALSE: It would be lovely to allow children to ‘play out’ as you may have done as a child, and trusting your own children with the freedom to explore the small woods at the bottom of your street is part of growing up and your choice. But when you are childminding, children must be within your sight or hearing at all times, so you must not allow childminded children to ‘play out’ even if the parents have given you permission.

 

  1. You must carry a first aid kit with you when you are on outings.

TRUE: Yes, you must carry a first aid kit with you at all times. Plus epi pens or other first aid essentials for children who need them. But you don’t generally need to lug the same massive first aid box around with you that you have in your house. Just carry some essentials.

 

  1. You must not feed children in the woods because they will not have washed their hands properly.

FALSE: This is simply not true. Obviously you should not feed the children if they have been handling anything potentially dangerous or if their hands are especially filthy, but eating snacks while sitting on a log is really one of the nicest aspects of being outdoors. Whenever possible wash everyone’s hands before you eat in the normal way, but if you carry some wet wipes and a pot of antibacterial hand wash with you, try not to worry too much. ‘Normal germs’ really are less dangerous than many people imagine.

 

Join the Forest Childcare Association and make a commitment to taking children on weekly outdoor outings

Forest Childcare Association Logo

When you join the Forest Childcare Association for just £15 I will send you a pack of information including risk assessments, links to the EYFS, all the forms and paperwork you need to make outings happen, plus 50 crafts and activities you can do with childminded children. You will also receive marketing tools to help you to use the idea of weekly outdoor outings to promote your childminding business.

 

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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