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Good (and terrible) ways to use themes

When planning your curriculum it is important to think about how you are going to introduce children to new ideas and experiences.

It is important that children have access to a highly ambitious, broad and rich curriculum.’ (Paragraph 171 Early Years Inspection Handbook 2022)

Ofsted want to see that you are providing a broad and rich curriculum and if you only ever follow children’s interests, you are a risk of not doing this. After all children can only be interested in things they know about. (They cannot be expected to be interested in pangolin’s if they don’t even know they exist!)

Using themes can help expose children to different ideas and vocabulary, to different ways of life and important subjects such as oral hygiene. So, what is the best way to use themes?

Some childminders love planning around a theme, others like to plan in the moment and extend children’s learning based on interests the children show. It is fine to use either method but if you are struggling a balanced approach is the best way forward.

Good ways to make use of themes:

An activity from a Childminding Best Practice Club toolkit to go with a Black History Month (or space!) theme
  1. Using themes to introduce children to new ideas, vocabulary and concepts. This increases their ‘cultural capital.’
  2. Using specific themes to cover important topics which are a concern in your local area, for example oral health if there is a large rate of tooth decay in your area.
  3. To help fill in a ‘lull’. If you are feeling a ‘bit flat’ and the children are listlessly playing the same old games without much engagement, introducing a theme, even just for a while may just give you the boost you need and spark some new lines of play.
  4. To cover important areas of learning that the children may not explore naturally on their own. For example topics covering things like healthy eating.
  5. To help you feel part of a community or national event. Childminding can be lonely but sometimes having a theme based on a national event can help you and your children join in with a wider community of people. (Think of annual events like Mother’s Day, Pancake Day, etc.)
  6. Use themes sometimes but also provide times for children to explore their own interests without having to follow a theme. This will help provide balance to your curriculum.
  7. Not restricting yourself to the length of time you spend on a theme. A theme can last for a single day or, if the children are getting lots from it, last as long as you like.

Terrible ways to make use of themes:

  1. Using themes so strictly that EVERYTHING the children do has to be related to the theme. This is exhausting for both you and the children! Use the theme where it makes sense and where it doesn’t, do something else.
  2. Insisting on carrying on with a theme even if the children are showing zero interest. If the children are engaged, then great but if they are not getting anything from it don’t continue.
  3. Being too rigid with your theme. Instead when you introduce a theme wait see where it takes you. The children might surprise you with ideas that you hadn’t thought of.
  4. Using themes all the time and not giving children chance to explore their own ideas and interests.
  5. Using themes with very young children and babies. For the most part themes do not really work for children under two years old. The occasional very simple theme, like farm animals is okay but be careful not to overdo it.
Ideas and resources from recent and upcoming Childminding Best Practice Club Toolkits based around Nursery Rhymes

Tips for planning themes:

A well thought out set of themes to explore with children over a period of time will help give you the structure you need and ensure that you are covering everything that you want to.

When planning using themes first think about what you want children to learn and achieve. (Your curriculum intent.) Then make sure you use a balance of different themes, for example including some to do with the seasons, some to do with nursery rhymes or stories, some to do with the world around us, etc.

Some Teddy Bears Picnic resources from a Childminding Best Practice Club toolkit

Planning in the moment using themes requires even more organisation. A good way to follow children’s interests and enable them to get the most out of every learning opportunity is by having a collection of resources based around themes that you can literally pull out at a moment’s notice. This is where childminders truly have the edge on other larger settings that may have to plan when to get resources out or have set curriculums. If you have a ‘kit of themes’ you can quickly grab, then if a child shows interest in something you can quickly act to make the most of the moment. Make sure you take brief notes (even if they are just mental ones!) so that you can make sure you are offering a broad and rich range of experiences.

Useful basic themes to start your ‘kit’:

Themes based on the changing year are a good start. (Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter)

Themes based on ‘classic’ early years interests such as dinosaurs, nursery rhymes, traditional tales, etc.

Themes based on things you really want the children to know such as oral health and healthy eating.

There is a list of themes on our website to help you get started:

Nice things to include in your ‘theme’ kit:

Ideas and templates for crafts

Songs or nursery rhymes that fit with your theme

A sheet with ideas jotted on it that you can grab in a hurry

Games or jigsaws


More useful information and Kids To Go Products

Childminding Best Practice Club

Want a hand getting started? Our Childminding Best Practice Toolkits have a special theme section each month containing craft activities and printable templates, a themed colouring sheet, themed invitation to play ideas and a complete set of themed planning covering all areas of learning. We feature a wide variety of themes from seasonal ones, classic early years interests like dinosaurs, princesses and cars; current events like the Platinum Jubilee and themes you maybe wouldn’t think of (but the children might!)

There is also a special feature every month, for example training features and resources to help you evaluate and consider your curriculum intent – a helpful task to complete when planning your activities.


Here is a handy free downloadable ‘Lunar New Year’ diversity activity to add to your topic kit:


Diversity Mega Pack

Our Diversity Pack Mega Pack is a collection of 20 mini printable packs with resources to help childminders teach 20 different diversity and British Values topics.

Each mini pack is designed to offer clear messages on 20 important diversity and British values themes for 2-5 year old children giving you all the tools you need to explore many ‘difficult’ topics at a level that is right for very young children. Altogether the Mega Pack contains 50 original art projects with templates plus over 100 suggested activities including printable activity sheets and cooking projects.


Here is another free downloadable activity that you can add to a Nursery Rhymes kit:


Be Safe Be Healthy Mega Pack

As a childminder you have a choice about what activities you do with the children you look after so why not do some topics that could really make a difference to their lives? Taking the time to explore topics like healthy eating, making friends, sun safety, oral health, fire and road safety will not only really help the children, but it will make you feel that you are doing something truly valuable with the time you are spending with them.

This pack is a collection of 14 mini printable packs with resources to help childminders to teach 14 health and safety topics to 2-5 year old children.


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