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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

Planning Checklist for Childminders

Is your childminding planning system simple and structured? Do you feel your plans are actually useful to your setting, or just another Ofsted chore? Keep the following in mind when you write your childminding plans:

 

If you feel you are wasting time with planning, then you probably are.

GOOD planning is not a waste of time. It shows parents that you are a childcare professional – not ‘just a babysitter’. Good planning helps you to stay organised, ensures that you are providing a balanced and varied experience for the children you look after, and that you have the resources you need to offer the experiences you have planned.

 

Don’t overcomplicate things or you won’t be able to use your system.

Whatever system you are using for your planning needs to be usable by you every single week. The more complicated you make it, then the less likely you will be to use your own system. If the system you are using currently feels too complicated for you to maintain, then it may be time to try a new system.

 

Involve the children and the parents in writing plans for your setting.

Ofsted loves it when children are involved in the planning for your setting. It’s great to ask older children to help think of activities for younger ones. It’s also nice to ask parents what activities or themes they might like you to explore with their children. Getting parents involved in celebrating festivals that are relevant to the children in your care (like planning to celebrate Diwali if you look after a Hindu child) allows you to tick off the ‘diversity’ and ‘parent communication’ boxes in one seriously-Ofsted-impressing-activity that everyone will enjoy!

free-diversity-planning-calendar-2017-kidstogo

 

 

Plan to do something NEW this year.

Planning new things is a great way to keep yourself fresh and to keep things interesting for the children too. You might want to celebrate a festival like Diwali or Easter or Eid that you’ve never celebrated before? My free 2016 Diversity Calendar could inspire you? Or teach the children about stranger danger, or mini beasts using ideas from the Be Safe Be Healthy Pack. Whatever theme you are planning to do will require a little preparation on your part, so if you put it into your written planning then it is more likely to happen.

 

Your planning system needs to work for your whole setting AND for each individual child.

If the system you use works for your setting, but does not take into account the needs of different children in your setting, then your system needs a rethink. A planning system must work for your whole setting AND take into account the needs and interests of each individual child.

 

Learning and development observations must link into your planning.

Writing observations and next steps into your learning journeys is pointless if you don’t have a method to put those ideas into your planning. All of the ‘next steps’ you record in your learning journeys MUST link into whatever planning system you are using.

 

Get the right mix of planned activities and unstructured free-play time.

childminding free play

Children need daily opportunities for free play indoors and outdoors so that they can engage uninterrupted in activities that interest them. They also need you to organise learning activities and outings for them that address the different learning and development areas and characteristics of effective learning. Making monthly and weekly plans will help you to get the balance right.

 

What are your plans for improvements to your setting, and improvements to yourself this year?

Part of creating a year plan is to think about what new equipment, training and other resources you may want to buy for your setting this year. A formal list of this kind, made once a year, is a great way to make sure you think about your setting as a whole.

It’s also a great time of year to make plans for your own Continual Professional Development (CPD).

You might think about more training you would like to receive? You might think about getting training for special needs children or becoming a Forest Childcare Provider? All of these things directly benefit all of the children who attend your setting.

Your long term planning is a little like a performance review. It is a chance for you to take a step back and ask yourself what you do well in your setting and what could be improved. What could you buy or do differently that would help you to improve what you could offer? If you want to become a Forest Childcare Provider, for example, how would you work in weekly trips to your schedule? How would you make time? What special equipment (outdoor gear, reflective jackets, off-road buggy etc.) might you need?

 

Do you want help with planning for your setting?

Is the planning system you are currently using is too complicated? You may want to simplify things to make it easier for yourself? My Learning Journey Plus workbook takes you step by step through creating a workable, flexible and ongoing planning system for your setting. Use it to create a complete planning system from scratch or to fill in gaps and improve any system you are already using.

 

Childminding Best Practice Newsletter

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

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

How NOT to be a victim of a bad Ofsted Inspection: 10 Ways to Take Control

One of the saddest types of emails I get are from childminders who feel they were the ‘victims’ of a bad Ofsted inspection. “It wasn’t fair that she didn’t…” people will say. Or “she just didn’t understand that…” Horrible, unfair Ofsted inspections (like bad job interviews) do happen and when they do are you are well within your right to make a complaint. But don’t set yourself up to be a victim. With a bit of planning you can “manage” your Ofsted inspector and take control of your inspection so it goes the way you want it to.

 

Tip 1: Modesty has no place on your Self-Evaluation Form

If you want the Ofsted inspector to think your setting is outstanding then don’t rate any sections of your practice ‘good’ or ‘requires improvement’ and hope that she will ‘read between the lines’ or realise that you want outstanding really but are being modest. People (including Ofsted inspectors) are very impressionable. Your answers to the Self Evaluation Form tell her what to expect before she arrives. If you tell your inspector that she can expect to see an outstanding setting, then she will come looking for excellence. Tell her you ‘require improvement’ and she will arrive looking for flaws.

 

Tip 2: Control those vital first impressions

Those first few moments when your Ofsted inspector arrives are crucial because she is using that time to form instantaneous impressions about you, your setting and your children. So think carefully about how you will manage those first few minutes. As she walks through your front door which way will you lead her? Will you invite her to sit at your dining table or on the couch? Will you offer her a cup of tea? If she says yes, will you really leave her alone with the children while you make her one? What if she says no to the tea? Yikes! Remember that you are actually in control of this time. Like any guest she must be polite and respectful of your home, will follow where you lead her, and respond to your social prompts. It is your house so you have the advantage here. Use it!

 

Problem Child in the Shed

Tip 3: Don’t let the problem child mess this up for you

You can’t (unfortunately) lock him in the shed when you see her car pull up for your inspection, so the best thing to do about Problem Child is to make sure the inspector is aware right from the start that Alexander has ADHD/ has dad in jail/ is completely new to your setting etc. Call it to her attention so you can show how you are planning to ‘narrow his attainment gap’ to help him to catch up with the other children as soon as possible.

 

Tip 4: Make sure you know what your local safeguarding procedures are.

You KNOW how important safeguarding is. If you don’t know what to do if you suspect that a child in your setting has been abused then you are throwing her ammunition she will definitely use against you. She won’t care how great your setting appears or anything else you’ve been doing if you appear in any way ignorant about safeguarding.

 

Tip 5: Clean and Tidy Your House

Does your push chair look like a biscuit barrel and your high chair look like a science experiment in growing mould? Does your fridge look like an E-coli outbreak just waiting to happen? These sorts of things make a really bad impression and are well within your control to get cleaned prior to your inspection.

post it notes stuck to your arm

Tip 6: Don’t wait to be asked about the great things you do

Don’t spend your inspection thinking, ‘I wish she’d ask me about this,’ or ‘why is she all focused on THIS thing, when I’ve been doing lots of THAT thing really well?’ If she doesn’t ask about something you are proud of, just bring it up. Under no circumstances should you allow her to leave until you have told her everything you wanted to! Plan how you will remind yourself about important things to tell her during the inspection even if it means sticking post it notes on your arms.

 

Tip 7: Prepare three structured activities

During your inspection your inspector will want to see you doing some structured activities with the children. Prepare three so you have more than you will probably need – under scrutiny of the inspector, you don’t want to seem stuck for ideas. While you are doing these activities she will be watching you like a hawk and making judgements on everything you do from how you talk to the children, to what they are learning, to how well the children behave to you and each other. To avoid becoming a victim of ‘bad luck’ plan the activities you will do carefully and well. And read the Inspection Handbook points 66 and 72 which spell out exactly what the inspector is hoping to see from you.

 

Tip 8: Train the children

The earlier you start training the children to behave well for your inspection, the better it will go. If you want them to sit still for your structured activities, and eat a healthy snack, and put their own shoes on with the Ofsted Inspector watching then you need to train them how to do these things well in advance of your inspection.

 

Tip 9: Focus your attention on the children, not the inspector

She is most interested in how you interact with them. She won’t really care if you don’t offer her a chair. She will care if you forget to shut the safety gate because you are talking to her about your ratios, or forget to wash the children’s hands before snack time because you are offering her a cup of tea. (Probably best to just forget the cup of tea).

 

Tip 10. Appear to know EVERYTHING about the children in your care

There is no excuse for you not to know each child’s development inside and out. You know that she is going to expect you to know this stuff, so make sure you do. You need to know those learning and development areas by heart so read Development Matters. Don’t know the Characteristics of Effective Learning? That’s like handing her a loaded gun. Get your starting points observations, planning and learning journeys up to date so that you can prove that you know where each child you look after is in terms of his or her development, what you can expect them to do next, and most importantly how you are planning to help Problem Child to catch up with the nice, easy ones you look after.

 

Don’t become a victim of a bad Ofsted inspection! With careful planning you can take control of your day of judgement and help to manage your inspector so that she sees what you want her to see and gives you the grade you deserve. For more tips and pointers including a Count Down to Your Ofsted Inspection Checklist, get your Ultimate Childminding Checklist for only £10 from my website today.

 

Childminding Best Practice Newsletter

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

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

About Kay Woods and Kids To Go

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

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

www.kidstogo.co.uk

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