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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

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

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

10 Mistakes to Avoid on Childminding Directory Sites

Most councils and many private companies offer websites where you can list details about your childminding business to help you to fill your childminding vacancies. Getting these listings right will help parents to find you and choose your service over the competition. Check your listings today, especially if you are struggling to fill childminding vacancies, to make sure you aren’t making any of the following mistakes:

 

  1. Don’t hide your prices or parents will be suspicious.

Parents want to know at a glance if they can afford your service or if they should be looking elsewhere. A blank space next to ‘price’ looks suspicious and even writing ‘contact me for prices’ can make you appear to be hiding something. Ultimately, honesty saves you time from having to deal with calls from parents who can’t afford you.

 

  1. EXPLAIN your prices, especially if you are a lot more expensive or a lot cheaper than other childminders.

Forest Childcare Association LogoWhether you offer ‘the cheapest childcare in Slough’ or are selling an ‘outstanding service to rival the best nursery in Cambridge’ you need to make it clear what parents are getting for the price you charge. If they scan down the list of childminding providers and your prices are higher than most other childminders in your area, then parents need to know at a glance what service you offer – meals, antisocial hours, Forest Childcare, flexibility etc. – that makes your setting worth paying so much extra for. Equally important – if you are offering the ‘cheapest after school club in your town’ parents will want reassurance you aren’t running your childminding business from the local bus shelter!

 

  1. Update your listing frequently, especially if listings are ordered by the ‘last-updated’ field.

Many sites have a ‘vacancy information last updated’ field. If your listing includes this field then it is really important that you update your entry frequently. This is important for two reasons. Firstly because parents will feel that your entry looks more relevant if it is up to date. Secondly, and more importantly, on many sites the default listing order of all the entries is by the ‘last-updated’ field. Therefore to ensure that your entry appears near to the top of the listings you should update it frequently, even if you don’t actually change the information. Parents are more likely to contact you if you are top of the list.

 

  1. Check that you can find yourself on the directory – otherwise it isn’t working properly and you should complain.

Kay Woods Childminder ListingAfter you have created and updated the text on the directory website, make sure that you check it is working. By this I mean: can you actually find yourself using the website? To do this you need to pretend to be a parent. So if I was trying to find myself on the Slough Council website, I wouldn’t type ‘Kay Woods’ into the childminder search. Of course this search would bring me up.  But if I asked the website to find the closest childminder to ‘SL1 6NG’ I would expect it to bring me up at the very top of the list. If it doesn’t do this, then I would complain to my council that their search facility doesn’t work and keep on complaining until they fixed it!

 

  1. List your phone number so parents can get a great first impression of you from your phone manner.

Parents want to be able to call you. They will say they are ringing to find out if you have any vacancies but really they are calling to hear what you sound like. Within the first few seconds of a phone call they will have formed any number of judgements about you based on your accent, the words you use, the noise in the background and even how you answer your phone.

There are a few points here to think about. Never answer your phone from an unknown number if you can’t speak to the person on the other end at that moment. Let your voicemail get it. If there is a baby howling in the background, if you are going to have to admit, ‘Sorry I can’t talk right now I’m driving,’ this will not make a good impression!  ‘Will you kids belt up I’m trying to hear this woman!’ will make a similarly poor impression. Let your voice mail get it. Call them back when you can sound professional. Answer calls from unknown numbers ‘hello this is Kay’.

 

  1. List your email address and reply quickly to impress professional parents.

Many professional parents don’t want to take the time involved in making phone calls and would much prefer the convenience of a quick email message. For them, the key advantage of emailing is that they can email lots of childminders at once so if you have vacancies it is really important that you reply quickly. If you don’t have an email address listed you make it just that little bit more difficult for them to contact you. They are liable to contact everyone they can contact by email first before going to the trouble of ringing entries without an email address. It is completely free to create an email address on many sites like yahoo or hotmail or gmail.

Always reply to emails about enquiries even if you are completely full at the moment and ask them if they would like to join your waiting list. You never know when your situation may change and you’ll be glad of some names to contact.

 

  1. Avoid using really terrible email addresses and photographs that make parents think you would not be suitable to look after their children.

childminding email addresses to avoid“lipstick-kisses@hotmail.com” might have been a fabulous joke when you set the account up when you were sixteen, but if I were a parent looking for a place to send my child, I might be put off contacting you if I saw that. Think carefully about the impression that your childminding email address gives to parents. “Littlelearning@yahoo.co.uk”  or “Kayslittlestars@hotmail.com” make parents go ‘yes please’. “Iboilchildren@hotmail.com” and “naughtynicola@yahoo.co.uk” and “utterly-frazzled-mum@gmail.com” should probably be rethought! Create a new account just for your childminding business and think professional!

On a similar note, many directory sites, especially those run by private companies, give you the opportunity to upload a photograph of yourself. If you are given this option, always upload a photo, otherwise it looks like you are hiding something. More importantly, think very carefully about the photo you are using. The photos that make me laugh the most are when people upload “sexy” glamour shots of themselves, dolled up in so much makeup they look like they belong in fashion magazines. Remember that you are “auditioning” for the role of substitute parent who will change nappies and do painting with small children – you are not posing for Cosmopolitan!

 

  1. Avoid poor English and spelling mistakes.

If English is your second language or if you know your spelling and grammar are poor, get a friend or your council support worker to check the wording on your entry. Poor spelling and bad grammar can really make a bad first impression on parents.  Remember that parents have never met you and know nothing about you, so they will make their first judgement about you entirely from the entry on a website.

 

  1. Make your entry stand out in the first two lines and think like a parent.

Parents using childcare directory sites are faced by hundreds of similar-sounding directory entries. Especially if you live in an area where parents are spoiled for choice, you must think very carefully about how you will make your listing stand out from the other childminders and nurseries who are using the site. Imagine a parent scrolling through page after page of nearly identical-sounding entries for childminders. You need to grab their attention in the first two lines of your entry.

Think about what businesses call your ‘unique selling point’. What do you do at your setting that makes you special?  Why should a parent contact you instead of any of the other childminders on the list? Lead with what makes you special, rather than some boring waffle about “loving children” or (worse) some EYFS jargon that parents won’t understand.

 

  1. Don’t rely only on your council listing.

Your council is one of the first places that parents looking for vacancies will go to check what is available, so, while it is important to make sure your entry is up to date and working properly, it is certainly not the only place with childcare listings on the internet. There are many private companies that offer a listing service including Free Range Childcare which offers a service just for childminders. Increase the chances of parents finding you by getting listed in lots of places.

 

To summarise, think carefully about your listings on directory sites because they are an important way to help you fill your childminding vacancies. Fill in all the fields, sound professional, and focus on what makes your service unique. Most importantly, make sure that you can find yourself using the directory, otherwise however good your listing is, if you can’t find yourself, then parents won’t be able to either.

 

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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