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The Forest Childcare Association celebrates its fifth anniversary of promoting ‘good practice in outdoor outings’

The idea that there could be a such a thing as ‘good practice’ for taking children on outdoor outings began the day I witnessed an example of what I felt to be particularly bad practice. I was meeting a childminder friend at the park on a damp Spring day. She had her normal mix of three children including the two youngest (aged 18 months and two years) wrapped up in coats and strapped into her double buggy.

I took one look at her, pointed at the children’s feet, and laughed.

‘Oh no! You’ve rushed out and forgotten something. You’ve come out without their shoes!’ I said.

‘I left their shoes at home on purpose,’ she replied. ‘They won’t need them anyway. I really have no intention of taking them out of the buggy. They’ll be fine just watching the world go by.’

It was an awful situation and upset me greatly. This childminder had just had her first Ofsted inspection and had been awarded ‘good’. She seemed to feel that what she was doing was perfectly acceptable and perfectly normal. And anyway what she was saying was entirely right. The children would be ‘just fine’ in the buggy.

In fact, surely Ofsted would be pleased? She was keeping the children safe outdoors. Very safe. Nothing whatsoever (either good or bad) was going to happen to them while they were strapped securely into that double buggy.

So why did the situation upset me so much?

 

Forest Childcare pile of childrenWhat does the EYFS say about outdoor outings?

The EYFS actively encourages childcare providers to take children outdoors and to give them daily opportunities to spend time outside but it certainly doesn’t say anything about the quality of that outdoor time. The EYFS Statutory Framework states that “providers must provide access to an outdoor play area or, if that is not possible, ensure that outdoor activities are planned and taken on a daily basis.”

Most nurseries, childminders and nannies do fulfil the basic requirement for outdoor time, in many cases simply by taking the children on the school run or by allowing children to play in their back gardens.

But to me, the back garden and the school run have always felt like the bare minimum of care. As home-based childcare providers we are in a unique position to offer the children so much more than this.  And in my opinion we should be doing so.

 

Weekly outdoor outings to ‘wild’ spaces have benefits for everyone

Forest childcare muddy toddlersThe ‘shoe incident’ was the catalyst I needed to find a way to promote what I believe is ‘best practice’ in terms of outdoor outings. At my setting I always took the children on outdoor outings once a week whether these were simple trips to the park, duck pond, and urban green spaces, or planned trips to our local ‘wild’ areas like woods and nature reserves.

Outdoor outings contribute to learning and health, and most importantly help children grow to appreciate the natural environment.

Furthermore, as a childminder running a business I had always promoted my weekly outdoor outings to parents to help me to fill my vacancies. These outings were a ‘service’ that I offered that made my setting stand out. Outdoor outings are great for the children. They are also great for business!

 

Intentional trips where the children can move around and explore

I started the Forest Childcare Association because I believe that children deserve more than just back gardens to provide them with their daily dose of EYFS-required ‘outdoor time’.  Most people’s back gardens are tiny places, and in the cases of childminders, they are tiny, very-very-safe outdoor environments, with all the same safety checks in place as indoor environments.

Children need to be exposed to real outdoor spaces where there are places to hide and explore, where they may encounter ‘dangers’ and where the environment changes daily and from season to season.

 

Outdoor learning, says the EYFS, has equal value to indoor learning

Forest childcare is good for adults tooOutdoor play can help to counter obesity. It can also improve strength and coordination skills and counter vitamin D deficiency. Outdoor play has also been shown to help prevent mental health issues, behavioural and emotional problems.

The outdoors gives benefits to children regardless of their age. For babies, they will be intrigued by the sights, smells and sounds of the environment and reach out towards things that interest them and catch their attention. Toddlers want to explore the natural world around them by crawling and walking. Preschool children will explore more purposely, play games of imagination and enjoy challenging themselves.

You don’t have to plan anything complex to do with the children while you are out. Sometimes it’s fun to go on a scavenger hunt, or collect things, but other times the point of the trip is simply to be outside and experience the outdoors. As a childcare provider you can instruct them about important safety issues like not eating red berries, touching fungus, or stroking strange dogs, but most of what they need to ‘learn’ is for the children to discover for themselves.

They are learning about textures when they pick up a sharp rock. They are learning about the weather and self-care issues when they take their coat off because they are hot. They are counting conkers and acorns, learning about space and shape when they squeeze themselves under a branch, and learning that if they work together it is easier to shift a log than trying to do it alone

It is equally important for children to grow up with an appreciation for the environment, teaching children the importance of not littering, respecting wildlife, trees and other people’s right to enjoy the outdoor space as well.

 

The Freedom to ‘GO’

Forest childcare autumnChildminders, nannies and small nursery owners sometimes forget how much freedom you have.  While you are constrained by the limits of nursery and school runs, naps and lunches, in between those fixed points your time is essentially your own. You are your own boss and I think people forget that sometimes.

If you want to take the children to the park or the duck pond or spend the morning exploring the woods, you can!  Being outdoors and having flexibility and freedom are some of the perks of this job and you should take more advantage of them.

Spending time outdoors is good for business, it’s great for the children, and it’s good for you too!

 

The Forest Childcare Association celebrates its 5th Anniversary this month

The Forest Childcare Association is a best practice initiative that has been going for 5 years this month that encourages childcare providers to take children on weekly outdoor outings to ‘wild’ spaces. The organisation now has over a thousand members in 10 different countries – mainly childminders and small nurseries. Its principle aim is to encourage small childcare providers to take the children they look after on weekly outdoor outings to parks, woodlands or other outdoor natural spaces, and encouraging children to explore these natural environments.

Members can self-train by considering the practical concerns associated with taking groups of children of mixed ages and abilities on outdoor outings. The £15 training pack covers risk assessments, outdoor dangers (from children getting lost to poison berries) plus activities and crafts and the relevant EYFS paperwork and permissions.

The Forest Childcare Association is part of the larger ‘Forest’ movement that many EYFS practitioners are exploring and many parents are seeking for their children. Forest School training is popping up across the country and one of the downsides of this is that many childminders now worry that they have to get a Forest School qualification (and pay for training) if they want to take children to the woods. Becoming a Forest School Practitioner is a fantastic thing to do and essential if you want to teach large groups of small children how to whittle, forage and cook on campfires, but it is NOT a requirement if all you want to do is to take a group of children on a nature hike. One of the aims of the Forest Childcare Association is to provide the support, advice and a little encouragement to support as many childminders as possible to provide weekly outdoor outings and simply get outside, but without getting qualifications and excessive training that are superfluous to many childminders’ needs.

The other key aim of the organisation is to encourage childminders to explore the parts of nature near to them – the wild patches at the edges of playgrounds, finding patches of beauty wherever you live. We don’t all live in beauty spots, and the children who most need access to nature are those least likely to have access to Forest School sessions offered at their schools and nurseries. Childminders are in a unique position to help children wherever they live to find, explore and learn to love the patches of nature on their doorsteps. There is a growing impression that if you can’t provide snack time on a campfire, naps in a tent and buffalo for the children to hunt for their lunch, that your idea of ‘wilderness’ isn’t good enough! My philosophy is that any access you can give children to nature is better than no access to nature at all.

 

forest-childcare-packFor more information on the Forest Childcare Association and to join for just £15 for a lifetime membership visit http://www.kidstogo.co.uk/childminders/forestchildcare.html  or email kay.woods@kidstogo.co.uk. You can find us on Facebook at @ForestChildcareAssociation.

 

About Kay Woods and Kids To Go

Kay Woods has been writing and selling childminding resources through her company Kids To Go since 2008. Her products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, the Learning Journey Plus for planning, observation and assessment and best practice resources promoting diversity 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

Getting Childminded Children Back To Nature – without Forest School Training

Many parents won’t believe this, but it’s a fact that children would like to spend more time outdoors than they do. Then why don’t they?  It’s not TV and video games to blame. It’s because they aren’t allowed to! Parents, childcare providers and society as a whole worry so much about safety issues that many adults would simply rather their children played inside or in their own tiny back gardens and were ‘safe’, than ‘risk’ letting them play outside alone as they might have done when they were children themselves.

Forest Childcare pile of childrenIf children want to play outside of their own back gardens today they have to wait for an adult to take them. The world is not the same place as it was when Christopher Robin was allowed to wander around his 100 acre wood all day long, playing Pooh Sticks and climbing trees (gasp!) completely unsupervised! As a society for many reasons (from justified fears about traffic, to out-of-proportion fears about strangers) we no longer let children visit their local woodlands, fields or even parks by themselves. Children must be continually supervised, and sadly this means that very few get casual access to their local patch of nature to play alone or in wild places any more.

And the consequence: many children today are growing up missing out on a connection with the natural world. They don’t spend enough time outdoors and they are suffering the results including obesity, mental health problems and a growing inability to assess risk for themselves.

What all this means is that one of the key positive influences that parents and child care providers can give to the children they look after is time playing in the great outdoors. Children need adults to take them to ‘wild’ places and then they need adults to stand back and give them time, space and encouragement to explore on their own while they are there. Parents are often busy, parents are often working. Therefore the responsibility for taking children on these outings frequently falls to childcare providers to give children the experiences they might otherwise miss out on.

 

Weekly outdoor outings to ‘wild’ spaces have benefits for everyone

As a childminder I always believed that it was important to take the children I looked after on outdoor outings. Once a week, whatever the weather, we would go somewhere outdoors. Our trips ranged from simple visits to the park, duck pond, and urban green spaces, to more planned trips to our local ‘wild’ areas like woods and nature reserves.

Forest Childcare for childmindersOutdoor outings contribute to learning and health. These benefits applied to me as well!  I always said that being out in the woods with the children was one of my favourite parts of being a childminder. It was wonderful watching how alive the children became when they were exploring outdoors and how recharged I felt watching them play. I also felt great because I knew that when they were out in the woods with me, I was giving them a really great experience, better than the most expensive toy in our play room, and more special than anything they would be ‘learning’ in an overcrowded nursery room.

Lots of practitioners feel exactly the same as me about the outdoors and outings, and understand how special the experiences that we can give to the children we look after are. Others may feel less confident about taking groups of children of mixed ages and abilities to the woods on their own. So I started the Forest Childcare Association to support and encourage other childcare providers to offer this ‘best practice’ policy of weekly outdoor outings to the children they look after.

It might not be possible to roll back the clock and send children out to play alone and unsupervised in wild spaces as they would have done in the past. But this doesn’t mean that caring adults can’t offer children the next best thing by taking them on outdoor outings on a regular basis.

 

Child-led Learning 

forest-childcare-group-photoOutdoor outings have benefits to children regardless of their age. For babies, they will be intrigued by the sights, smells and sounds of the environment and reach out towards things that interest them and catch their attention. Toddlers want to explore the natural world around them by crawling and walking. Preschool children will explore more purposely, play games of imagination and enjoy challenging themselves outdoors.

You don’t have to plan anything complex to do with the children while you are out. Sometimes it’s fun to go on a scavenger hunt, or collect things, but other times the point of the trip is simply to be outside and experience the outdoors. As a childcare provider you can instruct them about important safety issues like not eating red berries, touching fungus, or stroking strange dogs, but most of what they need to ‘learn’ is for the children to discover for themselves.

They are learning about textures when they pick up a sharp rock. They are learning about the weather and self-care issues when they take their coat off because they are hot. They are counting conkers and acorns, learning about space and shape when they squeeze themselves under a branch, and learning that if they work together it is easier to shift a log than trying to do it alone.

Most importantly, they are learning the importance of not littering, respecting wildlife, trees and other people’s right to enjoy the outdoor space as well. They are learning an appreciation for the environment that they will take with them as they grow up.

Wherever children live, they need to spend time getting back to nature. Natural environments give children and the adults who look after them untold benefits in terms of health and wellbeing. Weekly outdoor outings is a “best-practice” goal that all childcare providers can aim for with some support, advice and a little encouragement. Learn more about the Forest Childcare Association and join today.

 

The Forest Childcare Association celebrates its 5th Anniversary this month

The Forest Childcare Association is a best practice initiative that has been going for 5 years this month that encourages childcare providers to take children on weekly outdoor outings to ‘wild’ spaces. The organisation now has over a thousand members in 10 different countries – mainly childminders and small nurseries. Its principle aim is to encourage small childcare providers to take the children they look after on weekly outdoor outings to parks, woodlands or other outdoor natural spaces, and encouraging children to explore these natural environments.

Members can self-train by considering the practical concerns associated with taking groups of children of mixed ages and abilities on outdoor outings. The £15 training pack covers risk assessments, outdoor dangers (from children getting lost to poison berries) plus activities and crafts and the relevant EYFS paperwork and permissions.

The Forest Childcare Association is part of the larger ‘Forest’ movement that many EYFS practitioners are exploring and many parents are seeking for their children. Forest School training is popping up across the country and one of the downsides of this is that many childminders now worry that they have to get a Forest School qualification (and pay for training) if they want to take children to the woods. Becoming a Forest School Practitioner is a fantastic thing to do and essential if you want to teach large groups of small children how to whittle, forage and cook on campfires, but it is NOT a requirement if all you want to do is to take a group of children on a nature hike. One of the aims of the Forest Childcare Association is to provide the support, advice and a little encouragement to support as many childminders as possible to provide weekly outdoor outings and simply get outside, but without getting qualifications and excessive training that are superfluous to many childminders’ needs.

The other key aim of the organisation is to encourage childminders to explore the parts of nature near to them – the wild patches at the edges of playgrounds, finding patches of beauty wherever you live. We don’t all live in beauty spots, and the children who most need access to nature are those least likely to have access to Forest School sessions offered at their schools and nurseries. Childminders are in a unique position to help children wherever they live to find, explore and learn to love the patches of nature on their doorsteps. There is a growing impression that if you can’t provide snack time on a campfire, naps in a tent and buffalo for the children to hunt for their lunch, that your idea of ‘wilderness’ isn’t good enough! My philosophy is that any access you can give children to nature is better than no access to nature at all.

 

For more information on the Forest Childcare Association and to join for just £15 for a lifetime membership visit http://www.kidstogo.co.uk/childminders/forestchildcare.html  or email kay.woods@kidstogo.co.uk. You can find us on Facebook at @ForestChildcareAssociation.

 

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 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

How to write about the Characteristics of Effective Learning (COEL) in childminding learning journeys

Ever find yourself staring at that row of letters and boxes on your learning journey form that asks you to circle which Characteristic of Effective Learning (CEOL) you are seeing in your learning journey observation and feeling baffled?  If so, you are certainly not alone! The Learning and Development areas are relatively easy to understand. But the COEL are more complicated, and even the most experienced childminders can struggle to know which COEL they are seeing.

which characteristic of effective learning should i circleSometimes it helps to purposely set up some activities where you will almost certainly observe the COEL. It is a good to “practice” observing in a controlled way. That way you will become more familiar with the COEL when you observe them more randomly. This article will give you some simple activities you can plan to promote the COEL in a way that is easy to observe and write about.

 

It’s not always easy to recognise WHICH COEL you are seeing for a particular activity

Many childminders will admit that it is often very, very difficult to select which COEL box to circle on their learning journeys. This is for several reasons but primarily it is because the three COEL are interlinked with each other so it is not always straightforward to pin point which COEL you are observing. In fact, with many activities you will see children doing and might write about in your learning journeys, you could easily circle all three COEL boxes. Or none. Please don’t worry about this too much. It is more important for you to know that you are observing a child displaying the COEL than to necessarily know WHICH COEL you are observing in a particular situation.

 

 

active-learning-for-childmindersTake a trip to the playground or soft play gym to observe ‘Active Learning’

Active Learning (AL) is essentially about describing a child’s motivation to learn. At a playground you should see many examples of children ‘keeping on trying’ to accomplish something and ‘achieving what they set out to do’. In your learning journey write about how the child felt when he succeeded or ‘felt proud’ about something.

Plan structured art activities to promote ‘Active Learning’ and unstructured play with art materials to promote ‘Creating and Thinking Critically’

There are two Characteristics of Effective Learning (COEL) that you can explore while you do art projects with small children. By changing the focus of the art project, you can change which COEL you hope to promote and observe.

Art projects with small children tend to come in two different types. The first type of art project is one 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. The second type of art projects is where you set the children loose to simply play with the art materials, exploring them for their own sake. Both of these types have their place in childminding settings and in the activities you plan for the children.

 

When you set out to purposely make a specific project (like colouring a picture), then this is a great opportunity to make observations on how well the children can concentrate on a particular task. It is also an opportunity to witness them keeping on trying when difficulties persist and feeling proud of their accomplishment when it is finished. These are all ‘Active Learning (AL)’ observations.

 

On the other hand, when you set the children loose with paint brushes and stand back and just let them paint, or give them random collage materials or scraps to build with, then you are observing them ‘Creating and Thinking Critically (CT)’. Time spent in this way gives children the opportunity to explore their own ideas, to make links between ideas, to have their own ideas and to choose the best way to do something.

 

Mathematical and construction toys promote ‘Creating and Thinking Critically’

creating-and-thinking-critically-for-childmindersMany mathematical and construction toys and activities help to promote the COEL: Creating and Thinking Critically in children. They are designed to help children to test their ideas about space, shapes and sizes, to find new ways to do things, to make links and to change strategy as needed. They offer you plenty of opportunities to ask children to review what approach worked and to try something differently next time.

 

Cooking projects can promote all three Characteristics of Effective Learning

When children try something for the first time, are willing to ‘have a go’ and show a ‘can-do’ attitude about an experience, then they are demonstrating Playing and Exploring (PE). Cooking requires concentration and motivation to finish a difficult task. When you observe children keeping on trying, persisting with an activity that is hard for them, and taking pride in their end result, then they are demonstrating Active Learning (AL). Cooking projects are also a great opportunity to observe children Creating and Thinking Critically (CTC). When they are cooking they will have their own ideas about the best way to do things, and find ways to solve problems (like how to tip all the flour into the bowl without pouring it on the floor).

 

Forest Childcare outings promote ‘Creating and Thinking Critically’

Forest childcare autumnForest Childcare outings to the great outdoors are a great way to observe all aspects of children’s Learning and Development including Personal, Emotional and Social skills, Physical Development and Communication. Outdoor outings are also a great way to observe children displaying the COEL.

Being outdoors in ‘wild’ places gives children the opportunity to practice their critical thinking and problem solving skills. How will they get across there without getting wet? How will they carry that home? What will happen if I throw that? How will I get down from here without hurting myself?

You can help children to practice their thinking and problem solving skills while you are out in the woods with them by asking them questions like:

  • How are you going to do that?
  • Is there another way you could try that?
  • What else is possible?

Outdoor tasks are a great opportunity to ask children to think of different approaches to a problem if the first approach doesn’t seem to be working. I felt so proud the day my two four year olds figured out that on their own neither was strong enough to drag the log, but that if they worked together they could move it!

Forest Childcare is about making a commitment to taking children on weekly outdoor outings to wild spaces. By taking regular trips, children build familiarity with the outdoors and can learn to make links and predications about the things they will encounter there and experience.

Being outdoors will mean that children will ask lots of questions about the things they see and find. You won’t always know the answers to the questions they ask, so it is also a great opportunity to let children watch how you think, and then to show them how to find the answers to their questions.

 

Remember that many childminding activities do not promote any of the COEL

Many of the activities you do as a childminder will promote NONE of the COEL. Many observations you may make and write about in your learning journeys will focus entirely on the learning and development areas and not promote a COEL at all. When that happens, you shouldn’t circle any of the COEL boxes at all.

 

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.

 

Do you want to improve how you write your learning journeys?

I am now offering an 8 module distance learning course for childminders to improve how you write your learning journey observations. The course focusses on both the Learning and Development observations AND the Characteristics of Effective Learning. The course also covers the following topics:

  • Writing next steps and linking them to planning
  • Writing observations in different Learning and Development areas including Physical Development, Personal, Social and Emotional development, Communication and Language, Mathematics and Creative development
  • Writing and observing the Characteristics of Effective Learning
  • Improving the ‘story’ and ‘message’ of the observation
  • Sharing learning journeys with parents
  • Linking learning journeys to whole child assessments
  • Using learning journeys to promote a childminding business
  • Writing about ‘bad’ and ‘negative’ behaviour in a positive way

 

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

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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