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Good (and terrible) ways to use themes

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

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

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

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

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

Good ways to make use of themes:

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

Terrible ways to make use of themes:

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

Tips for planning themes:

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

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

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

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

Useful basic themes to start your ‘kit’:

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

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

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

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

Nice things to include in your ‘theme’ kit:

Ideas and templates for crafts

Songs or nursery rhymes that fit with your theme

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

Games or jigsaws


More useful information and Kids To Go Products

Childminding Best Practice Club

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

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


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


Diversity Mega Pack

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

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


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


Be Safe Be Healthy Mega Pack

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

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


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What is new for childminders in the Sept 2021 EYFS Framework?

Lots of childminders have been asking for a guide to the new September 2021 EYFS Statutory Framework. I have done my best in this article to pull out what I think are the most important points for childminders.

The information in the Educational Programmes Section of the EYFS has been expanded

The biggest change to the new EYFS is the expanded descriptions of what is included in the educational programmes descriptions (ie the Learning and Development areas). I don’t really think this information is in any way ‘new’ or a surprise. But the expanded areas are written explicitly into the EYFS so you should use it as your guide when planning your curriculum. As a childminder it is up to you how you design the curriculum for your setting but you MUST make sure that you are addressing each key point of each learning area. Development Matters and Birth to 5 Matters are designed to help you to do this so make sure you read them when you design your curriculum.

Communication, Language and especially vocabulary have been identified as the most important learning areas

Communication and language are vital and the EYFS states that ‘the development of children’s spoken language underpins all seven areas of learning and development’. The other thing that is really stressed is ‘extending vocabulary’ across each of the seven areas of learning.

 

The Early Learning Goals have been rewritten – but MOST of their content remains the same

The level of development that children are expected to have reached by the end of their reception year in school is defined by the early learning goals. As most childminders are not responsible for assessing the learning and development of reception aged children, the goals have always remained mainly in the realm of school reception teachers. Despite the EYFS making it clear that ‘the ELGs should not be used as a curriculum’, it is still useful for childminders to have in mind what the ultimate aim of some of the activities we do with children is heading towards.

Some of the key changes are:

  • Communication and Language: provides more focus on extending vocabulary
  • PSED: self-regulation is included
  • Literacy: comprehension is included
  • Mathematics: a new focus on understanding patterns

 

The role of self-regulation is recognised by making it an early learning goal

Children at the end of reception year should be able to ‘show an understanding of their own feelings and those of others, and begin to regulate their behaviour accordingly.’ They should also be able to ‘control their immediate impulses when appropriate’ and ‘give focussed attention to what a teacher is saying’. These are all important parts of the characteristics of effective learning that you should have been teaching the children all along, but the fact that they have now been recognised in the ELGs shows the increased importance that is now being placed on the notion of self-regulation. It is truly vital that as childminders you are encouraging children to sit still and concentrate on tasks sometimes, especially on tasks that are not always of the child’s own choosing, so that they can practise a skill that is vital to their success in school.

Balance is the key. Your curriculum and how you teach it is up to you but as children grow older the focus should change from the prime to specific areas of learning and development

It is up to each childminder to plan their curriculum which is in a broad sense what you want the children to learn while they are with you from when they are babies until they start school. The new EYFS says ‘Practitioners need to decide what they want children to learn and the most effective way to teach it’. There are several key points here. Firstly, it is up to you to decide the right balance between adult led activities and free play time given to children. Secondly, as children grow older you should spend more time ‘teaching’ them and less time just letting them have free play. Lastly, the focus of your teaching should gradually move away from the ‘prime’ areas (language, PSE, physical development) and include more focus on the ‘specific’ areas (mathematics, literacy etc.)

 

Assessment remains important but physical evidence of this assessment is not

Before you throw away your learning journeys and the pages of next steps: STOP. The EYFS is still very clear that ‘ongoing assessment (also known as formative assessment) is an integral part of children’s learning and development. What has changed in the new EYFS is the emphasis on the ‘professional knowledge’ of the childminder. When doing the ‘assessment’ part of the planning – implementation – assessment process, ‘Practitioners should draw on their own knowledge of the child and their own expert professional judgment and should not be required to prove this through a collection of physical evidence’.

Ofsted is making it clear that they do not want to see data. They are not going to look at your learning journeys with random snapshot photos and hundreds of ‘next steps’ written out because that sort of data is often meaningless. You still need to assess children and be very aware of exactly where each child is in their learning and development. But you no longer need to feel you have to ‘prove’ the observation.

When you do assessments you should:

  • Focus on what is useful
  • Establish starting points
  • Use the checkpoints in Development Matters as checkpoints, not checklists
  • Involve the parents
  • Take the attitude of inclusion: every child can thrive

 

You must promote oral health

The new EYFS makes it clear that you ‘must promote the good health including oral health of the children you look after. This is an addition to what was previously there and is in response to the growing problem of tooth decay in young children, particularly children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The basic message you are hoping to teach to children is that too many sugary foods are bad for you, and that you should brush your teeth.

Planning activities to promote oral health into your curriculum does not have to be complicated. Suppose you look after a child from a home where you know the parents very rarely brush his teeth?  You can make an enormous difference to that child’s oral health if YOU brush his teeth after he eats lunch with you. You are teaching him a skill he needs that will hopefully become a good habit. Furthermore, you are ensuring that his teeth are, at the very least, being brushed once a day while you look after him. And if you really want to do your bit towards helping him even more you can gently encourage the parents to help him at home, perhaps with a take home reward chart he can use each time he brushes his teeth at home?

Specific activities and resources for promoting oral health are available in my Be Safe Be Healthy pack.

Non-prescription medication does not need a doctor’s note

GPs have been finding that providers were requiring parents to get prescriptions for non-prescription medications. The new EYFS makes it clear that providers only need to have a prescription for prescription medication. So a child does not have to have a prescription for the Calpol for you to give it to him. Nothing else has really changed. You still need to get permission in writing for every medication (including Calpol) and you can only give prescription medicines that have been prescribed by a doctor, dentist, nurse or pharmacist.

In practice all childminders should have both a long term medication permission form (for Calpol etc) and a short term medication form (for antibiotics), a written record each time a medicine is administered to a child, and a way to ensure that the parent is informed ‘on the same day or as soon as reasonably practicable’. While the EYFS does not specifically state that a parent must sign your ‘medicines administered book’, I think this is a good, tidy, more traceable method than relying on a Whatsapp message.

Are you putting infants down to sleep properly and safely according to the EYFS guidelines? 

The new EYFS includes a link to the NHS guidance on reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. What this means for childminders is that how you put a baby down to sleep while they are in your care is no longer at the discretion of parents – so please make sure you are familiar with the details in this link – there’s more than just putting babies on their backs.

Cyber Security for Early Years – are you doing everything you should be?

This page is full of practical information that childminders can use to check that you are doing everything you can to keep you, your setting and your data safe from cyber attacks. The site reminds you that “For Early Years practitioners, cyber security also plays a role in safeguarding the children in your care.” The link to this page was included as a footnote in the new EYFS.

Are you supervising children while they are eating?

To me, this has always been absolutely obvious: of course you must supervise children while they are eating – what if they start choking?  However, maybe not everyone was getting this, so this requirement has now been spelled out in the new EYFS. You MUST supervise children while they are eating so that rapid action can be taken if needed to save them! So does this mean that you have to literally keep them in your gaze at all times – what if you have to pop back into the kitchen to grab some ketchup. Please rest assured that ‘supervised’ is clearly defined by the EYFS. “Children must usually be within sight and hearing of staff but always within sight or hearing”.

Recommended menus and food preparation advice for early years

This series of example menus and associated guidance has been developed to support early years settings (such as nurseries and childminders) to offer food and drink in line with current government dietary recommendations for infants and children aged 6 months to 4 years. It also includes food safety, managing food allergies and reading food labels. This guide was included as a footnote in the new EYFS.

You should not vape or use e-cigarettes around children (or smoke)

The new EYFS makes it clear that as well as providers not allowing smoking in or on the premises when children are present that staff should not ‘vape or use e-cigarettes when children are around’ either. This addition is in line with Public Health England’s advice on use of e-cigarettes in the workplace.

Those are the key new points of new release of the Sept 2021 EYFS. You need to read the cited documents and make sure that you are following the new guidelines before they become statutory in September. 

Good luck!

Do you want to improve your understanding of the Characteristics of Effective Learning?

Promoting the Characteristics of Effective Learning PosterFor help putting the Characteristics of Effective Learning into practice including tools, activity ideas, certificates you can give to children, poster and display ideas, CPD worksheets for your setting, examples for your SEF and a setting checklist for the COEL, check out my new Characteristics of Effective Learning Pack for childminders.

About Kay Woods and Kids To Go

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

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

www.kidstogo.co.uk

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