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Childminders often email me to ask if they should use a childminding app. This always makes me smile a bit because I don’t actually sell apps, so I am hardly likely to be the best person to recommend them! However, my feeling on apps is that there are actually lots of really great apps and online software out there you can use to really cut down on your paperwork. BUT, in my opinion, you should only use them once you fully understand the PROCESS you are automating and the steps they are helping you to ‘skip’.
Should I use an app for learning journeys and tracking children’s progress?
I get this question a lot and always tell childminders the same thing: you are fine to switch to apps but only once you fully understand how the observation – assessment – planning cycle works. You also need to be able to demonstrate that you really KNOW where each child is in their stage of development, what you can realistically expect them to do ‘next’ and most importantly, if a child is falling behind in any of the important areas, you need to spot this.
Getting a true understanding of what is meant by all of this takes time and needs experience. Every childminder needs to have a good working knowledge of what is considered normal development for a child under five in each of the seven areas of learning and development. You don’t need to keep this information in your head – but you really need to have a well-thumbed printed version of Development Matters to hand which is the ultimate EYFS reference book for what you can realistically expect and when from any child. This is your development bible that will flag up for you if a child has fallen behind in an area. All childminders should understand this publication inside and out!
Be careful about switching to an online learning journey system or any kind of app until you fully understand the process of observation-assessment-planning. I want to compare this to teaching school children basic maths. It would be perfectly easy to give a young child a calculator and teach them to do simple sums on it. They could be taught to multiply, divide, add and subtract using the calculator simply by pressing the right buttons. They could learn to press the right buttons without a shred of understanding what it actually means to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Calculators are only a great tool once you know what they are for! All I am saying is that you need to be careful that you understand the ‘process’ you are doing before automating it.
A childminder (who has read Development Matters) would not expect a child to run before they can walk. Once you really understand normal child development and what you are doing when you are writing a ‘next step’, planning for an individual child and how to stand back and write a ‘whole child assessment’ only then are you ready to consider removing some parts of the paperwork and automating them through apps and taking other shortcuts.
Should I do ‘in the moment planning’ rather than written planning?
A question that gets asked on Facebook forums a lot is what planning people do. Lots of childminders respond that they never do written planning or that they do ‘in the moment planning’ which is something of a buzz word that I worry a lot of people use without really understanding what it means.
Like automating learning journeys and assessments, before you throw out the idea of making written plans, you should try planning on paper a couple of times just so that you understand the process of what is meant by a plan. For example, you should try writing:
- A plan around a theme for your whole setting
- A plan in each area of learning and development
- A short term, medium term and long term plan for your setting
- A plan for an individual child around a particular interest
- A plan for activities that promote a particular Characteristics of Effective Learning (COEL)
Ultimately, childminding plans don’t have to be written down, but if you do write them down a couple of times, you can check that you understand the point of making plans and how they can help you and the children to explore new things. Once you have done this a few times, then you should feel free to adopt a policy of ‘I never do written planning’ not because you don’t know how or can’t be bothered, but because no written planning IS your plan!
Should I do risk assessments in my head or write them down?
The EYFS Statutory Framework states that you must take all reasonable steps to manage risks and determine where it is helpful to do some written risk assessments. It used to be a requirement for childminders to write written risk assessments for EVERYTHING but this has been removed from the current version of the legislation to help childminders to cut back on paperwork.
In most normal day to day childminding, a written risk assessment is simply not necessary and just adds to unnecessary paperwork load.
However, from time to time, and especially when you are just starting out at childminding or doing something new, I think that it is very useful to go through the whole risk assessment process properly in writing at least once so that you know how to do it. Writing it out forces you to formalise the process in your mind so that any corners you choose to cut in the future, at least you know what you SHOULD be doing.
Use these free risk assessment forms and list of risk assessments that most childminders should do around their house, garden and trips.
Should I do an online first aid and safeguarding course?
If you have been reading this article from the top, I am sure you are going to be picking up on a theme at this point and are going to know what I am going to say. Many experienced childminders who have attended multiple first aid courses in their time, are perfectly fine to do refresher courses that are primarily based online. The same goes for safeguarding, where you sit there to listen to the same stuff that you know in your sleep, all to get the one or two nuggets of new information or legislation you actually need.
However, there is nothing like practicing choking and chest compressions on dummies that can be recreated online. And with safeguarding, it is vital that you attend a safeguarding course to hear and interact properly first before (mindlessly) clicking your way through an online version of the course. So in my opinion, you should go to online first aid and safeguarding courses only once you’ve done several of these in person.
In a fast moving digital age, don’t forget the power of the handprint.
There are lots of other benefits to starting out using paper based methods and for all sorts of good reasons, many childminders choose to continue to work in a paper-based method for lots of aspects of childminding. You may enjoy my article: Rediscovering the pure pleasure of paper – for over-digitised childminders.
If my article has swayed you at all to reconsider the benefits of paper-based observation-assessment-planning cycle, then please check out my Learning Journey Plus. It is a printable system based in Word so you can customise the pages for your setting before you print them.
The Learning Journey Plus is a complete observation – planning – assessment system and comes with 200 sample observations with next steps so you can learn how to write observations and next steps in whatever learning journey system you are using. The workbook takes you step by step through setting up the whole process from scratch or you can use it to check you fully understand the steps of whatever system you are using.
About Kay Woods and Kids To Go
Lots of places offer help to childminders. I provide solutions.
Creating a year plan for your childminding setting is a great discipline and gives you a chance to visualise your whole year at once. Once you’ve made a year plan, you can refer to it whenever you plan your months, weeks and days and use it as a guide. The purpose of writing a plan is to answer the basic question: what would you like to DO with the children you look after this year and when would be a good time to do it?
Start with a one page blank year calendar
Print or buy a small blank calendar that shows all 12 months on it, preferably all on one page so you can see your whole year at a glance. The most important thing about a year plan is not to add too many details. If you put too many items on it or too much detail, then you will lose sight of the ‘big picture’ and what you are trying to accomplish in the year.
First add events that are fixed in time including:
Half terms and school holidays: Whether you look after school age children or not, it is useful to record the school terms on your year calendar so that you know when to avoid busy local attractions (like your local petting farm) with your under fives.
Your own holidays: Many childminders try to plan their holidays for the year in advance. I think this is very useful for parents if you can give them as much notice as possible about when you will be away. It helps them regarding planning for their work. But also, there are many childminders who forget to take holidays, or become too busy for them. If they are planned into your calendar for the year then they will be little beacons of hope to look forward to. And you will definitely remember to take off the time you are owed.
Fixed events and themes that you celebrate every year: Most childminders make cards for Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day. Most childminders also will send home cards and little homemade crafts at Christmas. As well as those days, many childminders send home crafts and have special celebrations at Easter, Valentines Day, Halloween and Bonfire Night for example. Add these days to your calendar so that you don’t forget them and can plan ideas ahead of time.
Add in any special events with fixed dates that you plan to celebrate this year: If you plan to celebrate the children’s birthdays, add these dates to the calendar. If a child is leaving, add their last day. Don’t forget to add your own birthday to the calendar. Grown ups have birthdays that should be celebrated too and any excuse for a little party at your setting is a good one!
2 Year Checks and Transition Reports: If you have any children who will turn two this year, you will need to make time to do their two year check. For many childminders this involves some observation over a few weeks, a meeting with parents and some paperwork. So it is worth marking it on the calendar so you can mentally see it coming. Also remember that children who are leaving for nursery or school may need transition reports prepared. So if you are planning to make those, then you need to plan time for them so the paperwork doesn’t take you by surprise.
Add in any other fixed time events or activities you want to do: If you plan to plant sunflowers or grow potatoes you have to do this at fixed times in the year. Make sure you plan gardening events, for example, into your calendar so you don’t forget.
Look at your calendar – it may already look quite full
After you have added the events that are fixed in time, some months of your year planning calendar may already be looking quite full. Suppose, you have a progress check due in October and you also plan to make lots of little crafts to celebrate Halloween and have a little party for the children, and it is also a birthday that month, then you can see at a glance that October is going to be VERY BUSY and you will probably not want to schedule in any more events for October.
Brainstorm other ideas you want to try
After you have added in the fixed time events, you can now add in some of the other ideas you want to try this year. This is the fun, creative stuff, the day trips and themes you want to try. Write them in pencil or on post-it notes so you can move these activities around until you find a good spot for them.
Schedule special day trips
Add in any special day trips you plan to do. Suppose you take a yearly trip to the petting farm. You might want to take it during the Easter holidays so that the school aged children can come too? Suppose you also want to plan a trip to the ‘model village’? That one is really just a trip for the under fives but it’s outdoors, so you will want to go while the weather is still warmish, so Sept would be a good time for this trip.
Plan in some multicultural holidays and diversity awareness activities
Add the dates of a couple of multicultural holidays you plan to celebrate this year. Diwali is one that lots of people do, but if you know you are going to be very busy in October this year, then it might not be a good one to choose this year. Perhaps it is a better year to plan to celebrate Chinese New Year as you can see from your calendar that you are not busy in February? You can’t celebrate ALL of the holidays EVERY year. Prioritise some that are relevant to the children in your setting. Here is a free printable calendar events you might want to choose from?
Choose some themes or topics to explore this year
Choose a few themes and topics you want to explore over the year and write them in months where you don’t have too much already planned. For example, here are three themes you might choose to explore and how you might choose to schedule them. Again, use pencil or post it notes with these topics:
Road safety: this would be a good topic to do at a time when the school children are around too, so you might choose to schedule it for the Easter holidays.
Mini Beasts: this is a topic you primarily want to do with the under fives, but it would be nice to schedule the trip to the Butterfly House during half term so that the school age children can come too.
Families: Exploring and learning about families and each other’s families is a theme you really just want to do just with the under fives. It isn’t weather-dependent, and so Nov would be a good time to fit that in.
Exploring themes is flexible. Don’t try to do too many, or you won’t do them. The point of the year plan is that if, for example, you can see that you are going on holiday for most of August then this is not the month to plan your mini beast project. And if you want to be able to concentrate while you work with the youngest children exploring each other’s families, then you don’t want the school children there as they’ll be noisy and in the way!
A year plan is a disciplined way of thinking about the activities you do
Having a good long term plan will help you to stay organised. Good plans also ensure that you are providing a balanced and varied experiences for the children you look after, and that you have the resources you need to offer the experiences you have planned. Planning is fun and I find it relaxing to see a whole year spread out neatly in front of me. It also encourages you to try things you may not do otherwise.
Why not give it a try?
Would you like a pack of themed activities emailed to you each month to help you to try new things?
Sometimes planning themes can be a bit overwhelming because there are simply so many ideas out there to choose from. When I started the Childminding Best Practice Club a few months back, one of the key aims was to help childminders to focus on a few areas at a time. Each pack comes with printable templates and some simple art projects adaptable to children of different ages. Some of the themes are ‘time sensitive’ – cards for Mothers Day, Bonfire Night activities etc. Other themes like ‘space’ or ‘wheels on the bus’ can be done whenever they fit into your year plan.
Join the Childminding Best Practice Club for just £2.50 each month to receive monthly themed packs emailed to your inbox.
Looking for some structured help with short, medium and long term planning for your childminding setting?
My Learning Journey Plus pack will take you step by step through the process of creating a yearly plan, monthly plan and weekly planning system. It will help you to put an organised system in place that can be adapted to suit children’s interests and accommodate next steps plans.
About Kay Woods and Kids To Go
Lots of places offer help to childminders. I provide solutions.
If you are a childminder reading this and are under the age of 30, please just cough politely and delete this post, because this article is probably not for you. It is written by an old person. I am 41. And showing my age by writing an article in which I dare to propose that in SOME aspects of childminding, it might be ‘nice’ to move away from technology and app-based-login-to-view-my-child digitised childcare. I want to use this article to encourage you to reconsider the simple pleasure of paper – writing daily dairies out by hand and making printed learning journey albums – and why this might even be good for your business.
The most efficient way of doing things is not always the BEST way of doing things
If you are a childminder who views learning journeys as meaningless Ofsted paperwork, then you are bound to look for the fastest, easiest way of completing the task. If this is you, then go for the app! However, if, you treat your learning journeys as a valuable piece of communication with parents, as a type of marketing tool to show your business in good light, then while an app may be convenient and easy for you, it is not necessarily best for your business. Some parents love running their whole lives on their phones, but others may prefer a more ‘old-fashioned’ approach. Keep YOUR parents in mind when you make your decision to go electronic or paper, because they are at the heart of your business.
Paper is “nice” and it’s personal – like childminders
Some things are better handwritten. Some things are better handmade like homemade baking is always better than store bought. Sometimes, a book with glued in pictures, while less tidy than an online app, is simply “nicer”. Many parents like to imagine choosing a childminder for their child in a dreamy, slowing down, biscuit crumbs and soft edges, sunny days pushing children on swings sort of way. Paper-based learning journeys smell of warmth and friendliness and fit better with this image. It is a good image because nurseries cannot recreate it, however many ‘key people’ they attempt to assign to a child or home corners they install!
Paper forces you to look and think a little more carefully
When you zap off a photo and click a button on your phone, you have succeeded in finishing the task you believe Ofsted is expecting of you. But when you put a paper-based learning journey together, you have to select which photos you are going to use and why. You have to think carefully about the text you are going to write, the ‘story’ of the observation you are sharing and it’s meaning to the child, to the child’s parents and you. Paper can force you to engage with the process of observing and linking to planning more.
Paper forces you to understand the observation – assessment- planning cycle
Make sure that if you are using an online learning journey planning system that you still understand the PROCESS you are doing. If your Ofsted inspector asks you what stage of development a child is at, you need to know. You need to make sure that your automated system hasn’t removed your understanding of the system yourself.
I want to compare this to teaching school children basic maths. It would be perfectly easy to give a young child a calculator and teach them to do simple sums on it. They could be taught to multiply, divide, add and subtract using the calculator simply by pressing the right buttons. They could learn to press the right buttons without a shred of understanding what it actually means to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Calculators are only a great tool once you know what they are for! All I am saying is that you need to be careful that you understand the ‘process’ you are doing before automating it.
Books can make it easier for parents to engage
Do parents really want to spend their time logging on to some horrible, cumbersome online system to find out how their child is developing? Can they really be bothered? For those of you who do online learning journeys, how many parents ever really look at what you put in them? Do they bother to log on and check on their child’s development? Some parents will, but others might be much more likely to engage with the work you are doing and take more of an interest in their child’s development if you were to hand them a nice album with a few photos of their child in it and some simple observations you have written (or typed out) next to it.
Printed learning journeys are friendly and relaxing
Call me old-fashioned. Call me a technophobe if you like. But whenever I’m told I need to log on and do something, a small stress response begins as my palms sweat a little. I scowl at my device. There is yet another password to remember (can I remember it) and something will probably crash just as I get to the ‘critical’ part and waste loads of my time! In an age where absolutely everything from banking and grocery shopping, to ordering school uniforms is done online, how nice for parents NOT to have to go online. How nice to be handed a friendly, cheerful-looking relaxing book by their childminder!
Paper may be appreciated by the sorts of people who choose small childminding settings over large, impersonal nurseries
In the large overcrowded nursery down the road from your small, friendly house, that the parents DIDN’T choose to send their child to, electronic learning journeys are vital for the large number of observations and complex planning they need to do. However, you don’t look after as many children as they do, and from the parents’ point of view, they may prefer the home based paper approach. Some parents will love online systems, don’t get me wrong. But others may secretly hate them, seeing them as rather impersonal. Make sure YOUR system responds to YOUR parents.
Parents will treasure the album long after they have left you
I love looking back through my old photo albums and scrap books. While I also spend my fair share of time looking at photos on my phone and social media sites, ultimately and long term I take far less pleasure in electronic photos than I do looking through the actual physical albums I have made. The pleasure of turning the pages, lingering and relaxing is an experience that cannot be recreated by any mobile phone app. It is simply not the same.
If you make printed learning journeys, after the child leaves, his parents will have a keepsake photo album of their time with you. During their lives they will take lots of photos of big events in that child’s life. But parents forget to photograph the ordinary, everyday stuff, learning to paint, or playing with play dough, or putting on their shoes. Parents forget this stuff. You see it and can record it for them.
It’s nice to make something – an actual physical record of your own days and the child’s days – a finished product you can hold in in your hands
On days when you are feeling unmotivated, it can be nice to look back through children’s learning journeys and see all the things you’ve done with them. To watch them going from crawling to walking to running, and all those nice trips you took them on and wow moments that matter. It is motivating to see what you have done.
Even your Ofsted inspector will be more likely to flip through your photo album than to take time to look online
While perched on your couch with her laptop on her lap, observing you with the children, it is nice to distract her for a few minutes with an album she can look through. She’ll be far more likely to take a look at your work, wow moments and outings if she has an album to look through than if you expect her to look online.
You could photograph a child’s hand, but it isn’t the same as a painted handprint
Taking a photograph of a child’s hand preserves the moment forever. But it’s the handprint in paint and glitter that parents keep and treasure. Not because it is the most efficient way to record the moment but because it is the “nicest”. Parents love and treasure what is sentimental, personal and real.
Think again about switching back to paper learning journeys. It doesn’t mean you’re a technophobe. Or old. It just means you are thinking about your business, about your readers and about your parents. Who knows, some of you may even agree with me?
If my article has swayed you at all to reconsider the benefits of paper-based learning journeys, then please check out my Learning Journey Plus. It is a printable system based in Word so you can customise the pages for your setting before you print them.
The Learning Journey Plus is a complete observation – planning – assessment system and comes with 200 sample observations with next steps so you can learn how to write observations and next steps in whatever learning journey system you are using.
About Kay Woods and Kids To Go
Lots of places offer help to childminders. I provide solutions.