Thursday, 29 November 2012

crossing the road to a new toddler group

We did something different today. We visited a toddler group that I have not visited for over a year or more and that the children with me have not been to before. I felt we needed a change.

The old toddlers had become stale and I felt the children were not really getting anything out of it. Every week they would disappear into the playhouse and spend the whole morning playing in there. I wasn't so unkind as to try to coax them out of there, or to push my way into their game although I did offer ideas, such as fetching paper and pencils so they could write shopping lists when they were emptying the kitchen cupboards in the playhouse. But their play remained stubbornly inside the playhouse and I was surplus to requirements (after sitting outside a few times listening and taking notes, and occasionally peeking over the top of the playhouse). It was time to consider the benefits of attending the group.

So this morning after explaining to the children that we would visit a 'new toddlers' and reassuring them that it wasn't very far away and that I knew the lady who runs it....we set off with the baby in the pushchair and the two children walking. In the village we crossed the road, as usual there were lots of questions....'Sara what that?' 'can I help **** when we get to the prickles?' (a few stray twigs overhang the footpath here) 'where is the toddlers?'....and then as we walked past  the school 'we haven't been here before have we Sara?'. Which was odd as we have, but we always walk on the other side of the road and I suppose it all looked very different, so we had a conversation about that, and about the school having the same name as the village, and which school the children would be going to when they are old enough. And then we arrived at the new toddlers. 

As expected one child dived right in and the other child followed a little reluctantly but determined not to let the friend out of her sight. Within a short space of time the more confident child was chatting to the helpers and settling down to do some if we had always gone there. The other child followed her lead and was obviously taking it all in and quietly confident, confident enough to welcome help getting her apron on. The baby smiled at everyone who came close. And then it came to me, the children were having such a great time because of positive relationships, even after such a short space of time the staff had learnt the children's names and this showed they were welcoming and available. The environment is unexpected too- for a church hall. Enabling is the right word. Enabling environments isn't just about having the right equipment and access, it can also be about atmosphere and feeling comfortable enough to use all of the space in any way that you might want to use it. Even when that means spreading toys and biscuit crumbs everywhere. Yes, the only thing wrong with this toddlers is they still provide biscuits instead of the 'healthy option' .....oh well, I'm sure the parents won't mind.

Thursday, 22 November 2012


I got myself into a right tiz recently. So much so that I found myself almost buying a EYFS activities book! Yes shocking I know.

It all started with the revised EYFS. You know the promises of reduced paperwork? boy I was looking forward to the reduced paperwork.
Well they lied.
It took a while for it to register because in readiness for the revised EYFS I had written a 'list of things to do' and was up to my eyes in revising policies and changing observation forms, writing articles for the newsletter to tell parents about the change, devising a 2 yr record check form...etc etc.

Once I had done everything on my list up to a certain point I realised that I was in fact adding things to my list and it was running away with me. And when I looked at the way I was implementing the revised EYFS on a day to day basis my list started to grow again- why? because I realised that the focus of the EYFS has changed. There has been a fundamental shift to teaching and school readiness and an expectation that I will do Planning (with a capital P) and 6 to 8 week assessments and next steps etc etc.


I have been registered for over 20 years. I 'minded' children in the beginning. You know the old one about children learning at their mothers knees (or apron hem) by counting and sorting socks into pairs. That was the line spun to me when I started childminding, it was ok to do a certain amount of housework because I was only 'minding' the children and they could help me by counting the socks I was pegging out on the line. (What is it with socks?).

So the first few years of 'minding' were spent being a mum with an extra child or two around. Slowly the idea of providing educational activities as part of childminding crept in (no doubt someone will disagree and say I was always expected to educate, but that's not how I remember it). No one said I had to do any further training. In fact I had been minding some years before it was even compulsory to have a first aid certificate (although I got together with other childminders to provide first aid training years before that because it seemed the sensible thing to have).
Slowly training did become available, the first was child protection. Then, as it filtered down from more progressive areas of the country a Level 3 Certificate in Childminding Practice came along, and I was one of a group of childminders in my area to be the first to sign up to take this recognised qualification. I loved going to college and one tutor in particular had a profound effect on me and my attitude to childhood.
It wasn't long before I was Planning. I have very fond memories of those themed based activities. The Three Billy Goats Gruff. The 12 Days of Christmas. Gradually though I stopped 'doing' themes and started truly following children's interests. In recent years I have relaxed into PLOD's. The children are doing well, ok sometimes I seem to lose the plot and we drift but on the whole learning takes place anyway without me even thinking about it- because the children are doing it naturally (autonomous learners).


Cue the revised EYFS and me reading the Statutory Framework and losing all confidence in what I am doing!

My one sheet of retrospective planning and simple observation form that did me so well for at least the past 5 years started to flow into individual planning sheets, group planning sheets, parents planning sheets, 3 different types of observation sheets, tracking, assessments, medium term planning sheets etc etc and I began to worry that I didn't know what I was doing anymore! so I started hunting round for a system that would help and I had the crazy idea that what I needed was a book of EYFS activities all neatly categorised and full of learning intentions. Until I clicked on an example page, and it took me to a page of wavy lines for children to trace.....and Bang it dawned on me that this was the very thing I had decided years ago that I was Not going to do. I do not do colouring in sheets, worksheets and tracing, unless a child asks to do one....and they rarely have because they are too busy learning through play.  

So the panic over. Sense, common or otherwise, has been restored. I will continue to follow the children's interests and I will stand back to give them space to go where they want to, and we will drift occasionally. I am not a 'get children ready for school' farm. I am getting children ready for life, to be confident, kind, honest, fair and respectful individuals. 



Monday, 19 November 2012

forums and time

Last week I lost one of the childminding forums I visit, it was a bit like having the rug removed from beneath your feet or finding the wrong filling in your sandwich.
But another one came along to fill the void so all's well and good. I have many online friends and luckily a high proportion of them have found it too. I find online communities a very useful support system, as I mentioned before living here and being a non-driver I sometimes feel cut off from the rest of the childcare world.
But in this world of faceless communication I am very careful not to get lulled into a false sense of security when visiting the forums. I know it is important to be on guard for 'trolls' or worse, and for that reason I have a robust internet policy in place and (hopefully) my wits about me. And of course I never divulge any personal information about the families or children I care for.

Over the weekend I have been busy creating a sleep corner for the babies who come here. I found a small cot that would fit into the available space, it came with a cute quilt but no sheet. I have since discovered why. Small cots do not take standard cot sheets! and small cots sheets are not easy to come by. Thankfully I'm handy with the sewing machine.
I hunted around for a theme to decorate the space and found some really lovely wall stickers with rabbits, owls, and stars......the choice was seemingly endless and after some hours of searching and not being able to make up my mind, I decided I would paint a design free-hand and keep things simple. Because by this time it was late afternoon and I was literally running out of time!


That's the problem with the internet, you can spend hours on it without realising the time is flying by.

Still, I am a procrastinator so that's ok :)


Monday, 12 November 2012

new storage

Yesterday I succumbed to temptation and bought a new storage unit. We had been to our local discount store the day before and happened to see it while shopping for bird food.
Now there was nothing wrong with the toy storage in the playroom, I have an Ikea Expedit unit which as all childminders know is probably the best toy storage unit available in that price range. But alongside it we also have a mix-match of units and tables in white melamine finish and fake oak.
Anyway, I happened to see this unit.
It has the Expedit  'look'. And at £49 it was a steal. So yesterday we returned to the store, and then spent the rest of the day putting it together and rearranging the rest of the room.
My playroom is a good size but even so when one new piece of furniture is added every other piece of furniture has to be rearranged to accommodate it.
I'm happy with the playroom. The far wall is now completely lined with units, and I now also have a forward facing bookcase thanks to Steve.
Ever since attending an inclusion training last year I have been planning to get a forward facing bookcase. I even had the idea of using the spice rack that I'd seen online as a cheap alternative to the real thing. But I think everyone else had the same idea because when I went to buy one they were out-of-stock.
In the end all it needed to turn an old shelving unit we had in the kitchen to the famous forward facing bookcase was a piece of dowel.
The children are going to love it!

Friday, 9 November 2012

the season

Just a couple of photo's today.
Our horse chestnut is almost bare of leaves.

Heuristic play with pumpkins.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Computer issues, birdwatching and painting

That horrible feeling that hits you when the computer throws a wobbly and you suddenly realise it isn't going to come back.
And not just any computer (we are lucky enough to have a very beat-up laptop in the house and a very old computer sitting in one of the spare rooms). No, this is the Work Computer.
Every document I use was on that computer, and they have been developed individually by me for my business. My logo, accounts and childminding paperwork. Then there are the scores & scores of other documents from every conceivable childcare source that I filed away for reference. And photographs. Nightmare.
The diagnoses was a hard drive failure, thankfully everything was retrievable. And so I have a new computer and everything is back to normal...except it will not allow me to upload photo's to my blog. So this is coming to you via the very beat-up laptop that is literally held together by a clamp.....
I looked out of the window today and saw a Blackcap. I'm talking birds here. I don't ever remember seeing one before so I rushed to take a photo of it while it ate the purple berries of the Callicarpa bush. The photo was blurry, my work camera isn't designed for that kind of photography, its great for observation photo's as I can print directly from the camera, but low light or small birds in the distance is not its strong point.
Living here on the edge of the village means we do get a good variety of birds visit the garden, and I do enjoy feeding them.

you might just be able to make out the starling on the window feeder

I was visiting a childminding friend way back in the Spring when I first saw birds actually using a window feeder. Previously to that I had dismissed them as a gimmick after buying one for my mother-in-law and her saying she hadn’t had a single bird visit it. But then I couldn’t resist buying a little cup feeder from shop in Hay-on-Wye, not because I thought the birds would use it but because I thought it looked sweet.
The birds didn’t use it, and it fell off the glass.
But remembering my visit to my friends and watching half a dozen starlings squabbling over the raisins she was putting in her feeder I thought I would try again, this time with a different model. I found quite a selection of sturdy looking feeders on a well known online store and it arrived within a week.
I still wasn’t entirely sure that the birds would use it but I attached it to the playroom window, and to tempt the birds close I bought a tub of dried mealworms. I also hung a feeder from the small hibiscus tree that sits close to the house.
Within a day the starlings found the window feeder. They don't seem put off by the children pointing and running up to the window at all, even though the playroom is a conservatory with floor to ceiling windows.
I'm lucky that we have a fairly large garden and we have room for a bird table in the wild garden and another bird feeding station half way up the garden. We have the usual birds visit: great tits, blue tits, starlings, blackbirds, robins, sparrows, dunnocks, magpies, greenfinch, chaffinch and long-tailed tits. We have also had yellowhammers that look for all the world like budgies from a distance. We also have squirrels. They sit on top of the wooden post which holds all the feeders and help themselves to the birdfood. They also dig up the grass to bury cob nuts. The children like to watch them and I must admit they are comical little things even though I know some people class them as vermin.

Friday, 2 November 2012

I forget to mention....

You may remember me getting all irritated and tetchy about childminders only being allowed to borrow items from the CFC Toy Library for a fortnight. And I pointed out that originally we had been allowed to have items for 6 weeks like other professionals. Well it seems my CFC have made a mistake, they should be lending resources for 6 weeks to childminders. I have been told to tell them. I will smile sweetly.
My other bit of news is I have Penny Tassoni’s latest book Practical EYFS Handbook, which I’m busy reading. The layout is the same as the old one so it is reassuringly familiar and she has a very easy to read style of writing (unlike me) and I love the way she understands childminding. I have also ordered The EYFS: A Practical Guide for Students and Professionals by Vicky Hutchin. I have been good recently so deserve a treat – or two.
I have been told off again for my rambling way of expressing myself in words.
In all honesty it is the only way I can write. It’s the way my brain works, totally inefficient, longwinded and rambling, and yes I'm like this in real life. 

a different day

Today things were slightly different than they usually are.
For a start it is half-term which more often than not means less work for me as the majority of the children are term-time only. And as it happens I have only worked one day this week. However I have still been busy with ‘things’ and I’m not sure where the time has gone....

Today for example I had some family visitors, namely an 8 year old girl and a 10 year old boy. I’m quite comfortable dealing with this age group but in my working life all the children I care for are under 5 years of age, and most of them are under 3. So my resources reflect the age range I childmind for, but as I must also consider a slightly older age range and how I might meet their needs (not that I have any intention of having older children but you never know when disaster will strike and I will be called on- well that’s how I look upon it) I do have a box of what I call the ‘older child bits and bobs box' stored just in case.
So getting back to my visitors.
What to do with them. Well my box of bits and bobs came out, and as I know one of the children does enjoy craft I raided my sewing room too before they arrived. Yes, I have a sewing/craft room, but I’m afraid it is much underused these days….but one day…….
Anyway the box of bits and bobs box was ignored, but the collection of card and embellishments was immediately taken to the table and the 8 year old started decorating a card for a friend and was happily engrossed for about an hour. I thought the 10 year old would like to play on the Wii, but instead he asked if he could use a camera as he wanted to make a video.


He used Star Wars Lego figures and vehicles in the making of his video, but he also created an animation by taking a photo, moving the figures slightly then taking another photo and repeating the progress. The finished ‘film’ was amazing, and so full of his sense humour.