Wednesday, 30 January 2013

being reflective

what was missing - friendship and peer support.
I'm a very experienced childminder, confident in my work (but always learning). Unfortunately because of where I live (see my second ever blog post) I'm not able to meet with other childminders very often. Peer support is so important when you work alone, it provides the opportunity to share ideas and find out about trainings etc. Sometimes you just need to chat while the children socialise. Today I could have done with a bit of peer support.  
seeing the characteristics of effective learning in action. I observed a child figure out for herself how to do something.
I resisted that huge temptation (that comes over us all) to wade in and offer help. I watched her work it out and then practice doing it over and over until she had mastered the skill. Brilliant!

Monday, 28 January 2013

I don't like......'reforms' to childcare by politicians

So the long awaited announcement on 'reforms' to childcare will be made tomorrow...after being leaked more efficiently than a dropped milk carton on the kitchen floor.
The announcement will I believe to bring to fruition Elizabeth Truss plans that have been hinted at over the past 9 months, to radically alter childcare.
Higher ratio's-
The government wants to relax rules to allow nurseries, pre-schools and childminders to take on more children and be able to exceed the customary ratio's imposed in the EYFS12 (as the ratios have been going back into the mists of time, being the safest most effective number of children for an adult to care for while ensuring the children are supported fully in their learning and development). The suggestion that more children and fewer staff  will bring down the cost of the childcare to parents is ludicrous. Of course it will not work like that, because correct me if I am wrong but the number of children in the nursery will not rise significantly because the EYFS space requirements will still have to be met? or are we just about to make thousands of nursery nurses redundant? unless of course the government see this as a solution to the crisis in the building industry by building nursery extensions? or may be they expect to drop the space requirements of the EYFS and pack more children in? (but children in early years do not sit quietly at tables, they like to run, jump, climb, dance , move, crawl, spin and explore the environment using all their senses). Young children need space, they need to be able to take risks, overcome physical challenges, and they need an adult to ensure their safety while they do it!
Nursery ratio's are already higher than a childminder (depending on age) because the children are (generally) in rooms or groups, there is always another member of staff to cover comfort breaks, and (generally) the children do not go out into the wider community every day. But I find it hard to believe that any parent would want cheaper childcare if it means leaving their toddler in the care of one nursery nurse looking after 7 other toddlers.
At present I can have 3 children under 5 year old here at any one time, and I can in exceptional circumstances increase that number by granting myself a variation. But I'm not superwoman and the quality of the care I provide is more important to me than anything. The thought of routinely having 4 or 5 toddlers fills me with grave concerns for the welfare of these very young children. I don't know about anyone else but the last time I looked I only had two hips & two arms to carry toddlers, and one lap. On a good day with a fair wind I might just be able to provide quality childcare for four young children- if they were not teething, had a good nights sleep and the weather was agreeable.  But above all higher ratios, whether in a nursery or childminders will compromise safety, and they will lead to poorer outcomes for children.
More 'teaching'-
Strange one this. I already care and educate, its called the EYFS.
Nursery: new staff –
Apparently the Government is hoping they will be paid more than existing staff - and they will have to have a C grade in GCSE Maths and English. There as been some suggestion that early years in this country is somehow failing by Elizabeth Truss (currently an Under-Secretary at the Department of Education, although she was not in that post back in March/April 2012 when she began looking for a solution to the childcare problem) because of the calibre of our early years workforce, and Ms Truss has looked to Europe for an answer. I do agree there are some valuable lessons to be learnt from European countries, mainly that children do not start formal learning until they are 6 or 7 years of age! However this fact has historically been ignored by all politicians over here. Although if European children start school later but make better progress I would argue it is the school not the childcare system that is wrong in this country.
Mothers to become childminders-
Government want more Mothers to become Childminders. Well if you have a workforce of mother's at home with their own young children it would indeed make sense to encourage them to find employment that is compatible with being at home. It remains to be seen if all these new childminders will find enough work. I doubt it. I personally do not know many childminders without vacancies, this fact speaks for itself.
Childminder hubs (agencies) -
The 'agency model' was being talked about in the same breath as deregulation for childminders. The guess (because we just don't know any details as yet) was that childminders would join an agency that would match them with parents requiring childcare. Fees might be negotiated by the agency, they would certainly take a fee for the matching and in return monitor the childminder, provide some training and save Ofsted needing to inspect every single childminder- therefore saving Ofsted money. Questions yet unanswered: What would be the point of taking childminders out of the open market? What would be the primary goal of agencies? would it include raising the standard of childminding? or providing cheap childcare for parents? Which childminders would be the target subject of the agency- the Satisfactory childminders to raise standards? or the Outstanding childminders?  What would happen to childminders who do not want to join an agency? Would those childminders still have access to training? What benefits would there be to joining an agency, and what disadvantages would there be? And would childminders who did not join an agency still have Ofsted inspections? Would parents use an agency if they have to pay a fee on top of the childminders terms and conditions? Would childminders (who are self-employed) be free to continue to set their own terms?
There are many other questions. My first one is I wonder if Ms Truss really understands childminding in this country and does she value childminding as it stands?
I am very uncertain about the future of childminding, and about my future as a childminder. Our hope lies within the early years sector. The uproar already expressed even before the announcement has been made will I hope make the government pause for thought. And it will have to pass through parliament.
Out of all of this muddle one thing is becoming clear. The guiding principle that The Child should remain at the centre of everything we do, and that we should focus on ensuring positive outcomes for All Children, has slipped from the governments agenda. It is now more about convincing parents that cheaper childcare will help them into work, will keep them in work, and is the best thing since sliced bread.


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

a few activities

I discovered it is possible to make white playdough (as opposed to the beige colour playdough you get if no food colouring is added ) simply by using cornflour in the place of flour. I wanted a  hint of sparkle so added a good measure of white and silver glitter. The recipe worked well despite my slight panic when the mixture looked so wet in the saucepan that I doubted the instructions and didn't use all the water. I realised my mistake as the cornfour absorbed the water and solidified as it cooked, and the result was slightly drier and definitely crumbly. But it was pure white.
Unfortunately I didn't take a photo of just the playdough, every picture shows a child too so I can not share them. But I can say that it was a great success.
Today we played with shaving foam, I added a few sequins and bits & bobs for some fine motor skills practice.
Another sensory/messy play activity the children enjoy is Gloop, which is a mixture of cornfour and water. Sometimes I add glitter or sequins to it. It has very interesting properties, seemingly a liquid but solid beneath the surface. We are going to try an adaptation of the usual recipe: 500g corn flour, 350ml hair conditioner; when I've bought some hair conditioner.

And finally, a few of the baby's favourite things: wooden spoons, pegs, jar lids, honey 'spoons', wooden & metal bowls, sensory bottles and wooden eggs.


Tuesday, 8 January 2013

the List

I'm so proud of myself. My first day back and I've kept to my List beautifully.

In fact I've ticked the first item on my List which is 'allow yourself 15 minutes of tidy up time and 'writing up' after the last child has gone, then shut the playroom door'.

There are many things on my List, but non more important than Point Number One.

Tonight I am working on some ideas for tomorrow's activities and I must make another batch of playdough, this time I will not be adding the usual food colouring but I will add white and silver glitter instead.

Friday, 4 January 2013

The challenges of 2013

New Year resolutions. I often feel I should make some and then before I know it the new year is here and I rush into it without any planning on how I'm going to achieve the 'Lose weight, take more exercise and eat more greens' mantra. Putting my personal health goals aside for the time being, the question is what are my resolutions/goals for childminding?
Well I've been reading comments on some of the childminding forums and it seems the most popular resolution has been to reduce paperwork and keep on top of the accounts. They are both very valid aims and mine is similar as it is to be more efficient. I tend to procrastinate and time management is not my strong point.

So how to achieve this goal? Lists
I have decided that is the only way to go. I will have a to-do list, I will prioritise items on the list into important/urgent, non-urgent, and things that I would like to achieve but that are not essential. My aim is to become effective (probably still stressed) but not overwhelmed and stressed- which is how I feel now sometimes.


Over the holiday period we have decorated the playroom. Furniture has been moved around, a large piece of furniture has been discarded and I am now in the process of trying to put it all back together again. I childmind from one large room, I call it the playroom but in reality it is our conservatory and is part of our home- we use it too. Getting the home/work balance right is difficult, I often feel it is 80% a childminding environment and only 20% part of our home. For example the children need a low table to paint on and have playdough, but it needs to double up as a snack table, and it needs to be within view of the Tv (only put on during snack time) but close to the toilet for hand washing after painting and not on the rug so that I do not end up with banana, playdough or paint trodden in. That is just one consideration, there are dozens of other decisions to be made for childminding about the placing of furniture, the type of necessary furniture or the spaces available and their uses. How my family might want to use that room is always the last consideration.
I work from home in an environment that is set up for children, every decision that is made about home is made with the considerations of childminding in the forefront. Childminders will know what I mean. I know there are plenty of other types of businesses that are run from an office, workshop or studio in the home, they like me often have regulations around health & safety & environmental health but they do not have the EYFS and Ofsted to deal with or the needs of young children to provide for. 
The placing of furniture is one thing, how to leave the childminding mode behind at the end of the working day is not so easy, in fact for me it is impossible as I think it is for many childminders. The lists might help me use  office time more effectively but no doubt I will still spend a great deal of time thinking about childminding, it is what I do and what I enjoy doing.

There are two new challenges/threats this year. One is the expected announcement on the deregulation/changes to childminding, which I will say no more on until the facts are published.

The other challenge will be how the new 'nursery' opening locally in May this year will affect my business and what I can do to weather that storm. I can not compete but neither do I plan to fall into the 'wrap-around provision' trap of rushing around picking up and dropping children here there and everywhere. My aim has always been and will continue to be, to provide an oasis of calm for children in their very early years.
Happy New Year.