Sunday 19 March 2017

Childminders and daily routines

I have been asked – how do you comply with the requirement to inform parents about their child’s daily routines?

My reply – the EYFS 2017 (and the previous EYFS 2014) states:

3.73 Providers must make the following information available to parents and/or carers:
• The range and type of activities and experiences provided for children, the daily routines of the setting, and how parents and carers can share learning at home.

The EYFS 2017 clarifies that the word 'must', when used in the requirements, means we must do something - rather than 'should' which means we need a good reason not to do something.

Therefore, I take this to mean parents need to be informed about their child's daily routine.

I do this in 3 main ways -

1. We have a parent who wants to know where their child is going every day if we take them off the premises. She wanted us to phone her asking permission every time we went out but we cannot realistically do that - she can't answer the phone all day when she's working and it's not something I was prepared to do - so we compromised and I have a display board that says 'today we are going to...' and it takes me a few minutes as part of my routine to change it every morning.

2. I email parents diaries - the same basic layout of diary for each child. The diaries say 'we have done xx and been to yy and your child...' and share information about something special or new or different that each child has done or said that I want to share. They then say 'you might like to follow up at home...' or 'ask me about...' to prompt parents to have a conversation with their child about their day and to provide parents, in a gentle and respectful way, with ideas for how they can ‘share learning at home’.

I find it takes me a lot less time to email diaries than it used to when I was writing them because I have a template on my computer and I simply keep it open and fill it in quickly when I have a moment. The ‘talk to me about…’ comments at the end are part of the way we constantly share observations of the child’s learning with parents as well and I often add a ‘tell me about…’ section at the end prompting parents to let me know about their child’s home learning – if they don’t reply by email (most do – email is a great way of communicating with our current parents) I ask them verbally the next morning.

3. We have a daily routine which shares the 'rhythm' of our day with parents - it doesn't detail every breath and toilet visit but it says when their child is likely to eat and the sort of things we do morning and afternoon. That is emailed to parents when their child starts and updated as and when it changes to include, for example, a different school run or a new outing location...

We also chat to most of our parents at the end of the day and I let them know what their child has been doing during that conversation. I say ‘most of our parents’ because sometimes children need a doorstep handover and we are unable to have that conversation which is why I share information with parents as part of my daily routine in other ways as well.

Childminders share information with parents in lots of different ways.

When a parent first comes to visit it’s important to give them a copy of the EYFS requirements – you will find a free guide for parents to the EYFS and Childcare Register here.

Other colleagues do written daily diaries instead of the email ones I send out – I find email quicker but it’s up to you how you share information – and remember that there is no requirement in the EYFS to write daily diaries if you can show evidence of sharing information in other ways.

Some colleagues update parents via WhatsApp, email or on a secure Facebook group during the day – however, you do have to be careful this does not impact on your time with the children and parents don’t get the impression you are on social media all day!

Doorstep chats are great if you have parents who engage int hat way – you can write their comments into their child’s file later - I use red pen so it clearly shows ‘mum said…’ or ‘dad commented that…’.

Some childminders send parents messages to say what they are going to do the following week – you can use WhatsApp, email or a secure Facebook group or other ways that work for you and parents.

Thank you to childminders on the Independent Childminders Facebook group for sharing some of the ways you communicate with parents to support others.

It is important to be flexible within your daily routine – let parents know that, depending on children’s moods, spontaneous conversations that lead to different activities and the weather what you intend doing might change.

I hope that helps. Chat soon, Sarah x

Wednesday 20 July 2016

Supporting communication and language in the early years

A recent report in the Telegraph states that thousands of children who are starting school ‘struggle to speak properly’: they cannot ask questions, use full sentences or follow simple instructions and they lack the basic communication and language skills needed to make themselves heard in a busy classroom. This is worrying, especially as we are told that vocabulary knowledge in the early years is a strong predictor of academic success.

We know that, to consolidate any new skills including communication and language, children need to be given lots of time to practice. They need plenty of uninterrupted time during the day to chat to friends and adults, repeat and use new words, ask and answer questions, be involved in small group activities etc in the early years provision and at home.

In early years provision, observation suggests that children with poor speech and language often choose to play with other children rather than engage in adult led activities where new language can be taught and current language scaffolded: built on during sensitive interventions by practitioners who know the child well.

A discussion paper from the Literacy Trust looks at some of the most common explanations as to why quality interactions might not be happening in children’s home and family lives and points to parents work patterns, smaller family groups, lack of family time spent together eg eating at the table or adults playing with children as some of the reasons.

Tracking progress

In the early years, providers should be consistently tracking children’s progress in communication and language (listening and attention, understanding and speaking) and should note if a child is at risk of ‘falling behind’. Progress tracking (including completing the statutory 2 year progress check) allows practitioners to ensure children are making good progress and alerts them to concerns when they might, for example, advise parents to ask for intervention from other agencies or professionals.

Ongoing tracking should be completed using Ofsted’s tracker of choice - Early Years Outcomes. A copy of Early Years Outcomes should be in each child’s file and observations should show the child making good progress. It is important to note that Early Years Outcomes is not and was never intended to be a tick or checklist.

Further tracking information, if providers are concerned about a child’s communication and language, including social communication guidance, is available from Every Child a Talker (ECAT).

English as an additional or second language

A survey of London schools in 2000 revealed that more than 30% of all schoolchildren speak a language other than English at home and there are more than 300 languages spoken and a further report from 2013 states that there are more than a million children between 5–18 years old in UK schools who speak in excess of 360 languages between them.

It is highly likely that this percentage has increased in recent years both in London and across the country.

When tracking the progress of children who do not speak English as their first language, EYFS (2014) requirement 1.7 states that, ‘practitioners must assess children’s skills in English. If a child does not have a strong grasp of English language, practitioners must explore the child’s skills in the home language with parents and/or carers, to establish whether there is cause for concern about language delay.’

The EYFS also states that practitioners must support children’s home language and teach them English, providing children with ‘sufficient opportunities to learn and reach a good standard in English language during the EYFS.’

If parents want to track their child’s progress at home, there is a free communication and language progress checker for parents from Talking Point which can be used alongside the activity ideas in ‘What to Expect When? A parents guide’.

Early intervention

Interventions in the early years setting might include daily storytelling and song sessions, with children working in small groups to gain the maximum benefit from adult interactions. Targeted communication tools are also available, such as these Toddler Talk cards.

During our recent Ofsted inspection (April 2016), our inspector asked to see evidence of how we use Letters and Sounds with our pre-school children.

I have written Information Guides for gold members about Letters and Sounds Phase 1 and was able to show the inspector how our planning and children’s observations links to the Letters and Sounds games we play in the provision – and ideas for children’s home learning which we provide for parents of pre-school children.

Daily routines should be organised to allow time for communication and language: activities with adults playing alongside them and guiding their interactions; adult-led activities where adults model language; meal and snack times when adults sit with children, play games and chat to them; times to sing and dance together; practitioners who are always available to the children, playing their games and being interested in what they are doing.

High quality resources are an important part of supporting children’s communication and language development. Of course, the most important resource is the playfully engaged adult who chats, asks open-ended, interested questions (and waits for answers) and takes an interest in what the children are doing.

Resources that promote imaginative play help the children to make sense of their world and can be great for supporting communication; activities such as messy play times allow practitioners to sit and play alongside the children, modelling new language and building on previous learning; sequencing toys allow practitioners and children to work together, solving puzzles and developing critical thinking skills (characteristics of effective learning).

Activities can be targeted to support communication and language across all 7 areas of learning in the EYFS. For example, puzzles or baking will support children’s maths language; repetitive child-friendly books and comics which feature children’s favourite characters will build a love of literacy; singing songs and listening to CDs will promote learning across different areas of art and design; puppets will build imagination and bring stories alive etc.

Sharing activity ideas with home

It is, of course, important that parents are fully involved in their child’s time in the provision – daily diaries, emails, blogs, secret Facebook groups etc can all be used to engage them.

The EYFS also states that we must provide parents with ideas for home learning. This poster from the communication charity I Can might be displayed in the setting and displays might be put up on the parents noticeboard, suggesting one communication and language tip every month to catch parents attention and further engage them in their child’s learning.

Further activity ideas and games for parents linked to Letters and Sounds Phase 1 and children’s current interests in the setting might be shared with parents during daily discussions.

Pre-school children might enjoy taking a book bag home each week - put together a small cloth bag which contains:
• An A5 writing book
• A pencil case with a rubber, sharpener and a few coloured pencils
• A few stickers for parents to use in the writing book
• A ‘reading with your child’ activity sheet
• A letter for parents explaining that their child will bring home a book each week and you would like them to draw a picture and write a story about the book in their own words.
Each week let the child/ren borrow a book (ask parents to sign a list of who has which book) and encourage them to write and draw pictures about the story after their parents have read it to them.

At the same time, you could display different ‘reading at home’ tips each week or month for parents to support them at home and website links such as this one from Book Trust on ‘how to share books’ are useful to give to parents.

I hope you have found some useful ideas in this blog to support your communication and language planning and tips for sharing activity ideas with children’s parents.

Thank you! Sarah
Knutsford Childminding

Monday 30 May 2016

Observing the learning characteristics

I have written lots of blogs about the learning characteristics ... here is another one! I keep trying to share the information in different ways so that it is accessible to everyone.

Observing the characteristics of effective learning
Each of the learning characteristics is split into 3 sections – and there are examples of observations you might spot given for each section. The 3 sections help you to describe, in your paperwork and when chatting to parents, how the child is learning. You can then use what you have observed in your planning.
Let’s look at the characteristics in more detail –

Characteristic 1 - playing and exploring – you are being asked to observe the child’s engagement in activities. What does ‘engagement’ mean? Engagement describes when a child is curious and wants to learn more about what is happening. They have their own interests (schemas and learning styles) and they are positive about challenges.

Finding out and exploring Playing with what they know Being willing to ‘have a go’
• The child is curious about what is happening around them;
• The child explores using their senses;
• The child enjoys activities for the sake of them – not just because there is an end product;
• The child uses a schema • The child role plays by themselves – using the buggy, making tea etc
• The child uses a block or banana as a telephone
• The child pretends to be someone else in their play
• The child joins in with other children’s role play • The child involves other children in their play
• The child wants to challenge their learning and understanding
• The child is positive about what they are doing and keeps trying
• The child takes risks to try something new

Remember – not all children display all learning characteristics at the same time. Think about your own learning characteristics – do you prefer to read a book or listen to an audio book or watch the film? Children are just the same as you – they have favourite learning characteristics which you can develop and support through your planned and free play activities (routines) and any extra planned learning activities you provide for them. Have a look through the characteristics and see if you can work out some links -
• Jane talks about an outing at the weekend with her family… links to playing and exploring - ‘finding out and exploring’;
• Janet makes a cup of tea… links to playing and exploring - ‘playing with things they know;
• John struggles but carries on and finishes… links to active learning - ‘keeping on trying’;
• Jane says that if you add water to the oats they ‘might go fluffy’… links to creating and thinking critically ‘making links’.

Characteristic 2 – active learning – you are being asked to consider whether a child is motivated to learn. Do they want to learn? Are they interested in what is happening around them?

Being involved and concentrating Keeping on trying
Enjoying achieving what they set out to do
• The child can concentrate for longer periods of time when they are enjoying something
• The child is fascinated / involved / excited in their play
• The child sits and works something out
• The child looks at things around them in detail / points things out • The child does not give up, even when the going gets tough
• The child tries to do things in different ways
• The child copes with a problem and tries again
• The child struggles but refuses to give up
• The child asks for help and is determined to finish a game or work something out • The child is proud of their achievements
• The child is proud of trying – not just succeeding
• The child copes with disappointment when something goes wrong
• The child enjoys challenges – not just to get a sticker or praise – but challenges for their own sake

Remember – you are less likely to spot learning characteristics in a very little one – aged under 1. While the EYFS expects us to use the learning characteristics for all children, you need to think about how you can provide experiences to help little ones develop the characteristics.
For example, you might –
• Provide lots of sensory play to help a child enjoy exploring and using their senses;
• Introduce challenging games and support the little one to try – even if he doesn’t succeed just yet because he is too small;
• Talk about what is happening and point out places and things of interest so babies learn to look carefully at the world around them;
• Take babies on outings and plan lots of outside play so they learn about the world around them – expose them to the weather (not extremes obviously) but let them learn what rain and sun feel like on their faces;
• Encourage little ones to guess ‘how many do you think?’ or ‘what do you think is happening?’ in stories and when watching television;
• Provide activities that stimulate all the senses so babies learn to use them all;
• Praise a little one for trying as well as succeeding;
• Help little ones to make choices and ask them what they prefer to do / wear / eat etc, even if they cannot respond clearly yet.

Characteristic 3 – creating and thinking critically – you need to think about the ways the child thinks and how you can use these to support their learning. We all think in different ways – some children are leaders and others prefer to follow… some children talk a lot about home and family life while others are more reticent to share information… some children work out how to do things while others get quickly frustrated… what sort of thinkers do you look after every day?

Having their own ideas Making links Choosing ways to do things
• The child thinks up new games
• The child finds new ways to solve problems
• The child watches other children and learns from them, trying out new things in their own play
• The child wants to add something new to a game to change the play
• The child thinks up new ways to do things • The child uses learning from home or another setting to solve a similar problem
• The child can predict / guess what might happen next
• The child tests their ideas eg they try to do something even if it might not work.
• The child learns about cause and effect – if he does xx then yy will happen • The child can plan their time
• The child solves problems by thinking them through
• The child can make choices
• The child makes decisions about what they want to do
• The child recognises he might need to change how he is doing something
• The child can review and consider how well / badly things went

Remember – it’s not just about spotting a child using a learning characteristic in their play. It’s also about using your observations of the child’s learning characteristics to plan for future learning. So when you observe a learning characteristic, think about how you can plan.
Here are some examples…
• Jane is learning through a transporting schema – provide lots of baskets, bags and small toys that she can transport in the house – and a buggy and dolls in the garden (playing and exploring – finding out and exploring);
• Janet enjoys playdough – and next time you play with it she says she wants to add the lavender scent she smelled in the garden (creating and thinking critically – having their own ideas);
• John tries to get the jigsaw piece into the space over and over again before deciding to turn it another way (creating and thinking critically – choosing ways to do things / active learning – being involved and concentrating);
• Jack picks up a block and pretends it is a telephone. He makes a call to mummy to tell her about something he has just done in the garden (playing and exploring – playing with what they know).

I hope you find it useful. Chat soon, Sarah x

PS E-book 59 'Characteristics of Learning' contains a lot more detail. You can buy it for £3.99 from my Knutsford Childminding website. Thank you.

Planning for play and learning

Here at Knutsford Childminding we believe that providing a child with fun and playful learning experiences is far more important than completing lengthy paperwork – and our Ofsted inspector agreed with this ethos during our recent inspection, awarding us both an outstanding grade (April 2016). Our inspector didn’t want to see hundreds of observations or complicated planning – she wanted to see how we were supporting each child to make the best possible progress towards school readiness.

We are 2 childminders who work together. During our outstanding inspection (April 2016), our Ofsted inspector focussed on –

Routines and how well we support the individual child. We explained that we ask parents for lots of information before a child starts in our care and update the child’s ‘All about Me’ document regularly as they grow and change.

Starting points – the focus of the ‘teaching, learning and assessment’ part of our Ofsted inspection was on how well each child is making progress from their starting points so we showed our inspector how we ask parents to provide us with really good starting points - and we do our own baseline assessment during a child’s first few weeks in our care.

We use Early Years Outcomes when we are doing all our tracking of children’s progress because we know that it is Ofsted’s tracker of choice and we noticed that our inspector looked to see we had a copy for each child in their file.

We also provide parents with the parents guide to Early Years Outcomes from Foundation Years called ‘What to expect, when?’ – we email a new version when a child is moving through the ages and stages as well.

Observations and how they link to the child’s individual planning – we are watching and listening to every child all day every day and we don’t feel the need to write down everything we see and hear! We use our play plan to note a few key observations through the month and our ‘next steps’ / individual planning sheets link to our play plans (more information to follow).

Group planning and how it teaches children about the world in which they live including local and global festivals and celebrations. We inform parents what group planning we are doing with the children in our newsletters and always include ideas for activities families might like to follow-up at home. We are very flexible with our group planning and adapt our learning environment, outings, resources etc to accommodate children’s interests and changing needs.

We share our group planning ideas with gold members here – they can be easily adapted for the individual child.

Tracking and how it shows children are making progress – we update each child’s tracking every term (December, April and August). Parents can see their child’s tracker at any time – it’s in their Learning Journey file – and we provide parents with a short summary every term so they know how their child is getting on.


Our play plan

Note - this play plan has been written by me – Sarah Neville. I share it freely with other practitioners to support their CPD – everyone works differently and I expect it to be changed / adapted but I do not want to find it on eBay!

Every week / month we complete a play plan for each child. We add parents comments about their child’s home learning as well. The first page of the play plan talks about –

- The main ‘next steps’ we are currently working on with parents and the child – linked to previous observations, the Early Years Outcomes guidance and the document ‘What to expect, when? A parents guide’. We email parents every term with a scan of their child’s next steps sheet which contains things we are doing here and ideas for activities families might want to try at home.

Note – the statutory requirements of the EYFS tell us that we must focus on the prime areas of learning (communication and language, physical development and personal, social and emotional development) until they are established – that’s why we record them on a child’s play plan – to help us focus on the most important skills they need for starting school.

- The things the child has enjoyed doing during the week – toys or books they have read, games they have chosen to play, things they have explored and learned etc. We cannot possibly tell parents everything each child has done during the day – that would mean writing instead of playing! We aim to give parents an overview and there is more information in the child’s daily diary (up to the age of 2 / 3) – and parents can always ask us if their child says something at home that doesn’t make sense!

- How we have supported the child’s learning – including activities and experiences we have planned especially for each child. This doesn’t record everything we have done with every child over the week of course – that would be impossible – it just focuses on one or 2 activities each child has especially enjoyed.

- The child’s wellbeing and involvement in activities generally through the month. It is a requirement of the EYFS (our statutory framework) to note if a child’s wellbeing changes so we find it useful to make a quick note every month.



Baby aged 1 year – 12 months
I have enjoyed – standing to walk (PD); joining in at song time waving my arms around and laughing (C & L / PSED); pointing and shouting to get the attention of other children (PSED).
Supporting learning – we have put photos of little one and parents on the wall and in a little photo album (focus on PSED – promoting a sense of belonging).

Child aged 3 years 2 months – 38 months
I have enjoyed – making train tracks with friends (PD / PSED); role playing with small world toys (PSED / A & D); reading favourite books from home (C & L).
Supporting learning – minibeast week – we have been exploring minibeasts in the garden and at the park – amazing artwork attached! (focus on UW and maths - patterns).

The second page of our play plan includes -

- A few short observations linked to Early Years Outcomes – we chat about observations and ask each other – are they meaningful? What do they tell us about the child? Are they showing the child making progress?

- A note about any learning characteristics we have spotted during the observation. Learning characteristics note how a child learns – you will find more information in this blog.

- A note about the child’s wellbeing and involvement during the activity we have observed.


Before we write an observation we ask ourselves – is it meaningful? Does it tell us something about the child’s learning or development? Is it worth writing down and sharing with parents? Observations come from all over the place – inside the house, in the garden, on outings, at home and in other settings the child attends.


Baby aged 1 year – 12 months
Observation – we were playing with balls and baby rolled a ball to me and I rolled it back again. Baby was very excited, clapping her hands and squealing. We carried on the game for quite a long time!
Main EYFS links – PSED (taking turns); physical (handling); C & L (communicating through noises and actions).
Learning characteristics – playing and exploring (engaging in activities); active learning (sticking with an activity).
Engagement and wellbeing – high.

Child aged 3 years 2 months – 38 months
Observation - we went to the park with our magnifying glasses, the camera and some binoculars to look for minibeasts. The child found lots of woodlice under a log, spotted butterflies with beautiful patterns on their backs and watched a bee dipping from flower to flower collecting nectar. On our return the child wanted to make a butterfly - we used paints and chalk.
Main EYFS links – maths (patterns & symmetry), physical (handling), understanding the world (the world).
Learning characteristics – playing and exploring (engaging in activities); active learning (fascinated by learning); creating and thinking critically (making links in learning).
Engagement and wellbeing – high.


Other ways we document each child’s learning

I have talked about the next steps sheet we write every term. We are constantly thinking about what each child might enjoy learning next both here and at home. We aim to keep it simple and – that word again – meaningful. We use a combination of different types of individual / next steps planning including each child’s daily routines, their current interests and learning styles, next steps linked to observations and parent comments – our planning is always flexible and totally child-centred.


We often add a page with a few photos and notes about what each child was doing / saying – the photos are usually chosen by the child. The number of photos we include in each Learning Journey file varies depending on what we have been doing during the month. Parents can also see photos in our group activity albums which we aim to update regularly.

Every term we write a short summary of each child’s progress (see tracking), highlighting the things they have achieved or done and their current age / stage linked to Early Years Outcomes. It is important we monitor each child’s progress regularly so we can let parents know when they are making progress and, of course, spot any concerns quickly. We talk to parents about their child’s summary assessment and share their child’s tracking.

It is a statutory requirement of the EYFS to write a 2 year progress check for every child between the ages of 2 and 3, regardless of whether they are full or part time in the provision. We write our progress checks for children at Knutsford Childminding at 26 months.


Throughout the year we think about how each child’s learning characteristics are evolving and reflect on ways to support them through our planning. We will share these observations of learning characteristics with parents and ask about what characteristics children are using currently at home. The more we know about each child’s play and learning at home the better!

We use ECAT (Every Child a Talker) to support children’s communication and language – ECAT is a nationally recognised way of tracking to ensure children are making good progress.

You can find more information about ECAT on the Foundation Years website here.

For school starters, we have a year of activity ideas which we send parents monthly by email through the year leading to September. Our planning helps us to work closely with parents and any other settings children attend, focussing on different areas of learning each month. We aim to ensure each child is well prepared for the next big adventure in their life – starting school!

When a child leaves our care we write a short transition report and give it to parents, asking them to pass it on to their next setting. As you can see in the example above, we use the same templates for our termly summary reports, 2 year progress check and transition report so we can clearly see the progress each child is making throughout their time with us.

Supporting colleagues

I write and sell a range of e-books for early years providers who want to know how we do things here at Knutsford Childminding! The e-books are well priced – my aim is to ensure they are accessible to everyone. Some of my e-books which are relevant here include 'Learning journeys' (e-book 28), 'EYFS observations' (e-book 14), 'Characteristics of effective learning' (e-book 59), 'Summary reports' (e-book 64) 'Next steps planning' (e-book 65)... and mini e-books including 'Children's starting points (mini 59), 'Children's learning styles' (mini 74) and '2 year progress checks' (mini 78).

I also write a range of Information Guides which are free for gold members on the website.

Further Provision Planning guides focus on the 7 areas of learning and how they can be used to enhance teaching.

Please contact me through my website, on the Childminding Forum or Independent Childminders Facebook group if you have any questions.

Early years providers - you will find further information for all early years professionals including childminders on my Independent Childminders website here.

Parents - you will find advice for parents about various aspects of the EYFS and how it is used on this blog.

I provide a training and consultancy service locally on all aspects of the EYFS and early years - you can find information about the courses I deliver here.

Thank you. Sarah.

Thursday 17 September 2015

Messy and destructive play

It is important for babies and young children to play in ways that are natural to them. Some little ones will carry small toys around in bags and boxes… others will throw everything across the room (often with great accuracy)… some will tip out toy boxes and make a huge mess!

Repeated patterns of play (where little ones do the same thing over and over again) are part of how children learn – their learning characteristics. The importance of this messy, sometimes quite destructive play might not be clear when you first observe a child tipping out all your toy boxes! However, children are learning by being destructive and we need to support their play –
• Provide resources that can be tipped without anyone getting hurt
• Remove excess resources from the room to make the play manageable
• Keep the floor clear for the child to explore
• Explain to the older children how the little one is learning and make tidying up fun for everyone.

When tipping out containers the little one is developing fine and gross motor skills (Physical Development – moving and handling) and finding out about, for example –
• Cause and effect
• Object permanence
• Weight
• Capacity
Once empty, the container might be a hat or a boat. The child might simply enjoy tipping rather than doing anything with the container – if you sit alongside and play with them you can teach them new ways of using the container and the toys they have tipped.

Chunky jigsaw boards carefully set up on the table with animals removed to challenge older children who like to put them together often end up swiped onto the floor by little ones who like to destroy. However, if we sit together with the little one and show them how to lift and replace the pieces they are developing wrist and hand strength and learning about –
• Animals, shapes, fish or whatever is printed on the jigsaw
• Shape – as the child tries to put the pieces back
• Hand-eye coordination
• Spatial awareness
• Patience and self-control – keeping trying rather than giving up

High chair play - we have a couple of little ones who have been through the stage of throwing everything we give them to eat or drink off their high chair tray. We recognise that now is probably not the best time to give them an open cup – but at the same time we are keen to encourage independent eating and parents do not want their child to go home hungry – so we have to find a way of ensuring the child eats and enjoys learning through their play.
We tend to have a rather pragmatic approach to this type of learning – the child needs to throw the object off the chair and look for it so we need to encourage eating by giving them small pieces of food – when the piece has been eaten they are offered more. When they start throwing they are generally full so we remove the food until next meal time.
Young children are learning about –
• Object permanence – the food is there even when it disappears
• Cause and effect
• Distance and speed
• Height and depth

We have a Lego board on a small toddler height table – we often build Lego creations for the younger children to pull apart. They are developing fine and gross motor skills which they will need for writing in the future and –
• Problem solving – as they take things apart
• Learning how things go together
• Exploring shapes and different sizes

Older children love building towers – we show them how to build for the little ones who will take great pleasure in knocking them over. Tell them ‘that’s what babies do – it’s their job – isn’t it fun!’ to encourage their play. When knocking down towers, little ones are developing fine and gross motor skills while learning more about –
• Cause and effect
• Direction as the blocks scatter around the floor
• Playing with other children – the starting points for cooperative play
Play alongside the little one and talk about what is happening as the blocks fall over. Show them how to build the towers themselves.

Our treasure basket has taken years to put together and contains lots of carefully chosen natural resources. I am sure you sympathise with me when I say that my heart drops for a moment when a little one cruises past and tips it over before moving on to tip a few toy boxes into the mix and push everything around with their legs.
This type of messy play is important to the little one who is learning through it and is finding out about –
• Capacity and weight
• Space
• Adult tolerance 

If you set aside spaces for messy play and encourage little ones to help tidy up afterwards, it can be very rewarding to watch them learn and see them happy in their learning. You do need plenty of space to allow them to follow their learning interest – time to let them explore and help them put things away again – patience as you hear your toys being tipped for the nth time – sense of humour as you sing the ‘tidy up song’ again!

You might enjoy reading this blog about decluttering your house and garden … very useful if you have a child or a few children who play in a destructive way.

I hope you find this blog useful. If you have a messy or destructive child you might find it helpful to share with your parents, to reassure them that it's quite normal, their child is learning... and to give them some ideas for extending learning in the future.

Chat soon, Sarah :)

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Supporting children's critical thinking

Conversation cards from Laura Henry

Laura Henry from the Laura Henry Consultancy kindly sent us some question prompt cards for use with our childminded children recently… thank you Laura!

The little box contains 48 cards which have been written to promote ‘Confident Talkers – Conversations for Early Years’.

The aim of the cards is to ‘create conversation for families, schools and organisations’ and ‘assist children to think critically' – linking learning to the characteristics of effective teaching and learning.

I promised Laura that I would blog about the cards once I had used them with the children. We have 4 children in our childminding provision who we think will most benefit from using the cards at the moment – they are aged between 3 and 6 years old.

The cards are colour coded in different groups – you can either work through each colour one after the other or you can mix them up depending on how you want to use them with the children. You might find it useful to spend time looking through the cards before you introduce them to the children so you get to know the type of questions they suggest and think about how you might use them depending on different children’s ages and developmental stages.

Using the cards…

The cards can be used as part of planned or spontaneous play and during one-to-one and group language games to prompt conversation. We chat to children throughout the day and plan a time every day to have a proper conversation with the children – it’s not a ‘circle time’ like they have in school but it is a similar type of session when a practitioner is totally dedicated to a group of children without having to respond to distractions. We are often sitting together at the table eating lunch or tea.

We decided to plan some of our conversation sessions based on the ‘confident talkers’ cards, choosing questions which prompted children to carefully consider their answers … of course, we ask open-ended questions every day during our play but the cards added a different dimension because the children could choose a card each from the pile and then answer the question. The younger children listened to the older ones first and were then keen to join in.

We also thought about when the cards might be useful … and have started choosing a card or two and challenging ourselves to include the open question prompt during children’s play sessions.

You can buy the cards here.

Note - 10% of sales from the cards will be donated to charity. The charity supports young people in Laura’s home country of St Lucia.

Friday 2 January 2015

Childminders and children with absent parents

Childminders are often asked to support children from broken or fractured homes or children who do not live in a ‘traditional’ family unit.

Childminders are in an excellent position to be able to offer a very flexible environment for all children and their families and should constantly reflect on our provisions to ensure we continue to provide a service which is appropriate for the needs of the children in our care at the time.

Families become damaged or fractured for many reasons including having a parent who, for example…
• Is in the armed forces and goes away on tour for extended periods;
• Lives in prison;
• Has died;
• Has left the family home and no longer plays an active part of the child’s life;
• Has left the family home and sees the child every other day on a rota;
• Works away during the week and is only home at weekends;
• Lives a long way away from the family home and wants to be involved but struggles because of distance.

Such living arrangements can cause a lot of challenges both for the parent who is on their own caring for the child and for the child himself. We need to understand the pressures on the child and their family so they can effectively support them through difficult periods.

How children react

When a child is struggling with frequent moves (such as the regular 2 year military deployment cycle) or missing an absent parent, practitioners might notice that they find it hard to appropriately express how they are feeling and either go quiet or act out the upset in their head through behaviour challenges. Similarly, children dealing with the loss of a parent might suddenly cling to the parent who is at home and not want them to leave in the morning or cry and need a cuddle from their key person during the day for no apparent reason.

Many practitioners find that the child is likely to be withdrawn and more overtly emotional as they remember their absent parent and worry about where they are and what they are doing.

Supporting the child

Managing misunderstandings - media reports about war, prison conditions etc can leave children uncertain about what is happening to their absent parent. Plus as we all know children are very good at ear wigging and getting the wrong end of the stick about things that are said around them. The practitioner needs to be alert to such misunderstandings to try and support the child to more fully understand what is happening around him.

Knowing where the absent parent is - it can often help if the child is able to visualise where their absent parent is geographically… working with their families, childminders might help the child to put together photo albums or maps showing where in the country or abroad they are currently living.

Communication - if absent parents are able to send postcards or letters and photographs children should be encouraged to share them with other children in the provision so the child whose parent is away feels special. Children might like to write to their absent parents and this should be encouraged. Little pictures, letters, cards, photos etc can all be sent from the child either by letter or email (with written permission from the resident parent first). If the provision has access to Skype the child might even be able to chat to their absent parent every so often to help them feel closer to home.

Managing grief - if a parent has died or left the family home without warning and is not coming back the child might respond well to grief counselling and this should always be advised. Meanwhile practitioners can support the child by finding out what the resident parent says has happened so everyone tells the same story. There are books and other resources available which might be useful and practitioner bereavement training is recommended.

Being sensitive - there are, as discussed earlier, a lot of reasons why parents might be absent from home. One of these is that they might have been sent to prison. If this happens to a child’s parent in the provision you might need to consider carefully how you tackle certain subjects. For example, if you are doing a ‘people who help us’ theme it is possible the child and their family will not have positive feelings about the police service!

Developing emotional vocabulary - the practitioner needs to spend time working with the child to develop his emotional vocabulary so he can say how he feels. This will support him to speak and role play rather than exhibit unwanted behaviours.

Being honest - most of all practitioners need to be honest within the child’s level of understanding – their absent parent loves them very much but because of circumstances / their job / their relationship etc they cannot be here at the moment. The child needs to understand that the parent is not absent because of something they have done or said.

Role play - one of the best ways of supporting children is through role play which helps them to make sense of what is happening around them. Children should be encouraged to dress up and take on various personas in their play. By doing this they will act out different roles and scenarios and work things out in their heads.

Physical and war related role play

If children are from a military background practitioners might find they want to role play their father or mother’s work and might appear with toy guns or services related small world toys. Having worked with children for many years I would also say that some of them can make guns out of just about anything if they are that way inclined, including their fingers and a couple of pieces of Lego™ joined together.

Each childminder needs to reflect on their own feelings about allowing children to role play using toys which can reflect the violence in our world. Plus, of course, you need to consider where the line will be drawn – are water guns ok? What about ‘Star Wars’ figures or characters linked to popular children’s films? How about if the children want to play pirates – are knives and cutlasses ok?

This is an interesting article from which will help you with your decision making.

Family reactions to separation

Families react to separations (divorce, death, working away from the home etc) in different ways. For example, research has shown that if parents have warning that they are going to leave the family home, maybe for a prison sentence or if there is a divorce pending, before the parent goes away they might start to withdraw from family life as they mentally prepare for the trials ahead. This may cause young children to think they have done something wrong… why is mummy or daddy not responding to them in the same way as they did before?

Similarly practitioners might find that children are being told stories by separated and divorced parents which are causing them upset. Some children are used as puppets in such situations and practitioners might find, temporarily, that their provision is the only safe haven the child has during the week.

Supporting children’s families

As childminders we are aware that it is not only the children who need ongoing support… we are often used as sounding boards by parents as well and the childminder / parent relationship can often become blurred as emotions run high. The parent left at home might be struggling or not coping as well as normal because of financial or other worries which will make the situation even harder.

Childminders are in a very difficult position – parents come into our homes and trust us to care for their children. They also have to tell us various personal details so that we can understand how to look after their child. At the same time, many childminders find that parents lean on them quite heavily in times of family crisis, sometimes expecting them to take sides.

While we strive to be flexible, an hour of heated or upset discussion at the end of a busy day, a third late paid invoice, a trying day with a difficult and very upset child followed by a parent who doesn’t appear to want to go home … can cause them serious family issues themselves!

It is important to remain as professional as possible. The childminder needs to ask the child’s family what s/he can do to support them and understand that they miss their absent partners too… they might appreciate someone to talk to or a shoulder if they are feeling a bit tearful.

However, at the same time, a certain professional distance must be maintained and the childminder must never take sides in a family argument.

Sharing information with absent family members

Newsletters, photos of the child at play and information from daily diaries / developmental notes can be emailed. Children’s art work can be scanned (by the children if they are old enough) and sent to absent parents and children can use the internet to chat with their absent parents (as appropriate).
However, before this happens the childminder must have written permission from the child’s resident parent and must be registered with the information Commissioners Office ( before information is shared electronically.

If the parent returns

Some parents are not going to come back. Words like ‘gone away’ and ‘with the angels’ do not help a child whose parent has died to understand that he is not coming back. I have talked about death in a previous blog here.

Similarly, parents who have left the home for a lengthy prison stay or who have moved across the country after a divorce will be less visible in their lives and in some cases might never return.

When / if the parent does come back there will be a huge rush of emotion and excitement, perhaps tinged with the worry that they are likely to go away again. The absent parent may find that they struggle to adapt to the new family routine which can cause further upset to all concerned.

There are agencies to support parents and their families and childminders should keep the details handy. Many childminders have an ‘information file for parents’ or similar folder which contains leaflets about local support services and a list of relevant books and agencies which might be useful. More information and advice can be found –
• Benefits advice from AdviceUK.
• Benefits for forces personnel from
• Citizens Advice Bureau .
• For children whose fathers are deployed contact SSAFA or the Royal British Legion.