Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Jury Service and childminders

Everyone aged between 18 and 70 (soon to be raised to 75) in England is eligible for jury service. Many people see it as an honour to be called for jury service and will love the opportunity to see first hand how the court system works.

However, some childminders will be concerned about the impact of taking 2 or more weeks off work - on their own families, on the children for whom they care and their families and on their income.
Everyone who is called for jury service will receive a letter informing them that they can apply for discretionary excusal and, if you have a good enough reason, then you might be excused.

If you do not want to take part in jury service, you should fill in the form giving your reasons for why you would like an excusal and send it back to the Jury Central Summoning Bureau as quickly as possible.

Reasons for excusal might include -
• You have a holiday booked (and paid for)
• You have an operation scheduled / you would be recovering from an operation during the weeks when you have been called / your child is scheduled for an operation and there is no one else available to care for them
• You have an academic exam due
• You are pregnant and have severe morning sickness / you are due to give birth at the time of the jury service / you are breastfeeding a small baby
• Your child has a serious medical condition such as diabetes and you would struggle to find a childcarer who could administer medication through the day
• It would severely disrupt the care of your own children because they are very young - you might not have a partner or your partner might not be able to take time off work to care for your children
• You are sole carer for an elderly relative - a job which you combine with your childminding. The relative would have to go into a home, your own children would need to be sent to a childcarer and all this combined with the disruption to your childminded children and families and the loss of income from childminding would leave you in serious financial trouble - for example, you would not be able to pay the mortgage or bills
• You childmind for lots of children every day whose parents will struggle to find alternative care. If possible, ask parents to give you a letter which you can send along with your form explaining the impact you being called for jury service will have on them and their children.
• You childmind for disabled / SEN or other disadvantaged children and it will be a huge upheaval for them if they have to go elsewhere
• You have a stress related medical condition which you manage while childminding but which you are very worried will recur if you have to go through the worry of sending your own children to a childminder and re-organising 5 / 6 / 7 childminded children with other childcarers for an unlimited period of time
• Outcomes for the your own and the childminded children will be severely affected by the children being split up and sent to lots of different childcarers
• You have a medical condition, for example a bad back which means that you are unable to sit all day. You manage this while childminding but you are very concerned about the effect it will have on you if you have to sit in a jury box
• You live in a rural area and alternative childcare options for parents to access are very limited
• You have spoken to childminder colleagues who live nearby and none of them have enough vacancies to take a family of 2 / 3 children. Parents will find it difficult and children will find it traumatic if they have to be split up between different childcarers
• It will be very difficult to re-settle 5 / 6 / 7 (or more) children back into your care if you have to take a lot of weeks off - maybe you only ever have 2 weeks off a year because you value continuity of care for the children very highly
• It is against your religion to judge another person - the bible states, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged’ (Matthew 7 verse 1)
• Jury service can continue for many weeks and this will affect you very seriously financially as you are a single parent / your family cannot survive without your childminding income
Note - there is some funding available if you have to use a childminder for your own children while you are on jury service so you cannot use lack of funds to pay for a childminder as a reason for excusal.

If they refuse to excuse you...
If you are refused excusal, you have the right to appeal. In some cases childminders are asked when they can attend - and have no alternative but to offer to do jury service on the weeks they have taken as holiday so their partners are at home to look after their own children.
If you are again refused excusal, you will have to attend - you can be fined up to £1000 if you refuse.

Claiming back expenses
If you do have to attend jury service, there is some financial remuneration available, but Government payments are capped. You might be able to claim -
• Reasonable travel expenses (not parking)
• Food costs - either from a canteen or a reasonable amount to eat elsewhere
• Loss of earnings - this payment is capped (currently at £64.95 a day for over 4 hours service). If you have to stay on jury service for longer than 2 weeks the amount increases.
Some childminders have been asked to take proof of earnings to the court service and have been paid based on these - however, available information suggests that this has changed. The court service will help you to claim your full amount. You can find more information about claiming here

Insurance and expenses
If you are insured by Morton Michel your policy (underwritten by DAS) states, ‘We will pay the attendance expenses of an insured person for jury service’ (page 20).
Morton Michel childminder insurance schedule

Attendance expenses are stated to be, ‘The insured person’s salary or wages for the time that the insured person is off work to attend any arbitration, court or tribunal hearing at the request of the representative or while attending jury service. DAS will pay for each half or whole day that the court, tribunal or the insured person’s employer will not pay for.‘ (page 32).

As childminders are not employed - but this statement is part of the insurance schedule for childminders - I suggest that you contact Morton Michel for further information.

For more advice you can contact the Jury Central Summoning Bureau - 0207 202 6800.

You can also find more information here -

This is not a statement of law I am simply sharing best practice. You should always contact the jury service direct for clarification. Blog information can go out of date.


Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Unsupervised children, childminders and Ofsted

EYFS 2012 requirement 3.27 states - ‘Children must usually be within sight and hearing of staff and always within sight or hearing.’ The EYFS framework covers the legal requirements for all early years providers who care for children from birth to starting year 1 at school.

The Childcare Register (legal requirements from birth to 17) does not contain legislation about leaving children unsupervised and there are no laws which state the minimum age at which a child can be left unaccompanied. However, the NSPCC states that ‘it is an offence to leave a child alone when doing so puts the child at risk.’

To clarify the age of a ‘child’, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that a child ‘means every human being below the age of 18 years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier’.

I have recently been asked to support 2 childminders from different areas of the country who have received safeguarding actions from Ofsted inspectors who judged them to have left children unsupervised because they have not kept children within sight and hearing at all times -

• One childminder was actioned during her inspection because she let one child outside to play and then changed another child’s nappy inside the house - the inspector said that the child playing outside was not within her sight (and was unlikely to be within her hearing) at all times.

• One childminder was actioned as the result of a complaint because, during a visit to the park, someone informed Ofsted she did not have all the children in her hearing (and possibly sight) because they ran off to play.

A further inspection outcome has come to light recently where the childminder went to the toilet during her Ofsted inspection and the inspector was unhappy that the children were left unsupervised during this time - she said that the childminder should have taken the children with her.

If we are honest, there might well be lots of times when children are quite possibly out of our sight and / or hearing during the day - when we go to the toilet or take another child to the toilet is probably the most common, but also (obviously depending on the layout of your house and garden) -

• Outings to the park when children run off in all directions
• Essential jobs - taking a nappy outside / making a drink / preparing food / answering the door etc while the children are in the playroom
• Leaving the table to get something from the kitchen while children are eating
• Going inside / taking a child to the toilet while other children are playing in the garden
• Taking a child upstairs for nap time or checking a sleeping child upstairs
• Changing nappies if the nappy changing area is in a separate part of the house
• Children moving around the house while you are playing with others
• Taking children into school / pre-school / nursery
• Children sleeping in the garden or a quiet room.

While written risk assessments are no longer a requirement of the EYFS 2012, it is strongly recommended that you still have them. I suggest you think through the times when children might be unattended and, where possible, put controls in place to stop it happening. For example -

• Toilet breaks - personally I do not feel it is acceptable to take children to the toilet. This would be totally unacceptable for a male childminder and most female childminders feel exactly the same. We must not accept discrimination and if this is suggested by an Ofsted inspector I would challenge it very strongly. I make sure older children are occupied, pop any babies or small children in a travel cot or securely in the buggy and go very quickly to the toilet. The children know where I am and we usually sing a song together while I am briefly out of their sight. I can hear the children at all times so I am meeting the requirements of the EYFS.

• Taking a child upstairs to sleep - this is not usually recommended by Fire Safety Officers because, if there is an emergency situation such as a fire, you would have to leave the child in the upstairs room while leaving the house with the other children. However, if you have received different advice or if your risk assessment shows this to be safe in your home and you do take a child upstairs then you must consider the safety of children who are still downstairs. You might feel that it would be safest to take everyone upstairs with you - or you might have a combination of children which mean you can put one in a travel cot with some age appropriate toys for a few moments.

• Leaving the table while children are eating - you must never leave children unattended while eating. If you have to get up to, for example, collect something from the kitchen you should remove plates from in front of the children, check they are secure on their chairs and make sure their mouths are empty before you go. I would recommend you ignore the door and other distractions during meal times so that all children are well supervised.

• Outings to the park - we have all been there - we arrive at the park and the children gallop off in all directions while you are struggling to get the buggy through the gate or the baby out of the pram. Visits to the park must be carefully risk assessed to make sure you are absolutely certain you can manage your ratios safely while keeping children in your sight and / or hearing at all times. You must consider a ‘lost child’ scenario at each park you visit and it is good practice to write a risk assessment which also covers how you monitor children - high visibility vests or matching colourful shirts / coats are popular among childminders.

If you have any concerns about leaving children unattended / unsupervised I suggest you ask your colleagues on the Childminding Forum or Independent Childminders Facebook group for more advice.

I am sure someone will have experienced a similar scenario!

Sarah / Knutsford Childminding

Friday, 4 October 2013

Listening to children

I was prompted to write this blog after a discussion with another childminder. She was concerned about a child and asked me, 'how do you know what they are thinking?'

It made me stop for a moment and consider her question - little ones, especially before they can communicate effectively, often struggle to tell us what they are thinking.

We need to clue into their non verbal communications and it is very important that we are always aware of what they are saying to us.

So... a new blog was born! Catchily entitled... listening to children

It is important that children are given opportunities throughout their time with you to voice their thoughts, feelings, emotions and concerns … and that they are listened to and acknowledged when they do tell you things that are important to them.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) states that ‘a child’s opinion should be taken into account on anything that affects them’ and the EYFS 2012 and Development Matters guidance all tell us that we must listen to children and involve them in decisions which affect them.

Some practitioners get confused about how to manage this - they wonder if it means they have to ask children if they want their nappies changing … and not change them if the child runs away! Respectful, listening care means that we do ask children, when we can see they are not busy (not in the middle of a very important game) if we can take them to change their nappy and we do listen to their reply and explain that they need a clean nappy so they are comfortable and do not get sore… and then we lead them gently and respectfully to the nappy changing area and allow them to dictate the type of change they want - quick and efficient because they are busy or longer with a favourite song because they want some one-to-one interaction time with an adult.

It is not enough to write an annual questionnaire and give it to the older children… listening and respecting children’s opinions is about your day-to-day interactions and the ways you support every child - even little babies - to feel that they are an important part of your provision.

Think about the following scenarios and how you react to the babies / children involved -

• Baby is screaming constantly and you don’t know how to help him. He doesn’t seem to improve whether you hold him or put him down - what do you do? How do you best meet his needs? Do you ask yourself whether he is in the right provision to meet his needs or do you struggle on because you need the money? What do you tell parents - that he has been a bit clingy or the truth?

... Baby is telling you that he is not happy and that his emotional needs are not being met… your response if you listen to him needs to be calm and reassuring, letting him cry when he needs to express his emotions and maybe using a sling to keep him close. You should also be working closely with parents and finding out how he is handled at home - maybe a home visit would be useful?

• Toddler is running around the house and your rules say ‘we walk inside’. You have asked him time and time again to walk and you are getting frustrated…

... You need to ask yourself whether you are meeting his needs fully by asking him to walk. Would you be better getting him in his coat and shoes and encouraging him to play outside so he can run around until he has worked the need to run out of his system?

• You are getting 2 children ready for an outing to the park when 1 of them says that he does not want to go. Do you ignore him, knowing he will be happy when he gets there? Do you stop what you are doing and sit and talk to the children to try and elicit more information from him about why he does not want to go? Do you speak to parents and find out when he last went, what might be stopping him wanting to go etc? Do you still go on the outing - regardless of his wishes?

... Children usually have a good reason for saying ‘no’ they don’t want to do something. They might be tired after a later than usual night or disturbed sleep … or they could be hungry, feeling a little ill, remembering a bad experience last time they went to the park etc. We are responsible for keeping them safe and ensuring their mental health as well as physical so we need to consider whether we are doing the right thing if we ‘jolly them along’ and take them when they have said ‘no’.

• An older child is trying to do some jigsaws and struggling. He needs help and asks you to show him where a piece goes. Do you sit with him and show him how to start the jigsaw properly by looking for corner pieces? Or do you ask him how he is doing the jigsaw and chat about strategies he might use to find where the pieces go by himself, encouraging him to use his knowledge about size, direction, colour and shape?

... It is very important to listen carefully to what a child is saying to you and respond appropriately to their questions and concerns. It is very easy for us to use our experience and knowledge to take over their games and lead their play - but often this just puts a child off asking in the future because we disturbed them and they didn’t want us do more than answer the specific question.

• You are organising a game of ‘follow the leader’ and one child always pushes to the front and wants to take control of the game. You are worried that if the child is not allowed to go first he will have a tantrum (this has happened before) … but you are also aware that it is not fair on the other children who have to wait their turn every time. How do you support all the children in this type of situation? What games can you play / what activities can you introduce to help them take turns and share more effectively? In a similar situation, you are sitting reading with a group of children and asking them questions to check their understanding of the book. One child constantly shouts out the answers while another child is quiet and rarely responds. How do you ensure both children are given opportunities to have their voice heard?

... In this sort of scenario, the child who is pushing forward and shouting out needs someone to listen to them and reflect on why they need to be first … working with parents is normally a good place to start in situations like this.

• You are feeding the children when one child pushes his plate away / spits out food he ate yesterday / refuses to eat his sandwich (and you know he likes it). You know that his parents don’t give him any more food at home if they think he is being ‘silly’ with his food. You also know that the child’s nutritional needs will not be met if you do not feed him.

... Childminders are not responsible for making rules about what happens when a child does not eat - and we are not allowed to starve a child! The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) is clear that children have a right to food. It is a good idea to have a little store of food that you know children like that is also nutritious and healthy so you can offer it if they refuse their main meal - we always give children the option of a toastie or sandwich, milky drink or water and yoghurt plus fruit to follow if they dislike something we have made them. While not a perfect meal, they are getting their necessary food groups - and we are respectfully acknowledging that their tastes change and they can sometimes be picky and we understand that they are trying to tell us something when they refuse the food we offer - rather than trying to be difficult.

I hope this gives you just a few examples of how listening to children will help you to manage your provision and time with the children just a little better. I am sure the majority of childminders use these techniques, but it is good to reflect on practice sometimes and ask yourself if you can improve the ways you work. I know I have learned a lot researching to write this blog!

You can find out more about listening to children in e-book 44 from my Knutsford Childminding website.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Socket covers and Ofsted

Following up on my commitment to answer questions asked by childminders, here is some information about socket covers which you can use if challenged during your Ofsted inspection...

Ofsted state that they ‘neither recommend nor criticise the use of socket covers by childcare providers’.

Ofsted’s remit is to check that the environment in which childcare is provided is safe and meets legal requirements and they state that it is the childminders responsibility to have a risk assessment policy and procedures and risk assessments (which do not necessarily need to be in writing) in place.

If you choose not to use socket covers because you have read about the concerns over their safety you should inform your Ofsted inspector about how you keep children safe without socket covers in place.

If the inspector criticises your decision you should refer them to their own literature - Early Years magazine Sept 2011.

...and to the Fatally Flawed website for further information.

You might find it helpful to read the Fatally Flawed website when writing your risk assessment. You can include references to the Fatally Flawed website and research data to back up your arguments.

You will also find a sample socket cover policy which you can adopt, changing it as necessary to suit your provision.

Note that from September 2012 the revised EYFS does not require childminders to have written risk assessments. However, this is causing a lot of problems because Ofsted inspectors are looking for risk assessments in writing - and childminders are finding it difficult to provide evidence of what they do when they are trying to manage children’s needs in a busy household while answering an inspector’s questions.

I strongly recommend you continue to have a set of written risk assessments for the environment (inside and outside) and covering any outings you go on with the children.

This free document will give you lots of information about writing risk assessments.

You can find out more about Ofsted expectations, including the requirement for a written risk assessment policy and procedures, here.

... and in this Childminding Forum thread .

If you have any questions about socket covers or risk assessments please ask!

Chat soon, Sarah x

Friday, 6 September 2013

Weekly planning and childminders

A lot of childminders ask me how to write weekly planning - how much is enough? What should it include?

Weekly individual planning is easy! It is your individual / next steps / possible lines of development (PLODS) planning and you will already have it in place for every child. You do it every time you follow a child’s observed interests and learning styles with a variety of new and / or exciting activities and experiences which you know they will enjoy. You do it automatically as part of your practice. You also note each child’s characteristics of their learning, so that you are sure the activities and experiences you are offering are tailored to meet their needs.

Writing it down is easy - just make general notes (some in advance and some later) about what you have provided for the child to do. You can then follow it up with the odd observation to show that the child is learning from the activities and experiences you have planned. Job done!

Group activities can also be used to extend a child’s learning and development and are very important to support children with learning to make friends, communicate with others, listen, develop confidence, play games etc - all essential skills for establishing the prime areas of learning and starting school. You can share information with parents about their child’s engagement in group activities in their Learning Journey file by using photos and observations to note the fun they have had.

How much group planning to write down? It’s up to you but I would not suggest you go into a lot of detail about something that might not happen! After all, children’s needs and interests will change through the week and your planning must be flexible enough to allow this. If you have spent most of Sunday coming up with a complicated plan and they don’t want to play, you will feel resentful and stop enjoying your job - so you have to make sure your workload is manageable.
Some retrospective planning is fine if you write it soon afterwards, so you don’t forget what you did and how the children learned and reacted to the activities.

Sharing information with parents can be tricky, especially if they are not able to spend time talking to you during the week due to work or family pressures or they do not understand the importance of their child’s time in your provision.

The revised EYFS (2012) makes it clear that all parents must be involved in their child’s time with you… and that you need to offer ideas to support children’s learning at home which you will do through the child’s Learning Journey or daily diary. Sharing details about your weekly planning will be essential for showing evidence of how you inform parents about the activities and experiences their child if given the opportunity to engage with while they are in your care.

Many childminders pin an ‘activities and experiences this week’ document to their notice board and point it out to parents on their first day of the week. This type of notice board planning should be kept brief because plans will change depending on the children’s moods and to ensure you are flexible and complementing their time spent elsewhere.

Other childminders put information about each child’s planned activities and experiences in their daily diary booklets or send a weekly email to parents - this can work well as long as you remember to ask them for feedback - what has their child said about the activities at home? How have they used the information you have given them to extend their child’s home learning etc?

Remember you are offering a range of activities and experiences through the week. This does not mean that every piece of equipment and every game needs to be out each day. Nor does it mean that children’s every move needs to be documented!! Just make general notes - they will build up over the months to show the child is making progress.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Daily outside play and childminders

Do you take the children outside every day, whatever the weather - or do you say you offer every child the opportunity to go outside and then let the children make a decision based on how they are feeling during the day?

There is absolutely no expectation for childminders to keep their doors open throughout the day - in fact, if you think about it, free flow play when an adult is not always outside with the children might not be safe. It can also be very difficult to ensure educational outcomes for children if they are playing outside without adult supervision - so many childminders have a ‘one out, all out’ policy.

This can make things difficult again because some children might not want to go outside at the same time as others - so it is important to find a balance that works for you. Most childminders find that a daily ‘outside after nap time’ or ‘outside after morning snack’ expectation will usually motivate the children to see what is happening in the garden, especially if there are toys and games outside that they enjoy using.

Parents need to provide appropriate clothes of course and this can be a battle for some childminders. It can be helpful to keep old clothes and wellies for children to wear during outside play - it doesn’t matter if they get wet and dirty if they are old and children’s clothes will be protected. We always ask that children come dressed in play clothes and keep a set here in case they wanted to wear their best fairy dress or Superman costume to show us.

Before any outside planning is done, you should complete your risk assessment to take account of, for example -
• The play areas
• The flooring surfaces
• Standing water
• Trees, bushes and plants
• Toys and games
• The shed and other storage
• Weather conditions
• Children’s illnesses
• Clothing available
• Drink provision
• Fence and gate security
• Age and stage of development of each child - what does each child in the provision need in place to enable them to play safely outside?

Once you have the basics in place - a commitment to go outside, a risk assessment and appropriate clothing the next step is to think about what each child enjoys doing at the moment.

Planning outside play

The best and most important planning you will do in your provision is individual, based on each child’s likes, dislikes and current interests. This planning, often called ‘next steps’ will normally be in writing, but you do not need to write reams of information - a quick overview will be enough.

- Jane likes birds - so you put some binoculars and a bird spotting sheet outside for her

- Jack enjoys digging - you will set up the digging tools for him

- John loves doing rubbings - provide him with paper and rubbing crayons outside and show him how to rub the trees, leaves, floor, walls etc.

Alongside your individual planning, you will have some group planning / activity ideas for all the children. These will be based around your continuous provision resources - the toys and games you always have available for all the children to use. Of course, the children do not need everything out at once!

You might plan different experiences for them through the week, for example -

Creative experiences - July - week 1
• Monday - singing outside songs
• Tuesday - decorating CDs for a display
• Wednesday - drawing butterflies
• Thursday - dancing
• Friday - painting

Physical experiences - July - week 1
• Monday - bikes
• Tuesday - bats and balls
• Wednesday - obstacle course
• Thursday - hopscotch
• Friday - balancing beams

Outside play allows children to experience the weather and the changing seasons, so when you are planning the first thing to do is look outside...

• Wind - flying kites, running like the wind, making windmills; reading ‘The Windy Day’ by Anna Milbourne and learning the poem ‘The north wind doth blow’;
• Rain - catching raindrops, counting rain, making rain pictures in puddles; reading ‘Splosh’ by Mick Inkpen and acting out songs such as ‘Rain, rain go away’ and ‘Doctor Foster’;
• Sun - making sunshines with yellow paint, drying dolls clothes, watching water disappear; singing ‘The sun has got his hat on’ and other sunny day songs;
• Fog - making foggy day pictures, watching your breath, playing hide and seek;
• Cold - playing with ice in warm water, exercises and dance to keep warm;
• Snow - catching snowflakes and bubbles, cutting snowflakes out of circles of paper, reading ‘The Snowy Day’ by Anna Milbourne.

For more information about outside play planning, please see e-book 6 from Knutsford Childminding.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Developmentally appropriate next steps - early years

A lot of childminders are getting Ofsted inspection actions related to next steps planning, so I thought I might have a look at them in a little more detail.

Next steps = individual planning - plods (possible lines of development). They are the steps a child might take to move their learning and development on.

A lot of next steps happen automatically as the child gets older - they go from lying to rolling to crawling or shuffling to standing to walking OR they go from nappies to recognising when they have done a wee to the potty to the toilet.
Other next steps might take a bit of practice - doing a jigsaw, sharing a toy, using scissors carefully, holding a pencil using a tripod grip etc.

Next steps usually follow on from observations of something the child is doing or saying at home, in the provision with you, in other settings, with granny etc.

For example...
• Observation - child A is sitting on his bike
• Assessment - links to physical development and suggests the child might be ready to learn to pedal
• Next steps - give lots of opportunities to use the bike, plenty of time and space and encourage pedalling
This is a long term next steps planning - it will not happen overnight.

Another example...
• Observation - child B does a painting of straight lines. The child likes straight lines - you know that from other observations
• Assessment - the child might well be learning using a trajectory (straight line) schema. This links to the characteristics of their learning and to physical development because trajectory schema children are normally very physical and climb, jump, run etc
• Next steps - provide other resources to promote the schema such as things to throw, bikes to ride up and down the path etc
This is a short term ‘next steps’ - you are quickly responding to a child’s interest. Why not write some of the things the child is doing on a sheet to share his schema with parents?

Another example...
Observation - mum says the child C has been to the zoo at the weekend. He arrives clutching a toy lion from the zoo shop
Assessment - the child is really into zoo animals after his weekend adventure. Link it to understanding the world probably... maybe communication and language if he is making animal noises
Next steps - out comes the farmyard or zoo, read ‘Dear Zoo’, make some animal masks etc. All the things you will plan to follow the child’s interests.

You do these things every day - yet a lot of childminders over-think them trying to put them down on paper. It is important to remember that they are not meant to be complicated...
The child does / says something - what might the child enjoy doing next?
Use your knowledge of the child’s learning characteristics to support them where possible... and don’t forget to come back to the next steps planning in a little while and add some evidence that the child has achieved as a result of your planning.

For example...
Child A - come back to your next steps planning in a few weeks or months, maybe with a photo of the child pedalling or some notes from home to say he has just ridden his bike by himself.
Child B - add the sheet of trajectory schema ideas and some photos you shared with parents
Child C - help the child to make a little photo diary of his visit to the zoo and pop a photo of it in his file before he takes it home.

Ofsted want to see clear individual planning for each child, re-visited regularly to show that you are helping the child to make good progress. They want to know that parents are involved in providing you with and supporting their child’s next steps.

Individual planning is the most important planning you can do. If you don’t write it down, you must be prepared to explain it in depth to an Ofsted inspector on the day of your inspection.

If you would like help with any areas of provision - if you have been given an inspection action you do not understand - if you are unsure about how to use a piece of paper your Local Authority has given you - don’t sit and worry about it! Please ask!

Sarah x

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Schemas in the early years

Do you ever wonder why a child lines up their toys... seems fascinated by things that go round and round... hides repeatedly under blankets and in boxes... throws everything round the room?

What you are probably seeing is a child learning through a schema. A schema is a repeated pattern of behaviour. I first found out about schemas in 2009 when I attended some training and researched about schemas for my e-book 32. I have been totally fascinated by them ever since!

Some of the most common schemas include -

• Transporting - the child carries toys around and loves sitting in a buggy so you can push him around the house and garden;

• Trajectory - usually spotted when a child simply cannot stop throwing - everything they can get their hands on is lobbed around the room. They will normally love water play as well;

• Enveloping / enclosure - the child covers themselves or their toys with blankets and hides in things; linked very closely to enclosure schemas where children draw borders round their work or prefer to be within a boundary made with cushions or boxes;

• Assembling / disassembling - lining things up (toy animals, trains, cars), putting them together and taking them apart;

• Rotation - pictures in paint and crayon show lots of circles and the child can often be found spinning themselves or toys round and round;

• Scattering - children are not being ‘naughty’ when they throw contents of sand trays or toy boxes in every direction. They are learning through a scattering schema and will appreciate you providing lots of baskets of bits and bobs which they can tip out and move around on the floor with their hands or legs;

• Orientation - the child looks at things from different angles eg upside down, through their legs, sideways etc.

Once you have observed and recognised that a child is learning through a schema (not all children use schemas to learn so you need to spot it a few times first), you can share information about how they are learning through their play with parents and research to find lots of ideas for follow on activities that their child might enjoy.

I write little information sheets in parent friendly language when I spot a child exploring a new schema and give them to parents. They contain a little bit of information about the schema I have observed, photos of the child learning through their new schema (I find that parents will engage better if they are asked to read something that features photos of their child!) and some ideas for extension activities to develop the schema further.

Do you want to find out more? You can...

• Download this document from Leicestershire Early Years -;

• Borrow a copy of ‘Again Again’ by Sally Featherstone from the library or local Children’s Centre;

• Look at the lovely pictures on my friend Lucy’s website -;
• Print this illustrated sheet to put into your Learning Journey files and share with parents -;

• Buy e-book 32 ‘Schemas’ for £3.99 from

Enjoy schema spotting! Sarah x

Friday, 9 August 2013

Labelling toy boxes and Ofsted

A number of childminders have complained to me recently that they have been told by Ofsted inspectors to label their toy boxes. They say ‘we are working from our own homes... these are our children’s toys... we don’t want labels all over our houses.’

There are 2 ways of looking at this action from Ofsted...

1. It is not a requirement of the EYFS 2012 to label toy boxes and you could argue that it is an inappropriate action... or maybe that too much print turns children off learning... or maybe that your husband says 'no, absolutely not' to labels in his home.

2. You could think about what the inspector is actually saying and how you can enhance your play areas to improve children’s access to print. Ofsted want to see a ‘print rich environment’. It’s not really about labelling toy boxes - it is about how you promote literacy in your house and garden.

There are many different ways you can provide a print rich environment without labels. Most of them can be taken down at the weekend or during holidays.

Here are some examples...

• Alphabet - put one up on the wall or on a window for the children to see; print and laminate one for the drawing box. Make sure the children recognise the pictures - they have to mean something to them or the poster will be ignored.

• Name labels - print and laminate a label for each child with their name typed out in Comic Sans font. Use about 48 point size so children can copy it when they are learning to write. Include their photo or a picture they have chosen so the label is personalised for them.

• Pegs or shelves - if the child has a peg or shelf where they put their bag, shoes and coat, put a label on it with their name so they know it is their space.

• Register - when children arrive in the morning, help them to register by putting their name card onto an ‘I am here’ poster or put some photos with their name underneath near a laminated ‘welcome’ board. Some childminders have a ‘registration sheet’ which children use to sign in every morning. It is displayed for the day and then goes into the recycling - with a few copies saved to show how well children are making progress in their writing. If you write their name they can sign in underneath and copy the letter shapes.

• Books - put books with different resources. For example, make some menus and recipe cards to laminate and go in your cooking box; add books about numbers to your maths resources; put magazines in a box so children can read them independently; display some books forward facing so children can select them from the title.

• Clipboards and paper are great for taking mark making outside. Add interesting pieces of paper to the clipboard, attach a pencil and put words outside on the fence and near toys so children can copy them. For example, the children could help you to decorate and laminate pictures of butterflies, birds, snails and other outside inspired things and add a name label so the children make links between the picture and the word.

• Signs - nobody is asking you to put ‘window’ on your windows! However, signs can be used and made by the children for their games. For example, a window cleaning business can have a ‘we are working here’ A board sign... a role play shop can have an ‘open’ and ‘closed’ sign etc.

• Mark making tables can have pre-printed sheets featuring shapes, words, alphabet, numbers etc which are laminated for longer life.

• Home made books - when you visit the farm, park, soft play or zoo take lots of photos which, when printed, can be used to make a book with the children. This is an excellent way of ensuring your book provision reflects the local community and the children’s home and family lives - for example, you might ask parents if they would like to contribute pictures of home festivals and celebrations so you can make a book for all the children to read.

• Label artwork - when the children have put artwork on the wall ask them what label they want you to add and help them to type and print it.

• Pre-school children might enjoy exploring a ‘letter of the week’ through words, pictures, favourite toys and books.

• Buy or make some posters to display - put them on a board and take them down at the weekend.

• Label your own folders - the children will learn that print has meaning if you talk about finding a folder and look for the correct label. Children’s names and a picture chosen by them or photo will help them to find their own Learning Journey files so they can look through them.

• Use real food boxes in your cooking box - taken from children’s favourite home food and drink as well as things they enjoy while with you - so they learn to associate the labels with the contents.

• Make and put up a birthday display featuring children’s names and their birth month.

• White boards or chalk boards - write and draw something on them for children to copy and to provide inspiration.

• When children are making models, give them some writing paper with squares on it and work together to make a drawing of the model. If you do this regularly it will become part of the children’s normal play routines and they are more likely to do it as part of their play when Ofsted are in the house!

• Rebus rhymes and stories - are great for combining words and pictures to support early reading. Have a look on for lots of ideas.

• Number lines can be made by the children featuring their favourite toys torn from an old catalogue or if you have a laminated number line on an easy to access shelf they can put little toys along it to count.

• Food cartons - empty ones for role play from the cupboard so they are real and things children see in their own homes.

• Some children are auditory (listening) rather than visual (seeing) learners and will enjoy listening to story tapes or CDs. Provide them with headphones, the CDs, a copy of the book to read along with the story as the are listening.

And if you actually want to label toy boxes... for very young children, words alongside good quality pictures work best - you could tie labels to your toy boxes with a short piece of ribbon which can be removed at the weekend if your own children object or you think it looks messy. Some childminders use laminated labels attached to toy boxes with Velcro so they can be removed easily.

I hope this inspires! Chat soon, Sarah x

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Characteristics of a child's learning

Learning dispositions = children's learning styles = schemas in younger children = the ways different children learn = the characteristics of a child’s learning.

Learning dispositions / learning characteristics have always been part of observations and used in planning to make sure we offer activities and experiences we know children will enjoy - and their importance has taken on more prominence for Ofsted.

Learning dispositions are now found in the ‘characteristics of effective learning’ as part of the Development Matters guidance - I know a lot of childminders struggle with them so I thought I would look at them in a little more detail.

Learning dispositions / characteristics are NOT the same as children’s skills and knowledge. I find it useful to think of them as similar to the child’s personality - the ways the child learns. Sometimes they can be positive - the child loves playing in groups and learning from friends; sometimes they might sound a bit negative - the child gives up really quickly when faced with a puzzle or problem.

If you think about your own learning dispositions / characteristics and how you tackle challenges, you will find that you are exactly the same! Are you a leader or follower? Do you start new things with enthusiasm or worry about them? Can you explain yourself verbally or do you prefer to write it down? Do you read books or prefer to listen to spoken versions?

A child’s learning dispositions / characteristics can be used when you are planning. For example -
Child A is an auditory learner, preferring to listen to music using headphones and really enjoying books and other toys that make noises.
Your planning for Child A would be to include different types of stimulation in his environment and to also focus on his love of noise!

Another example -
Child B is learning through a rotation schema. This means that Child B is fascinated with things that go round and round - he can often be seen spinning in circles.
Your planning for Child B will cover all areas of learning and development, as you plan for every child in your provision. However, you would also add some activities for Child B using spinning tops, spinners in the wind etc to follow his particular learning interest / disposition.

I like examples -
Child C gets very upset whenever anything doesn’t go exactly to plan... if he cannot do a jigsaw or climb a wall or run as fast as his friends he has a big meltdown.
You will obviously keep planning challenges for Child C but you will also be aware of his disposition to get upset. You will be prepared to give him some extra support when you know he is in a potentially tricky situation.

One more example...
Child D is a daydreamer. She will quite happily sit and look out of the window, lost in her thoughts.
This is how Child D is learning and we must not rush to stop her from being alone or constantly call her over to join in group games. You will include opportunities for group learning in her day but you will respect her learning dispositions and enjoyment of being alone as well.

Noting learning dispositions / characteristics means watching and listening to the child (observing) and thinking about how the child is learning and interacting with the world around him.
Think about the child’s -
- Self confidence
- Curiosity
- Ability to communicate in a group
- Level of independence
- Resilience when things go wrong
- Concentration
- Level of optimism
- Ability to take risks
- Enjoyment of sensory experiences
- Ability to listen
- Level of wellbeing in the provision, at home and elsewhere - a child with low wellbeing will not use a range of learning dispositions because he will be too unhappy and disrupted internally to engage with what is going on around him.

Developing learning dispositions / characteristics
Our brains are not fixed - we are constantly learning new things - we learn through the experiences we are offered by others and by our own, self motivated learning. Children learn in the same ways and can be supported to enhance their play experiences.

For example, new learning dispositions can be taught. It you work closely with a child (over a period of time) who cannot sit and concentrate for longer than a few moments the child will learn to concentrate on tasks for longer... if you help a child to share and take turns through lots of modelled play and turn taking activities he will learn acceptable behaviour in group situations... if you praise a child for trying as well as succeeding (and don’t make a big thing about failures) he is more likely to want to keep trying...

Learning dispositions cannot be taught in one go! It takes a lot of time, effort and collaboration with home and other settings to support a child to develop the skills they will need to achieve their full potential at school.

However, some learning dispositions will stay with children throughout their lives. Some children might always have a preference for playing on their own even if they are able to tolerate a group with support... some children will always give up on challenges rather than keep trying... some children will be leaders and others will follow... some children will fail if a teacher makes them ‘copy from the board’ but will succeed if the teacher recognises their preferred learning disposition / characteristic and records the information onto a tape!

This is just like the child’s personality - the ways they deal with life. However, while it is up to us to support the child to learn in different ways and we can support dispositions and help to mould a confident, assured child - we cannot change a child’s personality!

Childminders also need to remember that we are not solely responsible for every part of the child’s learning and development experience. We can only work with them during the time available to us. Their dispositions are also shaped by their home, family, community and other setting lives, over which we have no control.

For more information about the characteristics of effective learning please see e-book 59 on my Knutsford Childminding website.

Chat soon, Sarah x

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Ofsted - getting it right first time

Ofsted - Getting it right first time: Achieving and maintaining high-quality early years provision
July 2013

The focus of this document is - getting children ready for school... using the early years to build ‘a secure foundation for future personal and academic success’ (Wilshaw, pg 3). To effectively prepare children for school, all early years providers including childminders must have -
• High expectations for every child
• Strong communication skills
• A good understanding of child development so we know how much young children are capable of doing and so we can support and challenge them
• Clear routines to support children as they develop personally, emotionally, socially, physically and as they learn to communicate with and listen to others
• An excellent understanding of how the 3 prime areas of learning - PSED, physical and communication and language - must be prioritised in the early years and how they make a positive impact on outcomes for children
• Good teaching skills using the EYFS to support children’s learning - we must see ourselves as ‘educators’ (Executive Summary, pg 4)
• Highly skilled and experienced practitioners
Note - the document does not mention the ‘prime’ or ‘specific’ areas of learning or the Development Matters guidance. This is my interpretation of the wording to help other childminders understand what it is saying, so I am using those terms because I know they make sense to my readers.

Staff - the document is not just written for childminders. There is quite a lot of information about staffing throughout the document. A lot of childminders have staff (assistants or co-childminders) so this bit will be relevant to them. Ofsted talk about -
• ‘Teams of well qualified and skilled practitioners who see themselves as educators’ (page 5)
• Rigorous performance management - regular reviews and action plans for improving future practice
• A strong focus on the quality of teaching
• Children making good progress because staff are supporting their learning and development well
• Ongoing staff professional development - induction training, ongoing training and CPD opportunities, staff reviews leading to training provision
• Team meetings focussed on improving teaching skills - are you seeing a theme going on here?
• Self reflection journals for staff
• Observations of staff at work leading to better focused training opportunities
• Formal and informal supervision opportunities
• Management who challenge poor performance and replace staff who cannot do their jobs properly!

Strong leadership - the document talks about too many children not having the ‘knowledge, skills and attitudes’ they need to do well when they start school - and then goes on to look at how high quality provision can provide children with the starting points they need so they achieve in the future.
Ofsted note that there are strong leaders in all settings where children make outstanding progress. A childminder is also a leader of their provision and strong leadership in a childminding provision might include you having -
• Passion for your job and a clear vision for the future
• High expectations for yourself - your professional development (training and CPD) and your action planning for the future
• Strong teaching skills
• High expectations for every child - clear evidence of how you support each child to make good progress in their learning and development from their starting points (the things they could do when they first start in your care)
• Inspired, qualified and motivated staff
• Strong self evaluation - including comments from and views of staff, parents and children. Ofsted talk about children being consulted on how the provision meets their needs and exit interviews when children leave to find out their thoughts about their time in the provision (pg 9)
Strong leaders welcome external support and advice to improve their provision - partnerships with other settings, visits from advisors, quality assurance schemes etc. For childminders, Ofsted acknowledge that links with networks and local support can raise outcomes...

I have written a blog recently about leadership which you might find interesting -

Focus on school readiness - to appropriately teach young children the skills they need to promote school readiness, we need to focus on -
• Prioritising the prime areas of learning for very young children
• Using all 7 areas of learning (although these are not specifically detailed the inference is that all 7 areas are important) for older children
• Ensuring high quality resources are in place to support learning across all 7 areas
• Accurate observations and assessments - to show what children already know -> leading on to focussed teaching opportunities, planned to enhance learning and ensure children do not ‘fall behind’ (pg 11)
• Using a balance of adult led and child initiated activities through the day - so ‘structured teaching opportunities’ (Pg 11) are part of a child’s experience every day
• Adult guided learning - using opportunities during children’s play to extend and guide their learning, develop their language and vocabulary, challenge them etc (pg 11)
• Developing listening skills in children

Self reflection - Ofsted have decided that only a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ inspection grading is good enough and that every practitioner should be supported to gain at least ‘good’ in their inspection. Here are some self reflection questions to ask yourself -
• Do some of your observations focus on specific areas of learning so you can gain an accurate snapshot of what the child can do?
• Does your planning focus on what you want each child to learn? Future learning is also known as ‘learning outcomes’
• Are your questioning skills appropriate to the child’s play? Have you picked the right time to ask a question? Does the question encourage conversation and shared thinking?
• Do you visit other settings and practitioners and bring back ideas and inspiration to use with your children? Do you encourage other practitioners to visit you and do the same for them? Do you record your visits - and how they have improved your practice - in your personal self evaluation or the Ofsted SEF?
• Do you track each child’s progress regularly - and is tracking done well so you can see how children are making progress and what they need to work on next?
• Do you consult with parents regularly and agree ways to support the child to achieve more in the future?
• What do you do if a child is struggling in one or more areas of learning? How well do you support them to develop their skills and knowledge?
• How well do you involve parents in their child’s learning and development journey? How well do you share information about the EYFS, their child’s routine and experiences... and how well do you continue sharing this information?
How can you improve in the future?

More good practice guides worth reading -

My action planning
As a result of reading and reflecting on this document, I have recognised 2 gaps in my already outstanding provision that I intend working on over the coming weeks.

1. Benefitting from visits to other providers
I regularly visit other provisions including childminders and my local Children’s Centre but I do not record what I have learned from the visits and how they have supported my practice.

My thoughts for the future - I will look at how I can record this information and include it in my SEF (I use the Ofsted document). I will include a very simple form in my CPD file which notes -

Date -
Visit to - childminder / Children’s Centre / local Nursery / other...
Good practice shared -

2. Observing all areas of learning
How do I ensure every child is making good progress across each of the 7 areas of learning? Do my observations accurately reflect each child’s progress, at any one time in, for example, communication and language - listening or PSED - behaviour?

I tend to write my observations as they happen over the month and on reflection it is possible I might be missing important information about a child’s overall learning. For example, I might not have spotted that they are not making good progress in their communication development because the child has been demonstrating so many new skills in physical development recently that I have been too busy writing those down instead of looking at the bigger picture.

My thoughts for the future - one way to record this is to have a sheet for each area of learning with some observation prompts across the top. I have written some helpful observation prompts for each area of learning here -

I will set myself a challenge to note an observation from each of the areas of learning every ... say ... 3 months for a part-time child / more regularly for a full-timer.
I will use the observations when I am planning for the child’s future learning. I will think about what the observations tell me (assess) and then focus on how I can, along with parents and other settings, work together to support the child to make sure they are not lagging behind.

My personal, social and emotional development
My name is -
My date of birth -

This will be a table with 3 sections for PSED / 3 for PD (moving / handling / health and self care) and 3 for C & L eg.

Area of learning - PSED 1 - relationships PSED 2 - self confidence & awareness PSED 3 - feelings and behaviour
Obs prompts for my age / stage of L & D

PSED 1 - Being affectionate Copying games... etc
PSED 2 - Being independent Sharing ideas... etc
PSED 3 - Expressing feelings Developing patience... etc

Observations of my learning
Date -
Location - in the house / in the garden / on an outing to - / other -
With contributions from - parents / the child / other settings / other -
Observation -

My wellbeing during the activity - series of wellbeing smiley / straight line and sad faces

Ideas for planning the next steps in my learning and development -

You will find more information in mini e-book 77 'Preparing children for school' from

Chat soon, Sarah x

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Childminders and agencies - the story so far...

Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw announced, in March 2012, that it was becoming too expensive to inspect childminders. This was the first indication of the changes ahead...

In her paper ‘Affordable Quality’, published in May, 2012, Elizabeth Truss suggested that all childminders should be de-regulated from Ofsted and Local Authority control and linked instead with agencies which would be newly created through the country.

There was an outcry!

Papers were written such as ‘Childminders in the Netherlands’ a policy briefing by the Daycare Trust to de-bunk the ‘Affordable Quality’ deregulation model and show that it had failed in other countries. At the same time, established Ofsted registered childminders made it very clear via petitions, letter writing and campaigns that they did not want agencies. Childminders told Government that they wanted to say independent of agency control and continue receiving individual Ofsted inspections and gradings.

Over the next few months, all around us, we saw things changing - Local Authority budgets for early years and childminder support services were being slashed, childminder support coordinators were losing their jobs, toy libraries were closing down... and then the Government published another paper - ‘More Great Childcare’.

It became clear very quickly on reading the ‘More Great Childcare’ plan that Ms Truss had listened to us! Yes, she had ploughed on with the plan to establish agencies for childminders... but she reassured us that agencies would be optional for established childminders.

Childminders started to consider how the introduction of agencies might affect their businesses and they very quickly grew concerned and began asking questions... but no answers were forthcoming - maybe because Government did not have any answers for us at the time or maybe they were unwilling to tell us, preferring to drip feed information to us over the following months.

Overshadowing the agency threat were lots of other changes to the way early years would be managed in the future in the ‘More Great Childcare’ plan including changes to ratios for all early years providers, new places created to accommodate children who would be coming into childcare for the first time as part of the 2 year funding offer, changes to training requirements and much more.
The Government told us they were consulting on their plans... and indeed a number of consultations appeared on various websites, mostly with very short response times and featuring closed, complicated and at times somewhat bizarre questions.

The issue that united the entire early years sector was changes to ratios so the Childminding Forum decided to raise a petition against this part of the ‘More Great Childcare’ plan. To date over 34,000 signatories have signed to give a very strong message to Government that we do not want ratios to change and outcomes for children to be damaged as a consequence. The petition has been presented to Government and we are awaiting a response. Other petitions also boast thousands of signatures against changes to ratios and there are many different campaign groups from all corners of the early years workforce lobbying the Government against their plan.

Meanwhile, hundreds of members of the Childminding Forum and Facebook groups wrote a response to the ‘More Great Childcare’ plan and sent it to Ms Truss and other Government ministers. It was a comprehensive analysis of the plan and asked lots of questions about how agencies and ratios changes would work in practice - and how ‘More Great Childcare’ would raise outcomes for children - and how it would lower costs for parents - and much more.
Ms Truss’ office responded, thanking us for our time and advising us to read ‘More Great Childcare’ for more information about the changes to come.

The national press, early years and childcare magazines, Twitter, Facebook and everywhere you looked was full of reports against ‘More Great Childcare’. Other agencies waded into the debate such as Unison and the NUT, professionals such as early education experts from the Universities of Oxford and London and Government education advisors such as Cathy Nutbrown.

At the same time, while all of this lobbying and campaigning against ratio changes has been plodding on, the Government has been pushing ahead with its agency model for childminders. Before the ‘consultation’ (and I use the word loosely as consultation seems to equal fait accompli) is even completed agencies such as @homechildcare are being set up and trialled ready for September 2013.
We are told again and again by Ms Truss that agencies will not be compulsory and yet our concerns about our future sustainability as independent childminders are not being addressed.

We turned to Labour to ask for their support. They told us that they agreed there were grave concerns about the ‘More Great Childcare’ plan and ministers such as Sharon Hodgson, an ex-childminder with a lot of understanding of the early years sector, have given interviews and held meetings in an attempt to stop what is considered by many to be the worst aspect of the plan - ratios changes.
Our concern, however, is that the agency issue is still being sidelined - and Labour do not appear to have an alternative plan or suggestions for what might be introduced instead.

We turned to the Liberal Democrats to ask for their support. Nick Clegg raised concerns about the ratios issue in the media and we all cheered! Finally, we thought, someone close to Government was on our side - someone who could stop this dreadful ‘More Great Childcare’ plan before outcomes for the next generation of our precious children are damaged. We stopped cheering when Duncan Hames, Lib Dem MP for Chippenham, announced on Newsnight that the Liberal Democrats support childminder agencies.

So... there’s a little history lesson for you.

The question on the lips of many thousands of dedicated, well qualified Ofsted registered childminders today is... where do we go next? We are told that we don’t have to join agencies - no amount of speculation will tell us what is really going to happen in each of the 150+ Local Authorities throughout the country - nobody can tell you what is going to happen in your area - nobody knows who the agencies are because it’s all very hush-hush - and childminder morale is at rock bottom as the uncertainty continues.

In my opinion each one of us needs to make a decision!

We need to decide NOW that we are going to boycott the agencies and support ourselves through the challenging times ahead. We need to be responsible for our own businesses - our CPD, our paperwork, our sustainability and ultimately our own success. We do not need agencies to help us continue doing the amazing jobs we are already doing!
As long as we keep calm and don’t feel the need to ‘join’ things in a panic I truly believe we will be fine!

There is a NEW free website to support childminders who want to stay independent of agency control.

There is a NEW section of the Childminding Forum dedicated to listening to childminder’s concerns about independence now and in the future - where established, highly qualified childminders will quickly respond to your questions - Childminding Forum independent childminders.

For those of you who prefer Facebook as your communication medium, there is a NEW independent childminders group which is gathering new members every day. The Facebook group and the website both link very closely to the Childminding Forum, each supporting the other.

And there will be more to come! You need to tell us what you want and we will support you!

In my next blog I will look at how childminders can remain independent... how to remain sustainable... how to prepare yourself now so you are in a strong position to maintain a successful childminding business in the future.

Sarah x

Ofsted warn of changes ahead for childminder regulations -
Affordable Quality -
Childminders in the Netherlands (DayCare Trust) -
More Great Childcare -
Childminding Forum response to ‘More Great Childcare’ plan -
Childminding Forum petition against ratios changes -
Children and Families Bill - Written evidence -
Unison response to ‘More Great Childcare’ -
NUT response to aspects of the ‘More Great Childcare’ plan -
Research evidence from academics at the Universities of Oxford and London -
Cathy Nutbrown response ‘Shaking the Foundations of Quality’ -
Agencies are being set up - one we know about is @homechildcare -
Childminding Forum supports independent childminders with a new website -
And a new section on the Childminding Forum -

Friday, 29 March 2013

Ofsted inspection checklist - e-book 63

A number of childminders have asked me for an e-book covering essential and good practice advice about preparing for your Ofsted inspection - so here you go!

Contents of e-book 63 -

Part 1 - Preparing for your inspection
Pre-registration tips and advice about documentation you might find useful to build up over the months and years preceding your inspection so it is all in place before you inspector calls.

Part 2 - Preparing your evidence
A round-up of some of the evidence you might prepare for your inspection. This is my evidence - if you do not want to aim for an outstanding grade then obviously you do not need to do as much as me! I am sharing my practice - take from it what you need.

Part 3 - Pre-inspection check list - required evidence
All the essential documentation required by the EYFS and the Childcare Register - these documents must be in place so you can demonstrate your compliance with the requirements.

Part 4 - Pre-registration check list - good practice evidence
More documents and information you might want to prepare for your Ofsted inspection. This is guidance, not required.

Part 5 - More inspection information
Other bits and bobs of information and good practice guidance that is not included elsewhere in this e-book, including advice about what to do if you are unhappy with your inspection outcome.
I have also included answers to some frequently asked questions about the revised EYFS 2012.

It is e-book 63 and costs £3.99 on my Knutsford Childminding website - e-books for sale, page 2.

If you have any further questions about the revised EYFS 2012 or the requirements of the Childcare Register 2012, please do not hesitate to ask!

I can be contacted via the Childminding Forum.

Or you can ask me a question on my Facebook page.

Or you can email me -

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Changes to the laws on gay marriage - and how they affect childminders

You might have heard in the news that gay marriage is on the Government agenda. The Civil Partnership Act 2004 set the stage for the changes to the law concerning gay marriage - and legislation is due soon to provide the opportunity for gay couples to marry.

The proposed changes will mean that many childminders might need to look at their provision and ensure they are being non discriminatory. For example, you should make sure your books, photos and displays offer equal opportunities for children to see different groupings of couples.

Books about same sex couples are becoming more readily available and might be considered a useful addition to your library - they should be offered to children as part of your reading box as ‘just there’ rather than presented as something different or special.
Similarly you must ensure your documentation - policies, procedures, welcome booklet etc is not discriminatory and refers to the ‘family’ in ways that include same as well as mixed sex couples. For example, you might want to check the wording on your child information / all about me forms and contracts to make sure they refer to ‘parent 1’ and ‘parent 2’ rather than specifying a requirement for parents to note the name of the child’s ‘mother’ and ‘father’.

When you talk to children about marriage and families, you should be careful that your language is not discriminatory - a marriage can be a man and woman, two men or two women - and it is important that you are sensitive to this because children might be attending the wedding of their 2 uncles at the weekend - how would you know unless parents told you?

Similarly, if you see children putting 2 boy dolls together for a kiss, you must deal with it sensitively and allow them to experiment with their play rather than stopping them. This might be difficult for some childminders, especially if their own beliefs conflict with the new laws - you might find it useful to take time out now and reflect how you want to project your beliefs to the children and the dangers of giving them a prejudiced view of the world.

Of course, you will also need to be sensitive to the beliefs of parents who may believe for religious or other reasons that gay marriage is wrong. It is not your role to parent the child - simply to provide information which accurately reflects the laws of our country so the child can make up their own mind without prejudice when they are older.

I hope you find this information useful. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me via my website or the Childminding Forum.

Thank you. Sarah

With thanks to Nursery World magazine (14-27 Jan 2013) for inspiration and a starting point for my research.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Childminders reject agencies!

Childminders have started a Twitter campaign against agencies - will you join us?

We read the latest message from Community Playthings - ‘Who will speak for the child’ and we nod our heads and say ‘we are trying - but the Government aren’t listening to us yet’

Hundreds of childminders, parents and other professionals have contributed to an analysis of the Government’s ‘More Great Childcare’ plan which has been sent to Government and the press.

We have written letters to Mr Truss, our MPs, members of the Opposition and the Prime Minister.

We have designed a poster to hand out to parents, other childminders and settings to share our concerns and make them aware of the risks to children if these plans go ahead.

The Govt are pushing the ‘More Great Childcare’ plan through and do not seem to be listening to our views.

Did I mention that childminders do not want agencies?

We have written to Ofsted to express our concerns about the plan.

We believe that the plan has to stop before independent childminding becomes unsustainable.

Will the Govt listen to comments on its own childminder agency consultation? To date over 96 replies - all negative.

Will the Government listen to responses on its questionnaire about Ofsted regulation?

Childminders are horrified that Ms Truss’ office asked for those who disagree with her plans to stay away from a meeting recently in Northampton. What does this say about democracy?

And still the Government are pushing the plan through and not listening to our views. Complacency is not an option!

Childminders do not want the Government to change adult:child ratios either. We believe that this will risk damaging outcomes for our precious children and affect our sustainability -

Over 23,000 people so far have signed a petition against agencies! I think this shows the strength of feeling...

Childminders just want to be left alone to do our jobs! We do not want to be told we are ‘lagging behind’ other providers when we know that is not true! We do not want to be told we only offer care, not education - when we know that is not true!

We want to carry on being independent childminders, loving and caring for the children while teaching them through play and fun - and running sustainable small businesses.

Childminders reject agencies! Tell all your friends and colleagues on Twitter!! Tweet and re-tweet and join the campaign against agencies!

Thank you. Sarah x

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Decluttering your home and garden - ideas for childminders

Elizabeth Jarman, owner of ‘Communication Friendly Spaces’, one of my inspirations and a lovely lady advocates providing children with an uncluttered environment painted in gentle colours so children are calm and can enjoy their play without being over-stimulated.

Over-stimulation, as we know, can lead to a whole host of problems such as sensory overload, behaviour challenges and chaotic play scenes. We often find that cluttered play areas lead to children who do not deal well with challenges because their initial reaction is to overreact.

Decluttering is all well and good, I hear you say... but how do you do that and keep Ofsted and parents happy? Ofsted inspectors regularly comment that the childminder does not have this or that resource available... or does not offer enough resources for the child to learn in this or that area of learning...

Parents, similarly, want to know what their child is doing every day and how you are teaching them. If your toys are stored elsewhere and your environment decluttered so only a few things are out at a time, they might worry that their child is neither educated nor stimulated effectively during the day - especially if they are too old for daily diaries and the answer they get to ‘what have you done today?’ is normally ‘nothing’ with a sigh attached to load on the guilt.

Managing your childminding space so it is not overwhelming for the children can be a huge challenge. You will have toys that children loved at different ages clamouring for space on shelves, in baskets and at the back of cupboards with new purchases, previous and current favourites and a host of other bits and bobs the children seem to enjoy using at the moment.

You will probably have higher shelves or other storage for less often used toys and games - things with lots of parts which the toddlers will lose - dangerous toys which the after school children enjoy but little ones would probably use to choke each other or themselves! Your floor might well be covered with a lovely bright rug to protect the carpet, a wealth of push along and ride on toys, a dolls house or big cushions... and much more.

Look at your walls - do the children ever look at that poster covered in colours or the one featuring children’s emotions? When was your board featuring the days of the week and the weather last used or incorporated in a song? How often do the children contribute towards changing displays on your notice board? When did you last tidy your writing table display and update it to link in with current themes or children’s home and community interests?

Childminders have to think about resources for different ages of children from babies to after schoolers - and about providing a range of experiences and activities which meet each child’s interests and needs. Ofsted are keen on self selection and promoting independence as well, so this will be in the back of your mind when you are setting out your resources.
All of this is in your childminding rooms before you even think about space for the children to play!

Ms Jarman tells us that Ofsted do not want to see ‘everything out all the time’. What Ofsted are looking for is evidence that children are stimulated and excited in their learning. We read this time and time again in childminder inspection reports on the Ofsted website. Your inspector should look around your home and see the resources you have immediately available - you can then point them to a photo album which shows the children having fun with different resources which perhaps you do not have out on the day of your inspection.

Some outstanding childminders in Blackpool (thanks guys) gave me an excellent suggestion which I used for my inspection - and my inspector liked! The children and I made some ‘we have been busy’ sheets featuring a selection of little photos and their comments linked to various areas of provision such as sand, water, outside painting, construction, cooking and experiences on outings. One of the children handed it to the inspector to give her a flavour of their time here and confidently chatted about how he had helped put the photo album together.

Ofsted want you to explain why you have made certain choices about your resources and available space. For example, you might choose to follow Montessori principles in your environment or you might mostly offer children access to natural materials which promote open ended play. As long as your inspector and parents understand what you are trying to achieve and see the learning potential across all 7 areas of learning and development for each child... and you have thought carefully about how to ensure children are engaged in a range of activities and experiences through the week, then your resourcing decisions should be respected.

There are a number of different ways you can support children’s independent play choices without having everything overloaded on shelves and in boxes and a cluttered floor. Once you have identified the most important resources and spaces - your continuous provision such as building blocks, home corner, cosy area with books, table for mark making and crafts etc then you can look at the rest of your resources and make decisions, along with the children, about what needs to be available to follow their current interests and learning styles.

Some childminders use toy catalogues or baskets featuring pictures of toys and games which the children can flick through to choose what they would like to use during the day. This is especially useful if you have a small childminding room, a lot of resources and a good shed or easily accessed loft for storage. The children can be involved in taking and printing photos (we have a little Pogo printer which our children love using), commenting on what they enjoy using most and putting the catalogues together. They will are more likely to remember what resources you have if they have input into the process as well.

Well labelled resources make things easier to find, support children who are learning to help tidy up and show you value a print rich environment. Similarly, small boxes are normally considered more effective for storing resources than large tubs in which small toys can be lost... any childminder who has cared for a ‘tipper’ child will probably have replaced their large toy boxes anyway!

I hope I have given you some ideas for decluttering and better managing your childminding spaces. They can be applied to the house or the garden - and you should never forget the experiences children have on outings, at home and in other settings which contribute to their overall learning and development and which should be complementary to the activities you offer when they are with you.

Chat soon, Sarah x

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Learning stories for childminders

I have had a number of messages recently asking me about learning stories - what are they and how do they work?

I have written the following information for my friends on the Childminding Forum and thought it might be of interest to childminders who also read my blog.

Learning stories

Some childminders are being advised to write learning stories about the children in their care. Learning stories are very similar to the observations, assessments and planning in children’s EYFS Learning Journeys - and this can cause confusion because a learning story is not a Learning Journey file!

Learning stories can be used as part of the child’s Learning Journey file or as a stand-alone way of recording a child’s progress over time. Learning stories use ‘story telling’ or narrative descriptions of the child’s play and learning… they are like giant observations, sharing a detailed description of the child’s learning, development, skills, knowledge, interactions and engagement in activities with their parents.

Just like when writing observations, you can include a photo with your learning story if you have written permission from parents to take photos of their child. You would then put the photo on the learning story and write a chatty narrative about the child’s learning while they were involved in the activity. If you are talking about other children in the learning story, be careful not to name them as you do not want to break confidentiality - instead simply say that eg ‘Ann shared and took turns when playing with another child’.

Most learning stories are written in the first person - describing the child as ‘I’ and saying what the child is doing or saying at the time the observation was carried out. To note the progress the child is making, you would then link the story to the EYFS areas of learning and development from the Development Matters guidance document, comment on any learning characteristics you noted and think about how to promote the child’s future learning through ‘next steps’ or individual planning.

Learning stories are quite a bit longer than the normal quick note style observations because they describe a whole activity rather than a child’s specific learning - so you will not want to set yourself the task of writing too many! If you are advised to use them, I think they will work well alongside other types of observation, assessment and planning, maybe to help you focus on one area of learning or a specific learning outcome or to support a child who needs extra support…

Learning stories are written to be shared with and commented on by parents. There is little value to writing a learning story and putting it in your folder without sharing it with parents and using it to reflect on the child’s current learning and support their future learning and development first. Like all documents about a child they are just one of the many ways we can show evidence that they are making good progress towards the Early Learning Goals of the EYFS.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Risk assessments for childminders - updated info 01.2013

Risk assessments and the EYFS 2012

Information taken from - ‘Requirements for risk assessments factsheet’ - document 120334 (Ofsted 2012)

There are 3 different types of written or ‘in your head’ documents relating to risk assessments (RAs) required by the EYFS 2012 -
• A policy and procedure relating to RAs - EYFS 2012 requirement 3.63
• RAs of the environment - EYFS 2012 requirement 3.63
• RAs of outings - EYFS 2012 requirement 3.64

Policy and procedures
The EYFS 2012 states that policies and procedures do not need to be in writing - requirement 3.3. However, you must be confident that you would be able to explain them fully to an inspector during your inspection or if you receive a compliance visit because a complaint has been made against you.

If you do not write your policies and procedures you must be clear about them - and be ready to share them with parents and anyone who works with you such as assistants - verbally.

A written policy and procedures about RAs must include information about -
• Aspects of the environment - and different types of outings - that need to be checked on a regular basis - this includes your main RAs and any daily / weekly RAs you do to ensure children are safe
• How risk assessments are carried out - by checking the house and garden thoroughly and monitoring children during outings
• When risk assessments are carried out - daily, weekly, monthly, annually etc
• By whom RAs are carried out - you, other members of staff, children, parents…
• What records are kept - written RAs of the house, garden and outings etc
• How the risks and hazards will be removed or minimised.

Environment risk assessments
You must consider the following - in writing or in your head -
• Aspects of the environment that need to be checked on a regular basis
• When and by whom those aspects will be checked
• How risks will be removed and minimised
• When RAs will be reviewed - the Childcare Register 2012 requires us to review RAs annually

When writing / thinking about your environment RAs you should consider -
• The size, layout and location of your provision
• The ages and stages of children attending
• Where children play - inside the house and in the garden
• How children are involved in RAs
• Other staff in your provision and how they will manage risks

Outings risk assessments
You must consider the following for every type of outing when you (or assistants / co-childminders etc) leave the house with 1 or more children - in writing or in your head -
• Ratios of adults to children
• Which children / adults are on the outing - and how this affects safety
• Journeys - getting to and from the destination
• The type of outing / activity
• The ages of children on the outing - different ages pose different risks
• The time of day and how this affects the RA
• Risks and hazards to children and adults during the outing
• How risks and hazards are minimised or managed.

Ofsted inspectors will consider whether your policy and procedures and RAs for the environment and outings minimise, reduce or eliminate risks to the children. If you cannot demonstrate that your RAs are robust enough to keep children safe you are likely to receive an inadequate grading at inspection.

Ofsted document - you can find a copy of the Ofsted factsheet dated 19.11.12 here -

Please note - e-book 5 ‘Risk assessments for childminders’ and e-book 24 ‘Safety Checklists’ give much more information about how to write risk assessments and e-book 29 looks at ‘Policies and Procedures’ in detail if you prefer your documentation to be in writing. You can find these and all my other e-books on my Knutsford Childminding website.

Remember - if you make changes to your documentation as a result of reading this information don’t forget to reflect on how you have improved outcomes for the children in your self evaluation - or Ofsted SEF.

Normal copyright and disclaimers apply © Sarah Neville, 01.2013