Friday, 12 December 2014

Childminders and food allergy legislation

The EU food regulations are changing from 13th December 2014 and all early years providers who provide food for children (including snacks, food used in crafts and meals) must comply - including childminders. The Food Standards Agency have provided advice about the changes for childminders here.

14 common allergens have been recognised and we must record what food we give children each day so that we can inform parents what their child has eaten if they ask us for the information.

How are you complying with the changes?

At Knutsford Childminding we are using the ‘scribble what children have eaten down each day’ method of recording what food has been provided for children. We are busy and this is one more layer of paperwork we don’t need… but the ‘scribble it down’ method has been in place for a few weeks and we have found it to be successful.

We have also provided parents with information about the new legislation in our newsletters and our chef has taken a training course (details to follow) and displayed the certificate.

We have taken the opportunity to chat to parents about the new regulations and ask them to re-confirm whether their children have any diagnosed allergies … but of course it’s not always the child with known allergies who reacts to food, so we are happy to comply with the new EU regulations.

The change in regulations has led to some childminders to decide that they do not want to provide food any more and from January they will be asking parents to send in packed lunches. Here is some advice for childminders who ask parents to bring in food for their children to eat…

Healthy eating

If the food parents put in their child’s lunch box is not considered healthy it is possible that you will be downgraded and / or actioned by Ofsted at inspection. We have information from a group member that on the day she was being inspected a child had a biscuit in their lunch box – our member’s action is that she must work more closely with parents to ensure children eat healthily.

So, if parents bring food you will need to have a conversation with them about the contents of their child's lunch box - getting the right balance between carbs, fruit and veg, protein, dairy, fat and sugar. It might be a good idea to make a healthy lunch box leaflet to share with parents with ideas for ensuring children are offered a variety of different foods through the week – you will be able to show your inspector that you have given parents healthy eating information.

If you do this you might also include information that early years children (up to the age of 4) should not be given low fat foods and need a little sugar and fat in their diets. There is a useful booklet from the Caroline Walker Trust to refer to when putting together your leaflet – and you might also share it with parents.

Some childminders have a healthy eating policy in writing to give to parents. It is not a requirement of the EYFS to have a written healthy eating policy – the requirement is to be able to explain your healthy eating policy to parents and an inspector. However, if you do have a written policy, you can add information to that about healthy lunch box contents and what you will do if the child arrives with an inappropriate balance of food in their lunch box.


Ofsted are looking for children being independent during meal times – opening their own yoghurts, setting the table, preparing their own food as part of their daily routine, finding their own plates, pouring drinks, serving their friends, helping to clear the table etc.

You might need to consider how to make sure you promote independence for children who bring packed lunches in the same way as you would for children if you were all making lunch in the kitchen together because their food is already prepared so they can’t help with that part of the routine.

Some problems you might encounter...

You need to think about what you will do if –
• Parents forget to bring lunch;
• Parents do not provide enough food or the child says s/he is still hungry after eating;
• Parents provide too much food for their child;
• The child wants what another child is eating;
• The child does not eat the food parents have provided.

Will you give children extra food – and if so, will you charge parents for the food? If you decide to charge extra you will need to publish your lunch cost somewhere and check parents are happy with the extra charge – and you will need to make sure you have appropriate food in the house for the child to eat. How much will you charge? When will you ask parents for the money? What if they refuse to pay, saying they can’t afford it or they have provided a lunch and you shouldn’t have given their child extra?

What if children bring unsuitable food and drink – a can of coke and a bag of salty crisps? Will you put it back in the lunch box or let them eat it – what will you say to parents – how will you deal with the inevitable tantrum if you don’t let children eat what they have brought? Will you offer the child healthy alternatives if they don’t have enough food in their lunch box without the food you are refusing to let them eat – what will you do if the alternatives you offer are not eaten and the food goes into the bin … and the child is hungry later?

How will you tackle it if parents are sending too much food for their child’s dietary needs and their child is overeating? We have a duty of care to ensure children are fed appropriately through the day and not over-fed – especially with the rise in infant obesity. The Infant and Toddler Forum contains useful information which you can share with parents about portion sizes.

Childminders who ask parents to send in packed lunches report there is often food jealousy between the children with one child asking for something another child has got because they feel they are missing out. Think about how you will manage this to minimise issues.

Storing packed lunches

To comply with food hygiene legislation you need to ensure lunch boxes are stored appropriately in a fridge which is temperature checked to between 0 – 5 degrees each day. Safer Food Better Business for Childminders (which every childminder should be using) does not say that childminders have to write down the fridge temperature unless there is a problem – in which case you will need to record the problem and what you did to resolve it in your Safer Food Better Business file. There is a print friendly version of Safer Food Better Business for childminders here.

Do you have enough room in your fridge for lunch boxes? What about on a Monday morning when you have your family shopping in there from the weekend? You will also need to ensure lunch boxes are kept separately from raw food and unwashed vegetables – preferably on their own shelf. Are lunch boxes sent by parents clean? What will you do if a child regularly arrives with a dirty, smelly lunch box or if it is not cleaned out properly each day? How will you tackle it with parents?

Allergen legislation

Regardless of whether parents supply food or you make it for children, you need to know what each child eats through the day to ensure you comply with the new EU food legislation.

Will you have a ‘no peanuts’ policy? What if a child in your provision is allergic to nuts – how will you manage the situation if another parent repeatedly sends nuts for their child to eat? You might find it useful to think about where children sit for lunch if they are eating a packed lunch which contains food that other children round the table are not allowed to eat.

If children drop food on the floor you will need to pick it up immediately to ensure other children to not eat it to keep children safe. If a child mistakenly eats food that contains any of the 14 allergens you will need to record it and share the information with parents.

You might find this food allergy training (with certificate at the end) useful.


If you take children on outings you need to think about how you will safely transport the lunch boxes while keeping contents cold. If you buy food for children on outings (any food) you will be required, from 13th Dec 2014, to know the contents so you can share the information with parents on request. Most childminders are using their mobile phones to take photos of labels so they can be downloaded later and put into a file in case they are asked about the food the child has eaten at a later date.

Similarly, if you visit friends houses or go to groups and eat food there, you will need to write down what the child has eaten, including allergen information, so you can share the information with parents on request. You could, of course, take your own snacks / meals with you.

You will find more links and information about the allergy legislation changes here in free downloads on the Childminding Forum.

I have updated e-book 21 ‘Healthy Eating’ from Knutsford Childminding to include information and advice about food allergies – please contact me if you have an old copy and would like me to send you a free update.

If you have any questions about the new food allergy requirements or about healthy lunch boxes, please ask.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Wooden, plastic or natural? Which resources do you choose?

I was chatting to a childminder the other day who told me that she was getting rid of all her plastic toys and replacing them with wood and other natural materials. She said she was totally fed up with plastic toys that were only good for doing 1 thing at a time … she had recently been on training where they had talked about the joys of loose parts play and she was keen to make sweeping changes to her provision with the aid of some clever storage solutions such as wicker baskets and hanging baskets outside.

There are a lot of useful Pinterest boards singing the praises of loose parts play – they are worth exploring if you want to add some natural resources to your provision. However, while I know it is personal choice, I remain concerned about whether a total move to natural materials would work for a childminder who looks after babies and children of very different ages… there are so many bits and pieces (stones, fir cones, coins, beads, buttons etc) and they are often quite small.

I agree that plastic doesn’t always teach children a lot – it is the same temperature (unlike wood and metal) and texture (unlike stone and fir cones) and it is often made in very loud colours (unlike natural materials which are calming, relaxing colours). Yet plastic can be cleaned easily (important if you have little ones), it is readily available in charity shops and at car boot sales and it is comparatively much cheaper than buying all wooden resources.

We have a combination of wooden, plastic and natural resources here at Knutsford Childminding. We collect and use natural materials during our walks and we make some of our resources from recycled materials. We often make our own books when we have been on outings as well – the children love taking and printing photos and the rich language they use reassures us we are supporting their learning. Fabric is an excellent way of bringing natural resources into the provision – lengths of material can be used to create spaces and envelop children and much more.

So, to go back to the title of this little blog – wooden, plastic and natural? I advocate a balance and when new childminders are registering I always advise them to buy a range of resources – some plastic and some wooden toys both inside and in the garden – then they can take the children on nature walks to find natural resources. In our provision, some of our best play sessions have involved children using their imaginations to create play scenes from ‘finds’ during our regular nature walks. However, we have plenty of plastic resources as well and some of them are the children’s favourites such as Peppa Pig and Action Man role play figures and our collection of Happy Land characters.

In mini e-book 56 ‘Resources and the EYFS’ (from Knutsford Childminding - £1.99) I have looked at how you can provide children with a range of different resources to support their holistic learning and development.

Which resources do you choose in your provision… and why?

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Risk assessments after an accident…

Accidents and near miss accidents sadly happen, even in the best managed provisions. We cannot keep every child safe from harm all the time because children trip and fall, run and crash, jump and bump, climb and tumble, pull and push and run in front of swings… and do all sorts of other dangerous things without thinking or realising. We simply cannot be there to watch out for them every single time! We are even told by experts to engage children in risky play and to let them explore the world around them which increases the risk of them having an accident. Plus, studies tell us (and we know from our own personal experiences) that children have to learn about danger if they are ever going to learn to risk assess for themselves.

Accidents and near misses present important learning opportunities for providers and must be carefully reflected on and managed because they can tell us a lot about our provisions and ways of working and they can help us to prevent future accidents. When a child has an accident or near miss, write it up on an accident and injury form along with any first aid administered and, when signed by parents, put it in their file… report the accident or injury if required… and keep a brief record of what happened in your personal diary so you can look back on it and think about how you might improve your provision in the future. A list of previous accidents and near misses will also help you to see if there are any trends – things that are happening over and over again which need to be resolved.

For example, looking back at your accident and injury or incident forms you might note –
• 3 children have bumped into the same garden feature –> move the feature to another area of the garden.
• A child is regularly running towards the road on outings –> give her a choice between reins or a wrist strap from now on.
• A child is constantly falling over your threshold and tripping on steps –> suggest parents take him to the optician for an eye health check-up. Meanwhile, think about how you can highlight the threshold / steps so they are more visible to the children.
• Children are slipping and falling on your grass -> cover the grass, re-seed, cordon the area off or take other steps to keep them safe.
• 3 children have slipped on your new wooden floor -> supply / ask parents to provide non-slip socks or slippers.
• A child is biting others -> start to shadow the child to note any triggers. Ask parents in for a meeting to discuss your concerns and plan a strategy to work together and support the child.
• A child is getting out of their car seat on journeys -> stop the car, re-fasten the child, explain the danger firmly – and ask parents in for a meeting to discuss a plan for the future. You might also consider buying a safety cover for the seat fastener.
• An older child has caught a younger child’s finger in a car door -> think about whether the older child is taking on too much responsibility. Revisit your procedures for getting in and out of the car and ensure you are in charge of closing doors and taking responsibility for keeping the little ones safe.

Of course, making changes to your provision goes hand-in-hand with teaching children about their own safety by, for example –
• Involving them in the risk assessment process;
• Teaching them about personal safety through books and role play;
• Reading books, telling stories and planning sessions to cover stranger danger;
• Reminding children about safe play rules at the park before they run off to play;
• Asking children to walk in the house so they do not slip;
• Explaining why it is important that they wear high visibility clothes and wrist bands on outings;
• Using wrist straps, backpacks with reins etc even on very short outings;
• Reminding children that they need to tell you if they hurt themselves or break your equipment or notice something is wrong or spot a hazard.

Working with parents
It is very important to work closely with parents to reinforce safety messages. When you teach the children about safety – personal safety, stranger danger, how to play safely at the park etc – share information and planning with parents and tell them the words you are using so they can reinforce your teaching at home. Similarly, if you have written a social story for, for example, a child who is running away from adults and it is working well, let them borrow it or take a photocopy so they can read to their child at home.

Parents need to be informed if their child is not responding to safety messages. Ask them in for a meeting to discuss your concerns and try to find out what is happening at home. For example –
• If a child is getting out of their car seat with parents and they are not strapped back in it is going to take much longer for them to learn the importance of staying safe in the car
• If grandparents indulge a child by laughing when he hits them, he is not going to learn that hitting is inappropriate in a childcare setting
• If an older child is frightened to tell parents he has broken a toy because he is always harshly punished, he will hide things in your house as well which might lead to a baby choking or hurting himself on small parts.

Communicating concerns with parents works both ways… if a child is doing something dangerous with parents or other family members at home they need to tell you quickly so you can take steps to support their child. For example…
• If a child came shooting down the slide head first at the weekend you need to know for when you next take them;
• If a child is worrying the pet dog at home you can take steps to keep him away from your animals unless fully supervised;
• If parents have noticed their child is fascinated by electrical sockets, you can put barriers in place around yours – and plan some activities to teach the child about electrical safety;
• If a baby has started climbing or rolling over the weekend you can be extra vigilant;
• If a child is opening the door at home to try and get out you might need to re-think where you keep your keys;
• If parents are worried because their child is talking to / approaching strangers on outings, you can suggest some books to read and activities for role play in the provision and at home;
• If an older child is fascinated by fire, you can advise parents who to speak to for help and ensure risk assessments are in place for flammable materials and the child is closely supervised while on your premises.
Remember - if a child has had an accident at home you need to record it so you can keep an eye on them in the provision – and so you can learn from what they have done and review your own risk assessment - it is good practice to have some printed ‘existing injury’ forms with your attendance register so you can quickly fill them in when children arrive. You will find some free forms (written by me) on the website.

Going back to the original reason for writing this blog – we need accept that accidents happen but, instead of getting defensive and saying, ‘it wasn’t my fault’ we need to reflect on accidents and near misses and consider how we can improve our provision and ways of working to support the children. We need to do this for a number of reasons -
• For ourselves – to ensure that we are reflective practitioners who take safety seriously and are ready to respond positively to learning experiences.
• To support parents – they are sometimes ok after an accident and sometimes they need to blame someone. If they see you thinking about what happened and reflecting on how you can improve things in the future, they are more likely to respond positively to your explanations.
• For Ofsted – if a complaint is made or we have to notify them about a serious accident and injury and they come out to investigate, they will want to see that we have used the incident as a learning experience.

The following self-reflection questions after an accident or near miss might be useful…
• What happened? Did you see what happened? If you didn’t see it, why not?
• Were there any witnesses? Can they suggest how the accident might have been avoided?
• Was an accident, injury and first aid form promptly written up to be signed by parents?
• How did parents react? Did they shed any light on why it might have happened eg ‘oh yes she’s doing that at home’ or ‘yes we have noticed him biting’?
• Does the accident / injury need to be reported? If yes, who needs to know – Ofsted, RIDDOR, Local Safeguarding Children Board, Local Authority advisor? Has it been reported promptly and within the required timescales?
• What does the current risk assessment for the area of provision in which the accident happened say? Does it cover what happened? Does it need to be re-written / updated? Is it robust enough?
• Were you within ratios at the time of the accident?
• Were children being effectively supervised? Were you distracted elsewhere?
• Was there a problem with your premises or equipment? For example, was the flooring uneven or the rug a trip hazard? Were the locks on your cupboard doors in need of replacement – but you hadn’t got round to it yet?
• Did you make a mistake? For example, did you leave the ironing board out or forget to put away a knife after making lunch? Did you forget to strap the child into the pram? Did you answer the phone while a child ate the paints? Did your enthusiasm to take the children to the park in wet weather lead to the child slipping on play equipment? None of us are perfect – and it is important to acknowledge that sometimes we need to change our own ways of working to ensure we protect children – especially as we work from a home environment. We need to remember that we are, after all, running a business and not a home during working hours.
• Were you following your own safety rules? For example - baby needed a nappy change and your procedures say ‘1 in all in’… but you left 2 children out playing because they were involved in their game... and one of them bit the other or had an accident that was avoidable if only you had followed your procedures and brought them inside with you.
• Was a child taking on more responsibility than they should for their age? For example, was an older child lifting a baby who they subsequently dropped or putting food in a toddler’s mouth causing them to choke?

And then the big question… how can the child/ren be kept safe in the future? What, if any, changes need to be made to your provision or ways of working? For example –
• Do ratios or staff deployment need to be reviewed? Perhaps you were in ratios but in the future staff could be better utilised to ensure more effective supervision. Or you were in ratios but on reflection 4 children under the age of 5 or 2 babies under 1 plus 2 pre-school children for continuity of care is too much to manage by yourself and you need to take on an assistant or give notice to a child.
• Can you plan some group or one-to-one activities to teach the children to take more responsibility for their own safety? How can you share this learning with parents so they use the strategies you are teaching children when they are at home?
• Do the older children need to run their pent up energy off at the park after school rather than climbing the walls in the house?
• Do you suspect that a child has an as yet undiagnosed medical condition that means he responds to danger in a different way from other children? How can you work with parents to get him the help he needs?
• Do you need to buy extra safety equipment / update your house or garden to keep children safer?
• Is the child over 8 and impacting negatively on outcomes for the little ones? Do you need to give notice as required by the EYFS?
• Were you expecting too much from the child for their age / stage of development? You might find it useful to go back to Early Years Outcomes and Development Matters and look at physical development / health and self-care and note typical behaviours for different ages of children.
• Think about how parents / the child’s family can be involved to support the child in the future and record this on your ‘working with parent’s documentation.

It is very easy after an accident or near miss to go into denial mode. You want to protect your business and reputation and you don’t want to accept that something you did (or didn’t do) has contributed to a child being hurt. However, parents need to see that you are taking responsibility for what happened to their child and changing your procedures as a result of the accident.

If Ofsted come out to investigate a serious accident to a child, they will want to see that you have reflected on what happened and recorded how you will prevent similar accidents from happening in the future. This can be very hard sometimes because you might feel that you did everything possible and it was simply an accident – and as we said at the beginning accidents do sadly happen. However, it is an unusual situation when some lessons cannot be learned after a child has been hurt, even if it’s to bubble wrap the child from now on…

For more information about risk assessments please see e-book 5 ‘Risk assessments’ from my Knutsford Childminding website.

I have also written some free risk assessment advice on my EYFS for Childminders website.

I hope you find this blog useful and informative. Please let me have your feedback - or contact me to ask me to write other blogs which you feel will help you to improve your provision. You can contact me via the Independent Childminders Facebook group or the Childminding Forum.

Thank you. Sarah.

Sarah Neville / Knutsford Childminding

Friday, 29 August 2014

A childminder in a quandary ... what to do?

A childminder colleague was told during inspection this week that she has not summarised children’s learning often enough – she normally write summaries every 3 months but because 1 child was new she had waited 4 months before writing a summary assessment.

This has worried me because I currently write summary assessments every 6 months!

In between the 6 monthly assessments. which are written during the month of the child’s birthday and 6 months later with input from staff, parents and the child (if possible), we –

• Regularly observe each child individually – when I say ‘regularly’ I mean we observe each EYFS aged child at least once a week in writing and more often when we are playing with the child and during our ‘planted practitioner’ activities – see this blog.

• Watch and listen when the child is playing as part of a group, to note how they are getting on making friends, communicating with others, using our resources, being imaginative, initiating and joining in games etc so we can offer targeted support if needed.

• Regularly assess each child’s learning against Early Years Outcomes to check that the child is not falling behind in any of the areas of learning – when I say ‘regularly’ I mean I link observations to the Early Years Outcomes guidance for each child at least once a month and more often if we have any concerns about their learning.

• Plan individual learning opportunities to support each child across the 7 areas of learning – I note these briefly on the child’s play plan. For example, a child is constantly asking ‘what’s that?’ when he hears a noise so we have planned lots of listening games for him to enjoy.

• Plan group learning opportunities to support all the children across the 7 areas of learning. For example, this month we have focussed on teaching the children about shapes, colours and size, using our resources and teaching skills to support them individually and as part of a group. I note these group activities on my group planning sheet and record briefly how the child has participated / what they have learned in observations and on their play plan.

• Work closely with parents to ensure their child is making good progress here and at home, asking questions about what the child is doing and saying at home, where they have been, what they enjoy doing etc so we can plan activities that link into their interests. For example, a child is growing sunflowers at home and we are growing tomatoes and herbs with them here– we talk about how their sunflowers are growing and ask questions to find out how tall they are etc.

• Note each child’s learning styles and characteristics so we can plan more effectively to support their learning, asking parents for information about how their child is learning at home.

• Share ideas for activities and things children might like doing with parents to promote their learning at home. For example, we went on a shape walk and talked to parents about some of the things we saw on the walk before suggesting parents do the same over the weekend.

• Work as closely as possible with the child’s other setting to complement their learning, using planned activities from nursery or pre-school to link into their learning here. For example, a child’s pre-school is making a Harvest display and we have planned to visit the local church to see their display – we will talk about similarities and differences with the child.

However, having received feedback from the childminder who has been given an action this week to summarise learning more regularly, I am concerned that I am not doing enough.

Part of the problem is that I do not want to increase my written workload. We feel that we know all our EYFS children really well here at Knutsford Childminding – we know their starting points, the things they are working on at the moment, their interests, learning styles etc and we do not want paperwork to take us away from the pleasure of having lots of time to sit down, play and have fun with them!

But... and I know it's bad English to start a sentence with 'but'... we do not want to put my outstanding grade at risk either … and this is where the problem starts. We don’t know how much paperwork we need to do to keep the grade! We feel like we are working towards an exam without anyone giving us the syllabus.

We have read the latest Ofsted inspectors evaluation schedule and we feel that we have all the evidence we need for outstanding but we also know that individual inspectors have different expectations and if our colleague’s inspector had been here instead of with her earlier this week … I would have lost my outstanding for not writing summary assessments often enough!

It is a very bad state of affairs when a regulator who comes once every 3 / 4 or more years can have this sort of effect on an outstanding childminder with 20 years childminding experience… instead of feeling confident that I am doing enough, I am now concerned that I need to do more. I am looking at my record keeping and wondering if there are gaps and I am worrying that I will have to change the way I do summary assessments ‘just in case’ I get an inspector who expects more in writing from me.

Perhaps if I do 3 monthly assessments instead of 6 monthly … will that be enough? How do I know? I have always reassured other childminders in my role as support childminder on the Childminding Forum and Independent Childminders Facebook group that 6 monthly assessments are enough as long as you know the child really well … has my advice been wrong all this time? Should I apologise to my colleagues and tell them I was wrong and they need to do extra written record keeping and summary assessments more regularly? I wonder how many will feel even more overwhelmed with the paperwork burden if I go on the groups and say this to them.

What do you think guys? Answers on a postcard to… confused of Knutsford Childminding please!

Monday, 11 August 2014

Teaching children British values

In her first major announcement since taking office, Nicky Morgan (the new Education Secretary) has said that early years providers must teach ‘fundamental British values in an age appropriate way’ to children from the age of 2 - Guardian article.

David Cameron has backed her up, saying that we need to teach ‘freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions’. The announcements follow concerns about extremist views being taught to children in some Birmingham schools and the intention is to protect children from extremist radical views.

There is a consultation which most of us will probably ignore. It is open until 17th October 2014 – so nothing is going to change quickly…

Childminders are asking - what are the ‘fundamental British values’ that we need to teach children? Well, first of all they need to be meaningful … and understandable. We are talking about teaching something many adults (in my experience) struggle to fully understand to toddlers in nappies and children who might not have a very good grasp of English.

Ms Morgan says we are to teach children about –

• Right from wrong
• Taking turns and sharing
• Challenging negative attitudes and stereotypes
• Mutual respect and tolerance of different religions and beliefs

I have been thinking about some of the ways we might support children’s learning about 'fundamental British values' and my list of planning ideas includes –
• Teach children to share and take turns – in conversation, at the shops, when reading books etc
• Celebrate British special days eg St George’s Day
• Help children to understand about friendship and support them to make friends
• Focus on listening skills so children wait before shouting out and understand not to spoil a song or book by talking through the words
• Promote manners – please, thank you, sorry, age appropriate behaviour at the table etc
• Take children on outings into the local community
• Teach them about British flowers, trees, birds and animals
• Cover a variety of themes about people who live in the world around us
• Watch British television programmes
• Teach them about the British weather
• Teach empathy and understanding
• Give children age appropriate words to describe disability
• Help children to set appropriate behaviour boundaries
• When doing arts and crafts, use British artists and sculptors for inspiration
• Cook British food with the children
• Learn about British villages, towns and cities
• Use the learning characteristic ‘critical thinking’ to support children to ask questions and become independent and creative learners.

So… what we are doing already then?!?

I believe if we focus on this sort of teaching as we already do and not on marginalising or intolerance of minority then we will be ok. The problems will start if we teach children that only one way is right and that, because we are British, we are somehow morally superior to other nations and cultures - because that will teach intolerance, stereotyping, racism and extremism in itself.

While I remember, Ms Morgan has said that we cannot teach –
• ‘Creationism as scientific fact’
• ‘Climate change denial’
• ‘Views and theories which are contrary to established scientific or historical evidence and explanations.’
I can honestly say I have never tackled those subjects with my under 5s … or my over 5s for that matter … so that’s not a worry!

Ofsted will be inspecting us on how well we teach ‘fundamental British values’, so we will need to keep an eye on the consultation which will hopefully tell us more about what Ofsted will expect to see when they visit us.

Meanwhile, this is a very interesting and informative blog .

And for another bit of fun… can you pass the UK citizenship test?

I got 10/10 but I am not allowed to boast about it… well that wouldn’t be British now would it??

Chat soon, Sarah x

Friday, 8 August 2014

The planted practitioner - ideas for promoting children's learning

When more than one childminder / assistant work together, experiment by ‘planting’ one of the practitioners somewhere exciting for the children… at a table with some resources or in the garden doing something different to the norm or on a cushion with an activity and see what happens…

What tends to happen is the children flock around the planted practitioner to see what they are doing. Reassured that the practitioner is not going to be called away elsewhere, the activity unfolds and the children display high levels of involvement and, as a result, have an increased motivation to stay and listen and talk and learn.

The planted practitioner is able to listen to the children fully because the other practitioner is taking care of any children not involved in the activity and can step in if a child needs extra support such as to change a nappy. The planted practitioner can also better help the children to explore new ways of doing things because s/he is not being constantly distracted by other things happening in the background.

During the activity the practitioner will be able to mentally note observations which can be written up later. It is important that the practitioner does not stop the flow of children’s learning to write observations, take photos or get up to do something else … they are planted and engaged and will remain planted as long as the activity lasts or until they have to, for example, wind up the activity to get the children ready to leave for school pick up.

It is a good time to make observations during planted activities because the practitioner who is planted is able to work very closely with the children who are involved in the activity. Lots of language will be heard as the children talk through ideas and share information… and children’s learning in other areas of Early Years Outcomes will be observed.

The other practitioner might take photos from a distance or write some notes if s/he is not busy elsewhere, but most importantly one practitioner is planted with the children and the other practitioner is floating.

The planted practitioner can also use the activity as an opportunity to chat to the children, ask open ended questions, wait for answers and teach the children new things because they are already interested and involved and they want to learn. As we all know, when children want to learn they are receptive to learning new things and trying out new ideas.

Important things to note
Time – the best time to plan for this type of teaching is when children are most receptive to new learning (they are not tired, hungry or expecting something else to happen) and there is a good length of time available, for example, after breakfast or morning snack. Think about daily routines and look at timescales for activities – find stretches of free play sessions every day when a learning experience can be planned.

Space – there must be plenty of space for this type of teaching so children can move around freely without bumping into each other or feeling pushed out and can see / hear what is happening without being distracted by other things going on around them.

Undivided attention – the planted practitioner gives their undivided attention to the children who want to join in with the activity. This must be agreed with the other practitioner who is on hand to step in and deal with the other daily routines such as preparing snack with a group of children, reading books, keeping the house and garden safe and clear from trip hazards, dealing with toileting or administering first aid etc.

Type of activity – all kinds of activities might be planned for planted learning times. Some popular ones include –
• Making and using playdough – add smells or other sensory stimuli
• Small parts play such as making Hama beads with older children
• Water play with cups and spoons to measure, weigh and learn about capacity, weight, floating and sinking etc
• Making a farmyard scene with Lego or building a train track
• Setting up something new such as a wormery, vegetable patch or herb garden
• Using tubing and guttering to watch how water travels
• Making a new jigsaw
• Updating Learning Journey files

Asking questions – there is a big difference between asking interested questions which gain a positive response from a child and asking questions to find out what a child knows or can do. It is important to ask open, interested questions which challenge children to think about new ways of doing things – and to wait until they reply rather than rushing in to fill a silence.
Closed questions only allow for one answer such as –
• What colour is it?
• What shape is it?
• How many can you count?
• Is it big or small? Etc…

Good questions to challenge thinking and support learning might be…
• What should we do next?
• How does that work?
• What do you think will happen if..?
• Can you think of a way to..?
• Why do you think that happened..?
• Show me…
• Can you explain that to me?

Types of play - the EYFS talks about 3 types of play – adult led, adult guided and child initiated.
• Adult led – the practitioner chooses the activity to support the child/ren to learn something new or to follow a particular interest. The children join in, sometimes guided towards the activity and sometimes through natural curiosity.
• Adult guided – children play their games and the practitioner joins them, playing alongside them and taking on roles to support their play. Sometimes, the practitioner brings them different resources to enhance their play and learning.
• Child initiated – children play their own games. Adults might later guide their play by adding resource ideas, but the play is led by the child.
Most ‘planted’ activities will be adult led or adult guided.

I think it is tricky, but not impossible, for childminders who work on their own to plan ‘planted’ sessions. The problem starts when one child wanders away from the activity or someone needs attention which takes you away from the other children. Perhaps childminders who do not have a co-childminder or assistant might join up with a colleague to plan this type of teaching and learning opportunity for the children.

Don’t forget, if you try something new write it up in your SEF with an evaluation of how it went and what you might want to do differently next time! Ofsted like to see practitioners learning and growing in their practice.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Children and choking ... some thoughts

‘Ofsted say lack of supervision was largely responsible for child’s nursery death’ (Nursery World, 07.2014) -

In this tragic incident, a young child wandered over to a sensory jelly play tray set up in her nursery, picked up a piece of jelly and popped it in her mouth. She choked and the staff could not get it out. She was apparently unsupervised because staff were in the vicinity but not directly with her.

The Ofsted judgement that lack of supervision was to blame for the tragic incident could have very serious consequences for all early years providers. We all offer opportunities for messy play and we all feed children. If we turn our backs even for a moment - or if we leave the room to answer the door or support a child on the loo - or if we pop into the house from the garden when children are playing – or if some children want to go outside to play while others want to stay in the house… what do we do?

Can we really make our gardens / homes so safe that we remove everything that might be a risk ‘just in case’ a child chokes and we are blamed for not supervising them properly? What about the 9 year old who chokes on a grape? What about the 4 year old who, totally out of character, decides to hide behind the garage and eat a snail – shell and all – and it gets stuck? Both these scenarios have happened to me – should I have cut up the grape for a 9 year old… how could I possibly have foreseen my own normally sensible 4 year old would be so daft as to wonder what a snail tastes like?

Even if it's not messy play that causes a child to choke, it could be a pebble at the park… a conker in the garden... a piece of Lego in the playroom... a crayon at toddler group… some food or a small toy another child has dropped on the floor and the practitioner has missed. We would all hope that we have been well prepared by our first aid training and can get it out but we know that sometimes obstructions cause a perfect plug and no amount of back blows and abdominal thrusts are going to shift them.

The EYFS states that ‘Children must usually be within sight and hearing of staff and always within sight or hearing’ (EYFS 2014 requirement 3.28). I imagine the staff at the nursery in this tragic accident were hovering, like we all do from time to time, between rooms supervising children who want to do different things … a bit like when Ofsted inspectors tell us we should offer free outside access but there is only one childminder and John wants to be outside while Jane wants to play in the house - and we can’t be in 2 places at once!!

The Nursery World article states that Ofsted judged ‘nobody saw or heard her choke’ … we know from first aid training that when children are properly choking we don’t hear it … and we know from our own practice that children do things when we are not watching them - so we cannot possibly see everything they do all day.

For the future, I think we all need a choking risk assessment linked to this Ofsted judgement so we cannot be accused of failing to think about how we supervise the children adequately. Risk assessments do not save lives – they are only a piece of paper - but having a robust risk assessment helps us to show evidence to Ofsted and our insurance companies that we have thought through what we do and considered the risks.

I think we need to consider the following in our risk assessment –
• Should we Velcro all children to us and keep them with us at all times? How will that work when we are in the kitchen preparing food (depending on house layout) or going to the toilet?
• Should we remove messy play or food from the children every time we turn our back?
• Should we have a ‘one in all in’ rule for garden play, regardless of what some Ofsted inspectors say about free flow play?
• Should we reflect on whether using food for messy play is a good idea?
• Should we limit resources so if we have younger children in the house / garden we only offer toys that are suitable for them eg no small Lego or small parts play for older children on days little ones attend?
I also think each one of us should look at how well we supervise children through the day and see if there are any areas of our provision where we cannot see / hear them and think about how we can rectify this.

Hopefully this will be enough to protect everyone – until the next tragic incident presents us with yet another judgement we need to consider.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Retaining paperwork – information for childminders

Childminders and historical abuse claims

A lot of childminders question why they have to retain some documentation relating to children until the child is 21 years and 3 months old – or, according to advice from NSPCC, until they are 25. The reason is… historical claims of injuries or allegations of abuse.

Think about all the stories in the media at the moment about historical abuse claims – they are not just against ‘celebrities’ – they are also against teachers and even pre-school staff.
Historical claims might be –
• The child had an accident while in your care which caused a scar – that scar is, at the age of 18, the reason why they have been refused a modelling contract.
• A 20 year old remembers a safeguarding / abuse incident that happened during their early years and goes to a lawyer to make a claim against you.
• A 15 year old has a long term medical condition as a result of an accident, incident or perhaps a medication mistake while in your care.
• A 19 year old still has nightmares because of an incident that happened while in your care. They are told by a lawyer that they can make a claim against you. The law allows claims to be made up to 3 years from the age of majority (which is 18 years old) or ‘the point at which they know they have the right to make a claim’.

To protect yourself…
Robust, clearly written records, signed by parents and stored securely (to comply with Information Commissioner Office guidance) will help you to prove your innocence in the event of a historical claim. Records you should retain securely until the child is 21 years and 3 months old include –
• Accident and first aid forms*
• Medication administration forms*
• Incident records*
• Complaints made against you by parents relating to their child’s care, safety, health etc*
• Physical intervention reports*
• Records of any reportable death, injury, disease or dangerous occurrence* reported to RIDDOR**
• Contracts*
• Permission forms*
• Safeguarding allegations*
• Attendance registers
All forms marked with * must be signed by parents – it is not a requirement for attendance registers to be signed by parents but this remains good practice.
** RIDDOR require records to be retained for 3 years after the date on which it happened.

It is important that you keep the above documentation locked away securely in paper format – remember that, by the time a child is 21 years and 3 months old, current online systems will be out-of-date and will probably not exist!

Child protection records should be kept until the child is 25 years old according to some Local Authorities. However, I have confirmed with insurance that we are not covered beyond the child being 21 years and 3 months old so this is a grey area.

Insurance - the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Regulations 1998 states that PLI documents must be retained for 40 years from date of issue.

What the requirements say
EYFS requirement 3.70 – ‘Records relating to individual children must be retained for a reasonable period of time after they have left the provision.’ A ‘reasonable period of time’ is generally accepted to be 3 years. However, this requirement is superseded by insurance requirements.
Note that ICO guidance states learning and development information including photographs must be given to parents when it is no longer useful to the childminder ie when the child leaves the provision. All childminders who hold information about children and their families on digital media including using mobile phones or cameras to take photos of children, must be registered with the ICO .

Childcare Register requirement CR8 states – ‘Childminders must keep records of the following and retain them for a period of two years:
• The name, home address and date of birth of each child who is looked after on the premises
• The name, home address and telephone number of a parent/guardian/carer of each child who is looked after on the premises
• A daily record of the names of the children looked after on the premises and their hours of attendance
• Accidents which occur on the premises where childcare is provided
• Any medicine administered to any child who is cared for on the premises, including the date and circumstances and who administered it, including medicine which the child is permitted to self-administer, together with a record of a parent/guardian/carer’s consent
• The name, home address and telephone number of every person living or working on the premises on which childcare is provided (or the part of the premises where the childcare is held, in the case of premises such as community/leisure centres, where only parts.’
The Childcare Register covers statutory requirements for children from the ages of 5 to 18 years.

Working with parents - it is important that you inform parents about what information you are keeping about their child, why and where it will be securely stored. You might add a note to your termination letter.

If you have any questions about retaining information about a child you should speak to your insurance company.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Childminders - focus on quality provision

Questions to help childminders focus on quality provision

Gill Jones, deputy director of early years at Ofsted, spoke to early years providers recently at the Childcare Expo in London. Further information about what she said can be found in the May/June 2014 edition of Morton Michel’s Home Childcarer – a free online magazine.

Ms Jones set a series of questions for childminders to help us examine our practices –
• Am I providing enough high quality experiences to enrich children’s communication skills?
• Is there enough high quality interaction with adults who are good role models?
• Do I challenge the children enough?
• How well am I working with parents to support the children’s learning?

Our guiding principle here at Knutsford Childminding when reflecting on areas of provision and making changes to accommodate new requirements / expectations from Ofsted, our Local Authority and elsewhere is – ‘we know that we already do this really well but it would be even better if we…’
We set very high standards for ourselves and our provision and we want to continue to demonstrate these to Ofsted, regardless of any new documentation / expectations they throw at us. We have reflected on the questions asked by Gill Jones – here are our thoughts…

Am I providing enough high quality experiences to enrich children’s communication skills?

What we already do well… we focus on children’s communication skills as part of our commitment to ensure the 3 prime areas of learning are well established as early as possible in children’s lives.

Children’s communication is supported through high quality interactions with staff and during our daily planned learning activities such as –
• Daily group singing and reading sessions;
• Daily routines eg at the table during snack, lunch and tea and nappy changing;
• One-to-one planned interactions with children;
• One-to-one unplanned interactions during adult guided and free play sessions through the day.
We regularly review each child’s communication through observations of their interactions during different types of play. We use these observations to evaluate what changes we need to make to their individual planning in the future.

We use the following nationally recognised communication and language schemes –
• ‘Letters and Sounds phase 1’ – games are incorporated into children’s learning experiences;
• ‘Toddler Talk’ (from the Communication Trust) – a new Toddler Talk card is used with the children every day;
• ‘Every Child a Talker’ - which helps us to monitor children’s social communication and use of speech sounds.

To further reflect on this area of provision we will…
Consider whether communication is effectively supported in the garden and on outings - as well as it is in house.

Is there enough high quality interaction with adults who are good role models?

What we already do well… we recognise that quality teaching is a big part of the revised inspection framework. We know that we need to consider how well we are teaching and interacting with the children so that they are given the best chances to make good progress while they are with us.

We aim to offer every child a range of varied and imaginative experiences every day they attend and we adapt planning and available resources to follow their interests and learning needs. We have a very clear understanding of how children learn (from training and over 20 years’ experience) and we attend / engage with further training and CPD when it is available to enhance our knowledge.

We work very closely together and talk about children’s needs as part of our regular meetings to discuss the children and the progress they are making. We are confident that our expectations for every child are consistently high.
To further reflect on this area of provision we will…
• Look carefully at the way routines are used and complete a routine continuous provision plan. Use it to consider if we are making best use of our daily routines to support children’s learning including –
o Adult led sessions;
o Adult guided sessions;
o Child initiated play.


Do I challenge the children enough?

What we already do well… we recognise that the Ofsted inspection process is focussed on raising outcomes for children – if they are not challenged they will not learn new things and make good progress.

To challenge children we…
• Use observations to assess current abilities, strengths and weaknesses.
• Assess observations using Early Years Outcomes (EYO) as a guide to the progress each child is making – our assessments are closely linked to EYO and focussed on what the child can do as well as what they need to learn next.
• Note how we can help children to make progress.
• Share information with parents about how they can support their child at home.
• Work with other settings to promote shared learning experiences.
• Plan individually for every child as part of our educational programme which also includes group planned activities to support children to learn new things and to challenge and extend their knowledge.
• Evaluate activities we have planned to ensure our activities, resources, use of space, routines etc are being used effectively.
• Discuss if we need to make focussed interventions for any of the children.
• Observe children’s play to monitor their ongoing engagement, wellbeing and learning.

We regularly make changes to our layout, garden access and resources to ensure our environment effectively stimulates each child – and make changes as necessary. We discuss staff effectiveness and our use of the house, garden and outings in our monthly meetings and access further CPD when useful.

To further reflect on this area of provision we will…
Consider whether our observation, assessment, planning and evaluation schedule is robust. To do this we will look at Learning Journey files from other providers to ensure we are including everything that might be needed to ensure we can effectively monitor children’s progress.


How well am I working with parents to support the children’s learning?

What we already do well… we work very closely with all parents, involving them in their children’s learning experiences and asking for their input. We aim to share children’s learning with families and we regularly suggest ways children’s learning might be enhanced at home in newsletters, children’s Learning Journey files, daily diary books, emails we send to parents through the month and daily chats.

We use the following methods to share information with parents to support children’s learning –
• Daily diaries - which focus on one area of learning each day and talk about children’s engagement and enjoyment of the activity
• Daily doorstep chats with parents to share information about their child’s learning during the day
• Parent ‘what we are doing today’ display in the entrance hall
• Learning Journey files which parents are encouraged to interact with regularly
• Ongoing ‘what I can do now’ documents and observations from home
• Monthly newsletters - which inform parents in brief about what their child has done, is doing next and provide a learning at home idea
We are trialling a new way of communicating via email (to cut down on printing costs) and will evaluate the effectiveness of this with parents shortly.

To further reflect on this area of provision we will…
Speak to parents about how well they think we are working with them to support their children’s learning. We will use what they tell us to enhance our already robust ways of working.


We will use this article by Linda Thornton and Pat Brunton to help us reflect on our provision and what changes we might need to make to ensure compliance with the latest Ofsted expectations.

The article is linked to the latest Ofsted evaluation schedule (doc 120086 – Nov 2013).

More thoughts…

We intend using these questions from Gill Jones at Ofsted as a starting point for a professional discussion. We will talk about what we already do and how we might improve our provision in the future. We will involve local and national childminders in this professional discussion so that we can carefully evaluate how well we are doing and how we might improve our already outstanding provision.

We will consider what changes we might need to make to areas of provision such as –
• Record keeping / documentation
• The way we use the key person system
• Resources and equipment
• Daily routines
• Continuous provision plans
• Children’s wellbeing and engagement
• The effectiveness of our use of the 7 areas of learning
• Children’s behaviour
• Inclusive practice including how well we promote equality and diversity
• Safety and how well we support learning using risk benefit assessments
• Parent partnerships / conversations
• Use of the characteristics of learning
• Working with other settings
• How well we share ideas for developing children’s learning at home
• Use of space / layout of the house and garden
• Partnerships with other agencies / professionals / settings
• Children’s interactions with each other
• Community involvement including outings

To further enhance provision we will consider whether we need to update our self-evaluation form as a result of working through this self-reflection process – we use the Ofsted SEF.

As a result of further reflection it may be necessary to update e-book 18 ‘SEF guide’ from Knutsford Childminding.

It will also be important to consider what information is shared with our childminder colleagues via the Independent Childminders Facebook group and the Childminding Forum to ensure all childminders who want to stay independent of agencies and individually inspected are able to share good practice and benefit from each other’s experience and knowledge.

I hope you find this blog useful. Please ask me if you have any questions.

Chat soon, Sarah

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Personal plans – Care Plans - SCOTLAND

Personal plans – also known as Care Plans - SCOTLAND

It is a legal requirement ‘2011 No. 210 SOCIAL CARE: The Social Care and Social Work Improvement Scotland (Requirements for Care Services) Regulations’ (01.04.2011) that you prepare a written plan for every child in your care within 28 days of their start date -

‘A provider must, after consultation with each service user and where it appears to the provider to be appropriate, any representative of the service user, within 28 days of the date on which the service user first received the service prepare a written plan (“the personal plan”).’

You must share the plan with the child / parents -

(2) Subject to paragraph (3) a provider of a care service must—
(a) Make the personal plan available to the service user and to any representative consulted under paragraph (1).

You must review the plan if requested, if something changes and at least 6 monthly –

‘(b) Review the personal plan—
(i) When requested to do so by the service user or any representative;
(ii) When there is a significant change in a service user’s health, welfare or safety needs; and
(iii) At least once in every six month period whilst the service user is in receipt of the service;
(c) Where appropriate, after any review mentioned in sub-paragraph (b), and after consultation with the service user and, where it appears to the provider to be appropriate, any representative, revise the personal plan.’

You must inform the child and parents that there has been a review and update them on any changes you have made to the plan –

‘(d) Notify the service user and any representative consulted under paragraph (2)(c) of any such revision.’

You can find further guidance to help you write personal / care plans for every child in your service (including over 8s) in e-book 68 ‘SHANARRI – Scotland’ (only £2.99) from

Thank you.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Sharing information with parents

I attended a very good training session last night about involving parents in their children's time with us here at Knutsford Childminding. I think we do a pretty good job of sharing information and asking for feedback - and so do our parents - but there is always more to learn, so off I went to Stockport after a 10 hour working day for 2 more hours of training!

The training was attended by a range of settings - I like it this way because I enjoy learning from other providers and we all do things in different ways. It started with an introduction about why it is so important to share information with parents and what the EYFS 2012 (and revised EYFS 2014) requires of us. We then talked about how we already share information and shared further ideas with each other.

We spent some time focussing on different challenges practitioners might have in their settings - from ensuring we communicate effectively with disabled parents or parents who do not speak English as a first language - to sharing ideas to enhance children's learning at home with hard to reach parents who don't have time to stop and chat.

It was interesting to see that all settings have similar challenges and to think about how we manage them so that we can share information with parents effectively without letting the barriers to communication get in our way. A variety of methods were suggested including -

- Face to face chats at the beginning and end of the day
- Email
- Newsletters sent out in each parents preferred way
- Using a translator if parents do not speak English confidently
- Texts and phone calls
- Daily diary booklets
- Wow moment cards that parents fill in at home
- Regular meetings
- Settings were keen on getting parents involved in walks in the local area and inviting them in to do gardening, contribute to activities or eat meals with the children
- Professional secure Facebook page or blog
- Displays for parents to look at when their child is being collected
- Learning Journey files that parents regularly read through and comment on
- Travelling bears or book loans to involve parents in their child's learning at home
... and much more!

The most important thing we recognised was that we need to engage parents and find out how they want us to communicate with them and respect their choice. For example, if we have an online way of sharing information and they never log on, we need to provide information in a different format for them... childminders have been downgraded at inspection for exactly that scenario!

Any training is good - it makes you reflect on what you do and how you do things - and it gives you ideas for the future. Even if you come away thinking 'I know all that' you can be smug in the knowledge that you are doing everything right!!

Chat soon, Sarah x

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Themed planning - the EYFS - and Mummy G!

I have just finished writing a guest blog for a colleague, Tracy Garbett from the website and blog ~ Mummy G talks parenting ~ and I thought my readers might be interested too!

Tracy's website, which contains some lovely themed planning ideas, is here . Tracy regularly contributes activity ideas to the Independent Childminders Facebook group as well as writing on her own page.

The title of my blog is... 'A brief history of themed planning and how it might be incorporated within the EYFS'...

By Sarah Neville ~ childminder and early years writer

First I was very polite and introduced myself...

My name is Sarah Neville and I am an Ofsted registered independent childminder – my childminding provision is known as Knutsford Childminding. I love my job working with young children – it is what enthuses me to get up every morning, set out my playroom ready for the children to arrive, complete all the expected paperwork and spend my evenings trawling the internet looking for ideas and inspiration to engage and excite them!

In fact, it was my evening internet trawling for new activity ideas to include in my weekly group planning led me to Tracy’s blog pages and ultimately to writing this blog! So hello to Tracy’s readers, I hope you are well.

In my free time I write e-books for childminders to support their learning and understanding of the EYFS. I also moderate the Childminding Forum and Independent Childminders Facebook group.

Then I talked about the history of themed planning...

Many years ago when I was a teacher - and I have been a registered childminder for 20 years so I am talking many years ago - themes were the in-things! Every teacher I know used them and recognised their value.

We were taught that themes covered so much learning – you could theme your whole classroom and totally immerse little minds in subjects they were interested in and you wanted them to learn more about. Of course, you would still plan the normal routine activities – singing and reading sessions, playtime and the like - but the themes you planned would carry children’s learning to new levels, introducing them to the wider world. They were limited only by the teacher’s imagination.

Then themes went out of fashion. Children need to play their own games and child initiated planning is the way to go… said all the experts. A lot of teachers continued to use them – they just called them something else! However, as Ofsted started to inspect childminders, quite a few inspectors said they didn’t like themed planning and wanted to see child initiated play instead. Local Authority support workers started to say the same thing and many childminders were worried about using themes for fear of doing something wrong and bringing the wrath of Ofsted down on themselves.

Then I talked about how well themes work with the EYFS...

Then the EYFS 2008 – and 2012 when it was published – said that ‘It is expected that the balance [of child initiated and adult led play] will shift towards a more equal focus on all areas of learning as children grow in confidence and ability within the three prime areas’ (requirement 1.7) and ‘As children grow older, and as their development allows, it is expected that the balance will gradually shift towards more activities led by adults, to help children prepare for more formal learning, ready for Year 1’ (requirement 1.9).

Many childminders were very excited by this wording – it meant they could reintroduce themed planning to follow young children’s interests and to teach them new things about the world around them. Adult-led learning suits themes very well – we set up the environment first, considering each child’s current interests and learning styles – we use all 7 areas of learning to support children’s understanding – we tick the Ofsted ‘teaching children’ box without them knowing they are doing anything other than having fun and playing games they enjoy.

Plus, the new focus during Ofsted inspections is for inspectors to look at the quality of teaching… we are all teachers… every time we set up an activity, show children how to play a game, help children to share out toys or snack, follow up a child’s interest with an activity we think they will like – we are teaching! We might not like the name but it’s what we do every day so we need (in my opinion) to celebrate the quality of the learning experiences we offer children – and themed planning is one way we can do that.

Then I talked about how Tracy's themes are similar to my own...

Tracy’s themes, such as this one she has recently written which covers under sea activities, are very similar to mine! They contain far more details than most childminders will ever use because it is good to have lots of general activity ideas to carry you forward (better too many than not enough) – they link to the 7 areas of learning and development – and they are very flexible so that if the children change their minds or want to take their learning in new directions, off you go following their lead!

Then I reinforced the importance of individual planning...

Of course, individual planning is still the most important type of planning, written to meet each child’s likes, dislikes, interests, ways of learning (learning characteristics), home and other setting experiences etc… and your themed planning can be used as part of that. When you have lots of activity ideas around a subject, you can personalise them so that each child is learning something new and following their interests at the same time.

I am sure you, like me, will find lots of inspiration from themed planning and use it effectively to support children’s learning. Don’t forget to share your planning ideas with children’s parents and suggest ways they can support their child’s learning at home… being a young child should be exciting and stimulating, challenging and fun! The more we can teach them through playful activities that interest them and hold their attention, the better equipped they will be to cope in a school environment.

Then I plugged some of the activity ideas on Tracy's blog...

Tracy's blog has lots of exciting pages for childminders such as...

Healthy cooking with children - carrot and raisin cookie recipe

Ideas for making Easter cards

Various worksheets including one for children who love spiders and much, much more!

Why not pop over there and have a nosey around?

I hope you have enjoyed reading my guest blog.

Chat soon. Sarah x

Monday, 31 March 2014

Activity ideas for all areas of learning

I initially wrote this information for members of the Independent Childminders Facebook group who told me that it was a useful planning prompt. It is not a definitive list of everything you can do with children – it is just a few ideas to support children in each of the areas of learning.

During your Ofsted inspection, your inspector will be looking to see how well you teach each of the children in your care. Part of teaching is showing evidence that the planning you have in place ensures you have appropriate resources available – because children cannot learn well if they are not challenged and stimulated in their play.
We all know that the most important and effective type of planning is individual, linked to each child’s interests, learning styles, schemas, previous observations, learning characteristics etc.

You can use this activity ideas list as an enhancement to your individual planning, to help you prepare ‘invitations to play’ which children can access through the day in addition to the individual learning you have planned for them.

For example…
Jane enjoys playing with the dolls and would happily wrap her doll up and take it for a walk round the garden all morning. You offer this activity and add some water play so she can bathe her doll.
As additional ‘invitations to play’ you also have some of the following outside experiences available –
C & L – role play flower shops as part of your spring themed activity planning;
PD – flower sewing cards to promote fine motor skills;
PSED – games where Jane is encouraged to play cooperatively with other children eg playing flower shops with friends etc…

John enjoys playing with cars and garages. Dad is a mechanic and has taken John to work with him recently. You have observed John using a lot more garage role play in his learning. you set up a garage for him and add a notepad and pen along with a phone so he can take bookings for his garage from other children.
As additional ‘invitations to play’ you also have some of the following outside experiences available –
C & L – spring themed activities linked to your spring words display to support John’s extending vocabulary and cooperative games to support John’s developing listening skills;
PD – flower sewing cards to promote fine motor skills;
PSED – discussion with John about his favourite spring changes which will lead to arts and crafts as part of his individual / next steps planning etc...

Activity ideas for the PRIME areas of learning…

Communication & Language
1. Listening & attention
2. Understanding
3. Speaking / communicating

Activity ideas include -
• Books, comics & stories*
• CDs* – music, stories
• Chatting to friends – communication friendly spaces
• Helping with jobs
• Jokes
• Library visits
• Listening games* – listening lotto, listening walks, recording sounds (ICT)
• Question & answer games*
• Role play
• Sign language
• Singing and rhymes*
• Story sets / bags* extend learning
• Story telling*
*Letters and Sounds phase 1

Physical Development
1. Moving (gross motor skills)
2. Handling (fine motor skills)
3. Health & self care

Activity ideas include -
• Art & crafts – rubbing, stencils
• Climbing – up & down steps & stairs
• Cooking – learning about healthy food and healthy eating
• Construction toys
• Dancing
• Fine motor practice – cutting, stickers, glue, pencil control, tracing
• Hand washing - germs
• Mark making – chalk, crayons & pencils
• Outside gross motor skills – bike, scooter, rocker, slide, swing etc
• Park visits & soft play – climbing, jumping, running, kicking a ball
• Sewing
• Threading reels & treading cards
• Throwing & catching - balls, bean bags & balloons

Personal, Social and Emotional Development
1. Self-confidence & awareness
2. Managing feelings & behaviour
3. Making relationships

Activity ideas include -
• Body parts – songs, pointing & naming games
• Books & games to promote sympathy, understanding of others, empathy
• Cuddles – tickling games
• Dressing up
• Games
• Group activities – working together to make something, talking in a group
• Helping with little jobs
• Meeting / visiting friends
• Sharing / taking turns – games, with resources
• Time – to speak & make themselves heard, to be with adults & children, to be alone & daydream, to be bored

Activity ideas for the SPECIFIC areas of learning…

1. Reading
2. Writing

Activity ideas include -
• Alliteration games*
• Books* – different sizes, types & shapes
• Initial sounds games – phonics*
• Letter shapes – in the air, on paper, outside with chalk, at the easel, with playdough, in salt or sand
• Poems / poetry*
• Print in the environment – shops, labels, computer
• Rhyming games*
• Signs - words in displays, labels on toy boxes
• Songs & rhymes*
• Story telling* – with or without puppets & other resources
• Writing (not mark making – that’s PD) – pencils, crayons, paper, labels, captions, name writing
*Letters and Sounds phase 1

1. Numbers
2. Shape, space & measures

Activity ideas include -
• Cooking – weights, measures, time, capacity
• Counting & numbers
• Jigsaws – shapes, sizes
• Matching & sorting
• Money – shopping, cafĂ©
• Number activities, games, books, jigsaws etc
• Number rhymes – counting forwards & backwards
• Positional language – up, down, over, under, through, behind, in front
• Quantity language – heavy, light, more, less
• Sequencing – colours, shapes, sizes, numbers
• Shapes – stencils, pictures, freehand, playdough
• Size – big, small, bigger, smaller, emptying, filling
• Sorting – size, shape, colour, weight
• Time – visual timetables
• Weight – heavy, light – sand & water play

Understanding the world
1. People & communities
2. The world
3. Technology (ICT)

Activity ideas include -
• Environmental awareness – recycling, walks in the woods, map making
• Equality & disability awareness – small world people, dolls house
• Experimenting – cooking, finding out how things work
• Festivals from around the world – themes for over 3s
• ICT – computer, dance mat, toys that do something, finding out how things work
• Listening to music on CDs, YouTube etc
• Matching games
• Messy play – sand, water, gloop, playdough, foam
• Model making
• Nature & the natural world – plants, animals
• Relationships & friendships
• Role play – home & community influences in pretend play
• Seasons – time & changes
• Weather
• World around us themes

Expressive arts & design
1. Media & materials
2. Imagination

Activity ideas include -
• Collages
• Colour mixing & experiments
• Colouring sheets
• Construction & tools
• Dancing
• Glue & tape – joining things together, taking them apart
• Imaginative / pretend – role play, dressing up clothes
• Malleable & messy play – sand, water, playdough etc
• Music – CDs, radio, creating with instruments
• Outings to gain experiences that can be used to develop imagination
• Painting
• Rhythm & rhyme
• Sensory learning
• Singing songs & rhymes
• Small world resources – dolls house, little people, farm, under the sea, zoo, cars, trains, insects
• Textures

I hope you find the ideas useful. Chat soon, Sarah x

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Maths outside for childminders

A little while ago, Independent Childminders Facebook group members contributed to an ‘Outside Maths' thread. I added some of my own ideas and have turned it into a useful download to support CPD.

We are seeing a few Ofsted inspection reports which comment that childminders do not plan enough maths activities outside. While Ofsted refuse to clarify what ‘enough’ means we will always be fighting an uphill battle, but I thought it might be worthwhile pulling together a few ideas.

Maths includes – number, shape, space, measure, time, capacity, speed, counting, money, weight, pattern, reasoning, symmetry, length, estimating, perspective, angles, pairs, fractions, direction, opposites, problem solving, making comparisons, direction…

Let’s think about some of our planned activities and think about some of the ways they support children to develop an awareness of maths through play…
• Active play – counting footsteps, distance language, sharing space;
• Art and artists – Kandinsky paintings = shape; distance and perspective;
• Balls / bean bags – counting and number, distance, speed, direction;
• Bikes – speed, direction, angles, problem solving;
• Blocks – shape, weight, measure, estimating, space, counting;
• Butterfly painting – symmetry;
• Calendar – time;
• Cars – make big numbers and draw roads on them – shape, distance, speed, direction;
• Chalk to draw round things – shape, size, measure, pattern, symmetry;
• Clock on the wall – time;
• Collections of natural materials eg twigs, leaves, fir cones, coconut shells, stones, acorns and conkers – shape, size, counting, lining up by size, opposites;
• Dinosaurs in the messy tray – sorting, size, shape, lining up;
• Den building – shape, size, angle, length, problem solving;
• Fishing game with magnets and water – counting, sorting, shape, size, weight;
• Floating experiments in the water tray – weight, capacity, shape, size; good book ‘who sank the boat?’ by Pamela Allen;
• Flowers / herbs – shape, size, time;
• Foot / wellie / shoe / leaf prints – size, shape, counting, symmetry;
• Growing flowers – measure, time;
• Guessing games – estimating, problem solving;
• Hopscotch – counting;
• Numbers on the fence eg house or bin numbers – numbers, counting, shape;
• Leaves – symmetry, shape, size, pairs, opposites, capacity; threading leaves – shape, size, counting;
• Making puddles – size, shape, capacity, shapes;
• Maps – distance, speed, measure, perspective;
• Mazes (cars, children) – direction, speed, time;
• Minibeasts – size, shape, number, counting;
• Musical instruments – counting beats;
• Notebook and pencil / clipboard – counting, writing numbers;
• Number line – counting, sorting;
• Pebbles with numbers / shapes – varnish for longer life – number, sorting;
• Oats and water – predicting, capacity, size;
• Obstacle course – distance, direction, number, counting;
• Photographs – distance, angle, problem solving;
• Potion making – capacity, measure, counting;
• Pots, spoons and measuring jugs in water and sand play – weight, capacity, size, fractions, estimating, pairs;
• Questions – keep your questions open so children are encouraged to think, try, guess, estimate, suggest, solving problems etc. Ask ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions and take an interest in what children are doing rather than turning fun activities into an inquisition. Children are more likely to share what they know if they are relaxed and playing;
• Rain water – capacity, weight, measure;
• Ride on toys and numbered parking bays – number, direction, speed;
• Shopping role play – money, size, estimating, capacity (putting shopping in bags);
• Rubbings – pattern, shape, size, symmetry;
• Sand – writing numbers, shape moulds, pattern;
• Scales – weigh natural materials – weight, measure, making comparisons;
• Shells – grading, sorting, shape, size;
• Skipping – counting, speed, use of space;
• Skittles – direction, speed, counting, weight;
• Songs and rhymes – shape, counting, number;
• Stepping stones – counting, distance;
• Sticks – shape, size, length, angles, number shapes, measure;
• Stones – weight, size, shape, counting; numbered stones can be used for sorting;
• Sunshine and shadows – shape, symmetry, time;
• Tea parties – fractions, shape, number, counting;
• Treasure hunt – counting, distance, opposites, problem solving;
• Tubes for rolling cars down – distance, speed, angle, distance;
• Water play – capacity, weight, problem solving, opposites, estimating;
• Wet and dry sand – weight, problem solving, making comparisons, pattern;
• Windmills / kites – direction, speed.

Ofsted are making a lot of comments in inspections about using natural resources. Go for a walk with the children and collect natural resources to use for experiments – use magnifying glasses to explore them carefully. Think about how you can use the resources for maths activities.

I hope you find the ideas useful. Sarah x

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Individual planning for childminders

To follow on from my blogs about weekly planning and group planning, this final blog in the planning series looks at individual planning - and gives you some ideas for recording your planning.

I hope you find it useful.

Individual planning

This is the most important type of planning and the one you should focus on the most. If you don’t write anything else, please have some written individual planning (next steps / PLODS - whatever you call it) for each EYFS aged child. You should keep the rest of your planning (if you choose to use it) simple and easy to do because this is the planning that should take up most of your time.

Ofsted want to see evidence that children are making good progress - that the activities and experiences you plan for them are helping them to learn new things - that you know your key children** really well and are building on the ways they learn (their learning characteristics) and the things they already know (observations) to develop their future learning experiences.

**Childminders are each child’s key person. If you work in group provision you must nominate a key person for every EYFS aged child - inform parents about the key person role - write the name of the child’s key person somewhere on the child’s Learning Journey information - this is a requirement of the EYFS 2012.

Individual planning = next steps... for example -
• John loves farm animals so you make a Lego farmyard with him, sing ‘Old MacDonald’ and read a book about Spot the dog visiting a farm - yes it really is that obvious! Don’t over-complicate it!
• Janet has been to the zoo with her family and brings a toy giraffe to show you - read ‘Handa’s Surprise’ with her and see what she wants to do next with her new interest... you could sing the elephant song or go outside to hunt for the zoo animals which you have hidden in the garden.
• Katie is exploring an enveloping schema at the moment - she is wrapping everything up including herself! Plan some den play with her... and give parents some ideas for activities they can do with her at home.
• Jack points out a spiders web in the garden - get him some string and have fun making one together. Concentrate on his scissor skills (you noted that you wanted to do some more fine motor skills with him in his previous next steps).

Photos are great for showing how you have followed children’s learning styles but don’t take too many or it will cost you a fortune to print them all... or take lots to show parents but only print a few.

It is important that every child has a range of experiences that link to all areas of learning and development through the week. However, you don’t need to sit down and fill in a big planning sheet every week because a lot of what the children do in their daily routines will allow you to show evidence of your compliance with the EYFS before you even start planning!
For example every day you already know that -
• Jane sits with her friends at the table and has snack - PSED - making friendships
• Jane sings songs about numbers - maths - counting
• Jane looks at worms when you are out on the school run - understanding the world - the world
• Jane washes her hands and chooses a healthy snack - Physical - health and self care
Then, you can write your individual planning...


Recording planning

Here is how I do it -

• I put my annual plan at the front of my medium term planning folder. I use it as a prompt through the months - but I do not follow it if something better (something the children would rather do) comes up instead.

• I add medium term planning through the months to build up a really good resource file. Sometimes I have some good activity ideas that don’t link to the months of the year - I file them alphabetically at the back of my folder for reference next time they pop up.

• I add group planning notes to my monthly folder as well - I don’t include the children’s names, just activity ideas and comments.

• Each child has a personalised Learning Journey file and I put notes about their individual learning experiences in a play plan which I write every week for them. I include information about what I have planned for the child - and notes about what the child has chosen to do from my continuous provision resources (the toys and games I always have available).


More information and advice

You can find a copy of my play plan here

Advice about weekly planning here.

There is a quick overview of different types of planning here .

You can find more FREE information and links to help and advice here .

This blog looks at daily outside play planning.

If you are a member I have written lots of information about planning for gold members of the site.

Remember, your ways of doing things are NOT wrong!!

We all work differently and it is important we share good practice. If you have a way of doing your planning that works better for you then you do NOT need to change it... but if any of my ideas help or you think they will save you time, then you might like to reflect on how to include them in your day-to-day record keeping.

Don’t forget to keep a note of what you have done to include in your SEF.

If you have any questions about planning that are not answered above, please ask! It is really important that we all support each other.

For more information about planning please see e-book 15 'Eyfs Planning' from Knutsford Childminding resources.

Thank you.