Extending the family
I decided to register as a childminder when we as a family moved from Newcastle to Hexham over 12 years ago. James was then 3 years old and Leah almost one. We didn’t know anyone in Hexham and I thought that becoming a registered childminder would be a way of getting to know some other people. In those days registration was with Social Services and took quite a short time. Almost before my registration was complete I had been asked to care for twin girls who were the same age as James, on a part-time basis. I was given permission to do so (because I would have four children under the age of 5) and so my childminding career began.
It is such a privilege and a responsibility to be asked to care for other people’s children, something I don’t take lightly. When a child first comes to me, the important thing to do, whatever age they are, is to make sure they feel welcome, accepted and part of my “family”. From the very first day I want all children to feel that my home is theirs for the time that they are with me.
Because James and Leah have been involved with childminding since they were very young, they are very comfortable around the children and become “big brother” and “big sister”. James has recently started babysitting for some of the families I childmind for – the parents know how good he is with their children and the children just love having James round to play!
The daily round
Even though a lot of what I do is based around the routines of the children I care for – school runs, nursery pick-ups, sleep times and meals – I do feel that I have a lot of freedom in what I am able to do. When the weather is great we can pack a picnic and spend the day at the park. When the weather is awful we can wrap up and splash in puddles or chase leaves or stay at home. If one of the children is not a hundred per cent, then we might have a quiet day at home – reading stories cuddled up on the sofa.
I tend to spend my mornings attending various sessions with other childminders. We go along to Toddler Groups where the children have free choice as to what they do – ride on toys, play kitchen, jigsaws and crafts – but with a structure to the session. They will play, then have a drink and a snack, and then the morning will end with singing. For me these sessions are good as the children get to play and interact with other children, as well as getting to know some of the other childminders, therefore developing relationships with other adults as well as children.
One of my favourite times is when the children are playing and I can either just sit and observe, listening to their conversations or I can get totally involved, dress up and find myself in a den behind the sofa. Once a child starts any form of group setting (playgroup, nursery and school), a lot of what they do is adult-led. I do think attending group settings for part of a child’s day is good but I also believe that they need time to initiate their own play, to decide for themselves whether they want to paint, build Duplo, make a huge train track with the Brio or dress up and be a spaceman for an afternoon.
In a small, home-based setting there is the freedom to allow all the children to do just that. Most of the time there will be two or three children, so there is the possibility for everyone to do what they want to do. I therefore encourage all the children to decide for themselves what they want to do after lunch.
Watching children learn and develop
The range of play opportunities and activities that I am able to make available to the children should mean that they each develop across the various areas of learning at a pace that is suitable for them. I believe that the encouragement and suggestions I offer can help children try new activities, learn to explore new ideas and have fun in an ideal learning environment.
Over the last twelve years I have seen many children grow into confident young people. I have encouraged the very clingy child to be more assertive, the shy child to voice opinions and make choices, the incredibly confident child to share and take turns and all of the children to appreciate each other’s feelings and be considerate.
The things that I love about childminding are too numerous to include but here are a few :
- observing a 6-year-old select toys for a 10-month-old to change a worried face to a smile;
- watching a 3-year-old rock a baby in their carry cot while I prepare a bottle;
- knowing the 4-year-old will go and find the biscuit tin, offering one to all the other children;
- standing by while a 10-year-old makes her first cup of tea;
- noticing the 18-month-old get on a ride-on toy all by himself and then watching his face as he makes it go all round the room at Toddlers;
- having children run into my house to give me a big hug because they haven’t seen me for a while;
- listening to a 5-year-old tell me all about the Tyrannosaurus Rex he is painting, “They have very short legs you know, but long toe nails, and I have only painted one eye because he is looking sideways, so the other eye is on the other side”.
It all makes what I do much more than a job; it’s what I am. I do love childminding!
Susanna Dawson is a Registered Childminder and the Chair of the National ChildMinding Association.