Over the last 15 years of being a parent and being a single parent for the first 10 years of those I was solely responsible of making sure my daughter was looked after and cared for even when I was working.
It’s a heavy burden to bear when you find yourself looking into childcare for your little folks and its easy to think you know exactly what you are looking for when you search out those childcare providers.
Many years ago when I found myself looking for a full-time child minder I only found one central resource for pre-school age children and those needing after school and holiday care and that was Childcare.co.uk which even today is the UK’s largest online community of childcare providers and private tutors providing trusted support for parents across the country.
As with everything Childcare.co.uk has developed since I last used it and has been awarded for innovation by the government’s Department for Education so it’s not just me that has felt its been a valuable asset in the search for finding the right support in caring for little folks.
Recently I was lucky enough to ask the wonderful Jo Wiltshire, who is a renowned author and journalist in her own right and as the childcare expert for Childcare.co.uk what we need to look out for when searching out those childcare providers:
1) Visit the setting
Always visit the premises, whether it’s a nursery or a childminder’s house. Visit when they have other children their, not out of hours. Look at the children – are they clean, happy, confident in talking to the staff? Are they relaxed, but busy and purposeful? Are the staff approachable and warm? Are the surroundings clean, bright, with evidence of activities, outside play space, and safe places to wash, use the toilet and eat? Are the toys reasonably new-looking, and clean? Are there books, paper, pencils, building toys, role-play toys and stimulating colours? Is the atmosphere one you would want to spend hours a day in?
2) Ask questions
Both of your potential care giver, and also any friends, family or wider acquaintances who have already used them. Word of mouth works – as long as you are sensible enough to overlook individual grudges or personal disputes.
When you visit the caregiver, don’t be embarrassed to really drill them – you are considering handing them responsibility for your precious child, and any caregiver worth their salt won’t mind answering anything you can throw at them. Ask about staff ratios, qualifications, daily routines, policies on discipline, practicalities such as provision of food and nappies, outings and trips, whether they have a keyworker scheme, what happens when a childminder is poorly. If they can’t or won’t answer, think again.
3) Be child-centred
Think about the things that are important in making your child happy and safe at the particular stage they are at right now. See the setting and the adults in it through your child’s eyes. While policies and records are important to you, your child will be more concerned with friendships, food, fun things to do, and feeling secure and loved in their environment. Is the setting a fun, safe place to be? Are the other children kind, friendly and welcoming? Take your child there for a visit – do they look interested, curious, engaged? Do the other children? Is this somewhere your child would choose to be?
4) Check and double-check
Do your homework. Check the setting’s Ofsted report, take up references (at least two), do a news search of the setting on the internet to see if they’ve been in the local press for any reason (good or bad!).
Drop by unannounced, and see what things look like when they’re not expecting you – are the staff interacting with the children, down on their level? Or is the television acting as a childminder? Are the children clean and occupied, and the staff unflustered and happy to greet you? Ask to use the loo, so that you get to walk into areas that may be less ‘prepped’ for visitors. You may feel like a spy – but if they have nothing to hide, you won’t catch them out!
5) Communication is key
The people in this setting will see you child for many hours a week. They will influence them, teach them, inspire them. They may witness many ‘firsts’ and key stages your child reaches. Your child should form an important bond with them. You will NEED to be able to communicate with them, easily and warmly and frequently. Does the setting send out a newsletter or email update? How do they communicate directly with parents? Do they have a parents handbook? How do they record and communicate your child’s development to you? How can you talk to them if you have a family issue, or something that is affecting your child?
If you don’t feel confident communicating with your potential caregiver, then walk away. However shiny and impressive the premises are, it counts for nothing if this relationship isn’t right. Gut instinct is the final box you have to tick – and communication is probably the key factor which will influence this.
*This is a collaborative post with Childcare.co.uk*