JENNIFER WOOLDRIDGE , CHILDMINDER AND INSTAGRAM INFLUENCER
My childminding setting has changed a lot in the past few years. As a practitioner I’m always looking for ways of improving the quality of care that I provide and building on my own unique selling points. These will make my setting different to others and give the children in my care a different experience to what might be available locally.
When I first became a childminder in 2011, I created a setting full of bright, largely plastic toys, lots of flashing lights and musical devices which I thought would stimulate the children and provide hours of fun. There were posters up on my walls and I felt all-consumed in my ‘nursery’ which was actually my home. Over time, living in a nursery led to resentment… did I really need to give up my home to accommodate childminding?
Stuck in a rut
Jump to 2016 and off the back of my recent inspection I’m reflecting on what I want to achieve over the next 3 or 4 years. Don’t get me wrong, the inspection went well and OFSTED were pleased with what they saw but was I pleased to be living in the plastic fantastic setting that seemed to have taken over my whole life? Was I enjoying this job more than my previous career? Should I give it up? Childminders had been leaving the sector at an alarming rate – was I missing something? Why were they leaving? What was keeping me here? Should I still be a childminder?
Yes, yes, of course I should. I became a childminder so that I could be my own boss, work the hours that I chose for myself, be available to pick up my own children from school and provide their childcare when they were babies. In turn, I had loved working with the families and children that had already become part of my extended family: I just didn’t want to live in a nursery anymore.
Everywhere I looked I saw images of childcare settings that looked like mine. Bright colours on the walls, labels on every box. Was this the norm? Childminders I knew were complaining because their houses were being taken over by the job, or they themselves were drowning. And I was one of those childminders, drowning, without a focus.
In late 2017 I chanced upon a post that showed a childcare setting with neutral tones, white washed walls, natural materials and fairy lights. I still remember clearly the planks of wood painted black with white lines to be used as roads and the fake grass used on cable reels set up as fairy gardens. The focus seemed to be on curiosity and there were trays of loose parts set out ready for children to tinker with. It was a light bulb moment. I had chanced upon The Curiosity Approach.
I realised that this was what I needed. I had to strip back my home and toys and start to think more about providing a neutral space. Childminders are often quoted as saying they provide a ‘home-from-home setting’, a place where children feel loved, nurtured and secure, but I’ve never been in a friends home and found a poster of how to wash hands in their loo or an ABC poster on the dining room wall. So why was I doing this? I didn’t want to be a watered down version of school, I wanted my setting to provide inspiration in a calm environment. Hygge. It is Time to think outside the box when it comes to early years childcare settings.
This was the start. I’d already begun to replace toys as they got broken for wooden, open-ended alternatives, but reading more about the curiosity approach, I wanted to create a place filled with curiosity, awe and wonder but also didn’t want to overwhelm myself, so set to work reading up on Montessori, Reggio and Waldorf principles which in turn gave me further insight into child development and how I myself should become more mindful.
I had suddenly rediscovered my purpose. I was enjoying playing with the children again, using “in the moment” planning to think about the children in my care. I trusted my knowledge of the children and that I could provide activities to suit each area of learning and early years outcome. I know the EYFS curriculum and what my statutory duties are, but like many childminders, had become so consumed by the paperwork that the fun factor had been forgotten.
I was thinking more about the children in my care and what would benefit them. Without all of the overpowering stimuli this new approach was fitting perfectly into my new look setting. I kept toys we used, just played with them slightly differently and brought curiosity, awe and wonder to each of my early years children.
Now I challenge the children’s thinking more. If they ask me how or why questions I answer, ‘What do you think?’
The curiosity approach encourages us to create the ‘thinkers & doers’ of the future. Part of that is making sure that, as a childminder, you are empowered to create meaningful and mindful spaces and to put the child at the centre of every activity.
I found a new passion. I started to post onto my instagram feed @mamasden and quickly found other like minded settings, or those that wanted to become more curious. I had ignited a passion and excitement within myself and wrote a blog based upon the A-Z principles set out in The Curiosity Approach book.
My environment is now a curious space filled with lots of open ended resources which are either purpose-created toys, are real life items designed to encourage role play and learning about the world, or beautiful pieces that children just want to touch. These allow children to be the pilots in their own play. I have been lucky to be able to gain an insight into The Curiosity Approach after attending one of their seminars and feel confident to say I am a Curiosity Approach inspired setting.
I believe in myself
I have created a calmer, more welcoming, curious space which I truly believe not only benefits the children but myself and my family. Having a work life balance can be extremely hard when you have your setting at home and so never really leave work. However I am in a good place. I love my job, I love the children I care for and I love the beautiful, magical and wondrous play spaces I have created, which invite the children to play and learn.
About The Author
Jennifer Wooldridge is an OFSTED registered childminder, blogger and Instagram influencer who is dedicated to showcasing mindful play whilst using open-ended and natural materials. She is passionate about providing both childcare providers and families with play ideas.