The Reality of Childminding Five Children Under Five   4 comments

The ‘hot topic’ of discussion and media interest at the moment  is about the cost of childcare with many organisations, think tanks and individuals all making suggestions about possible ways of reducing cost to government and parents.

Part of these discussions focus on increasing  ratio’s both within group care and childminder settings. There  has been an outcry from membership organisations, individuals and experts in the field all saying that this is not in the best interests of the children – and furthermore would not result in reduced fees to parents.

However most opinion is based on research and theory rather than actual experience of day to day practice.

For the benefit of those who have not read my blogs before, I am, as the saying goes – going to start at the beginning.

I am a registered childminder with many years experience as a childminder – from 1984 – 2004 and then from 2010 onwards. I also have  experience of working for NCMA and the local authority, and as a trainer and a quality assurance assessor – so you could say an all rounder with the ability to view things from different perspectives – and always with high quality care in mind and the children at the heart of everything.

Ever since I first registered as a childminder I have looked after increased ratio’s above the statutory number with full approval of the regulatory body of the time. Sometimes it was for continuity of care for families that I was looking after, and sometimes in emergency care situation whereby Social Services would place children in my care.

In the previous year(2011 – 2012) I had been caring for 4 minded children under five,  under a continuity of care variation from Ofsted five days a week.

Therefore you could say I have a lot of experience o caring for more than 3 under fives at one time – and being honest it has never been a problem or reduced the quality of care of the children.

So when I was approached by a parent of a child in my care to see if the child could attend extra days to meet mums changing work needs – I decided that I would look into it  because at that time the EYFS 2012 was just published and I had read about the new exception process.

It is recorded elsewhere on my blog how I checked that I fully understood the exceptions, and about how I followed the requirements for applying an exception – and as a result I told the mum in question that I could provide the extra days as from September 2012.

What happened then was another mum – having of course read all the information relating to the exception for the other child – also asked if her child could attend an extra day.

Therefore from September 2012 – I had 6 children on roll – all under 5, in fact 4 of them under 3, of which on Monday and Tuesday 4 would attend and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 5 would attend.

I was confident that not only would I ‘cope’ but that nothing much would change re quality of care and the routines, experiences and activities offered – after all it was just an increase of one more child from the numbers I had been caring for over the last year.

And so the scene was set!

I have to say that for the first week or so everything was as I expected, and there are various blogs that I have written about those early days of looking after five minded children – usually called ‘Five go to…..’

On reflection (which I do a lot of) I think the reason why it went so well was because I was organised and I had a fair amount of adrenaline  flowing through me because of the ‘newness’ of the circumstances.

However – now that I have been looking after the children for  a couple of months, I am reflecting again because I have found that doing this long term has consequences that I had not fully considered – and I think that as decisions are being made by the government about the future ratio’s and regulation of early years settings and in particular that of childminders – that I should share these further reflections and consequences with others.

Before I go on to talk about these consequences I must stress that the quality of care is not in question – and the irony maybe that the consequences are a direct result of maintaining that quality of care!

I am going to discuss the consequences under headings – and these headings are very much those that others have suggested may be an issue when caring for increased ratios – but maybe not in the way that has been suggested.

Equipment

It has been suggested that the amount of equipment needed will not only be expensive to buy but also take up a lot of storage space in what is at the end of the day a family home.

In my case I already had the equipment needed for the children in my care – although if they had been a bit younger I may have needed to buy a multi seater pushchair which would have not only expensive but bulky and difficult to store.  Worth noting is a  point not often mentioned – it would not have fitted in the ‘boot’ of my seven seater car when all the car seats were in use – which of course they would have been – thus creating ‘issues’ if wanting to take the children out in the car.

Buying and storing equipment aside – I have found it is the use of the equipment in the long term that is the issue.

Take nap time – until this week each lunchtime I was having to set up in my lounge 4 lie flat buggies / prams and get out 5 naptime blankets and appropriate comfort objects – due to the time this takes and the fact that to do this with 5 pairs of ‘helping hands’ would be difficult – I sort of settled into the routine of doing this task as the children finished lunch – which of course means I am not with them for the final part of the meal.

As of this week the children have moved on a stage and all have their own ready bed – more issues – I now have to go upstairs to collect the beds from upstairs and carry them down two at a time (so three trips up and down the stairs) this is because I have chosen to keep the beds blown up during the week and store them on top of the bed in the spare room. However not all childminders would have this option and would have to blow the beds up every day – time consuming again.

Alternatives?

A spare bedroom with beds / cots set up – nice if you have the room – but for 5 children? – it would have to be a very large bedroom or maybe two bedrooms. And even if a childminder did have this amount of space – what about consideration for emergency evacuation? Getting five sleeping children out of the house ??  (Which is why I don’t sleep the children upstairs).

Those stacking ‘camp type’ beds that some nurseries have? Again the space to store them – and all the associated bedding.

Roll mats / folding mats – again where do you store them and the bedding? Remember many childminders work from the family lounge – storage space is at a premium.

Travel cots? 5 travel cots are bulky to store and to have up.

The sofa? I have used the sofa in the past and it works well – but I don’t have 5 sofas – and I am sure most childminders don’t either.

However as I have found even once you have sorted out how you will provide appropriate nap time arrangements it is time consuming and exhausting to set up that number of beds / cots / buggies – every day.

Still on equipment but moving onto meal times

I had already made the decision when caring for four children to stop using the kitchen table for meals because of the need for booster seats. One issue was the storage of them when the family needed to use the table, second issue was the physical strength needed to lift 5 children in and out of the boosters – up to 5 times a day just for meals and snacks. The children now use a child size table and chairs in the conservatory – great for four children – a bit of a squash for five children – but – and in my opinion it is a big but – no room for me to sit and eat with them. Anyway as I said I have already made this decision and it does have other benefits so overall the balance is ok – not perfect but ok.

However consider the situation if I needed to use highchairs for some of the children – I could not put them up in the conservatory as it is not that big, I could fit one or possibly two in the kitchen – but not three . Again many childminders do not have the amount of space needed for lots of high chairs or even a table large enough for 5 children. Of course there are ways round things such as staggered meal times or ‘picnics’ on the floor – but these are not ideal – ok for occasional times – but week in, week out?

Then there is the equipment the children bring with them each day (or leave in the setting) – the nappy bags with changes of clothes etc, the coats, the wellies, if babies the first stage car seats, in some cases – large packs of nappies to save remembering to send each day – can be a problem for the childminder to store one or two packs of nappies – but 5 packs?

Amount of toys and play resources – I am very keen for the children to learn about sharing and taking turns – but when you are two – I think it is unrealistic to expect the children to wait while 4 other children have a turn – and so I have found I have needed to but duplicates of some things and similar items in other cases, and extra sets of some things to ensure sufficient quantity. Of course it all requires storage space.

I could write a lot more about issues around equipment – but I hope you now understand that there are many issues – and as you find a solution that works – you inevitably creating one or more other issues.

Going out of the setting.

One of the benefits of being a childminder is the ability to go out and about in the local community and to do spontaneous things – such as go outside if it starts snowing, or say it is a lovely day lets take a picnic to the park – no planning – just do it.

With three children this is very ‘doable’ with 4 children it is also doable if a little more time consuming – with 5 children it is a military operation!

Take a simple everyday experience – walking to the postbox to post a letter. First you need to deal with toileting needs potties, nappies etc. Then coats and shoes  and if summer sun cream or if a wet day all in one rain suits and wellies. In some ways it is easier if the children are at the developmental stage of needing an adult to do everything – it is quicker than when the children are at the ‘do it myself’ stage but still needing a lot of support – as my mindees currently are. Watching five at once is near impossible, so shoes get put on the wrong feet, coats on upside down – and that is before you deal with the mood of the moment which can result in statements of ‘ No want to …’ and ‘I CAN’T DO IT’ – before even tried!

So I have found I need to allow 20 mins min for this getting ready to go out – in fact a more realistic time scale is 30 – 40 mins – and if it takes that long – someone is bound to need the potty again!

If going further afield you need to take more than you would for a weekend away for two adults – in fact I take a large pushchair to carry it all – the outings bag Nappies etc, first aid kit, sun cream etc, , the potties, the space clothes, usually a picnic or at least a snack – of course 5 lots of snack, if might rain the all in one suits and so on.

Then there is safety while out especially if by a busy road – which ever way you look at it – you need eyes in the back of your head and to be constantly alert to what the children are doing and what is happening in the environment. Of course you do this even if only one child with you but 5 children require superwoman (or superman) level of skills. The paths are often not wide enough to all walk holding hands – or even t have two in a double buggy and two holding one side of the buggy and one the other. So the choice is usually to have the two most sensible walking just in front of you – which is fine until you come to cross the road – and I am sure that most childminders – like me would want all the children near by  – so in a straight line holding hands , so can all follow the crossing the road procedure (I still use the green cross code) – and of course with 5 little ones this takes up a lot of path.

One issue that I don’t have is a child who requires extra support because he or she is not developmentally ready to follow instructions and behaviour appropriately when out walking – but it could be a issue if caring for such a child and 4 others.

Still on going out – I find I have to be very selective about where I go as I have to be sure I will be able to supervise all 5 at once – this does mean that some toddler groups, soft play, parks are just not suitable due to layout and abiltiy to see the whole area at once.

I should perhaps mention that I do not have to do a school run but under current exception rules it is possible that a childminder could have 5 under the age of five plus one more child age 5 – 8 (so a total of 6 under 8) plus a couple of  children aged over 8 – and these could be minded children or the childminders own children.

In my opinion – taking into account the length of time it takes me to actually leave the setting – if I did a school run there would not be much time between school runs for other activities once meal times and nap times had been takien into consideration

Impact on the Childminder

It is this aspect that has surprised me the most – remembering that I had been caring for four under fives for a whole year before starting to look after five under fives.

As weeks pass into months the impact on myself is multiplying – I am finding that each week I am getting further behind not only with childminding based paperwork but also with household chores because to be honest most evenings I am shattered- especially when two or three evenings a week I have meetings or training (and sometimes social events) so the evenings I am at home – I tend to fall asleep on the sofa – and as a result I get further behind.

Conclusion

In conclusion I have to say that although I will continue to care for five children on three days a week and four on the other two days – because the reasons that I agreed to do it are still valid – continuity of care for the children concerned. However when the children concerned go into school in September 13 and I drop down to normal ratios – I will be reflecting again over the long term impact on myself  and I am sure my personal conclusion will be that caring for four under fives is actually the most I would like to care for under an exception – or indeed under any changes to ratios that may be part of future regulation.

Although I can not possibly make a judgement on how anyone else might or might not manage five under fives -as of course each set of circumstances will be unique – I would urge anyone considering – and indeed those in government considering introducing increased ratios to consider the points raised in this blog.

As I said at the beginning I am very experienced childminder  , I have previous experience of caring for increased ratios but I have found caring for 5 under fives exhausting.

I feel it is only my passion for children and my high expectations of myself in providing high quality care and education, that I have been able to continue to provide this continuity of care exception .

I am certain that a blanket ratio for childminders of five children under the age  of five- will not only not be practically possible for some, it will also be a disaster waiting to happen when childminders take on children without full consideration of the consequences of doing so – and as a result a child or children receive not only lower standards of care but are also put at risk of harm.

Posted November 2, 2012 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

4 responses to “The Reality of Childminding Five Children Under Five

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  1. Wow, I am just loving that you manage to get 5 children to take a nap at the same time, that NEVER happens in my house!!!. I have 5 or 6 children under 3 everyday (with my husband I might add, so an extra pair of hands – and eyes!) but the most we have ever managed is for 2 of them to sleep at the same time as they all have their own very different routines, which again creates its own problems with getting out and about 🙂

    • I am very lucky – when they were younger they did use to have different nap times – but with a few months they had settled into a routine and from then on have napped at the same times – more or less. Nap time has changed as they have got older a year ago it was 11:30 – 12 when they went down for a nap now it is 12:30 – 1pm when they go down.

      They don’t all sleep every day – some just rest but they still lie down and listen to music for at least an hour – it gives us all chance to recharge our batteries – it works at the moment but who knows how long it will last – but while it does I shall make the most of it.

  2. Your blog has said perfectly what has has been worrying me every since they talked about increasing ratios. I know If i had too i could look after 5 over 3’s, due to their independence and how they interact and play. However going out would become a major issue for me, and I most probably would not be able to venture far as I do not believe that I would feel that I would be keeping them all safe.

    My major concern comes with the possibility of 5 children all very different ages and stages of development. I would find it impossible to say hand on heart that all children would get the attention and support they would need from me. However I am aware of a few childminders who have not thought of the long term impacts and just believe that it would be simple to do.

    As you have clearly pointed out it is the longer term issues that have the biggest impacts. I believe that if they do increase ratios it should be done on ages and stages of the children a individual childminder has in their care at that time. For example they can have 4 children as long as 3 of them are over 2 and a half. But I am realistic and this type of ratio would be a real struggle for childminders to juggle, as we all know in this current climate, work is not always plentiful and we are not in a position to be able to say no to a few families whilst we wait for a older child to need care in order to fit with our numbers.

    The ratio topic will rage on for some time. I for one know that if they do increase ratio’s that I personally will not be going over 3 as I find this the right balance for me and my setting. I suppose I could then use this my USP 🙂

  3. Pingback: Changes to childcare announced - nursery child: staff ratios to be relaxed - Page 2

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