“A lot of the time, I do feel like we’re seen professionally as second class citizens – childminders, that is. That’s something that we need to change.”
Marie Hall is one of almost 40,000 childminders in the UK. Together, they account for around 19% of all childcare places. And yet, for Marie and many of her fellow childminders, they aren’t necessarily given the respect they deserve.
Before setting up her childcare business four years ago, Marie worked for 10 years in primary, and after that ran her own catering business. Like many childminders, her route into the sector came from looking into ways to stay in work while remaining home with her children.
In this interview, Marie brings a fascinating, personal perspective on what’s going wrong for childminders, both inside and outside of their control. For her, if we can earn a little more mutual respect and understanding, a more collaborative approach may just benefit everyone involved.
Why childminders don’t get the respect they deserve…
Childminders are undoubtedly a crucial part of the early years landscape. And yet their numbers are falling, by almost 3% in just three months earlier this year, in fact.
What’s more, childminders regularly have to deal with a lack of respect and understanding. Yet, they must take mandatory training courses, continue to be rigorously inspected by Ofsted, and deal with the trials and tribulations of running an early years setting, out of their own home, often alone. So why are so many childminders seen in such a negative light?
“’Childminder’ in a lot of people’s mind just means ‘babysitter’,” explains Marie. “I think it does go back to the times when childminders weren’t qualified. As a result, it’s been tough for childminders to convince the rest of the sector that the same rules around training, teaching, evaluation, and assessment apply to them too.”
All this contributes to the perception of many parents that childminders are a backup option. “There’s a lot of snobbery about childminders compared to nurseries,” says Marie. “It partly comes from parents, I think. They think if they’re on a waiting list for a very expensive nursery, that’s the best they can possibly do.”
So if the problem is there for all to see, it’s time to take action.
…and what we can do about it
For Marie, change can come from childminders themselves. But it’s also about increased recognition from local providers and schools too.
“If we have safeguarding concerns and contact another setting, we’re told ‘But you’re just a childminder’,” she explains. “We’re supposed to chase up with schools on any children we have concerns about but they won’t share the information with us because they’ve put that label on our head. We’re ‘just’ childminders.”
Not only do childminders like Marie work hard to give the children in their care the very best start to their life, they also have to face a whole range of extra challenges compared to non-domestic care. Here’s a handful that Marie mentioned:
- Space – Where do you store tables, chairs, high chairs, water trays, sand trays, messy play, and the rest?
- Keeping it your home – When you have a partner and children of your own, they need their own space, and they need their home to feel like…a home. That means an awful lot of tidying up every day.
- Continuity – With the constant packing up and putting out, it can be a challenge to get that continuity of continuous provision that’s so important for development.
- Messy Play – Doing regular messy play can be tough with a lack of space and a need to keep your home clean. Outside is an option, but doing messy play inside your own home is a dangerous game.
- Time – Many childminders work alone, meaning that office work can easily spill into evenings and weekends once the children have left the setting.
It’s important to spread awareness of these challenges that childminders face. Increasing understanding and recognition of both positives and challenges is important, but how else can nurseries and other providers help?
“Reach out to childminders in your area,” suggests Marie. “If you are one of those outstanding nurseries, take the lead. Lead with your professionalism and business-knowledge, and help all providers to improve, not just a small number of settings who are just like you.”
The same goes for schools too. Marie told me of the day she found out that transition packs she’d spent hours on had ended up straight in the bin.
“At the same time, some childminders do let themselves down,” says Marie. “We need to remember to lead by example, making sure we show our professionalism at all times, especially out and about in the community and around parents with young children.”
But why? Partly, Marie thinks it’s a confidence issue. “That’s why I think nurseries can do so much to support childminders, and help them to realise they can do it,” she explains. “Because they can, especially at home, when they’re by themselves, they can do it. It’s often just a lack of confidence, and closer relationships between providers are key to building that confidence up”
And if providers do more to engage with one another, they might find they learn something from childminders too…
Marie Hall, Childminder and Early Years Teacher
Multiple age-groups and time for proper PSED
So what can nurseries learn from childminders like Marie?
“One thing that I think works very well in favour of childminders is that the children get to interact across the age groups,” she explains. In Marie’s setting, she sees this as vital in helping children to develop the skills they need for school and beyond.
“I’ve got a child who is ready for school soon, 4 and a half,” she explains. “Just today he chose to spend an hour playing with one of our 1-year-olds. He doesn’t have any siblings at home, and so much learning happens when you’re socialising above and – really importantly – below your age. He sees that things which he finds easy, she can’t do. Turn-taking and kindness have a different meaning all of sudden.”
On top of that, having such a tight-knit group, with the time and space to spend one-on-one time with each child, means a lot more time to focus on personal, social, and emotional development.
“We can do so much PSED development,” says Marie, “it’s all the time. On the other hand I’ve had a child who was calm and well-behaved with me who was getting up to all sorts of mischief at nursery because she knew she could go to a corner and do what she liked.”
That’s why it can be so beneficial for nurseries to open up to childminders in their local area. They might be surprised and find it’s more than just a one-way street.
You can’t do it alone
Marie is lucky to have an extra special assistant with her on a daily basis – her mum, Helen. Having worked as a childminder herself for 30 years, Marie’s closer partnership with her mum highlights why so many childminders struggle with stress. It’s another reason why she thinks local relationships between childminders and with nurseries can be a big benefit to the sector.
“Mum is brilliant with the babies and to be completely honest, it’s not my strong point,” admits Marie. “She’s so patient. She’ll happily just roll a ball for 25 minutes. I’m more about outside times, getting messy, exploring.” Being a childminder can be particularly isolating, especially if you have to spend large portions of your day doing something that’s not your strength.
“I do think there’s a concern of sole-working in terms of mental health and safeguarding,” thinks Marie. “What’s more, if we could group together a little more we’d have a higher standard because you’re less likely to just sit with your feet up or tick off some of your chores if you’re working together with other people.”
Marie Hall, Childminder and Early Years Teacher
How to get paperwork done
Providers of every size have to face the perils of paperwork. Childminders are no different.
“I worked for 10 years in primary, and I brought a lot of the rigorousness with me. You can take the girl out of the classroom…” she laughs.
Marie normally takes an hour in the afternoon while her mum stays with the children to catch up on paperwork. She’s rigorous with her policies because it helps parents to see the kind of setting she offers and makes sure she’s always giving proper consideration to defining her ethos and practice. On top of this, she likes to make sure parents stay updated throughout the day.
“I used to reply to 50, 60 texts a day. Parents want to know about sleep, meals, and so on – and I’m far too polite!” she admits. She told us that since she moved her parent communication over to Famly, she’s on the app a lot less than she was on her phone, as all of this information can be seen by parents after just a few clicks on her end.
“I’m doing a lot less of that constant checking of my phone,” she says. “At the end of the day it means I’m spending a lot more time with the children.”
Early Years Voices is a new series where we talk to talented childcare professionals throughout the country to spread best practice and answer some of the biggest questions facing the sector. ‘It’s been like therapy – maybe I should pay you!’ Marie told me at the end of our call. Have something you’d like to share? Got an answer to one of the big questions? Interested in some free therapy? We’d love to hear from you – just email our Editor, Matt, on firstname.lastname@example.org.