It’s not easy being a Childminder at the moment. It really isn’t. But the problem isn’t the kids. And it’s not the parents. And it’s not Ofsted. And it’s not the paperwork. It’s us Childminders. Winding each other up constantly. Yeah, we all like a good moan but at a time like this, when we’re haemorrhaging Childminders, really? And it’s not that I believe that people are intentionally upsetting one another (afterall, if we can’t sound off with those who understand our woes then the job really is a very lonely place indeed). No, we’re just empathising with one another aren’t we but in the process we’re failing miserably at keeping ourselves – and one another – positive. When I’m upset, I don’t want the person I’m telling my troubles to to make me feel even worse. I want them to make me feel better. To make me laugh. To make me see that it’ll all be okay. We all did that empathy doll training back in the day didn’t we guys? Remember?

I always remember that one of the first training sessions I ever delivered for NCMA was on setting up a home-based childcare business, as you might expect. We covered the “soft” skills needed. You know, like negotiating contracts, drafting policies and procedures, agreeing fees, that kind of thing – nothing soft about them actually. Sadly, lots of these types of personal development sessions have disappeared. I’ve written about this before.

Now, part of the session was on assertiveness. The general idea was that one day very soon we’d become successful small business owners. We’d negotiate terms that were best for us and our families. Setting our hours and fees and expectations. So far so good. What could possibly go wrong?

To kick it all off, one of the exercises was to write down 3 things we were good at which we were then supposed to share with a partner. This partner would, in turn, share what we are good at with a small group. This was to celebrate our strengths. The problem was, nobody could think of 3 things they were good at – which is precisely what I knew would happen. A couple (of about 30 people) managed to think of one thing they were good at. I recall someone had put “knitting”and one had put “getting things wrong”. Hmm. Not sure she’d quite got into the spirit of things. The other 28 had completely blank sheets in front of them. Well, I lie, because actually I’d optimistically pre-printed the sheets with numbers 1 to 3 “things I’m good at“. (You could tell I was new to this…) 10 minutes I set aside for this exercise and it was the longest and quietest 10 minutes of my life I can tell you.

Next, we had to write down 3 things we were bad at, which we then shared with a partner who then shared it with a small group. Whoa, this was much more successful. I should have pre-printed that sheet 1 to 20 because some people wrote on and on and on about what they were bad at. After the 10 minutes was up one person actually asked for a couple more minutes and did I have more paper? Why was this? Well, because people tend to only see the negative. The negative in themselves, others, their work, their relationships, everything. And the more we talk about the negative, the more negative we hear and the more negative we feel. And what’s probably worse is that when somebody does actually have something positive to say, they’re scared to say it because it doesn’t fit the tone of the conversation, effectively rendering “support” groups anything but. And we are doing this to each other. Seriously, you’re even starting to get me down and I’ve become about as thick-skinned as one can get. Yes, these are tumultuous times but they are no worse than what we’ve gone through – and survived – before.

Today (as I regularly do) I’ve scoured Ofsted’s website for every Childminder inspection report over the last 12 months and, I have to share a very poorly guarded secret with you guys, things are not half as bad as you might think.

For those of us who are “not yet outstanding because…” well, I have some news for you. Doing mountains and mountains of paperwork ain’t gonna swing it for you – whether you do it digitally or non-digitally. And, I hate to break it to you but having a mud kitchen, a light box, a sensory den and an arts & crafts cabin ain’t gonna do it either. Nor is your collection of used cable drums, pallets and milk crates. Know what is though?

  • ongoing CPPD (not the kind you do just for the sake of cranking up the hours and filling out a folder with certificates of attendance but CPPD that actually has an impact on your practice and children’s outcomes)
  • sharing information with parents & carers in a way that helps children make rapid progress (and as much as we hate it, to get them school ready)
  • evaluating our practice and provision so that we’re always moving forward (it doesn’t have to be the Ofsted SEF but some method of not just reflecting on what we do but actually using that information to bring about change)
  • knowing our children: where they are developmentally now and where you plan to take them tomorrow (or next week, or next month) ie next steps.

Nothing new here is there? Nothing earth-shattering? Nothing we don’t already know makes a good practitioner? So by all means have a good rant about the passata up your curtains, the hand-prints on your walls and the snot on your cushions; about Juicy Lucy’s Mam spending last week’s fees on lip fillers, hair extensions and gel nails or about that well-meaning neighbour who gave you a sack-load of plastic fantastic and you don’t want to hurt her feelings but, next time you get 10 minutes to yourself, write down 3 things you love about this job. Please? Just for me?

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