When I first started looking into childcare options, most of my friend’s children were in nurseries and I hadn’t considered a childminder. However, when I went to visit the nurseries I couldn’t imagine my little baby in a busy hectic room with lots of other babies – it all felt too formal and institutional. Now, I’m aware this is probably due to my own hang ups about school and routine, but it just didn’t feel right and that’s when a friend suggested a childminder.
I’ve been lucky enough to find two wonderful childminders for my son (the first one became pregnant which is why we found our second one) and while their styles and home set ups are very different, I’ve been very happy with both which made returning to work so much easier.
Whatever your own reasons are for thinking about a childminder it can seem a daunting task? Where do you even start? A friend of mine recently asked me for some advice on how to pick a good childminder, and what to look for when choosing a childminder. So after I found myself writing a lengthy response I realised I had a lot to say on the subject and that it might be useful for other parents if I shared it.
HOW DO I FIND A GOOD CHILDMINDER?
Obviously a personal recommendation is best, so ask around other mums at playgroups or the school gates if you have older children. Even if one childminder is full, they can usually suggest other local childminders that they know. Or the online alternative is social media, most areas have a local mums group on Facebook – these are usually secret or closed groups but you can find them by searching on Facebook and requesting to join. Then just post asking local mums to recommend childminders or you often get childminders themselves using the groups. As I was moving to a new area and didn’t know anyone or even about the Facebook groups at that stage, I started looking online by using Childcare.co.uk. You have to pay a small fee to sign up but then you can search for local childcare providers (including nurseries and babysitters as well) and you can view childminder’s personal profiles and message them. I messaged a few with some of the questions below and once I had a shortlist arranged to meet them.
All childminders have to register with their local council, so the other thing you can do is contact your local council for a list of childminders registered in your area. You can search online using the You Gov website.
I’ve listed some questions below that you may want to consider when deciding whether a childminder is right for you and your needs. You’ll probably have more of your own and, although it seems like a long list, a good childminder should cover off most of these when you meet them. And while emails and a phone call will help you arrange your short list, a home visit is essential to check out their house. Most importantly is the ‘feeling’ you get when you meet the childminder – do you instinctively get on? Do you have a good feeling about them? Trust your instincts.
QUESTIONS TO ASK A CHILDMINDER
SOME INITIAL QUESTIONS
- What qualifications do they have? Have they completed any extra courses e.g first aid?
All childminders need to be registered and need to have completed relevant courses as set out by the Early Years Foundation Stage.
- What are the childminder’s working hours? Will your child need to be there by a certain time in the morning before a school run?
This sounds obvious but there is a huge variation in the hours they work and so you’ll need to find one that fits in with what you will need, bearing your commute into account. Also, lots only work 3 or 4 days a week or term time only.
- How many children do they look after and do they have any assistants and helpers? What checks or qualifications do the helpers have?
This will determine the type of childcare setting – is it a small one with a mum looking after a couple of children or more of a mini-nursery style atmosphere? There may be a wide range of age groups coming and going at different times of day.
- Are there other people who will be in the house regularly, such as partners or teenage children? Have the relevant checks been run on any other adults regularly at the house?
- Which schools or nurseries do they offer pick-ups and wrap-around care for?
Although this may seem a long way off when you are looking for your baby, you will be surprised how quickly this all comes round so it might be useful for the future.
- How and why did they got into childminding? Will their own children be cared for alongside others?
This will give you a good sense of what they enjoy about the job, how committed they are and their general attitude and approach.
THEIR HOME ENVIRONMEMT & DAILY ROUTINE
- What facilities are available for the children to use in the house? Is there a separate playroom? How many rooms will the children have access to throughout the day? What is the access to the garden?
- What type of activities do they do while they are at home e.g crafts, cooking etc?
- What is the daily schedule like? Are there set activities on set days e.g on a Monday they always go to a music class, Tuesday is a playground etc?
Not all childminders will be this structured but ask them to share a typical week and at least you will get a sense of whether they favour routine or more of a freestyle approach. Then you can work out what suits you and your child best. Some may even be willing to take your child to a particular class if you ask and are willing to pay the extra cost.
- What is their policy on playing outdoors? How often do they take the children out?
- Do they have pets?
- Can they share an example food menu? Do they have a set menu? Is it shared in advance with parents? What snacks are served during the day?
If you have particular food preferences for your child, such as no juice before they are 2 years or whatever, most should be happy to accommodate this so it’s worth checking.
- Where do the children sleep? Do they have set nap times? How flexible are they if a child is having trouble sleeping?
This was important to me as my son was a bad sleeper and I just knew he wouldn’t nap on a mat in a room full of other children in a nursery, so having a small, quiet room with a cot was a key consideration, as well as flexibility if he didn’t always stick to the set times.
- What is their television policy? At what age are children allowed to watch it and for how long?
Some parents have strong views on this so it’s worth checking and making sure they will respect your wishes.
- How do they ensure that the children are following the Early Years Foundation Stage (EFYS) milestones and how do they track learning and development? Can you see an example book/record for a current child?
Like a nursery, childminders should be tracking your child’s activities and milestones. Most have either a folder or book for each child which records what the child has been doing and notes the EFYS milestones they have reached. This will often be in the form of a book that is sent home daily with your child and is a lovely way to see what they have been up to. Some childminders will also send regular photos to parents.
- How do they manage behaviour and enforce discipline? Do they use time out, a corner etc?
While this may not seem immediately relevant if you have a baby, you’ll need to know about it sooner than you think. It is good to get a sense of the childminder’s approach and attitude to check it matches with your own.
REFERENCES & CHECKS
- Can they share references from other parents?
Most childminders will be more than happy to pass on the contact details of parents of current or past children they have looked after. Mine both actively encouraged me to contact them and ask questions. If they seem reluctant or unable to provide this, I would be extremely cautious.
- When was the last Ofsted inspection and can they share the latest report?
FEES & CONTRACTS & NIGGLY FINE PRINT
- How much do they charge? Is it per day or hour? What does this include e.g nappies, formula, snacks, food? If something isn’t included, will you be expected to provide them?
- Is there a late pick up charge? How much is this?
Occasionally there may be times when you get stuck at work, in a traffic jam or your train lets you down and some childminders charge late fees that are comparable to nurseries. These can be anywhere between £10-15 each time so if you think you are likely to be late often, see if you can build this into your contract. My childminder technically finishes at 6pm but as I normally can’t get there until just after we arranged that my contract would be 6.15pm just in case.
- If your child is sick or on a planned holiday – is there any reduction in rates?
Not all will offer this but some do so worth asking.
- What happens if the childminder is sick? Is there alternative childcare provision available?
My first childminder had a network of childminders she could call on if she was ill and my current one has enough assistants on hand. But some may not have any provision and then if you have to make your own arrangements, do you still have to pay? There may be a reduced rate or some may still expect full pay (only fair when you think that sick pay is the norm for other jobs but worth seeing if there is a limit on the number if days).
- How much holiday a year will the childminder take? Is this fully paid or at a reduced rate?
Again this depends on their set up, my first childminder told me in advance when she was going to be away and we didn’t have to pay. But the deal with my current childminder is much more typical – she takes 4 weeks throughout the year, tells everyone the dates at the beginning of the year and she is paid during that time.
- Do I need to pay a retainer or deposit to secure the place for my child? How much is this going to be?
Some may ask for a retainer to keep the place open until you need it or a deposit. We didn’t have to do stuff like that with our first childminder as it was more informal but with our current one it was all very official and we have paid her one month’s deposit that we get back once our son finishes there.
- How much notice period do I need to give if I want to alter or cancel our agreement?
- Does the childminder accept Childcare vouchers from employers?
Once you have decided to work together, there are just a few more things to do:
- Make sure you sign a contract and read the detail carefully to make sure you are happy and it reflects the hours/costs you have discussed.
- Discuss the settling in period and how this will work – most usually offer a few free sessions both with and without you there to get them used to the childminder. These start off with a few hours and then increase gradually and maybe incorporate a meal or naptime.
And whether you opt for a childminder or nursery, take a deep breath and try not to panic. It’s all going to be alright and you will both get used to the new arrangement in time – it is more likely to be harder for you than your baby!
And while I know most parents needlessly spend time feeling guilty, try not to. I’m convinced my son eats better, does more interesting and varied activities, knows more nursery rhymes, has better social skills and is generally a more secure little boy because of all the great experiences and time he has spent with his wonderful childminders.
Good luck in your search and feel free to share any other questions and points that you think are helpful to others in the comments section below.