Spend some time answering this question honestly to yourself because it will really help you to focus on how best to manage the time available to you once your families have finished pulling you in all directions.
There is a saying - if you want a job done ask a busy person. Is that true? Is your time eaten away by ‘things’ that really don’t need to be done - ‘things’ like Facebook and forum browsing, internet games etc? I have a friend who is always going on about not having time to finish jobs - but she can’t even leave the house without watering her crops on a Facebook farm game! Another friend is so obsessed with Candy Crush that she spends every spare moment playing it - then wonders why she is under so much time pressure and why important jobs are getting left.
Your success as a childminder is very much dependent on how much time you make available to do the essential day-to-day childminding jobs - because if you get behind, it’s much harder to catch up. So, turn off the internet, take a pen and paper and write down all the childminding jobs that you need to do every day such as...
· Daily paperwork
· Updating children’s files eg taking, printing and sticking photos in albums and Learning Journeys and adding parent comments to or their child’s folder
· Writing up continuous professional development
· Weekly accounts
· Buying / sourcing new resources etc...
Then think about when you can do them during the day!
· Daily paperwork - quick daily risk assessments can be done before the children arrive, while you are eating breakfast - or even the night before as you are off to bed. They do not need to be complicated - they are not even a requirement of the EYFS 2012 but if you have been advised to use them or you find they are useful to your provision then simplify them.
I know some childminders have been advised to do lots of daily paperwork by enthusiastic Development Officers. If you find what you have useful then carry on - if not, think about how you can make it easier for yourself. Your paperwork should not add pressure to your day.
· Children’s files - I often complete Learning Journey files while the children are playing. The children know they can talk to me at any time and I am always available to play their games, but they don’t need my attention every moment of the day and we always have a quiet time after lunch (routine ideas to follow). The children love being involved in their Learning Journey files as well - they will help print and stick photos, look at things they have done and make comments, decorate their files, choose stickers, draw alongside me as I write etc.
· CPD - it is very important that you record and evaluate your CPD - it is a key inspection area in the new Ofsted inspection evaluation schedule. As soon as I have made changes or been on courses I write up my CPD and evaluate how it will help me. I do it when I walk back into the house while it’s still fresh in my mind. I might decide to put together some evidence or do some further CPD as a result of a course - I will do this at the weekend in my own time because I know how important it is to further improve my provision and ways of working. I put aside a few hours of internet free computer time every weekend to make sure I am up-to-date and feeling confident that, should Ofsted knock on the door tomorrow, I am ready for them.
· Accounts - it is much easier to do your end of year accounts if you spend time updating them every week or month. When you put aside time to do your billing, add an extra few minutes to the job and write up your monthly totals (incomings, training, food, annual fees etc) - it will be so much easier if you have this information readily available and it will also tell you, from month to month, whether your business is making a profit or not.
· Newsletters - can include all sorts of other information that has to be shared with parents such as ideas for activities children might like to do at home, policy and procedure changes, questions that parents can answer verbally to enhance your CPD, reminders about special dates, requests for resources etc.
Jot down ideas in your diary and put aside half an hour to write your newsletter when you do your bills - if you are using a complicated template and it’s taking too long or you are constantly in a tangle with pictures and lack of coloured ink, think about how you can simplify things - why make life difficult for yourself?
· Planning can be done as you go along. If you know your children very well you will be able to set out some activities for them to enjoy when they arrive. Then all you need is a routine in your head for the day and some individual learning experiences to offer each child - you do not need complicated planning sheets unless you want to fill them in because you find them useful.
I have some group planning for the older children - we follow the seasons, weather etc and think about topics / themes that interest children such as ‘people who help us’, dinosaurs, minibeasts and planting in spring etc - but the most important planning, especially for the little ones, is individual, based around observations I have written and those I have been given by their parents about things they enjoy doing at home.
Planning is a bugbear for a lot of childminders - it should not take a lot of time and it makes me sad when I hear colleagues say they spend all weekend planning... that’s not what it is about. My advice is to follow the seasons and time of year and slot in a few celebrations and special days. For example,
o In January I focus on winter - weather, animals, food etc. Towards the end of January I talk about how, on the other side of the world, it is summer - and spend a week finding out about Australia Day.
o In February I continue winter as my overriding theme - make a display, find some new winter themed books at the library, think about birds in the garden - it’s the Big Garden Bird Watch towards the end of January and there will be lots of ideas on the RSPB website. Alongside winter exploration, I will plan a week of Valentine’s Day activities so the children can make cards and talk about people they love.
All of these activities - plus your daily routines - plus your continuous provision (the toys and games you always have available) - plus allowing the children to follow their interests and play freely in the house and garden - will fill your days.
· New resources - can be organised monthly if you have a plan in your head. For example, during January you might find it useful to think ahead to February and the activities you are going to be doing with children such as -
o Chinese New Year (the date clashes with Australia Day so we will cover it in Feb) - buy some red and gold glitter pens, download Chinese lantern templates, find a website to translate ‘Happy New Year’ and children’s names into Chinese etc.
o Valentines Day - buy some heart stickers, think about card designs, take some photos of each child so they can choose their favourite to add to their card etc.
o Winter - go back to your planning from last year and look at the photos of your display - what did the children particularly enjoy? What do you want to repeat? What do you want to plan from scratch to follow children’s interests? Pull some activity ideas off the RSPB, Pinterest, DLTK and Nature Detectives websites and ask the children what they want to do!
Preparation is the key to ensuring your days go smoothly. It is very important that the children are in a good routine and know what to expect when they arrive in your provision every day. Again, I emphasise that you are a business and need to set up some systems to ensure your business runs smoothly. Child development experts tell us that children are more settled and independent when there is consistency and they know what to expect.
A typical childminder routine might look something like this -
· Arrival and breakfast - free play / tea in the slow cooker
· School run
· Outing to park / toddlers / singing / friend’s house - including snack
· Home for lunch / daily diaries for morning completed
· Sleep or rest for younger children / quiet play and adult led activities for older children / outside play / inside activities
· Tidy up time and singing or reading session
· School run and snack
· Adult led activities / free play / homework / final tea preparation / daily diaries for afternoon completed
· Tea time
· Television / home time
· Clean up from the day and preparing for tomorrow / checking there are plenty of toilet rolls, soap etc / replacing bread (keep it in the freezer) and getting out tomorrow’s tea etc
· Write your diary / make notes on your ‘to do’ list.
Within this routine there will be other mini routines such as nappy changing, snack preparation and serving, cooking, making playdough, sharpening pencils etc. Build in time for these routines, be as prepared as possible by having supplies you need close at hand, nominate a special helper every day who will do some of the fetching and carrying for you and where possible plan in advance.
Remember you are running a business from your home and you need everything to be as easy to manage as possible. What are your biggest time eaters? How can you manage them better? Do you need to make an investment in new equipment or resources to make your day flow better?
The art of delegation is a tricky one and we all do it differently. I know a lot of self employed people who struggle with it - then tell me how busy they are all the time! Ok, I accept that someone else might not do something as well as you want it done - but they will get better with practice and at least you haven’t had to do it!
There are many jobs that might be delegated including tidying up (make up a tidy up song or put some music on and dance as you tidy), mopping and vacuuming the floors, cleaning the kitchen after meals (the older children will enjoy helping), making beds, reading to the children (my teens are especially good at this - they have had lots of practice lol!!)
Teach the younger children early and do jobs with them - they will learn about how to keep a house - an essential life skill.
I know a lot of childminders who dedicate weekends to family time. Personally, I take a day a week off from childminding so I have plenty of time to fit in all the jobs that I feel help my business to grow such as -
· Completing my SEF.
· Updating my website and advertising generally so that new parents can find me.
· Writing e-books, articles and blogs like this one so I can share good practice and ideas with others.
· Writing up some planning notes as a prompt for myself - I know a lot of childminders who work very effectively without written planning but I am not one of them.
· Filing information I have pulled out of magazines and other publications.
· Transferring scribbled notes from my daily diary to my risk assessments, policies or other files.
· Clearing my desk - I know that I work much better with a tidy desk so I normally only have a notepad (to do list ready to go) and pen in front of me each morning - everything else is filed neatly away, within easy reach if I need to get it out again.
Perhaps you do these jobs in the evenings? You do need to set aside some uninterrupted time to do it all because you are running a small business from home and it is part of your job description. There is no point, for example, in moaning to your friends that you don’t have any work if you haven’t advertised your service as professionally as possible in places where parents can find you.
The best way to get these types of jobs done is to set a deadline for yourself - no television, no internet, no housework, no answering texts etc until you are done. Make sure your workload is manageable, do one job at a time - get it finished before moving onto something else - and be kind to yourself when you have finished!
There is some paperwork that needs updating annually such as policies and procedures and risk assessments. Make a list of them and do them one a month, for example -
· March - sit down and do your accounts ready for the tax form arriving in April. This will give you the longest possible time to save up to pay any tax or class 4 National Insurance bills you might have.
· September - is normally as good a time as any to update contracts, parent paperwork etc.
· Policies and procedures - choose one month when nothing much is going on and update them. Add the date to your diary so you do not forget next year.
· Risk assessments - again, it is important they are updated annually, so choose a quiet month and focus on them, reviewing a few every day.
If you find that your business is impacting too much on your family and home life then something has to give. You are a childminder because you want to work from home - and your family must come first. Yes, it might be a difficult decision to have to give notice to a child or take some time out of your busy week by cutting down to 4 days working, but nobody will benefit if you make yourself ill.
Time management is part of the ‘leadership and management’ aspect of your business and you can write about any changes you have made to your provision and ways of working in the ‘leadership and management’ question in your SEF - which you will hopefully have plenty of time to write after implementing some of the ideas in this blog!
Chat soon, Sarah x