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Five top tips for childminding in a small setting

I don't know about you, but I often dream about my ideal childminding setting. I`m guilty of spending far too much time on Pinterest and Instagram looking at pictures of airy, spacious, well organised childcare settings that I can only ever dream of replicating.

Alas, I live in a small house, and this isn't going to change anytime soon. I love my home, and I want to keep it looking like a home, while childminding from it. I have spent a lot of time working out how to provide a stimulating, nurturing, organised and calm space for my mindees without compromising on keeping my home homely and cosy for my family.

Here are my five top tips for making the most of childminding from a small home.

1. Less is more!

You don`t need nearly as many resources and toys as you think you do, and certainly not the quantity you might find at a nursery. When I first started childminding, I came straight from being a reception teacher, and in my excitement, I made the mistake of trying to recreate my classroom at home. Oh, what a disaster that turned out to be! My house looked like a mini nursery, there was stuff everywhere, the children`s favourite game was making `toy soup` and I was stressed. Then one weekend I boxed up almost everything, so I could clean the carpets and fit new shelves. Monday rolled around and the boxes were still in the loft and stayed there. The children properly played with the few things I had left out, I got some fantastic observations, and they managed to tidy up when I asked them to. I felt calm, my house felt calm, and the children were calm. Most of all, they were more focussed and engaged in their play. I never looked back. Now I rotate toys every half term, and am lucky enough to have a loft to store things in. I have also reduced the quantity of each type of toy. Instead of a huge big box of Duplo, I now have a small box of it, and the same goes for other toys like cars and play food that are all too easy to accumulate.  Quality over quantity is key to remember here.

2. Tidy tidy tidy!

Tidying is crucial, and you should be getting your children to tidy up before each transition and certainly once they are finished with something. I have five set tidy up times a day: before the school run, before morning snack time, before lunch, before leaving for the school pick up and at 5pm. After the last tidy up of the day toys stay tidied away and we have story time until the last child leaves at 6pm. For children to be able to effectively tidy up, you need to make sure everything has a place, and the children know this. When I rotate my toys and have new things in the setting, the first thing I do with all the children is explicitly show them where the toys go, how to tidy them away, and my expectations for how they look after the toys. Tidying will help to keep your setting looking neat and clutter-free, and it also means children use what you do have more effectively. Make sure containers only have one type of toy in them, rather than having generic `toy boxes`. Organisation is key here, and lots of consistency with your mindees.

3. A home from home, NOT a mini nursery

If you have a small home, you can offer your clients a true home-from-home setting, so don`t even try to provide a mini-nursery. One thing I have found that really helps is to stay away from bright colours, keep the décor neutral, and use normal furniture as much as possible. I use natural rattan baskets for a lot of storage, and white boxes for toys. I also don`t have a sand or water tray indoors, or a tuff spot, we improvise with containers, washing up bowls and flexi trug buckets when I set up sensory activities.

One of my best storage solutions is a small chest of drawers that I picked up in a charity shop that now houses all my loose parts. The children can remove a whole drawer and then sit on the rug investigating the contents. In the evening, it just looks like a nice piece of furniture in my living room. Another great investment was benches around the dining room table, which means all my school children can easily fit around the table for snack time, art and craft activities and meals. 

4. Make clever use of space

Make sure you really utilise the space you have and set up multi-function areas. Only buy stackable chairs and high chairs, helping to keep clutter to a minimum. Remember, children are little, you can cleverly make use of low-down spaces for them, without impacting too much on a room. For example, I have set up some hanging storage and a little 'germ busting station' (where the tissues, hand gel, a little bin and a mirror are set up) underneath my kitchen island, which was effectively dead space, but is perfect for little children to access. Look for similar spaces in your home and put things low down. Ikea`s spice racks make perfect little book shelves. I have dotted these all over the house at child level to store and display books in. I've also seen some brilliant ways childminders use the space under the stairs, making cosy reading corners, quiet areas or home corners. 


5. Go out!

As much as possible, go out! As well as the great outdoors, local parks and woods, make the most of what your local area has to offer in the way of playgroups, libraries and shops. I aim for at least two hours out of the house a day, not including school runs. Unless it's bitterly cold or wet, I also take the school children to the park every day after school, they burn off energy, get to run around and enjoy a big space, and are more likely to enjoy calmer activities once we're indoors!

There is no reason why you can't provide a rich, stimulating environment for children in a small home, and there are certainly lots of children who benefit from small home-from-home settings, so don't be put off by having a smaller house. Yes, it would be lovely if we all had dedicated playrooms, and big open spaces, but you can make the most of what you have. Look around, what can you get rid of? Does everything have a place and is the storage neutral, simple and easy for children to use? Have you made the best use of space and are there any 'dead spaces' you can utilise? To be honest, these tips can probably be used even if you have a huge setting with a dedicated playroom too (you lucky thing!) I hope they help and inspire you!

About the author

Hi. I’m Layla. I am a childminder in Cambourne, just outside Cambridge, and I have to say, I absolutely love it!

I have always had a passion for early child development and education and have worked in childcare settings for 20 years now, gaining over ten years’ experience as a primary teacher specialising in Early Years Education before moving on to be a childminder.  I love sharing ideas with other childminders and am continually looking to learn and improve.

I did 2 year of childwood practice course in Uni, and during my study i worked in nursery, but my idea always be, childminder , but im very scared to start because i dont know how to start it ! I need some advice please
28/08/2022 07:10:51

Natasha okonye
Thank you so much! this blog was so much especially about the neutral colours, i still want my home to look like a home.
10/08/2022 05:21:45

I’m always concerned I don’t have enough and my setting isn’t as good as others but your five top tips has made me feel a lot better, I’m slowly upgrading toys as well as down sizing the amount I have. I spend a lot of time adventuring with the children. I don’t have separate rooms but transform my downstairs into a setting each morning.
17/04/2019 09:23:07

Daria Fairfield
Hi, I have been minding for 25 years. I am one if those that has had a two roomed and 1 bathroom annex, own front and back door and own garden space.
I am moving to a modern 4 bed house, no separate room to work. I have got rid of lots of stuff but you have given me the confidence to downsize even more . I am now feeling positive about this move and excited for the new challenge.
Thank you so much for this. X
15/04/2019 10:27:48

Guilty!!! Obsessed of trying to have the perfect setting, however I often found myself actually realising when I’m doing an activity or interacting with my children that quality time and my company is what they enjoy the most!!!
14/04/2019 19:37:27

Laura Radford
LOVE this - thankyou for sharing. I think my small home from home setting is a positive and nurturing place for children where they can just be themselves and play and learn .... but now I have some ideas to make it tidier and germ free!
28/02/2019 16:17:26

Martine Crowley
Hey Layla - at last someone with some sense! I was criticised in Ofsted for not having everything accessible- cant work out quite what they meant by that as there are lots of resources available. You have just made me feel so much better about my setting and about how I go out every morning doing wonderful activities outdoors! Thank you :)
24/02/2019 07:39:36

Kim Barnetson
Some really good advice here. I've been childminding for 18 years and I'm constantly clearing out. My top tip would be if you have outside space use it, anything you can do indoors can also be done in the garden and it's a lot less stressful to do big art activities outside and more fun for the children too.
08/02/2019 06:39:22

Jardz Bell
What fantastic tips! I am about to embark on this exciting journey and I was panicking over the size of my house, and where everything would go! Thank you so much and well done!
06/02/2019 12:02:09

Coco’s House
Thank you for posting this Layla. I have a fairly small house and I dream of when we move me being able to have a separate room for minding that I can decorate all colourful and with all the children’s things out and on display etc... but I don’t know if that will happen so I need to make sure that the space I do have available is used to the children’s best advantage which isn’t always lots of toys. I regularly have a cull of toys that haven’t been used in a while... that helps me keep on top of things.
30/01/2019 15:11:36

Rachael Relton
Yes! Having read this on behalf of a friend who is looking to become a childminder, it has actually given me a couple of points to rethink - the tidy up time between transitions are going to work really well for me as the children are now al nearly 2 and responding well to routine and responsibility.
30/01/2019 13:54:35

Jo Belk
Thank you so much for this article Layla. This describes my setting perfectly (apart from your tidying up which I haven't mastered quite as well!) I was beginning to question myself as more and more childminder settings seem to based around one big playroom idea with a hundred activities available at once. I loved the "toy soup" reference!
30/01/2019 10:14:26

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