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.