Julia was working full-time in publishing until she decided to take the plunge and set up as an independent literary agent. Here she describes how she has found the right childcare for her two daughters (Maya, age 9 and Cleo, age 3) whilst her working pattern has changed.
What was important to you in finding childcare for your first child when you went back to work?
I went back to work when Maya was 6 months old. What was most important to me was finding local childcare where Maya could quickly feel safe and secure, and develop a strong bond with her carer. As all new mums do, I asked around my friends and other local mums and Zoom, a local nursery, was consistently recommended.
When I visited, I was immediately struck by the commitment and professionalism of the staff, the high ratio of staff to children and how the nursery was structured so that there were appropriate activities and resources for the children as they grew and their needs changed. There were different zones in each room, so there might be some children reading, some sitting calmly with a carer and resting, and others doing an activity in the corner. Most importantly, there was such a warm feel to the nursery – as soon as you walked in, you were met by staff who were smiley and immediately put you at ease.
Trust is the key thing. You need to have that immediate sense from a childcare setting that you would trust them to look after your child, and all the procedures are in place so that you know that they will be happy and safe. It was clear from the positive interactions I observed between the staff and the children that this was something I had absolute confidence in with Zoom nursery.
How do you think your daughter benefited from the experience at nursery?
It is so true what they say – that it takes a village to raise a child. Maya was at the nursery ten hours a day, three days a week, from 6 months to 4 years old, so the nursery really did play a huge role in her upbringing. The input she had from both her key worker and the other professional childcarers definitely helped her develop physical, emotional and social skills, as well as providing a fantastic foundation for learning at school.
Zoom had a very rigorous approach to the Early Years Foundation Stage and there was always lots of opportunity to receive feedback and observations on a daily basis on how Maya was doing. I definitely felt that the staff were involved and invested in my child’s development rather than just ticking boxes.
And importantly for all of us, because the nursery was situated in the middle of the community that we live in, we also developed relationships with other children and their families that are still going strong nine years later.
How did the nursery help Maya to settle in ?
The nursery were excellent at providing support to Maya to help her settle in, as well as providing reassurance to me that she was being well looked after. I know a lot of my friends were anxious about returning to work, but I loved my work and was keen to get back. I also knew that Maya would soon have developmental needs that the nursery would be able to fulfil much more readily than I. Very few people could compete with the huge array of resources and activities that a nursery can provide!
How did your requirements change when you were looking for childcare for your second daughter?
By the time I was looking for childcare for Cleo, Maya was already at school and with an excellent childminder for wraparound care, so it made sense that we would also send Cleo to her. So when I set up as an agent a year later, even though I had increased flexibility and vastly reduced income, I knew I had to keep free the hours I would need to build my client list from scratch. For me, that meant cutting out the 8-9 breakfast slot for the girls, as I was available to drop them off, but keeping the full days and after-school care intact so that I could fully commit to the new business.
Ruth has been an amazing childminder for both children, and in my new role she has also provided the flexibility I’ve needed for occasional late-pick-ups and additional evening commitment. Sometimes she even puts the children to bed at her house until my husband or I can pick them up. We had to have a childminder who didn’t just cover term-time, and during holidays she provides a range of fun activities from craft and baking to park and museum visits, which they love.
It is challenging working for yourself, particularly when you don’t immediately have regular income coming in, but for me a childminder who could offer this flexible approach was the best and most cost-effective option. I won’t be eligible for 30 hours until my business brings in the income I need to meet the requirements – as soon as I meet them it will significantly reduce our childcare costs.
How have the girls benefited from their time with your childminder?
I can’t imagine how we would manage without Ruth. A former primary school teacher, she is calm and professional and sets good boundaries as well as showing great warmth towards the children. She is very responsive and intuitive and has a seemingly endless source of ideas for fantastic creative projects, which is not my strong point. She has provided a fantastic early years education experience for Cleo, and I also really appreciate that she knows when the children just need to have down-time. She is, in fact, the perfect parent substitute, and I would probably trust Ruth with my children more than I trust myself!
Both children have really benefited from the small, home-from-home environment and have established friendships with the other children who attend the setting. I’ve really seen in particular how much Cleo has enjoyed being with children from a range of ages.
Ruth has become so much a part of my children’s life. At Cleo’s 2nd birthday party, we invited Ruth and her family along with a few of our close family members. To see Cleo choosing to sit completely relaxed on Ruth’s lap rather than with her parents or grandparents really brought home how lucky we are. That might bother some parents but my perspective is that it proves she feels as loved and safe when we’re not with her as she does when we are.
The going out to work versus stay at home debate can be so fraught, but really it should be as simple as having high-quality options available so that people can make the right choices for their families.