Well. Our childminder is giving up. Small news in the scheme of things but it still made one sleep-deprived mama very sad. It took us a long time to find the right childminder and had hoped that once bubba had settled in, we were set right up to school age. But hey, life likes to throw you a curve ball sometimes. So, beginning from square one again felt like a major challenge. But we've learnt a lot about what we value from our current childminder and our previous search efforts.
You might not have a clear idea of what you're looking for in a childminder when you're first looking at childcare options - I certainly didn't. To try and understand what we were looking for, we asked prospective childminders to give us a run through of a typical day. OK so they're not going to tell you that they plonk the babies in front of the telly or let them eat chocolate biscuits all day, but you may glean a little about their style (e.g. structured or child-led) and whether their happy to embrace the joys of messy and sensory play, or ensure that the children get outside in all weathers.
Asking to see, or borrow, a copy of their portfolio and policies allows you to discuss some of the finer details of the childcare provision. Looking through the policies on day trips, nappy changing, use of suncream, daily journal content, meal and snack policy etc made it much easier for us to understand our childminders' approach to the nitty gritty aspects of childcare and gave us a way in to asking questions such as how much TV time is allowed, or whether hot meals are provided at lunch, and any additional costs.
Asking questions about discipline may seem a bit pointless when you're looking first time round. Bubba was just a year when we started looking before, and too small to be pushing any boundaries. But now, with an assertive and independent 18 month-old it seems very relevant. I want to be confident that our childminder isn't going to be the polar opposite of me when it comes to discipline.
Personally, I'm a fan of gentle parenting techniques, and will endeavour (when I'm not over-tired and over-emotional: not as often as I'd like) to explain calmly and clearly to my crazed toddler why we can't play with the knife, or take battery operated toys in the bath, and be there for cuddles when he's calmer. I couldn't bear if if someone tried to punish him for testing out his independence. So have a think about what's important to you, and whether you childminder is on the same track.
The technical stuff. Make sure you properly understand what you're paying for. In the sleep-deprived world of parenting this is harder than it sounds. It took me 3 months to realise that my son could have tea and stay til 5.30 for the same cost as me dashing to collect at 5 and get him home sharpish for tea. By which time he promptly fell asleep in his highchair. Check whether you have to pay for bank holidays, or if you give sufficient notice, for any holidays you wish to take.
And finally. Trust those amazing parenting instincts. When you walk in, could you see your child happily playing there? Does it seem safe? Cosy? Would you feel happy leaving them there each week? Of course, word-of-mouth recommendations are invaluable, and Ofsted reports very informative, but make sure it feels right for you. After all, you know your little one better than anyone else in the world!!
So... how did you chose your childcare? Was it straightforward or headache inducing? Did you decide nothing seemed good enough and plump for the stay at home option? Would love to know...