Laura began childminding six years ago after the threat of redundancy from her previous career made her review her career choices. Having a young family, Laura wanted a career which would provide greater autonomy than her previous job. She was hoping to have control over when and how she worked, enabling her new choice of career to complement family life. Laura explains that ‘a big factor was that my own children were very young, and I wanted to spend more time with them
’ and that her friend was a childminder and Laura could see what a ‘lovely and fulfilling job’
childminding could potentially become. As a sole provider, Laura provides care for ten children between the ages of one and ten. She works part-time from her home in South Bristol. There is an inviting and well-resourced playroom, with an emphasis on non-prescriptive, loose parts play and learning. Laura is keen to ensure a child led approach to learning and development. There is access to an equally well-resourced garden, including a mud kitchen and two adorable rabbits.
The Bristol Standard journey for Laura began in 2015 and she has completed her first full cycle, which is a full submission and two interim submissions. She has recently begun working towards her second full submission. Laura explains that reflection is an important and constant factor in her practice. ‘You’re thinking about how to improve all the time. You’re thinking “I know that’s ok, so now I need to focus on this,”’
and so for the Bristol Standard ‘it’s a case of writing down and finding the evidence’
. Laura goes on to explain that she finds procrastination easy, so the Bristol Standard has helped her to focus on what needs to be done. ‘The best thing is that it does push you to do things. I can come up with an idea and think “wow, that’s an amazing idea” and then not really get around to putting it into practice, but because you know you will be recording it and need some substance for it, it encourages you to do it.
’ Laura has attended the regular dimension training/discussion groups run especially for childminders by Bristol Early Years. ‘What I really like is going to the sessions, and what is really good is having discussions with other childminders. It gives you ideas and makes you think about things you already do well but didn’t realise’
. Laura explains that the discussion groups are so helpful and supportive that it might be worth considering an online version, enabling more childminders to access this valuable resource. Many of the targets that Laura has set to improve her practice have been successful. One of the most successful was introducing a digital childcare management system. This enables Laura to use an app to record children’s learning journeys and next steps efficiently without the need for paperwork. It also enables Laura to share information regarding menus or the child’s day easily with the parents. ‘I feel like it’s the best thing I’ve done. All the menus can be sent to the parents in advance, all the diary items are there already. I can take a picture and link it to an observation and then regularly look to see where the children are to see if they are making progress and support them with their development.’
Laura explains that this has made the process of recording and sharing information considerably less onerous. She is able to easily spot gaps in the children’s learning and respond appropriately. Another successful target was taking on an allotment to use with the children which is within walking distance of the setting. The children love to dig and play, hiding dinosaurs in the undergrowth. The children planted and grew their own veg and then made soup using the vegetables they’d grown. Laura explains how rewarding this has been and how the allotment activities cover so many areas of learning in such a fun and productive way. The parents are aware of Laura’s Bristol Standard journey. She describes how the parents are indirectly involved, as they provide feedback to questionnaires regarding Laura’s practice. This feedback is then used to inform and decide upon potential targets for the Bristol Standard submissions. So, what would Laura’s top tips be to those starting out on their Bristol Standard Journey? ‘Go to the sessions as much as you can and do a little bit every month, oh, I so wish I could listen to my own advice….
’. Laura explains how supportive she has found the dimension discussion sessions to be. Laura also explains how useful the framework is, the written dimensions and the dimension questions to help guide you through the process and to make use of it. Laura has found the Bristol Standard process incredibly valuable, ensuring that she is a reflective and effective early year’s practitioner. ‘It is about paperwork, but it is really useful, it doesn’t have to be lots of paperwork, but it’s such a good way of reflecting and showing parents and Ofsted really good things about your setting