Elizabeth Jarman, owner of ‘Communication Friendly Spaces’, one of my inspirations and a lovely lady advocates providing children with an uncluttered environment painted in gentle colours so children are calm and can enjoy their play without being over-stimulated.
Over-stimulation, as we know, can lead to a whole host of problems such as sensory overload, behaviour challenges and chaotic play scenes. We often find that cluttered play areas lead to children who do not deal well with challenges because their initial reaction is to overreact.
Decluttering is all well and good, I hear you say... but how do you do that and keep Ofsted and parents happy? Ofsted inspectors regularly comment that the childminder does not have this or that resource available... or does not offer enough resources for the child to learn in this or that area of learning...
Parents, similarly, want to know what their child is doing every day and how you are teaching them. If your toys are stored elsewhere and your environment decluttered so only a few things are out at a time, they might worry that their child is neither educated nor stimulated effectively during the day - especially if they are too old for daily diaries and the answer they get to ‘what have you done today?’ is normally ‘nothing’ with a sigh attached to load on the guilt.
Managing your childminding space so it is not overwhelming for the children can be a huge challenge. You will have toys that children loved at different ages clamouring for space on shelves, in baskets and at the back of cupboards with new purchases, previous and current favourites and a host of other bits and bobs the children seem to enjoy using at the moment.
You will probably have higher shelves or other storage for less often used toys and games - things with lots of parts which the toddlers will lose - dangerous toys which the after school children enjoy but little ones would probably use to choke each other or themselves! Your floor might well be covered with a lovely bright rug to protect the carpet, a wealth of push along and ride on toys, a dolls house or big cushions... and much more.
Look at your walls - do the children ever look at that poster covered in colours or the one featuring children’s emotions? When was your board featuring the days of the week and the weather last used or incorporated in a song? How often do the children contribute towards changing displays on your notice board? When did you last tidy your writing table display and update it to link in with current themes or children’s home and community interests?
Childminders have to think about resources for different ages of children from babies to after schoolers - and about providing a range of experiences and activities which meet each child’s interests and needs. Ofsted are keen on self selection and promoting independence as well, so this will be in the back of your mind when you are setting out your resources.
All of this is in your childminding rooms before you even think about space for the children to play!
Ms Jarman tells us that Ofsted do not want to see ‘everything out all the time’. What Ofsted are looking for is evidence that children are stimulated and excited in their learning. We read this time and time again in childminder inspection reports on the Ofsted website. Your inspector should look around your home and see the resources you have immediately available - you can then point them to a photo album which shows the children having fun with different resources which perhaps you do not have out on the day of your inspection.
Some outstanding childminders in Blackpool (thanks guys) gave me an excellent suggestion which I used for my inspection - and my inspector liked! The children and I made some ‘we have been busy’ sheets featuring a selection of little photos and their comments linked to various areas of provision such as sand, water, outside painting, construction, cooking and experiences on outings. One of the children handed it to the inspector to give her a flavour of their time here and confidently chatted about how he had helped put the photo album together.
Ofsted want you to explain why you have made certain choices about your resources and available space. For example, you might choose to follow Montessori principles in your environment or you might mostly offer children access to natural materials which promote open ended play. As long as your inspector and parents understand what you are trying to achieve and see the learning potential across all 7 areas of learning and development for each child... and you have thought carefully about how to ensure children are engaged in a range of activities and experiences through the week, then your resourcing decisions should be respected.
There are a number of different ways you can support children’s independent play choices without having everything overloaded on shelves and in boxes and a cluttered floor. Once you have identified the most important resources and spaces - your continuous provision such as building blocks, home corner, cosy area with books, table for mark making and crafts etc then you can look at the rest of your resources and make decisions, along with the children, about what needs to be available to follow their current interests and learning styles.
Some childminders use toy catalogues or baskets featuring pictures of toys and games which the children can flick through to choose what they would like to use during the day. This is especially useful if you have a small childminding room, a lot of resources and a good shed or easily accessed loft for storage. The children can be involved in taking and printing photos (we have a little Pogo printer which our children love using), commenting on what they enjoy using most and putting the catalogues together. They will are more likely to remember what resources you have if they have input into the process as well.
Well labelled resources make things easier to find, support children who are learning to help tidy up and show you value a print rich environment. Similarly, small boxes are normally considered more effective for storing resources than large tubs in which small toys can be lost... any childminder who has cared for a ‘tipper’ child will probably have replaced their large toy boxes anyway!
I hope I have given you some ideas for decluttering and better managing your childminding spaces. They can be applied to the house or the garden - and you should never forget the experiences children have on outings, at home and in other settings which contribute to their overall learning and development and which should be complementary to the activities you offer when they are with you.
Chat soon, Sarah x