On our way to toddler group this morning we passed under the mature Horse chestnut tree down the lane. Its branches extend out over the road but the trunk itself is in the grounds of a house. The tree is a familiar talking point with the children all year round. We look for the first tight sticky buds in Spring. We have watched the leaves unfurl over the weeks and then marvelled at the flowers as they appear. (If you have never look closely at the Horse chestnut flower you should.) Then we glimpse the first of the husks that will contain conkers, and finally in the Autumn we collect the conkers that litter the driveway of the house. For years now I have walked under the tree with different children as company.
Today I had a conversation with a child very similar in many ways to the conversation I had two years ago. But back then the child was familiar with the tree. She remembered picking conkers with me the previous year. We talked about how I would pick conkers in the Autumn from this tree, and the child would be picking conkers from another tree. This is because she was moving on to nursery so wouldn’t be with me. I was reassuring her that traditions carry on and she would find another Conker tree and collect conkers with Mummy, or even with the children from her new nursery.
Today's conversation was a little different because the child is too young to understand that by the time the conkers start to fall he will be in nursery. And he does not really have the memory of collecting conkers with me from this tree as last year he was tiddly and small. So we picked up a small green husk that had fallen from the tree and gazed at the many husks growing above us and I chatted about conkers, how the leaves were moving in the wind and wondered aloud if there were squirrels in the tree?
Now personally I fully support children going into nursery/pre-school provision. I believe it is right that children can make that progression from a small setting such as mine, with a nurturing environment that gives them the skills they need to make a success of their time at nursery/pre-school. Nursery and pre-schools are a further stepping stone to making that leap into being 'school ready'. Early Years Entitlement/Funded Education/Free Entitlement whatever you want to call it, is there to support children so when they get to school they are indeed 'ready'.
Childminders have been given the impression they have a place in the provision of EYE, an equal place. Indeed it was said that the extended 2 yr old Free Entitlement would fail without Childminders signing up, there just wasn't enough places available to supply the expected demand. The push to ensure there are enough places to provide the extended Free Entitlement for 2 year olds from September 14 has seen many childminders, myself included opting in. Unfortunately things are not as rosy as they should be, and many childminders have discovered that they are being asked to cover the hours that nurseries and pre-schools do not cover.
The problem for childminders is not just confined to the FE for 2 year olds. I had a chat with a fellow childminder a few weeks ago, she had been asked by a parent to provide FE for a little chap she had in her setting & was looking forward to it. We discussed the administrative challenges she was facing, and the fact that funding for the early years entitlement (3& 4 yr old) did not cover her hourly rate, but she was still keen.
The almost invertible has happened, the parent has changed their minds and the child is now going to nursery. The childminder has been asked to pick up & provide an hour or so childcare a day. This happens time & time again. Yes, of course there are childminders out there who have been successful in providing FE and who have provided the Full Entitlement of 15 hours, or the majority of it. There are many childminders I am sure who have a very positive experience of providing FE in conjunction with another setting. But too often Childminders are being seen and used as the inferior provider, only fit to provide breakfast and end of day care, or a taxi service.
I fretted over my decision to provide EYE or not. I worried about being disadvantaged in the marketplace if I didn’t and I worried over the financial implications of a lower hourly rate if I did. I was swayed by the knowledge that I would be supporting families, families that had possibly been with me for some time.
I think the bottom line is that parents do what they think is right for their children, and what is right for their family situation. I do not know if I will ever be asked to provide FE. I am happy at present to focus on providing the very best childcare I can, for the very youngest children and fully support parents decision to take a place at nursery when the time is right.
Would I consider providing just 1 or 2 hours of childcare if asked by a parent? No.
I guess I will be having plenty of conker type conversations in the future.