This help centre article was written for childminders preparing for registration with the Koru Kids' Home Nursery service
Safety your first concern
The most important aspect of a safe home is guiding children to behave appropriately around hazards. Children can learn quickly.
Teach them about ‘hot’ and ensure they can recognise sources of heat, such as the oven or fire and know not to touch.
Teach them to approach steps carefully and to go down backwards.
Teach them when it is and isn’t okay to go into certain areas. For example, “it's only okay to go into the kitchen or bathroom with a grown up”, “the kitchen cupboards are only for adults”.
Explore the space at child level and find the hazards
First and foremost your space needs to be safe from the point of view of a child. If you haven’t had a young child in your home for a while make sure you get down to their level and think about what they can reach, get into, fall off, climb up, pull on or pull over.
You need to think about how you make each of these hazards safe
Decide which areas you are going to keep out of bounds
Fit stair gates to zone off any areas you do not want children to have free access to. The stairs are a must.
Some people zone off their kitchens but if you want to use this area for messy play, baking or have it as an area for children to be whilst you cook meals, this might not be practical.
If you leave the kitchen accessible, think about securing cupboards with hazards in with cupboard locks, or better still keep hazards (such as cleaning products) high and out of reach.
Your bathroom products need to be inaccessible - either by the room being out of bounds or placing everything up high or in lockable cabinets.
Work methodically to make the space safe
Ensure you have working smoke alarms, you have clear and accessible exits and that you have a working fire extinguisher. Although the advice is always to exit the building immediately rather than tackle a fire when children are present.
Protect children from heat sources
You need a plan for preventing children touching fires or a low oven (if the door gets hot enough to be a hazard), for example you might want to have a safety gate to your kitchen or a fixed fireguard.
Protect children from drops
If you have steps in the garden or a drop from a patio for example, you need to think about how they can learn to be safe around that or you need to find ways of preventing them having free access to the drop.
Prevent furniture or fittings falling on children.
Young toddlers can reach up to things (such as TVs or cupboards/units) and they can topple on them if they are light enough to be dislodged. You can brace things against walls to prevent this.
Remove hanging wires or strings.
Hanging wires or curtain/blind strings can be especially hazardous to children as they can pull on them and bring something down on top of them or they could accidentally wrap it around their neck.
Children should not be able to open doors to the outside on their own
Keep doors locked (with the key in the lock in case of fire) or ideally have a Yale lock fitted high up the door out of reach for children.
Dispose of any broken toys or resources
If things get broken they can then be dangerous to children (e.g. sharp edges) so make sure you regularly check your toys are still in good working order.
Cleanliness is vital for children and parents
The space needs to be hygienic for children.
Regular cleaning - especially of the low down spaces and floors where children will spend time - is important to keep them healthy.
Periodic cleaning of toys and surfaces with anti-bacterial cleanser is important.
You need to ensure your setting is Covid 19 safe. Read our full article here.
Parents touring your space will be hyper aware of cleanliness.
Visiting parents will take a lack of cleanliness as a sign of the standard of care and will not consider sending their children to you - no matter how impressive you are in all other areas!
Having a ‘less is more’ approach to toys and resources in your setting will make keeping it clean easier
Clutter is the enemy of keeping a space feeling calm and clean.
Don’t forget to make your outside clean too
Make sure you double check for any animal fouling and wash down patio spaces and trim the lawn to give a good impression.
Tired and worn furniture or fittings can look unclean
Sometimes even if something is clean it doesn’t look clean. Often, replacing (or professionally cleaning) tired floor coverings, covering older soft furnishings, painting walls or cupboards is a better approach to giving a clean impression.
A calm space is an enabling one
Children behave calmly in calm environments and can therefore learn better
You need to create an enabling environment for the children you care for. One where they can feel emotionally secure and are ready to learn.
Maria Montessori said “adults admire their environment; they can remember it and think about it – but a child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear”. This is why the general ambience of your space is so important.
Some simple tricks make the space feel calm and cosy
Use of a calming palette (neutral colours and pastels).
Hard surfaces can increase noise levels. Set up the space up to absorb, not amplify sound, by using soft furnishings or adding rugs on hard floors to reduce noise levels.
Remove clutter. Have a limited amount of toys out on surfaces with the rest accessible but away.
Consider playing classical music or calm nursery rhymes to create an atmosphere.
Keep wall displays neat and/or in certain zones to have a calm overall impression of the space.
Plants and greenery can make a space feel calmer. Please be mindful that some house and garden plants are toxic for children, before introducing plants into your home or garden consult this list.
Softer lighting works well in the winter months - have lamps, fairy lights and dimmer bulbs.
Well appointed twinkly lights can add a sense of magic and wonder. Fairy lights of LED candles can work well.
Always give off a professional vibe, even though you’re a home setting
You can remind visitors that you are a professional space - whilst still being a home
Think about your arrival zone and reminding parents of your professional practices - e.g. keep your policies’ folder or any professional certificates displayed. Display your register.
Have hand sanitizer available and shoe covers if you do not make parents remove shoes.
Display the children’s learning in a professional manner
Neat pinboard displays are one option or photograph work and display as printed ‘Mixtiles’ or in frames.
An area where work can be pegged up on a string can look professional if kept tidy and refreshed.
Remove evidence of screens as much as possible
Parents do not want to worry that their children are watching TV
Having a large obvious TV in the children’s play space can be off-putting to parents.
Remove temptation from children by keeping screens discreet. Think about removing screens from children’s main playspaces
When parents look around your setting they will not like you having a large intrusive screen in the main area children are playing. Where possible keep your main playspace somewhat separate from your TV area or think about moving your household TV elsewhere or mounting it in a less intrusive way.
When the areas are unavoidably shared, some childminders cover their TV in the daytime with a throw.
The seven areas of your home
The seven activities to plan for below. Each has their own article, describing things to think about and suggestions of changes to make to optimise your setting.
Arrival: What children and parents see and do when they first arrive at your home;
Play: There will be distinct learning zones within your play area;
Be quiet: There needs to be an area for talking as a group or reading;
Eating (& getting messy): You need an area of the home for children to eat and to do messier activities;
Sleep: You need a place for your children to rest;
Bathroom: You need somewhere for children to use the potty/toilet and to change nappies;
Outside: If you have an outside space you need to think about how to make best use of this for your children.
Creating a home from home
Your home is a home, not a nursery
Parents choose childminder settings as they want a home environment for their children.
Some parents dislike nurseries for young children as they are too ‘institutional’ or look too much like schools which doesn’t feel right for a young child. So don’t make your home look like a mini school or pre-school.
Try not to make the space look ‘institutionalised’ by having too many toys or taking away the cues of home by replacing them with the feeling of a watered-down school.
Consider using natural materials such as branches, foliage or plants to create a more relaxed atmosphere. Brighten up the space with felt garlands, flowers or handmade decorations - over excess brightly coloured plastic - to give the space a cosy feel. Please be mindful that some house and garden plants are toxic for children, before introducing plants into your home or garden consult this list.
Keep areas of your home as your space
Use good storage to allow the area to be tidied and made toy free when you want to relax in the evening.
If you’re able to separate the main play zone from your living zone, this will help you preserve a sense of home.
Even if you’re not able to use a separate room you might be able to use a tall unit (such as an Ikea Kallax) jutting out into the room as a divider.
Your living room can still be used as the ‘quiet room’ of the setting where books are read or adult led games or puzzles are played and then packed away.
Make children feel part of the family
Children need to feel they belong in your home and are an important part of your family for their emotional security.
An enabling environment is one where children feel they ‘belong’. There are some simple ways you can make a child feel part of your household, rather than a visitor:
Having their name and photograph on the walls as you would a family member.
Labelling their things and giving them a sense of what’s theirs and where their things go.
Giving them something in the space that is ‘theirs’ such as their own chair, bed or cushion.
Children need to feel seen as a unique individual.
Celebrate a child’s culture by recognising festivals and celebrations they observe.
Learn some key words such as hello or please in their language (if not English) so that you acknowledge that they may like to communicate in another language sometimes.
When learning about the world talk to children about their heritage and the countries their parents or grandparents might have been born.
Ensure you have dolls, people toys and books that include characters with all skin colours and a from a range of heritages so they can recognise themself in your resources.
Welcome a child’s family as part of your extended family
Consider having an area of the space where children can place a photograph of their family and talk to them about their families
Welcome parents and grandparents into your setting as particular moments - such as celebrations. Consider inviting them to come and read to or with the children on occasion. The children will enjoy introducing them to the other children.
Have familiar mascots
Make some prominent soft toys in your setting part of the extended family.
Having some familiar soft toy characters to greet children each morning will increase their sense of routine and belonging.
Getting some ‘iconic’ toys with real personality will help you bring their characters to life and you can use them (and encourage the children to use them) in much of your role play and imaginative play.
On fine days they can even come outside on adventures with you.
Perhaps encourage children to bring their favourite toys from home to meet the rest of the family. It’s best not to take much loved toys outside for fear of losing them.
Some nurseries discourage children bringing comforts from home so this is one way you can go over and above. With a small group of children you should be able to establish boundaries with the other children that a particular toy is special to one child. This will be good for them to learn.
Keeping your home your home
Separation of work and life
Working at home can make you feel like there is not enough separation of your home life and your work life.
A few simple tips can prevent you feeling this way:
If you have space create a separate living area for watching TV and relaxing in the evening. This doesn't need to be a separate room but maybe zone off the play space for the children from your sitting area. Using a Kallax unit jutting out into the room does this quite well. It is also good for the TV to be in a different space to where the children are playing.
Always tidy up at the end of the day - getting the children to help. Store toys and resources in boxes that still look homely when put away so that the unit that they are in converts back quickly to looking domestic.
Less is more with regards to toys and bulky resources. Spend money wisely and buy a few well chosen open-ended toys rather than let your house be taken over with plastic.
Buy travel cots that fold away and think about where you can tidy things like highchairs and the buggy away so you are not surrounded by these things at the weekends and in the evenings.