I’ll admit that I’ve been a bit slow about getting my childcare organised. Although my son Jake is nearly 18 months old, up until now I’ve been relying on his nap times, help from my mum and the rare evenings when I still have the energy to sit down at a computer in order to get my work done. My friend Carrie, on the other hand, has a baby who is only 8 weeks old, but she is already thinking about childcare because she will need to return to work in a few months time. In fact, it was Carrie who spurred me on to finding suitable care for Jake. Having spotted a ‘speed childminding’ evening run by her local council, she suggested that I tag along.
Fast childcare fix
While the name might suggest rushing your children off to bed so you can flop in front of the telly with a large glass of wine, speech childminding is actually a rather clever way of getting an idea of what sort of childminders are on offer in your area. Bringing together childminders and parents for a quick informal chat in a friendly environment, it gives you the opportunity to meet a wide range of childminders, all conveniently in one place. It works on the same principle as speed dating – you go from person to person, finding out as much as you can about them in a short space of time – but you’re obviously after someone to look after your child, rather than a hot date at the local cinema.
When Carrie and I turned up at the children’s centre where our speed childminding event was being held, it was clear that she was a woman on a mission. Baby Ollie was firmly strapped to her front, and she was clutching a long list of questions for potential childminders. There was quite a crowd gathered for the event – lots of mums, a couple of dads and even a spectacularly well organised mum-to-be. Nobody was quite sure what to expect, so there was a bit of a nervous buzz in the air. It was everybody’s first time speed childminding. We were eventually ushered into a hall where potential childminders, known only by their allotted numbers, were sitting on different corners, qualifications at the ready.
Meeting the childminders
Carrie and I were shown to our first childminder, and the clock started ticking. We had just 10 minutes to get to know her. Before we knew it, the cowbell making ‘time up’ sounded, and we had to frantically rush to get the next person ticked off the list. It felt a bit like a surreal game show, running from one person to the next, cramming in as many questions as we could in the time allotted. At one point we all got a bit over-enthusiastic and ran off in the wrong direction when the bell sounded, so 4 people descended on Childminder number 5, who looked terrified, poor woman. It was all good fun however, and after some giggling and apologies, we found the candidate we were meant to be interviewing and got back to the business of the evening.
As we continued our mad dash, it became clear that every childminder there had an impressive array of qualifications and references. So, in the end it came down to things such as whether they lived close enough to be convenient, had similar views on television-viewing, activities and behaviour – and of course, just a basic gut instinct on whether they’d be a good match for us and our children.
By the end of the evening, I’d decided that finding a carer in this speedy way was actually a lot of fun. Everyone had obviously relaxed, and both parents and childminders were chatting away and joking by the end of the session. It took around an hour to get round them all, and it was surprisingly exhausting. It was lucky that we had taken notes, as all the conversations blurred into one by the end.
Back at Carrie’s house, we chatted over each childminder – it’s definitely a good idea to go along with someone else so that you can mull things over afterwards. We decided that everyone had their good points, but I was sure that Carrie had asked for the CV of the childminder with the smiley face. “She just felt very friendly and warm,” she explained. I agreed, but baby Ollie had dropped off to sleep before we could ask his opinion. It’s hard work finding childcare, but doing things this way certainly makes things a little easier, more fun and of course, faster.
Carrie Compton, 31, lives with her partner Richard and baby Ollie, 8 weeks.
“I need to go back to work in a few months, so I wanted to get an idea of what sort of childminders are out there. I was impressed by the people I met – they were all well qualified and seemed to have very professional attitudes. There was quite a relaxed atmosphere and we were even provided with a set of questions to ask in case we weren’t sure what to say.
The really important issues for me were where the childminders lived – if they were too far away I wouldn’t be able to get to work on time – and whether they had pets. I just don’t think dogs and young children mix, but a couple of goldfish would be just fine!
I think the event was a great idea – you can meet 6 different childminders in just 1 hour, instead of having to go on 6 different visits to houses, which can be very time consuming. I was able to find out quite a lot about them all in the 10 minutes, but it was quite tiring as you’re interviewing 6 people in a row for a job! I asked for a couple of CV’s before leaving and I’ll probably follow up with a visit to their houses to see how they do things there.”