FEATURE: First childminder in Suffolk to qualify in new approach to looking after children
Karim is immersed in his very own dinosaur world, planning new adventures with his pal, a T-rex. Adrian is busy with his current favourite pastime – collecting things.
Meanwhile, Evelyn, who at nearly one is not quite up to reading yet, is fascinated by a book.
All three are absorbed in activities that fire up their imaginations and natural eagerness to investigate their surroundings.
They are spending the day with childminder Claire Wilson, who has turned most of the ground floor of her home into a perfect environment for toddlers with inquiring minds.
Claire is the first person in Suffolk – and one of only five in the UK – to qualify as a ‘curiosity approach’ childminder.
Three-year-old Karim, Adrian, who is one, and Evelyn are among her regulars.
While they are with her, there is no ready-made entertainment. They are given no electronic devices, no toys you just need to switch on.
Instead, there is a myriad of objects ranging from everyday bits and pieces and natural objects, to dressing-up treasures brought back by parents from foreign holidays.
“The curiosity approach was set up by two women who run nurseries in the Midlands,” said Claire.
“They wanted to get away from toys where you just press a button, and put children in touch with natural things they come across every day. So many children just sit in front of screens.
“It’s about getting them to use their imagination and develop language, using real things and setting up experiences for them to play with.”
The previous evening, she built a dinosaur world in her living room especially for Karim – using pieces of wood, a mirror for a lake and dinosaur models – because she knows he loves them.
“T-rex is my favourite,” he says. “And this is a stegosaurus.” Is that one a velociraptor? He’s not sure.
The curiosity approach chimed with Claire because she had a similar attitude with her own children, Arron, five, and Thomas, eight.
“I’ve used this approach bringing them up,” says the former primary school teacher, who lives in Suffolk with her husband Ed, a cardio technician at West Suffolk Hospital.
“When I had Thomas, someone suggested I should become a childminder. You can be at home and still work with children.
“I did my childminder qualification, and safeguarding and first aid, and began working.
“In 2018, I wanted to change how I was doing it. I was always looking for different approaches and came across someone who mentioned the curiosity approach.
“I looked on online to see what they were doing and found out about the accreditation you could do. You do six modules online and make up a portfolio.
“It takes a year, and they mark it. I qualified at the beginning of February.
“I’m the first childminder to do it in Suffolk. There are 45 accredited settings in the UK – most are nurseries, only five are childminders.
“It’s quite a big thing to take on. If you are a childminder, you have to do it on your own.
“At the moment, I have three under fives here during the day, and also pick up and take children to and from school. I can have up to six children here at a time.
“I take the little ones with me to pick the others up from our nearby primary school.
“We do lots of sensory play. When it snowed, we brought snow inside and made marks in it with food colouring. We make muddy puddles in basins with cocoa powder.
“I also take them to the forest school in Nowton Park, and go to the woods with them. We’re out in all weathers.”
Back at home is a playroom, with shelves full of small items that children can pick out for themselves.
Wherever possible, she goes for natural materials, rather than plastic.
Treasure boxes are filled with anything from shells to clothes pegs. But the point is, things can be whatever the children want them to be.
“Fir cones could be part of a rocket ship,” says Claire. “We use lots of loose parts, recycled materials and packaging.
“When parents go on holiday, I encourage them to bring things back.
“I also make my own play dough from flour and yeast and food colouring. It’s my mum’s recipe. You can keep it in the fridge.”
Children are encouraged to use all their senses. “I’ll introduce smells like mint and herbs,” she says. “It’s about exploring different things. We’ll use nice lighting, and fairy lights.
“We do lots of things in the moment as well, seeing what they
like and being spontaneous.
“We also do storytelling, setting up situations they can invent stories about.”
Older children often take over her dining room table. “I set them an invitation to play. There will be a bowl of shells, wood and anything else we can find.
“They make transient art by arranging them in frames, then I take a photo.”
Playing outside is also encouraged and the children have the run of her garden, where there is a playhouse.
Alongside, is an open-air kitchen set up, with full-size pans. “With the older ones, we use real cups and saucers,” she says.
Claire records the children’s activities with photos, which she prints and puts into albums.
She neatly sums up the service she provides. “Children are curious,” she says. “I’m providing things for them to be curious with.”
Find Claire at @clairewilson
childminder on Facebook and Instagram.