Caring for Under-Ones.

September is a period of change for most childcare providers; with children leaving to start their transition to school and a new cohort of children to settle in and introduce to the setting.

We are no exception to this rule and as we bid farewell to our five school leavers this year, we embarked upon an adventure we haven’t experienced in many years; settling babies into the setting.

This blog will look at how we support families in their return to work, meet the varying needs of children under one, how we juggle this whilst providing appropriate care and learning experiences for our older children and how we adapt our routines and environments as a result.

Caring for children under one is significantly different in so many ways and so juggling the needs of all of the children can prove difficult, particularly within a home-based childcare setting where environments, routines and learning experiences need to be designed to meet everyone’s needs, rather than a designated  ‘Baby Room’,  routine and staff set-up that you may get within a nursery environment.

From the outset, we aim to get to know each of our new starters, but particularly our youngest children as well as possible prior to them starting with us and so our settling in sessions are vitally important. We have no set rules on this (and no charge either) and we encourage parents to bring the children in as much as they like over a significant time period to enable us to become familiar with the child and vice versa. Similarly, we believe it is essential that we have settling in sessions alone with the child at key times of the day; for example, putting the child to sleep, a meal time as well as an outing (either in the buggy or car) to enable us to get to know the child’s individual routine and patterns prior to them starting with us. This is not only a vital experience for us as practitioners, but for the child too as they become familiar with the setting and all of the new experiences that come with it. We have found, by being so flexible, open and positive in regards to settling in sessions, this enables us, the family and the child to feel significantly more positive and relaxed throughout the process and early stages of settling in and transition into the setting.

It’s important to note that a new baby in the setting doesn’t just affect the routine of the setting (factoring in additional nap and feeding times) but also affects the physical set up of your environment; within a home-based childcare establishment this is even more significant. We still move and change the playroom every week to keep it fresh, current and stimulating for all of our children and this is no different with our younger babies; each week we ensure we design a designated ‘Baby Area’ with age appropriate resources and experiences on offer, a variety of items and loose parts on offer within our ‘browser boxes’ and somewhere soft, cosy and inviting the younger children can retreat to for comfort. However, we are also exceptionally mindful that we still have a large number of older children too and so we must continue and maintain our learning areas to ensure these children are still challenged and stimulated by their learning and play experiences every day (whilst also remaining mindful of small parts and potential hazards.) Whilst it is impossible for our younger children to remain in the designated ‘Baby Area’ as they develop and explore their own physical abilities and develop in confidence and independence in exploring and accessing their own resources, we also ensure there is lots on offer to engage and stimulate the older children throughout the environments too.

Within a home-based childcare environment particularly, whilst ratios may be smaller than in other settings, it is important to note the vast age gaps and differences between the children you care for. We are huge advocates of a family-based, home-from-home environment for all of our children and we welcome and envelop our youngest babies into this mindset as we firmly believe these deep, loving and meaningful relationships, not only between practitioner and child, but the children’s developing relationships too are the foundations for happy, secure and confident children. Whilst having a younger baby within the dynamics of the group is a fantastic learning opportunity for older children; taking more responsibility, being independent, being mindful and considerate of the needs of others and developing a tolerance for brief delay in having their own needs met, this too can take a negative turn and as home-based childcare professionals it is essential we maintain a healthy balance of promoting the older children’s independence, resilience and responsibility in regards to their developing relationship and understanding of the younger children, whilst also ensuring the care of the younger child/children doesn’t dominate the routine, environment and overall learning experience of the older children, as this can harbour resentment and negative feelings towards the younger child; ‘They are ruining my game’, ‘They are eating my toys’, ‘They took what I was playing with’; whilst all of these occurrences are social learning experiences for both children, it is important that we as practitioners are mindful of making sure there is a balance and support both cohorts of children in playing harmoniously together and alongside one another within the environment.

This is why we believe it is essential to ensure there are key learning times throughout the daily routine, where we can utilise times when the younger children may be asleep in order to continue to provide an exceptionally high level of care and learning opportunities for the older children, where they can play, learn and explore freely, with no interruptions from the younger children in order to continue to maintain and develop their learning experiences and growth within the setting and the EYFS curriculum. Whilst it can be difficult, particularly if you are lone-working (we are exceptionally lucky to co-mind and thus share and alternate the routines of each of the children in order to meet the varying needs of the children in our care) it’s important that each child, each day gets some 1:1 time with an adult to either play a game, practise or learn a new skill,  or share an interest or story but regardless, have some valuable quality time with a loving adult.

Meal times also take on a whole new dynamics when a younger cohort of children enter the setting with the introduction of weaning and this becomes a valuable learning experience in itself for the younger children as they explore new flavours, textures and colours through their exploration of solid foods. This is a key time in any young babies life and so we ensure our nutritional and varied menu cycle reflects a range of sensory and culinary experiences for children and we work closely with parents and families to develop and understanding of the child, their home routines and their likes and dislikes whilst ensuring we are providing them with countless opportunities to try solid foods and flavours in various forms whilst encourage them to be independent and confident eaters from the outset.

When providing learning experiences for any child, but particularly the younger children, as practitioners we can be guilty of over-thinking and over-complicating learning experiences. We have had to remind ourselves recently to strip experiences and play right back and keep it simple for our current cohort of babies as we support their overall development whilst still offering engaging and stimulating experiences. Sensory experiences are key in the early stages of play and learning and development and we are huge advocates of encouraging our babies to be independent and make their own choices in their play and allow them to explore and investigate using their whole bodies and all of their senses.

The introduction of younger children, particularly the under ones into a home-based childcare setting is an exciting time for everybody and in our opinion, a valuable learning experience for not only the child in question, the other children in the setting but also us as practitioners as adapting routines, environments and experiences is good practice for us to take it back to basics and re-visit our initial training and experiences and adapt these to meet the needs of the new children we are exceptionally lucky enough to care for.

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