Hannah has run her childminding business, Little Lions, for eight years. When we chatted to her, she had finished her childcare apprenticeship and was on the cusp of becoming hygge accredited, encouraging imaginative outdoor play.
Hi Hannah! Can you tell us about your childminding business, Little Lions?
Little Lions has been going for 8 years, I initially started childminding after I had my daughter.
I was working in HR before and I was doing long days. I was quite high up. I tried to go part time and it wasn’t possible in my role. I thought: “I don’t want to miss out on the best days of her life,” and took the plunge.
I’ve just had another one! It’s been amazing because I’ve been able to be there and even now, I take them to school, I pick them up, and it works around my life.
It's amazing when you find a job that gives you that balance!
Yes, it really is.
Which apprenticeship did you take with us?
CCPLD Level 5, but previously I did Level 3 CCPLD and Level 3 Playwork. Michelle has already got me to sign up for Level 5 Playwork.
How did the most recent one go?
It was tougher. When I did the Level 3, I was giving too much information in my assessments - now in the Level 5, I’m not giving enough. It was a lot less to explain and more to evaluate, but I did my degree 16 years ago, so it was a learning curve to get it right.
It was not the best time to do it over the last two years, challenging times, but Michelle was amazing and so supportive.
How was learning during the pandemic? Did you learn virtually?
It was difficult to begin with.
Michelle was helpful, she would come out, but she couldn’t do observations. It’s not as personal over a call. She would ring, message and email and keep up amazing levels of communication, but it’s not quite the same.
It was hard to stay motivated. The initial first few months of Covid, we were forced to shut except for key worker children, which we didn’t have. We were closed March to September, and there was an impact on progress on the apprenticeship. Theory work was fine, but practical was a pain.
That must have been tough, lots of self-employed people found it hard to know what help they were entitled to…
Yes, lots of childminding businesses in my area folded. You can’t help but think, ‘Is this sustainable? Can I carry on?’ But I’m out the other side now.
With the apprenticeship, did it improve how you did your job?
Yes, definitely. I had only just taken on a member of staff before I did the course. It was a learning curve. It’s one thing running your business and another employing staff. It guided me within the first few months, gave me confidence that if I wanted to expand and take on more staff, I feel confident in my ability to do that.
Michelle told us that you’re changing your childcare approach to hygge practice, to ‘enjoy the simple joys in life.’ Tell us about that!
I’ve been doing it for nearly 8 years. My children are in school, and I wanted a less nursery-type approach to the property. And I think parents choose a childminder rather than a nursery because they get the ‘home from home’, it feels more relaxed and inviting. I think if I find it more inviting, so will the children.
We’ve got rid of a lot of the plastic toys, we’re trying to build up our supply of loose parts and in just the first session, the children played for hours. It gives their imagination so much more scope. It’s hard to get out of the mindset of: “We need more cars, we need dolls,” but they had natural pieces to play with and pretended they were people. It worked really well, and yesterday I signed up to do the official accreditation. I’m going to go for it!
We like to spend time in nature in our house, we like to get out - we’re always in the garden, out exploring. The first module of the course is actually nothing to do with the setting or about the children, it’s about you and doing things for you. Things like having a hot chocolate, having a bath and I think that’s important. Not just in my job, but everyone forgets - if you have a little bit of time for you, you are happier and calmer and that will radiate to the children.
Please let us know how it goes. I’m a big advocate for self-care too, and I know I can’t pour from an empty cup – if I have no energy, I can’t give any to anyone else.
Yes, that’s it. One thing that’s showing is that when my husband gets in from work, I’m asking him to take my children. I’m giving so much to the children I look after that I’m done when my children are back from school. That wasn’t why I started this job, I started it to be there for them. I don’t want to be burnt out, and by mid-week I feel like I need a break, so I’m hoping the hygge approach will balance things out again.
Did Michelle go the extra mile for you?
We started the courses a couple of years ago with another assessor, so we met her by chance. I would never have signed up to the Playwork Level 5 if it wasn’t going to be with her.
Half of the confidence comes from knowing Michelle will help me through it. There were points on the course that I got, that were easy, and then other times I didn’t understand.
Sometimes the questions were ambiguous, but she always helped me. She needs to put her phone down, in fact! I would be messaging her questions at the weekend, and she always replied, and I thought: “No, you should be having a break!” She was amazing.
Michelle was there when I needed her. She would come out to do meetings with us and I never felt like she was there observing us; it just felt like it was a friend in the room, with us while the kids were playing. I never felt anything but supported and she has been amazing.
Who is your support network outside of Michelle?
A fellow childminder, Jane.
She convinced me in the first place to sign up for the Level 3 and we’ve done it all together, so I think that helps. It encourages me when we work together, I find it motivational.
I have another childminding friend, Helen, who did her Level 5 with a different training provider, and we do a lot with her too. You need the company and support in this job. We go to playgroups together too and out for walks. It’s just nice knowing there is someone there because it can be a lonely job, especially on the days when my assistant isn’t in. It’s good to have others that understand – you can bounce off each other.
What motivates you to keep learning?
Each course that I’ve done has improved my working in one way or another.
The Playwork and CCPLD improve different aspects of my practice, but both are equally important. You’re progressing, furthering yourself, being the best at your job and role as you can be.
I worked in HR before - I solemnly believe that you’re always learning, it’s not that you do your degree and that’s it, you’re done for life. Especially in education, the curriculum changes all the time!
It’s the same as being a manager and looking after staff. Wellbeing is so important, but that’s a relatively new idea – 20 years it wouldn’t be expected from a leadership role. I want to learn because I know I’m doing the right thing and I feel confident in my decisions.
Has the apprenticeship improved your outlook?
I feel I’m being the best at my job that I can be. All aspects of your life are intertwined and if you’re feeling confident in one place, it has a knock-on effect that makes you happier in other parts of your life.
Absolutely! It’s so strange to think of work and home being separate. Sometimes you see your work colleagues more than your friends and family, it takes up a lot of your life! What would you say to anyone else taking up an apprenticeship?
Do it and go for it! I’m glad I started at Level 3, it eased me in. I’d done training before, but an actual course? I hadn’t done one for years!
Michelle encouraged me to submit something every month, but if you’re not on top of it and you do fall behind, it can feel overwhelming. And most importantly, get a really good trainer because that makes all the difference. I felt like I could talk to Michelle, and it made all the difference.
Where will we see you in 10 years’ time?
I was never sure how long I would be childminding for. Changing the environment, it feels natural and part of the home, I don’t feel the pressure to stop childminding. The only time I would stop is if my children were uncomfortable with other children being in the house. I would love to go into a nursery at manager level or run my own nursery one day.