While you can't always pick when you visit a prospective childminder (you'll likely have to visit in the evening for safety reasons, when all their mind-ees have gone from), you can still make sure you get the most out of your visit.
Checking for the following will help you make up your mind about whether or not this particular minder is the right fit for you...
1. Where will your child be playing?
Look at the rooms the childen will be using, as well as outdoor areas, so you get a good picture of the facilities. Are there plenty of interesting toys, and zones for creative or messy play? Trust your instincts – if you find it a happy, cheerful space, chances are your child will too.
2. Is there up to date paperwork?
Don't be embarrassed to ask to see necessary documents – evidence of up-to-date Ofsted registration and reports, public liability insurance and first-aid certificates. Can you see written references from other parents?
3. Can you directly contact other parents?
Never mind written references, you may be keen to speak to other parents who use the same childminder on the phone, or even in person. Don't be afraid to request contact details while you're visiting - even though the childminder will probably want to check she's allowed to give out their information first.
4. Are the facilities toddler-proof?
While Ofsted should check for health and safety measures, make sure you're happy too. Do kitchen cupboards have safety locks? Do corners of glass tables have protectors? Are the stairgates correctly in use?
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5. Does it look clean?
Are the kitchen surfaces clean? Does the nappy changing area look hygenic? (The home of one childminder I visited had overflowing bins, which needless to say put me off!)
6. Is your childminder alone?
Check if anyone else is there during the day – husbands or assistants, for example? You may want to meet them, so you can decide if you're comfortable with them being around your little ones.
7. What is the local area like?
Think about the area where the minder lives - will you feel safe walking or driving there every day? What about if your child is taken out for excursions in nearby streets?
8. Is it easy and practical for you?
Are they near a nice park, or public transport? Will you be able to park your car nearby? (I was put off another childminder because I needed daily parking permits.) Is there someone secure to store buggies? Will your baby be able to sleep in a cot in a separate room? (If so, check there's a baby monitor). Or does the minder only offer sleep mats? If your child will be driven about, ask to inspect the car and car seats.
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