Sunday, 24 February 2013

The WhyNotSmile Guide To Childcare

So one of the UK government's recent crazy plans is that people who look after children should be allowed to look after more children.  Specifically, one person should be allowed to look after 4 babies, or 6 2-year-olds.  Now, if this sounds like quite a lot of small people for one person to handle, that's because it is, and one can only assume that it was dreamt up by someone who wandered into a room with 10 sleeping babies and wondered what all the fuss was about.

However, the fact that a policy is insane does not, as we have seen, prevent the current government from implementing it, and thankfully I have some experience in this field, since (due to what I'm sure will turn out to be some sort of clerical error) I am left in charge of a group small children at least once a week.  Not in sole charge, mind, but still, I like to think I have an air of authority.

So it is without further ado that I present

The WhyNotSmile Guide To Childcare

Now, the first thing to appreciate is that childcare is not like a regular job, where the first fortnight is considered a roaring success if you spend less than 78% of your time sobbing in the toilets.  With childcare, you have to be On The Ball right from day 1, and if you end up crying, no one really cares.  So, before looking after small children, you need to master the basics:

The Basics

1. Your main aim is always to hand the children back alive.  No matter what else you do, no matter how much fun they had, and no matter how healthy the snacks you provided were, you have to make sure that you keep your charges alive and kicking for the duration of their stay with you.

2. You have to hand the children back with all essential parts still connected.  It's all fun and games till someone loses an eye.  Or an arm, or a leg.  Even a small appendage, like a finger or toe, cannot be accidentally removed if you want to seem competent.  Now, the key here is to determine the meaning of 'essential'.  If they break a nail, it's ok (in fact, probably a good idea) to snip off the little loose bit so they don't injure themselves, or (more likely) pull it off themselves and eat it.  You can also get away with giving hair a slight trim if it gets Play-Doh or something stuck in it, although you should try not to remove large chunks.

3. You need to end up with the same children you started with.  You might think that, in the early days, it is sufficient to ensure that each parent who left a child with you gets a child back in return, but this is not the case.  At this point it is helpful to introduce some form of System, ideally one which prevents any child from leaving or entering the room.  This will help you greatly.

So, to summarise, you need to make sure that the children are kept in a locked room from which they cannot escape, preferably with padded walls and nothing they can climb on.  You should probably also not have a lot of sharp or pointy objects around.  However, children are notorious for creating sharp, pointy objects out of fixtures, fittings and soft furnishings, so it's best to keep an eye on them regardless.

Intermediate Level

The basics are all well and good, but once you get a bit skilled, you'll naturally want to up your game a bit.

**Proceed with caution**

Here are some tips for this difficult transition phase:

1. Try to get as many of them as possible to go to sleep.  You'll find that the parents aren't always entirely keen on this, as they like you to have to take some of the grief that comes with having wide-awake children, but at this level it is acceptable.  It is handy because while asleep, most children can't injure themselves, shout, or spill things.  Remember, however, that if you have one awake child, you might as well have two, since they can entertain each other, so time the sleeps carefully.

2. Understand that small children fall over a lot.  There is no shame in them having the odd small bump.  The important thing is to minimize the risk, and to make sure that you report all bumps which happen to the parents.  If their child falls off a chair, they'll find out anyway when the bump comes up, so you might as well look like you at least noticed.

Larger bumps are more serious, as is anything which leads to actual blood.  Small children are quite bouncy, but if they bump their heads, then it might be worth Getting Help of some kind.  Likewise, if they fall and their arm suddenly has a 90 degree bend, or if there is blood gushing from anywhere (exceptions to this are mouth injuries, which will bleed like mad from the tiniest cut you can imagine, and nosebleeds, which are sometimes serious but sometimes happen for no reason whatever), then you'll want at least a second opinion.

3. At the intermediate level, you're hopefully starting to introduce some element of fun to proceedings (though don't go too mad - you're still new to this, and things can still spiral out of control very quickly).  The first thing to understand is that things that you think will be fun for children invariably aren't.  Get over it.  I have made you a helpful chart:


Amount of Fun



Colouring in
> Children may eat crayons
> Children may stab themselves with pencils
> Children may start fighting over who gets to colour in which picture
> Crayons will fall on the floor and you may either kneel on them or slip on them
> Paper will end up on the floor and you may slip on it
> Everyone always wants the same colour of crayon.  In the event that you have several crayons the same colour, everyone will want exactly the same crayon

Possibly worth it, in a confined space
> Screams of 'he got a bigger bit than me'
> Food will end up all over the place, so choose your menu carefully
> Don't expect to get to eat anything yourself, other than the squished up soggy crusts which are handed to you as children tire of them

Quite good for a while; be cautious about giving them sugary food unless they're about to go home anyway, in which case it's someone else's problem and you might as well go for it if it keeps them happy
Play Doh
Lots of fun for you; less fun for children
> Try not to let them eat the stuff (if they do, it's not the end of the world, since it is technically edible, but make sure you mention it to the parents, as it will get pooed out eventually and then you'll have to fess up)
> The stuff gets everywhere and is really hard to clean off cushions and stuff

Depends on the book
> Children may throw books at each other; books are easy to get a good swing with
> Children may stab each other with the book corners
> If there are flaps to lift, they'll all fight over them; if there are no flaps, they'll create them by ripping the pages
> Even agreeing which book to read can be fraught with danger and strife

Good for a while
Toilet Trips
Epic; can provide 45 minutes of entertainment, particularly when hand washing, giving out the soap, and throwing the paper towels in the bin is involved
> Technically, you probably shouldn't be spending 45 minutes in the toilets with children, so there's potential for it to look bad
Definitely a good idea, but try to make sure you have a pedal bin for the fullest form of happiness

Advanced Level

Once you've mastered all of that, it's time to move on to Advanced Childcare.  The aim of this is to reach a state in which you and the children are all safe and happy; in the hands of a true expert, such a state can be maintained for up to 24 seconds at a time.

To maximise your chances:

1. Never consider any disaster impossible.  Do not allow yourself to say things like "I'll put that up there where she can't reach it".  If she wants it, she will reach it.  Likewise, "Those two can play quite happily together in that quiet corner" is simply Asking For It.

2. Never be fooled into thinking they're on your side.  Small children look out for no one but themselves.  They lull you in with their big eyes and their cute smiles; the sneakiest among them will do things like learn to say your name.  Do not think that this means you're home and dry.  Right at the point when you think they're happily sitting on your knee, ready to go to sleep, they'll barf into your top, and then laugh their heads off.

3. Make sure they all go home. A rookie mistake in childcare is to say things like "Oh, don't worry about being on time to pick her up, I can hold on to her for 5 minutes".  Next thing you know, you're there for an extra hour.  Remember: in Parent and Toddlers, the people on the door are not there to stop children leaving without their parents; they are to stop the parents leaving without their children.

I trust this helps.


Anonymous said...

ha ha, this made me laugh out loud, my favourite part is the visual of slipping on the crayons and paper left on the floor... so true, so true!

Sharon Gilmore said...

Yep, that's an actual, real-life risk. Paper and crayons are lethal. You're probably safer handing them scissors.

Dave said...

I think you ought to mention how tiring childcare is. I have just returned from a 1st birthday party where i did nothing but look at children and I am utterly exhausted

Sharon Gilmore said...

True, Dave, true. Even thinking about small children is tiring.