An inspiration to anyone considering childminding as a career, say judges, Katherine Cooling-Smith was persuaded by a close friend to train and register as a childminder after noticing how much she enjoyed spending time with children.
With no prior experience working in childcare or education and with no children of her own, Katherine completed her CACHE Level 3 Preparing to Work in Home-Based Childcare award in 2015. She had previously obtained a degree in English language from the University of Brighton.
Almost two years after registering as a childminder, she was graded Outstanding in her first Ofsted inspection.
According to Katherine, the past three years have been the ‘most captivating and inspiring of her life so far’. She says learning how to support each child as an individual and continuously adapt and grow her practice has been a gradual learning curve.
Her setting offers continuous free-flow play between indoor and outdoor spaces, taking inspiration from Elizabeth Jarman and the Communication Friendly Spaces Approach. Children are encouraged to be as active and independent as possible.
Diagnosed as being a ‘painfully shy’ child with severe anxiety in her twenties, Katherine has drawn on her personal experience to help provide the children in her care with the tools they need to grow as confident, capable, resilient and fulfilled individuals. She says it has also helped grow her confidence.
All children in the setting exceed expectations and any new starters developmentally behind are helped to catch up with their peers.
For new starters, Katherine offers a slow, free-of-charge settling-in process. She says in a society where postnatal support is limited, and parents often need to return to work earlier than they feel comfortable with, a gradual settling-in period is helpful. She keeps in close contact with new parents throughout the day to calm any worries they have and feelings of guilt.
Alongside the day-to-day practice and running of her setting, Katherine also feels passionate about working hard to help change public perception of the role of childminders, something she has achieved in her local area through the use of social media.
She is currently developing a website to positively raise the profile of home-based childcare and help support learning and development in the under-fives.
Despite having achieved a lot in a short space of time in her role as a childminder, Katherine believes she is still only at the start of her career. She says her thirst to learn more and to continuously better her practice has ‘become a way of life, not just a job’.
In the future she hopes to convert her degree and complete an Early Years Teacher qualification or a degree in early years and child development.
“Katherine possesses the attitude, disposition, skills and knowledge of everything I would want in a childminder
Debbie Watling, Huntingdon
Nominees must be registered childminders