Thursday, 4 December 2014

Both Sides Now

I didn't realise it until someone pointed it out to me this week, but I'm in a quite unusual position, and so, I figured I should write about it.  I've sat on most sides of the mainstream childcare fence (with the exception of begging family members to be free childcare), more by accident than design, but however these things work, eh?  So as Joni Mitchell may have put it, "I've looked at childcare from both sides, now."

When Squeaky was but a little Squeak, and I first thought about going back to work, I didn't really know much.  I had seen a couple of day nurseries close by our house, and someone told me that the Family Information Service might be able to give me more info.  Sadly most of what they gave me was hopelessly out of date, so I got in touch with the two nearby nurseries and arranged a look around.  One didn't impress me, being all concrete yard adjoining a coach depot, but the other struck me as a pretty positive place, and we signed an enormous amount of paperwork, and Squeaky headed there quite happily for 18 months or so.  They did wonders for her, socially and educationally, and the staff are still friends now.

But.  I really didn't consider childminders.  I actually thought it would be the more expensive option, you know, that kind of close attention, a personal setting, it just struck me as being cheaper than a nanny or au pair (really never going to be an option), but out of my price range.  And the FIS only gave me contact numbers for 3, none of which were particularly convenient for either home or work.  Effectively the decision was made for me.

When Squeaky started at the part time nursery class in school, her teacher told me she could tell the children that had attended a nursery, rather than a childminder, or stayed at home, by the way they were more confident entering into the school environment, being surrounded by a group of other children their own age, and having that sort of structure to their day.  That was fine with me, the social aspect was something that was important to me, as we don't have any family locally, and so otherwise Squeaky would only have limited contact with other children, so it meant she got a chance she wouldn't have had at home.  The downside being my hours didn't fit too well with school hours, and the nursery that we had used weren't able to offer wrap-around childcare.

My salvation came in the form of a charity-based pre-school provision, linked to my employer.  I wouldn't have known about them if it weren't for working where I do, but their hours fitted in with my work, and their prices were considerably cheaper than the nursery's had been.  They didn't work in the school holidays though, so we kept in contact with the old nursery for a bit of help if push came to shove.  We also looked around at the education department's out-of-school provision, and while Squeaky's school didn't offer anything, another nearby did.  This didn't really work out, as they cancelled days where they didn't have enough bookings, which meant we were stuck at short notice, but they did get us out of a sticky spot.

My hours have gone down again at work (occupational hazard of working for a charity), so the summer holidays were reasonably manageable, and fast forward to now, where Squeaky is in reception class all day.  As I'm working less hours than she's in school, and breakfast club means I can be in the office well before 9, most of the time things are good.  Daddy works shifts, so I try to fit long days around when he's available for the afternoon pick up.  Usually this works out great. But last week, I was booked on a full day's training course in Swansea, and Daddy was on a late shift.  Slight technical hitch.  I sat in the office and worried, especially as I had asked to attend this course.  I continued to worry all the way to school, and stood at the gates still worrying.  Then I looked around.  Yes, there are a few mums I know well enough that I could probably ask a favour of, but I'd feel bad about that.  And then it dawned on me.  Standing next to me was a mum to one of Squeaky's classmates, ChilledGirl.  Who just happens to be a childminder, one who comes with recommendations from 2 completely unconnected people I know.  So rather than panicking, I asked her rates and what I would have to do for a one-off session.

I was shocked.  Honestly, breath taken away shocked to find she charged HALF what the nursery charged.  As she was picking up her own daughter at the same time, the pick up didn't cost anything either, and Squeaky's routine was as normal as could be.  We popped up a few days before to fill in the paperwork (there is always paperwork, it's a PITA but it's for everyone's sake), and Squeaky settled in seconds.  We spoke about it in the days leading up, that she was going to play at ChilledGirl's house, and ChilledGirl's mummy would pick her up from school.

She had an absolute ball.  The personal attention meant she had a tea that suited her, she was able to play in a home and family environment, and experience what it's like to be part of a bigger family (ChilledGirl has an older and a younger brother), and have your own chores and responsibilities - which in turn made me realise we can ask more of Squeaky than we currently do.  She didn't even realise that she was in childcare, which makes my guilt that little bit less.  Talking to other mums, the homely environment (as well as the surprising price) were a major motivator, the fact that their child didn't feel they were being placed in childcare settings was a big seller in some cases.

For me now?  Well, I have to be honest.  I'd be happier for her to spend her days in a smaller setting now that she has the socialisation at school. I don't have that same motivation to send her to a group setting when she doesn't need it so much.  Fortunately with lower and flexible hours I'm able to cover most holidays one way or another, but having looked at things from both viable alternatives, I think I'd rather place her with a childminder for those times when I really need childcare.  And as registered childminders can accept childcare voucher payments, I'm better off again, because we are still able to make the most of the tax benefits of the vouchers.  Obviously, if I had the option, I'd take all the school holidays off, and stay at home myself having adventures, but life doesn't always work that way.  I've looked at childcare from both sides, now.

I should also now apologise for having developed a bit of a photo editing app addiction. But, nah.

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