Looking after little ones can be exhausting. Babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, they each have their challenges. I work four days a week in an office, and when I leave at 5.30pm on Thursday for my ‘day off’ which involves looking after my toddler-sized little boy, I have to remind people that the hard work is just beginning.
So when I try to imagine what it’s like to look after children as a career, I immediately assume that it’s only for the brave. Certainly not for me. Send me back to the office where I can drink (and finish) a hot cup of tea in peace.
But the Co-operative Nursery in Maidenhead feel that more people should consider a career in childcare and so they invited me along (with a mini plus one) to experience the nursery and to hear first hand from their staff what it’s like to work with babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers every day.
Behind the scenes at the nursery
I think the best way to try to explain ‘a day in the life’ at the nursery is to show you our experiences when we went to visit. We spent a couple of hours there one Friday morning and visited each of the three rooms in the nursery.
When you picture what it must be like surrounded by young children in the nursery, I think your first instinct is to imagine lots of noise, mayhem, mess and chaos. Images of children running amok and people shouting to keep things under control spring to mind. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Hanging out with the babies
We started our visit in the baby room which is for babies six months to around 18 months. My son is 21 months so technically he is a little old for this room, but he was also a month premature so we’ve not really been too committed to the official development stages. I found that he really enjoyed pottering around in here and the other babies were very interested in him. There are nine babies in the room when they have a busy day, but there were only four there on the day I visited so it was super chilled-out and relaxed. The staff explained that they get to know everyone’s characters really well, so they make an individual judgement about whether the little ones are getting bored and need to move up to the next room or not.
Instead of mayhem and chaos, I saw cuddles, tickles, hugs and giggles. It felt like the babies were with their family which was lovely to see, it can be so hard making that decision to go back to work and let someone else look after your baby, so it’s great to know that the little ones are in such a friendly environment.
At the back of the room was a sandpit which the kids can go in at any time, and there were two areas of outside space for them too. It’s all about the unstructured play, so they are all encouraged to potter around and do what makes them happy. My son was keen to get into the sandpit, and as I hurried to reprimand him for spilling sand on the floor, the staff reminded me that it was fine. I think this is the beauty of the nursery: it’s a home from home but with added freedom and a tonne of toys and activities to keep the little ones busy. I’ll confess that at I tend to steer the activities away from play-doh and painting or anything that causes a mess. No such worries here: the children love it!
Outside there was a small enclosed balcony with decking and the children could pop outside whenever they wanted to play with the toys.
‘Cheeeeeese’! He really enjoyed himself outside.
Shortly before lunch time, we nipped next door to the toddler room which is for little ones up to age 3. The Little Man LOVED the mini climbing frame in here, and he quickly started to explore.
The other children were being entertained by one of the carers singing songs with them while they waited for lunch to be served. Independence is encouraged, so I watched as my little one was invited to pull up a chair and help himself to chicken pie with vegetables and a yoghurt to follow. Needless to say, he was more than happy to get stuck in. While we were eating, the manager Katie popped into the room, closely followed by the onsite chef. It was impressive to see that they knew every child individually by name and even the chef stopped to chat to the children, and she knew their names and what sort of things they liked doing.
Nap time was after lunch, and this is where you realise how magical the staff are: they manage to get all of the toddlers to nap next to each other on the mat on the floor. If only we could bottle these magic powers and use them at home.
Getting the sleeping area ready for nap time.
The Secret life of four-year-olds.
While the toddlers napped, we went on to the next room to see how the pre-schoolers were getting on.
I had a bit of a wry smile as this room was by far the most full on. We were suddenly surrounded by inquisitive four-year-olds asking me questions and telling me stories, all at the same time. It made me realise that although you might think babies are exhausting to look after, it’s completely different to the non-stop chatter and banter from the older children. At home, I have the double whammy of a 21 month and a soon-to-be 5-year-old. So that’s why I’m worn out after a long weekend!
The staff in this room struck a strong balance of encouraging everyone to play and join in, but without it descending into utter chaos. Absolute masters at work!
Playing through learning.
Meanwhile the Little Man was keen to get his hands on all of the cool gadgets they had to play with. He loved this torch.
The other children were really inquisitive and wanted to play with him.
He enjoyed playing in their kitchen.
His optimism that the keyboard might do anything!
Who works in a place like this?
I heard a mixture of stories as I chatted to the staff in each of the rooms. Some people knew they loved kids and wanted a career in childcare, while others stumbled across the nursery and decided to join and train on the job. Quite a few loved the fact that the nursery was so local to where they lived and they didn’t have to spend hours commuting. I definitely got the impression that the Co-Op has a pretty open door policy which would be great if you were looking for a career change from your previous office job but didn’t have professional childcare experience. The manager Katie said she encouraged parents to apply for roles with her nursery, even if they don’t have experience in childcare on a professional basis:
“We are very supportive of developing people here at Cooperative childcare. We have an agreement with HAWK training, and we currently fund our Level 2 and 3 NVQ. You would have to have to be working a minimum of 30 hours a week, plus would need to have a GCSE or equivalent in Maths and English grade A—C or willing to do it alongside.”
Most of the staff are on full-time contracts as the nursery is open very long hours across 52 weeks of the year, so having staff that work short days or only a couple of days doesn’t really work for them. However, they do have ‘bank staff’ (zero-hour contracts) that work as and when needed and there is also a lunch time position which is 15 hours a week over five days to cover staffs lunch breaks. If you’re curious about rates of pay, an unqualified Nursery Nurse will start on £8.22 per hour, and a Level 2 and above is £8.72 per hour.
Climbing the childcare career ladder
There was a true feeling of loyalty at the nursery. The manager has been there nine years and worked up the ranks from being a carer to nursery manager:
“I started all those years ago as an unqualified Nursery Practitioner, then went to a qualified practitioner once I had finished my course, then to a Room Manager, then to a Third in charge then to Manager. Before Manager, there is a Deputy Manager too, but I seemed to have skipped this role!”
I asked her what the ideal person would be:
“Soooo, ideally, someone who is kind and caring and has a genuine report with little people. I look for people who enjoy learning and are enthusiastic. Someone who understands that children have a voice to and it’s up to us to show them the world and give them the best start that they can. Caring and affectionate is a must!”
About this post.
Because I was invited to visit the nursery on my ‘day off’, Co-operative Childcare kindly paid me for my time while I visited the nursery and the time I have spent writing up my experiences. I was given free reign to chat to all of the staff and to take photographs and to ask whatever questions I wanted to so, I can honestly say that all of my thoughts and comments are are an accurate reflection of what we experienced on the day.
If you’d like more info about working at the Co-operative Nursery in Maidenhead, or even if you’d like more info about your children attending, you can find out more information here on their website. Having spent such a lovely morning with them it has changed my perceptions of what it’s like to work in a nursery, although I think I’m possibly still too much of a digital/gadget girl to leave the comfort of my own day job just yet!
About this blog
I write this ‘Maidenhead Mum’ blog to share my experiences of life here in Berkshire and beyond. For up to date posts about life here in Maidenhead, you might like to follow my Maidenhead Mum page on Facebook or on Instagram. If you subscribe using the box below you’ll get my blog posts delivered straight to your inbox along with some behind the scenes photography tips on each email