Hiring your perfect apprentice

Hiring your perfect apprentice

If you are looking to fill a skills gap in your team and are considering taking on an apprentice, but are unsure of all the facts, look no further. The team of recruitment experts at Parenta are on hand to give guidance to early years settings looking to upskill their staff and hire a new apprentice. Julie Allen, Parenta’s Recruitment Manager, gives her advice and top tips:

Provide your recruiter with your apprentice requirements in detail – take your time and be as thorough as you can. This will help find a candidate who’s tailored specifically to your needs and will also get the vacancy filled quicker.

Set time aside to communicate with recruiters – their role is to help you as much as they can! If a CV is sent over to you that looks suitable, get back to the recruiter straight away to let them know. If you delay, the candidate may have found a position elsewhere.

Prepare a full job description with duties and send to the recruiter. You can also give information about the ethos of your nursery. Include as much information as possible – this will help candidates get a feel for your setting and what they would be doing before attending an interview.

Ask candidates to prepare or research something prior to interview. For example, ask them to prepare an EYFS activity, or research what ‘safeguarding’ means. This will help you see if the candidate has made time to prepare for their interview.

Hold a trial day or session for your potential apprentice. This will show if the candidate interacts well with the children and uses their initiative. Do let the apprentice know what you’re hoping to get out of the session beforehand – many will be nervous!

Make sure you give feedback to your recruiter. This will help the candidate to improve when applying for other roles and will also help the recruiter when finding more suitable candidates for you.

Discuss and manage expectations once you have hired your apprentice. Young apprentices may not have much of an idea what is expected of them in a workplace such as dress code, punctuality and attitude. Talk to them regularly about how they’re getting on in the first few weeks and give them feedback.

Set a probation period and make it clear to your apprentice. If things aren’t going to work out, you’ll usually know in the first few weeks!

Arrange an enrolment meeting with your training provider in plenty of time before the apprentice starts the training. This will help your apprentice to understand which apprenticeship they’re completing. Make sure to check through the paperwork thoroughly so that nothing is missed, and the signup process will be quick and easy.

If the apprentices that you hire are aged 16–18, you won’t need to pay anything at all for their training. If they are aged over 18, you could be eligible for a grant to help cover your costs. From April 2019, the government is introducing a 50% reduction in apprenticeship contributions from providers – from 10% to 5% – even more reason to take on an apprentice!

7 ways to market your new nursery on a small budget

7 ways to market your new nursery on a small budget

Once you have committed to the idea of opening a day nursery, marketing your setting to parents in the early stages will become a crucial part of making sure your childcare business is a success. If money is an issue and you only have a very small budget to advertise your nursery with, why not consider using these tools to help spread the word of your presence?

Create a Twitter page

Twitter has over 26 million users in the UK alone, so reaching parents has never been easier! Letting people know about your setting is only a tweet and a hashtag away. If the thought of setting up a social media page scares you, ask about our support service.

Encourage word-of-mouth

For those parents who register their interest in your day nursery, encourage them to spread the word to their friends. According to a survey by the government, parents are most likely to receive information about childcare through word-of-mouth than any other source.

Try to win an award

This won’t necessarily apply until you’ve settled into the first few months of being open, but you could try applying for a nursery award such as those hosted by Nursery Management Today. Past categories have included: Nursery Outdoor Learning Environment Award, Green Nursery Award and Nursery Team of the Year.

Build a nursery website

The single most important thing you can do to advertise your setting is to have a childcare website! Each lead a website brings in could be worth £10,800 every year, helping to make your service sustainable in the long term.

Put up posters in community centres

Ask permission to put up posters advertising your setting in local community centres, leisure centres and other places that parents are likely to take their babies and toddlers on a regular basis.

Create a Facebook page

With an audience of 30 million users in the UK alone, Facebook is a perfect tool to market your new setting. Again, if you want support in setting up a social media page for your childcare business, we can walk you through the process.

Contact your local council

Visit the website of your local county council and see if they have a list of local nurseries and childcare providers. If they do, contact them to see what you need to do to add your setting’s name to the list too.


Encouraging healthier options to tackle childhood obesity

Encouraging healthier options to tackle childhood obesity

Childhood obesity rates are rising in the UK leading to potential health problems for these children in later life. Preventing this is now an important public health issue and the Government’s approach has been two-fold: prevention policies, and healthcare services to treat the condition.

The early years are a crucial time for children’s development, but by the time they start school, one in five children are already overweight or obese. And in the 2–4 age group, only one in ten children currently meet the recommended levels of physical activity. In 2017, the Government published an action plan which outlined strategies for tackling the problem at national level, but the problem must be tackled at the grass-roots too, and you have a duty in your setting to help.

The guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) states that:

“All nurseries and childcare facilities should ensure that preventing excess weight gain and improving children’s diet and activity levels are priorities.”

Specifically, NICE recommends that nurseries and childcare facilities should:

  • minimise sedentary activities during play times
    provide regular opportunities for ‘active play’ and structured physical activities
  • implement guidelines on healthy catering issued by the Department for Education, the Children’s Food Trust and Caroline Walker Trust
  • ensure that children eat regular, healthy meals in a supervised, pleasant, sociable environment, free from other distractions (e.g. television)

What can you do in your setting to follow this advice? Here are a few ideas to help.

Increasing physical activity

Pre-school children who are capable of walking unaided, are recommended to have a minimum of 180 minutes (3 hours) of physical activity spread throughout the day. Unfortunately, research has confirmed that most children in this category are currently only spending 120–150 minutes per day in physical activity, and shockingly, data suggests that children in childcare settings accumulate less than 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity over an 8-hour day.

Increasing physical activity is therefore vital but for pre-schools and nurseries, this does not always have to mean organising additional structured, physical activity sessions, although these would certainly help.

A lot of physical activity can be attained by allowing more ‘physically active play’ which is initiated by the children themselves.
It also means increasing time spent:

  • Using the major muscle groups such as buttocks, legs, shoulders and arms
  • Skipping, jumping and running – e.g. to and from school
  • Climbing
  • Riding a bike or scooter
  • Playing running or chasing games
  • Playing sport

You should provide these sessions for short periods, spread throughout the day, rather than just extending existing break times. And you should always make sure that your setting has safe areas for children to run around in to minimise risks.

Other things you can do include getting the children outdoors more, where it is often easier to combine other learning goals with things such as gardening or sporting activities. These can not only increase physical activity but help children understand the physical or scientific world too.

It is also recommended that physical activity be encouraged from birth, so remember to include your youngest members when you are revising your plans.

Decrease sedentary activities

Decreasing sedentary activities involves limiting time spent:

  • Sitting down watching TV
  • Playing on screens, computers or other devices
  • In sedentary, teacher-led activities
  • Being strapped into car seats, buggies or high-chairs

Obviously, there are some positive activities such as reading and craft activities that need children to sit down, so the emphasis here is about the balance of time spent in each activity.

You could initiate a ‘walk to nursery’ day where you encourage parents to walk their children to your setting rather than bring them in a car. This could be a weekly or monthly event which you could promote with your parents and carers.

One thing to remember is that a sedentary lifestyle early on has been shown to track through childhood, resulting in teenagers and adults who have inactive lifestyles too, so it is crucial to develop good habits in the early years.

Making healthier food choices

If you cater at your establishment, then you need to follow healthy catering guidelines issued by the Department for Education. Helping children make healthier food choices should be done in partnership with parents and carers since most of their early habits will be learned from them. However, you should offer education in the early years about what is, and what isn’t a healthy choice.

This includes:

  • The constituents of a balanced diet
  • Portion sizes
  • Choosing healthy snacks
  • The balance between calories in and calories out
  • The ‘hidden’ sugars, salt and fats
  • The importance of eating meals free of distractions such as TV or games

You can increase children’s awareness and understanding by:

  • Holding specific sessions talking about food and nutrition
  • Displaying healthy food posters in your setting
  • If you provide food in your setting, ensuring that it meets the requirements set out in the Government’s guidelines
  • Offering free fruit for children at break times
  • Making healthy snacks as part of a cooking session
  • Encouraging children to cook at home and in your setting

Be mindful always about labelling foods as ‘good’ or bad’ and about ‘nagging’ children about food, to avoid increasing the risk of children developing an unhealthy attitude to food. Remember too that we all love a ‘treat’ from time to time and we should be able to enjoy this in a ‘guilt-free’ way.

Be wary too of labelling the food of other cultures, special diets or social groups as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It is better to use terms such as ‘healthier option’ or ‘low-sugar’ rather than attaching negative connotations to certain foods.

The message is really about striking a balance between the food we eat, the calories we ingest and the physical activity we do.

There is a lot of information and advice available on the web about making healthier choices, tried-and-tested recipes for schools and packed lunches, and policy checklists online. Visit the following webpage to see a list of the things we’ve found most useful: bit.ly/feb-childobesity

Understanding the needs of children in the care system: part 2

Understanding the needs of children in the care system: part 2

In the second of our series looking at the challenges faced by children in care, we offer some practical advice on how best to meet the needs of these children.

Ways to help children in care


Communication with the foster family

Foster carers write regular reports about how the children in their charge are coping, so it is important that you communicate any incidents you notice which might reflect changes in the child’s wellbeing, or in their general mental or developmental state. Patterns of behaviour can then be identified, so interventions can be sought. This is particularly important around the time that children have contact with their birth family, which can be upsetting for children.

Unique safeguarding issues around children in care

Safeguarding all children is important, but children in care may have very strict guidelines about who they can and cannot see. It is extremely important that your setting is very vigilant about who collects the child. In some cases, birth family members have been known to turn up to nurseries to gain access to the children, so be especially wary of people phoning up claiming to be family members.

Understanding ‘irrational’ fears

Many children in care have suffered abuse, leaving them with psychological scars. This can result in unusual or seemingly ‘irrational’ anxieties such as a fear of going to the toilet or enclosed spaces, or anxieties about specific people (e.g. people with dark hair, men, people who speak in a particular tone). They may have been abused in these places by similar-looking people. The reason for these anxieties might not be immediately obvious to others, but may have a deep-rooted, logical explanation. Keep an open mind as to why a child shies away from certain people or activities, and try to help them by speaking calmly and offering alternative solutions.

Photos and publicity

You will not usually be allowed to publish photos of children in care. This is because the child’s location might be withheld from the birth family. However, you will need to be sensitive to this when taking photos and try not to make it obvious that one child in your setting is not allowed to be included, which can add to the stigma of being in care.

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day

Celebrating Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is something that comes quite naturally to pre-schools, but be aware that for many children, making a card saying “the best mummy ever” will not only be inaccurate, but could potentially bring back traumatic memories.

Try to be sensitive around these days and suggest other people the children could write to instead. There is no ‘hard-and-fast’ rule here, so it’s best to ask the foster carers for advice when it comes to celebrating these family days.


Another area of concern for children in care is their relationship with siblings. Children can be split up from siblings when they go into care simply because of the availability of foster placements at the time. You might find then that children only see their siblings at your setting, which could either be a source of joy or anxiety for them. Be understanding and patient in this situation.

Keeping to routines and boundaries

Routines and boundaries are usually extremely important for children in care, but they may not fully understand them or have had many boundaries previously set or enforced. This can result in children resisting instructions or simply not understanding what is expected of them in social situations, so good nurseries will offer extra help in understanding and following instructions.

Often children are living in a constant state of anxiety and their behaviour will reflect this. Try to educate the children about other behaviour options they have in difficult situations, especially when their learned-behaviour-pattern, (usually based on a coping strategy from a previous traumatic experience) is currently one that is no longer appropriate – such as tantrums or aggression. Staff need to explain the options and be particularly patient here.

Nutrition and understanding a child’s relationship with food

Some children are taken into care due to neglect and may not have had enough food; or food may have been used as a way of controlling them or inappropriately ‘rewarding’ them. These children may have developed an unhealthy relationship with food as a result. Some children have never had to sit down to eat, so patience and understanding are again needed to help children overcome any food issues they may have.

Christmas and birthdays can bring back painful memories

Birthdays, religious celebrations like Christmas or other festivals are usually happy occasions where presents are exchanged, and children are made to feel special. But think how you might feel about these days if you were never made to feel special?

Many children in care have experienced situations like this and these occasions may bring back negative or traumatic memories for the child, which can seem irrational to others. Abusive adults often use gifts to ‘buy’ children’s secrecy too, so caution and care is often needed around these subjects to help the child overcome them.

In conclusion, children in care can benefit greatly from the ‘normalisation’ and physical, social and developmental education that pre-school settings offer. They may just need extra understanding, time and patience from staff within your setting to help them thrive and become the young people they are meant to be.

Read the first part of this article here.

Chinese New Year – year of the pig craft ideas

Chinese New Year – year of the pig craft ideas

The Chinese New Year starts on 5th February and lasts until January 24th, 2020. This year it will be the “Year of the Earth Pig” and the pig is the 12th sign in the Chinese zodiac. Legend has it that all the animals were invited to a party, but the pig overslept and turned up late, so had to settle for 12th place!

Unlike the 12 astrological zodiac signs which change every month, the Chinese zodiac signs only come around once every 12 years, so the next year of the pig will not be until 2031.

In China, the pig is not thought to be a smart animal since it likes to eat and sleep a lot, but on the positive side, it also does not harm others and has a happy disposition. The pig is thought to bring luck and affluence and is regarded as a good omen, signifying wealth.

To help you celebrate Chinese New Year in your setting, we have devised 5 craft ideas to bring some happiness and affluence to you and your children.


This is a fun, sensory craft which uses natural homemade play dough.


  1. Mix the following ingredients together:
    1 cup of flour
    ¼ cup of salt
  2. In a separate jug, mix the following together:
    ½ cup of water
    3 to 5 drops of natural food colouring – pink is good for pigs!
  3. Gradually add the coloured water to the flour and salt, mixing it carefully until it is not sticky

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  1. Draw and cut out 2 circles of paper, making one slightly larger than the other
  2. Draw and cut out 2 triangles
  3. Draw and cut out 4 rectangles
  4. Assemble the pieces together to form the pig
  5. Fold over the ears
  6. Draw on eyes and a nose
  7. Add a curly tail using a pipe-cleaner or string

Once you have made your pigs and lanterns, string them together to form a mobile to decorate your setting. You could also add some cardboard gold coins to the mobile to signify wealth.


Chinese lanterns are synonymous with Chinese celebrations so why not combine the year of the pig theme with these easy-to-make favourites?


  1. Fold a rectangular piece of paper in half, along the long edge
  2. Draw straight lines from the fold about 2/3 of the way up the paper
  3. Cut carefully along the straight lines
  4. Unfold the paper and roll it to form a cylinder, sticking the edges together
  5. Attach ribbons or strips of paper to the bottom edge of the cylinder and squash gently to form the lantern shape
  6. Add a strip of paper to the top to hang



This fun and simple craft which starts with a paper plate. You can use pink plates or simply paint some white ones using colours of your choice.

  1. Use one paper plate for the base of the mask
  2. Carefully draw on and cut out some eye holes
  3. Cut out a smaller circle and 2 triangles from a second paper plate to form the nose and ears
  4. Stick these onto the first plate to add the nose/eye details
  5. Attach a string or elastic to the sides of the plate to tie the mask to the face

6. Once you have all created a mask, why not have some fun making pig noises and running around the farmyard! You could make it an active play game by playing ‘catch the tail of the pig!’


Chinese writing is a great way to introduce children to different cultures, languages and ways of communicating. Practicing Chinese writing can also help encourage mark-making and fine motor skills and is perfect for a painting session.
Choose from some common phrases below and create a display to celebrate their work.

Create your own picture of a pig using the things you have collected. You can create a wild art gallery in the park or your garden but remember to take some photographs of your creations to display in your setting later.

A variation of this is to collect the elements from outside and bring them back to create the artwork in your setting. You could give each child a piece of paper or paper plate to create their design.


This is a great way to combine some outdoor play time with marking the Chinese New Year. All you need to do is dress up in warm clothes and go outside into the park or your garden space to look for items to make some wild art.
Some good things to look out for include:

  • Twigs
  • Leaves in different colours
  • Pine cones
  • Acorn shells
  • Seed pods
  • Flower petals
  • Moss
  • Mud
  • Grasses
  • Feathers
  • Wool (caught on a fence)
  • Stones and pebbles

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