Working in childcare offers a variety of roles and a diverse and fulfilling career path for those wishing to pursue this important role. Early years and childcare jobs include work in pre-schools and playgroups, childcare assistants and practitioners, residential childcare workers, nannies, out of school clubs and holiday schemes and in schools as teaching assistants. In total, in England alone, this makes up nearly 3.1m childcare places across a wide variety of providers - predominately from group-based providers including before and after school and sessional provisions.

There are many skills needed and they depend on the particular post you are working in, however, here is a useful general list:

Skills and qualities of childcare workers.

  • Be creative and imaginative
  • Able to plan and deliver activities that are stimulating and interesting to the children you are working with
  • Be a ‘get-up-and-go’ type of person as well as being eager and having a caring attitude 
  • Be a first-rate communicator and have a talent to interact with the children and your colleagues
  • Able to work on your own initiative and as an effective member of your team
  • Patient and calm, even in noisy or challenging situations 
  • Understand the needs of the particular children you are working with
  • Understand child development
  • Have a responsible and positive outlook
  • Willing to undergo required training and any ongoing personal and professional development 

For all posts with children, you will be required to have an enhanced disclosure which includes the same details as a standard check along with additional information held by law enforcement that is considered relevant to the position you're applying for.

There will always be great opportunities to progress in any of the childcare roles you choose.

Here is an example of the types of tasks and responsibilities you may come across when working in a nursery.

Nursery assistant or nursery practitioner.

Children in nurseries vary in ages from babies up to pre-school (ages 3-4); therefore, the types of activities for each group will differ considerably. Each child will be at their particular stage of development; some children may have additional or special needs to cater for.

All of the children will need a child carer who can organise engaging activities that meet the needs of the age group of the children. For example, you will need to plan appropriate games and arts and crafts, whilst also making sure that the children are safe and having fun. 

Each activity has to be planned carefully to meet specific developmental areas such as playing ball games to improve large motor skills in babies or using building blocks to help develop hand-eye coordination. The children will need to be well supervised at all times. If your nursery looks after babies, childcare workers will be responsible for feeding, bathing and changing young children. Where you work you may have the opportunity to work with children across different age groups or a specific age group such as toddlers or babies. 

Each day there will be particular routines to follow in the nursery or crèche. For this, you will need to be organised and alert.

Some routines include:

  • Story-time
  • Snacks and lunch-time
  • Play-time
  • Nappy changing
  • Games and outdoor activities, such as going for a walk, gardening and jungle-gym
  • Nap-time
  • Songs and counting
  • Arts and crafts

Paperwork and planning.

Because there are many developmental stages to be taken into consideration by the childcare team, all the children will have regular reports compiled by the workers. This helps to see how each child is developing and this is done by close observation of the child. As part of this task, you will have to work closely not only with other child carers and nursery practitioners, but also with managers, parents, health professionals such as speech therapists and carers. Any concerns can be passed onto your manager and parents. 

There are also several other statutory documents that must be filled out childminders to comply with the early year's foundation stage (EYFS) standards, these include:

Accident, injury and first aid report - all accidents and injuries must be reported for childminded children, this also includes if any type of first aid is administered.

Attendance register - when a child enters and leaves the premises must be recorded.

Child record form and emergency contact information - in case of an emergency or the child's parents are unable to collect them, you must have a way to safely hand them over to another family member or nominated friend.

Concern about a child record - some local authorities will provide documentation but it's not compulsory, you must keep a record of any concerns that you have about a child that may need to be shared with the family or other agencies in the future.

Daily routines planner - the child's daily routine must be shared with the parents, this can include anything from outings to meal times during the day.

Meal planner - the child's meal information must be shared with the parents, you must also have a record of the 14 most common allergens to hand to share with parents if they request it.

For more information on statutory and non-statutory childminder paperwork, take a look at childcare.co.uk.

A good environment for the child. 

It is part of your role to ensure that the children are not only safe, but have a clean, homely and friendly place to play and grow. Communication is very important in childcare at all levels of the work. Children’s behaviour can sometimes be challenging but there are many methods and techniques that can assist you. You can learn this from your colleagues, manager and by undergoing further training. Ongoing training is not only desired but it's required not only by nurseries but by law. 

Qualifications and specialisations in childcare jobs.

Childcare assistants and workers can progress in their career in many different ways, for example, you can work towards play work certification or go on to become a manager. There are several apprenticeships available in different posts and you can continue your study to a higher level such as diplomas, NVQ’s or even degrees in childcare and early years or on topics specific to your interests. Whatever role or route you take in childcare, you no doubt will find it a rewarding and varied career.