Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Tears in Crèche

By Catherine Ward

Sometimes when young children get upset or fall out with one another in crèche we see it as either inevitable stage of development or as a behaviour issue which we have to police. I’m not sure that this is always fair. Yes young children do cry far more often than adults, hunger, tiredness or a new experience can set them off when most adults would be quieter in their discomfort, but sometimes our understanding of this means that we don’t ask questions about what we are providing. “Oh he’s just tired” we say, without asking whether the toys and resources that we’ve put out are interesting enough for everyone. “Oh she wants her mum” we say, but we don’t stop to wonder whether having a small core team of crèche volunteers who take session often might allow the children some comfort in knowing at least one of the adults in the room when their parent or carer isn’t there. “He’s overexcited” we say but it doesn’t occur to us to create a quiet corner with some softer colours, cushions and books. We expect that children must be reprimanded if they don’t share, without wondering whether we’ve put out enough of each type of resource, and when children show an interest in throwing, well…

So what do we do? Ask yourself,
·         Do the resources appeal to as many of the senses as possible? Not just brightly coloured plastic, but tactile things, wood, sand, water, natural things, things which smell nice, different fabrics and sounds.
·         Do the space and resources allow for different types of play? Each week we try to put out something tactile, something quite, something which allows for some big movement, a few ‘heuristic play’ inspired open-ended things (have a look at the entry on helping children to enjoy being at church), and a simple role play cue.
·         Are there enough of each type of thing? This doesn’t have to mean that you have to spend a bomb on having lots of expensive toys. Look at the nature of the thing. We just have one little slide but a turn takes only a moment so two of three children can play without having to wait more than a minute or so for their next go.  We have one rocker but it will seat three children. One sand tray but we can fit a good number of children around it. The smaller things though we do have more of, lots of blocks both wooden ones and a plastic construction kit, lots of books, lots of toy food, discovery bottles, curtain rings, tins, mug trees, ribbon, you name it, if we have it then we have enough for more than one child to play at once.  Young children communicate and form friendships by imitating each other before they have lots of spoken language, if they can do that without having to struggle for resources that is.
·         Is there a small core team of volunteers that the children can really get to know? We’re still working on this one but the more we allow children to get to know the people who look after them in crèche the less upset they get when parents leave.
·         Is there something that children can throw? I’ve made some soft knitted balls, they’re nothing special in themselves but it does mean that rather than just saying “No” when children show an interest in throwing we can instead say “Don’t throw that please, use this if you want to throw”.
·         Have you got cups of water on hand? Sometimes children do get stressed because they are just thirsty. A few lidded cups ready with some water, and even the odd breadstick or bowl of raisins if you’ve checked with the parents about allergies and permission can be really useful.

Our knitted balls!

So yes, sometimes children who cry are just tired, sometimes they are teething, and often new children will take a while to get to know the crèche volunteers and understand that their special adult, be that mummy, daddy, a grandparent, a foster parent or whoever else will be back for them. We’re perfectly happy to hold a crying child and help them to settle, and if we really do need to say “No” to a child about their behaviour then we do, but we just need to hold that in balance with making sure we are doing the best we can to meet their needs and not just assuming that every cry and every falling out is just part of ‘a phase’!  


  1. Thank you. I was worried it might be a bit negative, pointing out some things we get wrong sometimes, but I do think it can be important to understand where we are in order to move on.

  2. I've just found your blog thanks to Pinterest, and want to say that this is a really special post - gently critical and with good practical responses / solutions on offer. Thank you!