It is much easier to organise a workshop without children, as so much can go wrong! However, if well organised and well managed, it is a delight having children with a lot of positive spin-offs for everybody involved.
Quite a lot young people who attended Co-Counselling workshops with child minding become interested in Co-Counselling. So in 1996 7 young people in Scotland have done the Fundamentals.
Three ways of having children at Workshops
1. the CREATING A MESS Workshop, or How not to do it.
This is a workshop with children, sometimes with a child minder, sometimes without; mutual expectations are unclear: Co-Counsellors expecting a workshop with well organised child minding or with no children at all, discover that suddenly they are pressurised to be responsible for the children; sessions and workshops are interrupted by children etc. One of the consequences is that Co-Counsellors fight privately or in public with each other about having or not having children at workshops.
While in good Child-care and Kiddult workshops there is great clarity about what everybody can expect around the children, around who are responsible and how things are organised, in the ‘Mess' workshop this clarity is lacking. Co-Counsellors are confronted with expectations and situations they didn't expect when signing on for the workshop.
Child-care and Kiddult workshops are characterised by the carefulness of the preparations and arrangements.
2. the CHILD CARE providing Workshop
The main aim of this type of workshop is to enable (single) parents to attend Co-Counselling workshops. A child minder is paid for the job and arrangements are made so that Co-Counsellors can attend workshops, circles and sessions as much as possible as if there were no children. Co-Counsellors spend time with the children if they feel like it.
3. the KIDDULT Workshop
These workshop are centred around the children. Primary aim is: being with children, spending time with them and working on the distress and restimulations this provokes outwith the children's presence.
Experienced Problems in Child Care Workshops
- overrunning workshops troubles child minders and children, as they don't know when the parents are accessible.
- Children getting bored and interrupting workshops
- accident with a child: one child pushed a pram with a baby from a veranda. The baby had to go to a hospital.
By workshop attendants
- Workshops or sessions are disturbed by children
- parents and other people have to leave the workshop because there is trouble going on among the children
By non-parent Co-Counsellors
- Co-Counsellors restimulated by old distress around their own childhood
- parents feel their hearts sink when the non-parents gleefully agree to overrunning the workshop time
- when parents expect the children to be amused, kept busy, have structured workshops, and the child minders have a 'warehousing' attitude and there is not enough inspiration
- children are getting ‘educated' by the child minders
- parents are distracted by the noises children, especially their own, make near the workshop room
- parents are expected to fit their house chores AND attending their children in the free time
By child minder(s)
- parents don't check in with the child minders
- parents don't turn up after the workshops
- child minders don't know what is going on, workshop times changing.
By younger children
- children don't know when they can go for their parents.
- problems between children when they gang up to each other
By older children
- all the attention goes to the younger children, while they are expected to amuse themselves
- they feel obliged to join in activites not of their teenage liking.
By the workshop organiser(s)
Success Criteria for a Child Care workshop
I write them here, so that in the decision making process these points can be taken into consideration. I call them Success criteria, because if they are not met the there is a big risk that the child care workshop won't be successful.
1. Safe Venue for the children.
In a way this is a bit subjective. Allershaw lodge provides a wide area for children to play, away from traffic and for the most part overviewable for parents and child minders. The change that this area will trigger of accidents is relatively small. The Rynachulig venue on the contrary, has quite steep rocky areas with a fast stream, that can be overseen in one glance because of its trees. Also the lake is free accessible, but its shore cant be seen from the venue. This venue is much more unsafe for children.
2. ‘Co-Counselling only' & ‘Children only' areas.
The Workshop Room and sessions are inaccessible for children.
This clarity can be arranged by putting Post-It with a red blob as ‘No Entry' sign on the doors. This technique can also be used on bedroom doors, when there are sessions. Co-Counsellors don't forget to put those stickers on, but do forget to take them away. It could be helpful to avoid using kids bedrooms for sessions.
Children have their own workshop space.
Adults are only admitted with permission of the children. They experience this as fair as they are most of the time not admitted in the Co-Counselling areas.
3. Having prepared child minders
Child minding: Warehousing or activities program?
Some Co-Counsellors feel that child minding doesn't imply anything more than being with the children, a kind of free attention contract. Children will find their way themselves, and especially when they get bored, they need to learn how to deal with that themselves.
One of my experiences with that was that the children out of boredom started to provoke each other and to fight. Finally it disturbed fully for everybody the last day of the workshop.
Obviously, children need to have the space and the freedom to develop their own play. However my best experiences with child minders were when the child minders had prepared a whole arsenal of plays, games and explorations they could do with the children. They did not develop a program as such. They kept these alternatives at hand, for when they were needed. Sometimes these games were very educational, like ‘How to make a fire safely' or 'How to navigate in a big forest with card and compass'. But there is a fine, almost not definable line between acceptable and not acceptable ‘educational' child minding. So the above topics about fire and navigation feel right, but what about ‘Bullying at school?'
Sometimes there was a spur in the child minders to ‘educate' parents. Once, when a parent expressed a fear about a child, the child minder responded that this fear was restricting the child and that the parent should own that fear and work on it. Apart from that this is invalidating the feelings of the concerned parent, I do not consider educating the parents as a job of the child minder.
What if..... preparation
A good preparation entails also a ‘What if ...?' preparation
- What if a child gets hurt and need treatment....
- What if parents don't turn up after the child minding
- What if children want their parent during the child minding?
- What if the child minder gets into a fight with one of the children?
The preparation has been done before the workshop!
4. All people are clear about what to expect
The secret of success is in being clear what everybody can expect from each other..
Co-Counsellors without children present
Each Co-Counsellor can expect that the workshop has been organised in such a way that the circles, workshops and sessions are not disturbed by children.
Only the parents and the child minder have responsibility for the children. This implies that the other Co-Counsellors are not assumed or requested to take any responsibility. As long as this is the case 90% of them seems really to enjoy the presence of children and take quite often spontaneously initiatives to the children.
Co-Counsellors with children present
They hope and expect that they can attend the circles and the workshop without needing to pay attention to their children.
What can they expect from the child minders. Generally the young people amuse themselves quite a lot. Disappointments come in, however, when their child is at the receiving end of bullying, or when the children become so upset that they don't want to stay with the child minder any more. Although ‘warehousing' the children more or less is accepted, the parents don't feel great about it.
The children themselves
They expect to have a good time and when they have attended a Co-Counselling workshop with child minding, they are quite often looking forward to the event.
Young people could be asked to volunteer as helpers to the child minders.
What can the children expect from the venue? They need clarity about which rooms or areas are available and when not.
What to expect from the child minders? Also they can expect to rely on the child minder when they are distressed. When they have a good play group, they don't seem to bother how active the child minder is. But when boredom sets in, they expect the childminders to set up activities. The children are aware of that they need to leave their parents in the workshop.
From their parents they can expect....
The Child minders
What can they expect from the Parents? The most important expectation they have is that the child minding is limited to the arranged times. it creates irritation when parents simply don't turn up or workshops run longer than arranged. Parents collect their children immediately after the planned workshop closures. Parents check in regularly with the child minders about how things are going with their children.
From the workshop organiser the child minders can expect...
Clear contract with child minder.
5. Good Communication structure
Liaison Organisers & Child Minder(s)
Clear contract between organiser & child minders.
Some other aspects
Parents doing the child minding. This can prove too difficult, as the parents never can ‘escape' from their children.
Getting a balanced children group by asking children to bring a friend with them.
What about liability of the child minders and organisers in case of accidents?
What about paedophiles?
What if children want to come without their parents?
Summary Policy decisions
1. children or no children?
2. if yes: what can everybody generally expect form the child minding?
3. how will the child minding be financed?
4. selection criteria for child minders?
Executive area: ‘Child Care'
contracting the child minders
liaising with them during workshop
checking in with parents
getting the publicity and expectations around child minding right
culture setting around children and child care.