The Business & The Baby is a series of guest blog posts - from awesome mamas who have successfully started up in business after being on maternity leave.
For the first guest post in The Business & The Baby series, Ali Wilkinson shares her journey to launching Little Wonders Childminding. She's since gone on to start Pyjama Drama for the North Lancs/South Cumbria area.
Ali says: "I had a succession of office jobs in my 20s that didn't light my fire but allowed me to play hard in my personal life. They were easy enough. But I think everybody knew that while I was entertaining to have around, I was not where I belonged."
Tell us a bit about your business...
Little Wonders Childminding provided home-based childcare to 17 children aged 0-11. For the youngest children it meant smaller ratios than nurseries. For the school aged children it meant the opportunity to leave school at home time and at least feel like the school day was over.
I took the small children out a lot. We went to nature reserves, parks, museums, galleries, woods, to town. They practiced their life skills in the real world so they always knew the practical application of my teachings.
We all loved nap time. I would wrap them up in the double pushchair with a teddy each and put the littlest in a sling on my back and walk around my streets singing until they fell asleep. They really liked Dr Worm ('I'm not a real doctor, but I am a real worm, I am an actual worm...')
What made you want to start the business on maternity leave?
I didn't want to give my child to a nursery. I didn't know my daughter was autistic but I knew she needed different care. At any rate, I was very unhappy in my last job, with a bullying senior member of staff, it was miserable.
I was talking to someone in a Children's Centre who said, 'Why don't you become a childminder?'
'Well let's see,' I replied, laughing, 'maybe because I have no experience of working with children?'
'Yeah, but, you're nice and you're good with children.'
'Really?' I said, 'Is that enough?'
So I asked around. And to my surprise, EVERYBODY seemed to think I could do it. Nobody was in the least bit surprised. So I arranged the training course and it began just as my maternity leave ended.
How did you go about starting up your business whilst looking after your child(ren)?
Practically, it's easy to run a childminding business while you look after your own children, but it does bring some challenges. My daughter needed extra help and I had to make sure the other children also felt safe and cared for. And any childminder will tell you that your own children are always the most badly behaved.
When my kid had a tantrum in Sainsbury's or in the school playground, it triggered me in all the usual ways with the added extra of the damage I feared it could do to my professional reputation. And my autistic daughter had A LOT of meltdowns, as autistic toddlers do.
What were the biggest challenges you faced during this time and how did you overcome them?
I learned tons and tons about child development. I had this young daughter who had terrible sleeping problems and my energy levels were all over the place. So I spent long nights sitting next to her in the dark reading Dr Sears, Laura Markham and Alfie Kohn on my phone.
This wider reading have me a greater understanding of the age group. Without the child who didn't go to sleep, I don't think I would've been so well read.
Have you got any tips for other new mums who are thinking of starting up a business?
It's impossible advice to follow, but be okay with starting slowly. It's exhausting looking after small children and running your own business but it's brilliant to know that your income is all down to you.
When I started Pyjama Drama, I had been a childminder in Lancaster for nearly 8 years - you might have seen me walking home from Moorside school with 8 (or more!) children, or singing and playing in one of our local playgroups. While I was a childminder I gained the Early Years' Practitioner (EYPS) qualification, that's the highest level general qualification. I've looked after nearly 100 of Lancaster's children in my own home, and I loved doing it, but it was time for me to try something new. I was so impressed by Pyjama Drama's 400 lesson plans and their understanding of the importance of learning through play. I'm excited to be offering Pyjama Drama classes for your little ones - there's so much to learn and enjoy while playing and having fun.