I’m writing this from JFK airport, midway through my return journey from Orlando. It seems an utterly crazy location for a childcare conference, especially when your business is based in a tiny village called Little Houghton.
But my files are literally bulging with new ideas for nursery and I can promise you it’s been worth it. I’ve spent the last four days talking to nursery owners from all over the world – lots from America, yes, but also others from the UK, France, Australia and Canada. Most, like Scott and I, own small family businesses. A few run corporate enterprises; I had an out-of-my-depth conversation with the head of a 600 place nursery based in Washington, during which my sole contribution was to compliment her on her iPad cover.
Having said that, most of us faced very familiar issues; recruiting and training staff, keeping up with changing legislation, liaising effectively with parents, adhering to curriculums, working with schools and other early years settings, juggling the finances and developing better ways of working. All whilst keeping at the front of our minds the reason why we entered our business in the first place: to influence and improve the lives of young children and their families.
I love my job and am fortunate to have had the amazing opportunity to spend the last few days absorbing every last drop of energy from the Orlando Childcare Summit. There has been a significant amount of whooping and high-fiving on stage and for those of you who know me, you’ll realise just how alarming I found this! But amidst the stateside drama, I’ve learned better ways of managing parent communication, I’ve been bowled over by the new technology available for tracking children’s progress and I’ve discovered that our American cousins are truly obsessed with iced water.* I was very excited to meet colleagues who’ve developed interesting ways to reward their staff and to make the transition for new parents even easier.
But sitting as I am, reviewing my many pages of notes, I am most grateful of all that I get to go home now and share all these ideas with the Little Houghton Day Nursery team. Between us, I’m confident that we can turn all my scribbles into somewhere even more amazing for the children in our care. And whilst I might not be ready to whoop and high-five with our American colleagues, I’ll freely admit that it’s pretty darn awesome.
* I was served iced water (more ice than water tbh) with breakfast, with my coffee, with room service pizza and an endless supply throughout the conference itself. If, by some mischance I was lacking in this department, I was reassured to find an emergency sign in my room with a map to the nearest ice machine.