ALTHOUGH she is extremely good at what she does, Duns childminder Paula Preston was stunned to receive word last week that she had been named Childminder of the Year by the Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA).
Paula has been involved in the childcare industry for the past 15 years and working as a childminder for the past 11.
And although her national accolade is in recognition of the hard work she has put into Polly Wolly Doodle Childcare, her business at her home in Duns’ Rachel Drive, her childcare skills haven’t been restricted to the UK.
In fact it was a spell working across the channel that cemented Paula’s desire to become a full time childminder.
“I moved to Paris to be a nanny and had an amazing time doing that,” Paula told ‘Life’.
“It was such an interesting and valuable experience and made up my mind that my future lay in childcare.
“Obviously becoming a childminder isn’t something you can do overnight. You’re subject to checks; you’ve got to have the right insurance; qualifications and First Aid capabilities.
“But it’s all worth it. I love doing what I do and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”
Paula, who will share the Childminder of the Year title with Donna Criukshank from Aberdeen, said although when she started out as a childminder she didn’t have her own children she knew how she’d like her child to be treated if they were in someone’s care and that’s what she used as her guideline.
And now she’s a mum herself to six-year-old daughter Murren and 18-month-old son Hayden she has an ever better idea of how to entertain little ones.
“I’ve always had a pretty strong idea on how I’d like my children to be brought up and looked after so I wanted to maintain a certain standard,” she commented.
“I think it prepared me quite well for having my own as I’d had plenty of practice by then.
“One of the things I do is make sure the children have home cooked food whilst they’re in my care and I try and get them out into the community as much as possible. I have a car I use specifically for my childminding and I take them out in it quite a bit.
“We got involved in quite a few of the activities for Reivers Week and got a few first places!
Paula is willing to take children between the ages of six weeks-12 years and at the moment has 10 children in her care.
She typically works 10 hours a day, between 8am and 6pm, and said she didn’t mind using her home as a base for what can be a very busy business.
“When I moved back to Duns from Glasgow myself and my partner James decided that if I was going to make a real go of things we would need to convert the garage into a room dedicated to the children and make the garden really child friendly.
“The kids are allowed in other rooms in the house but I think it’s good for them to have their own space where they can feel at home and be as messy as they like!
“Being a childminder I’m very aware of how I need to conduct myself both whilst at work and out in the community.
“I’d like to think people will see me as being professional, fun and always in control. Before I take on a child I have a meeting with their parents to allow for any boundaries to be set etc.”
The parents who use Polly Wolly Doodle are obviously delighted with how Paula looks after their youngsters as it is largely down to them that she has claimed the title of Childminder of the Year.
“I first heard about the competition a few years ago but it wasn’t until this year that I thought I’d give it a go. I had to hand forms out to the parents so they could grade me in certain areas and make comments.
“I’m thrilled that they think of me so highly and I’m very grateful for their support.”
Comments about Paula by the parents who use her service ranged from ‘She has created a fantastic space in her home for the children and provides a real ‘home from home’ for my son’ to ‘Paula has most definitely raised the profile of childcare in Duns and the standards for local childminders too.’.
And someone else full of praise for Paula is Raquel Lloyd-Jones, SCMA’s childminding development officer for the Borders.
Although she has only been in the post a short time, Raquel was quickly made aware of Paula’s passion for her job and the high standard of care she provided.
“Paula epitomises all that is best about childminding,” she enthused.
“She provides a stimulating childcare environment within a family setting, allowing parents to go about their daily lives knowing their children are well cared for and enjoying community life.
“I am delighted she has been recognised in this way and the award is very much deserved.
“Across the Borders we have around 140 childminders providing this crucial service every day - without which parents would be unable to work and study and the Borders economy would simply grind to a halt!”
In terms of what’s left to achieve for Paula, she hasn’t allowed for complacency to set in following her SCMA award win.
“I’m still in shock at winning the award. I know how valued I am by the parents of the children I care for but every childminder in Scotland was given the chance to enter so it’s a huge honour. My mum’s always said I’m the best childminder in the world so she’s very proud of me!
“I think being from Duns originally has been a big boost for the business. It meant then when I came back from Glasgow people already knew who I was and I guess word of mouth helps too.
“I scored all 5s to win the award but I’d love to one day score 6s in all areas as that’s the highest mark you can achieve.
“Ultimately I’d love to be able to open my own private nursery; that’s been an ambition of mine for a while now.”