Working in early years and play

1. Overview

Whatever your background or age, a career in childcare or early years can be very rewarding.

There will always be demand for good quality childcare, play and early education for young children. If you love being around children and are committed to giving them the best possible start in life, a career in early years could be for you.

You'll need a range of skills and qualities to support the children's learning and development:

  • passion and enthusiasm
  • commitment, to improve the lives of children and their families
  • patience, with children, their families and the early years environment
  • flexibility, to deal with change and the unexpected
  • respect for others
  • creativity
  • lots of energy, to keep up with the children and stay motivated
  • sense of humour, to keep learning fun
  • love of learning

There are plenty of opportunities to train and work towards qualifications, part-time, full-time or on a work based learning programme through your local college or university.

All paid and voluntary roles involving contact with children and young people will be subject to an Enhanced DBS check.

A career in child care: childminder video

See our video: childminders talking about why they became a childminder, the positive and challenging aspects of the job and the opportunities to learn.

2. Registered childminder

Registered childminders usually work from home and are self-employed.  They can look after children of any age, from birth.

They must be registered with Ofsted to look after children under eight years old, if they work for more than two hours a day.  They can look after up to six children under the age of eight, although only three of these can be under five.

As a childminder you should:

  • enjoy working with children, helping them learn and develop
  • have a good knowledge of spoken and written English
  • make sure everyone in your household is happy for you to be a childminder
  • make sure your home is a safe, clean and stimulating place to play
  • be willing to work long hours
  • be well organised
  • meet the expectation of quality early education and childcare in the Early Years Foundation Stage
  • work closely with parents and carers
  • enjoy learning new skills and developing your practice
  • be able to cope with your income going up and down, as the number of children in your care changes
  • be able to keep records, for example, records of children’s learning
  • be able to keep your own accounts and report your income to HMRC

All childminders should follow the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework (GOV.UK) with the under fives, to provide early education as well as care.

How to become a registered childminder

To become a registered childminder:

  • come to an initial briefing session, email us at to book your place
  • take the Introduction to Childminding Practice (ICP) course, this costs up to £245 (some funding may be available) and takes 18 hours over 9 weeks
  • take a Paediatric First Aid (PFA) course
  • fill in a DBS application for everyone who is over 16 in your household
  • register with Ofsted and arrange a registration visit

This process can take up to 6 months.

Your professional development

After registration you will belong to the Bristol Childminding Network. We’ll arrange a visit from a Childminding Support Worker to learn about opportunities for professional development. 

Many childminders also have quality awards such as the Bristol Standard.

3. Nursery, pre-school, play group or children's centre assistant

You would typically start as an assistant, working under supervision. You would:

  • greet parents and settle children into the setting
  • help create a safe and secure environment for the children
  • support the children to learn and develop social skills through play
  • prepare bottles or snacks
  • change nappies or help children to the toilet
  • feed, bathe and dress babies
  • build relationships with parents and carers
  • observe and assess children's learning and development
  • work with a small group of children as a Key Worker
  • liaise with health professionals

What qualifications you need

You may need to hold a Level 2 childcare qualification, such as the Certificate for the Children and Young People's Workforce.  However, you may be able to start work without a qualification as long as you are willing to go to training. This will be up to the early years provider. 

You may also need to undertake the following training:

  • Paediatric First Aid
  • Safeguarding Awareness
  • Health & Safety
  • Food Hygiene

You could also gain experience of working in an early years setting through volunteering.

What you could earn

As an assistant you could expect to earn about £7.50 per hour, but this varies across settings and locations.

Your professional development

You will be encouraged to continue your skills development through work-based qualifications, short courses and e-learning. You could work towards a Level 3 qualification and potentially onto Early Years Teacher Status.

4. Nanny or home-carer

Nannies or home-carers provide childcare in the childrens' home and can look after children of any age. Many nannies live at home with the family they are working for.  Nannies develop trusting relationships with the children and parents and help the children develop.

As a nanny or home-carer you would:

  • teach basic social skills and hygiene
  • feed, bath and dress the children
  • change nappies
  • plan trips out, to the park for example
  • take them to medical appointments
  • take them to nursery or school
  • prepare meals and snacks
  • tidy up and clean rooms used by the children

What qualifications you need

You may be able to start work without any qualifications. However, it will be easier if you have some training or a qualification, such as a Level 2 Certificate for the Children and Young People's Workforce or Paediatric First Aid.

For more information see Ofsted’s quick guide to registering as a Nanny.

What you could earn

This varies, mainly depending on whether you live-in or live-out. It also depends on location, your qualifications and whether you're employed directly by a family or through an agency.

Full-time live-in nannies can earn between £13,000 and £20,000 a year. Full-time nannies, not living with the family, can earn between £26,000 and £29,000 a year.

5. Early years teacher

Early years teachers are specialists in early childhood development.  They work with children from birth to 5 years old in early years settings.  They help children achieve their potential and support parents and families.

As an early years teacher you would:

  • lead on the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) framework
  • support and guide other staff in the setting, modelling skills and behaviour that safeguard and support children
  • plan, organise and run a wide range of learning and play activities
  • speak to parents or carers about their child's development
  • work with other professionals such as social workers
  • go to meetings and training courses

What qualifications you need

To become an early years teacher you need to achieve Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS) by completing an Early Years Initial Teacher Training (EYITT) course.

There are 4 routes available, depending on your experience and qualifications, see Become an early years teacher for more information.

What you could earn

Salaries vary across settings and locations, but you could expect to start on about £22,000.