When Helen Simpson moved from Wiltshire to her army husband’s homeland of Aberdeenshire in 2012, she quickly discovered a major problem.
She couldn’t find any suitable childcare for their children.
The lack of options led her to open her own childminding service, Mini Monsters, in 2014.
Since then the service has gone from strength to strength and was recently scored 23 out of 24 by inspectors, who also awarded her the “sector leading” label.
Based in the village of Rothienorman, Mrs Simpson currently cares for three children: Elise, eight, Sawyer, three, and Eden, three.
The children are looked after in the downstairs area of her house and can roam in a large enclosed garden with guinea pigs, chickens, a climbing frame and swings.
Now Mrs Simpson, 41, has decided to share what she has learned about childminding in Aberdeenshire.
‘Got to have a real passion’
“I am very very child-led. We go with whatever they are interested in on a particular day”, she said.
“It’s about giving the children plenty of choices and free play.
“You have got to have a real passion for it.”
Mrs Simpson says the animals especially play an important role as it allows the children to “learn how to care and nurture things”.
However, she said the business would not be possible without help from daughter Isla, 14, and son Fraser, 11, who often play with the children.
What is it like to childmind in Aberdeenshire?
Due to the government providing 30 hours of free childcare for three and four-year-olds, there remains a demand for childcare in Aberdeenshire.
But Mrs Simpson said numbers dropped during Covid after many childminders “lost heart”.
The Scottish Childminder Association has been continuing with its recruitment drive as the Scottish Government tries to meet the shortfall in rural areas.
Aberdeenshire Council provided all of the core training courses to childminders for free, unlike many other councils, which Mrs Simpson said was “wonderful”.
How difficult is the paperwork and inspections?
But Mrs Simpson admitted childminding is not without its difficulties.
“Councils are requiring a lot of paperwork,” she said.
“But if you have a real passion for the work the paper side of it does fall in to place. You can chip away at it by doing a bit at the time.”
However, the Scottish Government watchdog the Care Inspectorate can also turn up unannounced to inspect the care the children receive.
They have the power to issue requirements if the service is not up to scratch or even close it down.
Mrs Simpson warns these visits can be “quite intense”.
“I think one of the criticisms is that there is no uniformity across the board, which has led to some people thinking it can be a little unfair”, she said.
“Certainly inspectors are human beings and I had worked really hard.
“I could see the benefit for the children I work with”.