The early years qualifications offered by EYES and Quest require an individual to complete a pre-requisite number of placement hours. This is an essential part of the course, as it allows an individual to build up their knowledge, skills, confidence and competency working across age ranges. These hours can be built up, either whilst working in a setting or indeed through volunteering.
But where do you start in finding a volunteer placement?
We always suggest that you find a setting that is convenient to attend, to ensure that you are a reliable and regular volunteer. Perhaps look at the settings closest to your home or close to where your children attend school. We will also be advertising volunteering opportunities on the noticeboard in the EYES and Quest offices – so remember to check these too! Identify the type of setting that you wish to work in – are you looking for EYFS, Montessori, a nursery that is purpose built, a large or small nursery. Throughout the duration of your course you may wish to experience more than one different setting. This allows you to experience a variety of different practices, settings and perhaps even curriculums!
Once you have shortlisted several settings that you might like to volunteer in, the next step is to apply. It is important that you do this in a professional manner. We always suggest that you conduct your research, learn a little about the settings and identify the name of the setting manager. Initially make contact with the manger by email, remembering to address them correctly - Mrs/Miss/Ms - writing in a formal manager. It is often good to request a meeting at this point. This will allow you to discuss, face to face with the manager, the role of the volunteer in their setting and the expectation of the manager. Before going to meet with the manager, put together a list of questions that you would like to ask them. This might include timings, hours, dress code, policies and procedures and age groups that you could work with.
When you are invited to meet the Nursery Manager/Director, remember to treat this as an interview. Wear suitable and respectful clothing and appropriate shoes. Be mindful of the length of your sleeves, the neckline of your top and length of your skirt. Footwear should ideally be closed and appropriate for working with children – we suggest flat, comfortable shoes. When going to meet the Nursery Manager/ Director, you need to arrive in a timely manner – it is advisable that you arrive 10-15 minutes before your appointment time. This demonstrates that you have good time keeping skills. Ensure that you are carrying a copy of your CV with you and ideally get a letter from EYES/Quest confirming that you are registered for your CACHE course. Be ready to provide references, if required.
Remember that it is as important to listen as it is to talk. Ensure that you demonstrate ‘active listening skills’. Make sure that you ask and answer questions and, most importantly, SMILE!
Your volunteer placement interview was successful – what next?
You will now be preparing for your first day on placement – this is always an exciting step. Remember, it is essential that you dress in accordance with the setting dress code. If you have long hair, it is best that you wear this tied up in a hair band. It is also vital that you have high standards of personal hygiene – you will be working in close proximity to children, so you need to smell good!
If you were provided with any policies and procedures, or perhaps a staff handbook, ensure that you have taken time to familiarise yourself with these and noted any questions that you may have.
Ensure that you arrive on time at the setting, report to the person you were asked to and introduce yourself.
Enjoy your time in the setting. Remember you are a volunteer and as such, you need to always work alongside a qualified and experienced member of the setting staff team. If you have questions, ask them at an appropriate time and in a professional manner. Remember – if in doubt, ask!
Information may be shared with you that is confidential. As such, you need to ensure that you do not share this information with anyone. If you need further guidance on how to manage confidential information, please ask your setting manager for their policy on ‘Confidentiality’ or ‘Management of Information’.
At the end of each week, make sure that you ask your setting manager to sign off your hours for that week. When the opportunity arises, maybe once per term, ask for feedback on how they feel you are performing and whether they have identified any areas that you may need to work on. This is a fantastic starting point for determining the professional development that you wish to undertake.
Make the most of every opportunity to learn and grow as a practitioner. Sometimes you can determine not only who you want to be and what you want to do as a practitioner but also what you don’t want to be and do – often these lessons can also be very important.
Volunteering Top Tips:
- Approach settings that you wish to volunteer at in a professional manner – first impressions count!
- Remember that you are being offered an opportunity within the setting and as such you need to be professional – ensure that you are always punctual, that you attend on the days that you say you will (if you are unable to attend, notify them in a timely manner), and that you work hard!
- If you do not know or do not understand something- then ask!
- Remember to say ‘thank you for having me’ at the end of your sessions – a thank you can make all the difference!
- Remember to smile and be approachable, you need to become a part of the team.
- Personal hygiene (smell good) and dressing appropriately is essential, including comfortable footwear, as you will be standing for long periods.
- Record your hours at the end of every session to ensure that you have an accurate record for your tutor.