With so much choice of ECE care and education services, it can be hard to know where to start! Choosing a great ECE centre for your child means being picky and asking lots of questions. It's important for all children to have access to early childhood education as it helps with their happiness, learning, and development! Finding a centre that will work best for your child and family is crucial. This article should give you some clear guidance on what to look for.
1. Begin your search several months before you want your child to start at a centre. Some services do have waiting lists and this will save the disappointment of missing out if you do find a service you love!
2. A good reputation goes a long way! Word of mouth can be a powerful testimony. Though I recommend you base your final judgments on what you see for yourself. The best early childhood education centres have a welcoming, friendly atmosphere and are known for their nurturing environment and stimulating curriculum. Observe the children when you visit: If they seem happy to be there, that's a sign that the centre is doing well.
3. The teachers are the heart of a service. Trained, ECE-qualified teaching staff is one advantage early childhood education centres have over most nannies, Playcentre and home-based childcare providers, who often have no specialised qualified teachers in direct contact with your child. ECE centre teachers should be qualified and registered. When you're at an ECE centre, note how the staff interact with the children. Teachers should be warm, respectful, enthusiastic, and well prepared. They should also acknowledge you when you come in for a visit. You want your chosen centre to have 80% + trained teachers to ensure quality care.
4. A well-thought-out day based on the National Curriculum – Te Whaariki – stimulates your child's development and makes daily life fun and predictable for your child. At this point, teachers begin a partnership with children to assist them to learn things and gain further independence. It is a mistake to evaluate a centre based on how many numbers and letters your child is learning — ECE centres aren't the place for a rigorous academic programme. They combine age-appropriate cognitive and non-cognitive skills and development. The curriculum should change over time, giving your child the chance to try something new, and should be adjusted to match each child's abilities and skill levels. Some ECE centres (such as Montessori or Reggio) have specialised educational philosophies, but overall, look for a programme that encourages independence and inspires your child's individuality and creativity.
5. Outdoor play is so important! Look for a centre with a reasonably large outdoor play area. Children should have the chance to play outside every day — running, jumping, and skipping are good for them physically, mentally, and socially. Being outside allows children to feel connected to nature.
Here's a list of questions you might want to ask when visiting a centre:
What is special about this service?
How many teachers are there for this group of children?
How does the service cater for infants and toddlers, and for older children?
What qualifications do your educators have?
How many educators are qualified?
Do you have qualified educators available for relieving?
What do you think is important for children’s learning?
How do you make sure that children are safe and settled?
How do you respond to children’s interests and strengths?
How will I know what my child has learned?
How can I be involved?
What is your approach to managing difficult behaviour?
What fees will I be expected to pay?
Do you have the most recent ERO report on your service?
Can you tell me about the centre routines, and what my child will do during the day?
What are the arrangements for delivering and collecting my child?
Do I provide a lunchbox? Or do you supply food?
What are the toileting arrangements?
What provision is there for tired children? Do you have a sleep room?
What should my child wear, and will he or she need spare clothes?
What will happen if my child is sick or has an accident?
What are the arrangements if there is an emergency?
With this knowledge, you can be confident in choosing an ECE centre for your child!