What are some of the things I should be looking for in an early learning service environment?
Probably the most important thing is whether it feels like a happy place. Are the children happy and busy and well cared for? Are those children that are unsettled helped in a positive way? Does your child feel comfortable there? Is there plenty for children to do and are they being kept safe? Is it a pleasant, clean place to be? Are there areas for messy play, areas where children can have quiet time? Are there plenty of good-quality, well-maintained resources for children to play with? Is there a good safe, inviting outside play area with sand and water play? Can children do carpentry, run, climb, dig? Are there places where children can use their imagination and build huts etc? Are the teachers joining in and having fun? Are the children well supervised? Are the teachers treating the children with respect and getting down to eye level when they speak to them? Do the children seem comfortable with the teachers? Look especially for the things that are important to you and your child.
What if my child is under two – are there any special questions I should be asking or anything specific I should be looking for?
Babies and toddlers have different needs. Some things to look for include: Is there a soft carpeted area for them to crawl and explore safely? Are there cushions to sit or lie on? Are there trolleys to push and wheelies to pull? What is the sleep area like? What are the nappy changing facilities like? Is there a high adult educator to child ratio? Will there be one special person for your child to bond with?
Do they support breastfeeding?
Check that there is a comfortable dedicated space for breastfeeding. Also check that caregivers are happy for mothers to breastfeed in the main play area if they choose. She believes centres should make a point of asking parents at the time of enrolment about breastfeeding and infant nutrition and what they can do to support them and their infant. Early learning services have an educational, health and social responsibility to ensure effective support for mothers breastfeeding their babies at least up to age 12-months but also up to 24-months and beyond if mothers desire.
How does the learning environment programme reflect kaupapa, cultural learning, philosophy and values?
Te Whāriki, the early childhood curriculum guidelines, encourages services to teach children about the main cultures in New Zealand. It also encourages teachers to be sensitive to and celebrate the different cultures and heritages among families attending the service. The Ministry of Education expects that the Treaty of Waitangi will be reflected in the learning environment and te reo Māori and tikanga Māori will be part of every licensed early learning programme. You should also see the cultures of individual children attending the service reflected in the programme.
What level of parent involvement is welcomed and expected?
Parents, whānau and caregivers are a child’s first teachers and much of a child’s learning will take place in the home. Look for an early childhood education service that encourages your involvement in your child’s learning and that communicates with you about their development. “Democratic partnership and parental engagement are important aspects of early learning curricula: parents can be an important source of constructive feedback and input to programmes. Co-operation between ECE centres and parents ensures that children receive the opportunity of developing in accordance with children’s potential.”
p37, Quality Matters in Early Childhood Education and Care New Zealand, by Miho Taguma, Ineke Litjens and Kelly Makowiecki, 2012 .
How can I help my child to settle?
Being away from family and home can be difficult for some children but there are a number of things you can do to help them settle into an educator-led early learning service. Talking to the educators beforehand so you have a shared plan for settling your child can be helpful. Children usually settle better if they’ve visited the service a few times with you. You’ll also have a feel for the service and be able to talk to your child about what will happen when they’re there without you. If you can, only leave them on their own for a short time the first few occasions. Although it seems harder at the time, always tell your child when you’re leaving and that you’ll be back later. Once you’ve said goodbye, it’s best to leave immediately rather than hanging around to see if they’re happy. Leave them with a teacher they like and trust, who will reassure them they’ll be ok and that you’ll be back. You can ring a little later to check your child has settled. Bringing a favourite toy or comfort thing along may help, and your child will feel more secure if you’re consistent in the times you arrive and leave. You may also want to check out a parent-led early learning service like Playcentre, if your child wants to be with you.
How does the service manage behaviour?
Every early learning service must have a written policy on managing children’s behaviour. They must ensure that every child is given respect and dignity; that every child is given positive guidance promoting appropriate behaviour, using praise and encouragement, and avoiding blame, harsh language, and belittling or degrading responses; and that children are given guidance and control but are not subjected to any form of physical ill-treatment, solitary confinement, immobilisation, or deprivation of food, drink, warmth, shelter or protection.
How can I tell if there is a good learning programme in place?
A registered early learning service will have a planned programme that both cares for and educates your child. They should be following Te Whāriki, the national early childhood curriculum, which sets out the learning experience goals for children up to school age. Early learning services should provide plenty of activities to cater for children’s learning and development. These activities should foster your child’s cognitive, creative, cultural, emotional, physical, and social development and should include a mixture of indoor, outdoor, group, and individual experiences. Learning goals for individual children should be the basis for planning, evaluating and improving the curriculum. A good learning programme will have a clear written statement of how the service will educate and care for children and will keep a record of each child’s development and set new programmes to extend the child, based on these records. The programme should set realistic short term goals that parents and teachers would like the child to achieve based on their needs and interests. It’s important you choose a service that offers a programme that suits your child and how you want them to grow and develop. Note that the principles and goals of Te Whāriki provide a baseline of expectations for all early learning services. Other services, such as Rudolf Steiner and Montessori, add their own curricula and extend the principles and goals of Te Whāriki.