Expert tips by Jan Jones (Early Childhood Educator)
Make sure you match your family’s needs and expectations with the care and education provided at a centre. Selecting a suitable option is central to the whole family’s well-being. When choosing a centre for your child you have a right and responsibility to find out as much as you can about the quality of the services it provides.
Each state and territory in Australia has different rules governing care and education of children outside of their family, so I am writing a general overview of the choices available to families. The Australian Federal Government has implemented a national accreditation system that oversees the quality of care of child care centres plus family day care and is currently being introduced into kindergarten/preschool programs. This quality assessment assures that minimum standards are being met but it is up to each parent to choose the most appropriate setting for their situation.
If you are dissatisfied with the quality of care or education provided, talk firstly to the child’s primary staff member (kindergarten teacher, family day carer or child care staff member). If the issue is not resolved, make arrangements to speak to a more senior staff member or move to another venue. For serious concerns about the quality of either the care or education contact the regional office of the responsible state/territory government department.
Care for children can be provided by relatives, friends, family day care, occasional care or long day care in a child care centre. This is available from birth up to school age and in many cases also for school-aged children as before- or after-school care, and vacation care. In this article, I am only considering care in family day care, occasional care and long day care but the issues covered will usually also be applicable to care provided by friends or relatives.
All care of children obviously also adds to the child’s education but settings such as kindergartens (also known as preschools) are specifically designed to foster the child’s education. Kindergarten may be provided in a community-based setting, in a primary school or as a specific program in a child care centre in the year before a child starts compulsory schooling. Some services offer kindergarten programs for three-year-old children and choice of these are very similar to choice of child care programs.
Quality children’s services are those that provide valuable learning experiences with positive outcomes for children while catering for the child’s individual needs. Visiting a service is the best way to check for quality. It gives you the chance to see the service, observe the staff and children and to ask questions.
Questions you may want to ask the staff:
- How does the program meet the different needs, interests and experiences of all the children?
- How many children are in the group that my child would join and how many staff work with that group?
- What qualifications do the staff have?
- Will the same staff consistently work with my child?
- How will my child be settled into the service?
- What happens if my child becomes unwell, upset or unsettled?
- Am I welcome to visit at any time of day?
- How will any concerns about my child’s care be addressed?
What to look for when you visit a service?
- Do staff interact positively with children, other staff and parents?
- Do they make you and your child feel welcome?
- Is this a safe environment for children to play, learn and develop?
- If your child has additional needs, how will the service meet them?
- Are the children well-supervised at all times in a way that suits their age and development?
- Are children engaged in the learning experiences?
- Are the children well settled?
- Are there opportunities for children to play in groups or alone?
- Are there spaces for children to be involved in active, noisy play as well as space for quiet play both inside and outside?
What to do before your child starts child care or kindergarten:
- Visit the centre and talk with the staff.
- Read the website of the centre or kindergarten if they have one.
- Share your concerns, thoughts and ideas about your child openly with the staff before and after your child begins attending.
- Find out what your child will need to bring.
- Put your child’s name on all belongings and clothing.
- Provide the centre with necessary requested information.
Occasional child care
Services are provided in a range of settings including neighbourhood/community houses and sports and leisure centres for short periods. Families can access occasional care regularly or just when needed.
Long day care/creche
Care is provided mainly for children aged between birth and six years, although some services provide care for limited numbers of primary school-age children before and after school and during school holidays. Long day care services can be run by not-for-profit organisations or as private businesses. Many services offer a funded kindergarten program as well as care of the child.
Family day care/ home-based care
A family day care service is a network of carers who provide care or education in their own homes for other people’s children. This type of care may be available overnight or on weekends for families who are on-call or work shifts.
Kindergartens help children to learn skills they will build on throughout life and that will strengthen their enthusiasm for learning. These include social and emotional skills which are very important in preparing a child to take their part in more formalised learning in a school setting.
Many kindergartens promote their learning programs as being based on a certain philosophy but the degree to which they follow this philosophy varies enormously between each service and the skill of the staff. Some of the philosophies you may see promoted are Steiner, Montessori or Reggio Emilia. Use of these titles does not give you a very good idea of what is being offered so it is critical that you visit any centre in which you are interested to see just what happens in that venue. The philosophies mentioned above have all been imported from elsewhere and dramatically altered with each interpretation, so consistency within each is rarely encountered. Each group of children is different and their interactions with staff vary, so you can only really base any decision about where your child will attend based on centre-visits, recommendations from others and the requirements of your family.
Good luck with your choice.
What influenced your decision about the type or place of care for your child?