There are many misconceptions that all Early Learning Centres are required to meet the needs of all families. While most, if not all centres strive to achieve this, the reality is that it just isn't possible. This is why parents need to spend the time researching centres, read up about them online and visit them in person before enrolling their child. By doing this you will likely avoid a series of challenges which may lead to much angst between you and your Centre. Families that know and share with their centre the things that are important to them generally achieve the most positive outcomes. This sharing by parents assist centres be clear with parents about what they are and aren't able to provide their children while in care.
How to best assess an Early Learning Centre.
Think of your child's Early Learning centre the same way many of us enter any relationship. We all have 'deal breaker' questions and situations. It is best to know about these earlier in the relationship rather than later. Make sure if you have ideas, and experiences you share these with your centre.
Early Learning Centres are assessed in several ways. First look online at the Centre's website (if they have one) and see if the language they use and that the experiences, equipment and environment pictured is appealing to you.
Ask your potential centre what their main communication methods with parents are.
Do they have online folios for children,
or are they paper based, or a combination of the two?
Does your centre encourage parent's to share information within the children's room educators, or by email, or do you need to book a time to speak to a member of the leadership team to share items that you have for them?
These are all questions that can save a lot of confusion and misunderstandings later on.
Have you read your centres philosophy and handbook?
The Centre's philosophy is an insight into what values your centre operates within. This will give you a good idea of what values and learning styles are prominent within the centre and if this is what you feel is best for your child. If you disagree with your Centre's philosophy it is often a simple case that this is not the right centre for you and your child, but it is always important to have an open conversation with the leadership of the Centre to fully understand what their philosophy means and how it will look in practice. It is also possible to ask your centre if they are able to adjust their philosophy, or if these are fixed values and structures within the centre you are considering for your child.
What are their learning/play areas like?
Deciding if you and/or your child prefer to play indoors or outdoors, or both is important. Some centres have natural settings (real grass, trees and gardens, etc.) where as others have artificial environments (fake grass, recycled rubber, etc.). This isn't something that a centre can easily change to meet an individual families needs. Some centres also utilise nearby environments (community playgrounds and other recreational spaces) to supplement their centre offering.
Excursions and Incursions
Different centres will also provide different opportunities for your child to experience.
Some will have incursions only (visitors to the centre), others will have excursions (your child visits other places of interest within your community),
Variety of experiences and play areas for children to experience,
Practice that reflects the community (or not)
Some centres have fixed activities that they have for the children every year, others will ask parents for feedback and will try to provide these areas of interest to children throughout the year.
The reasons for all of the choices your centre makes around experiences are based on staffing numbers available, experience of staff and risk/reward profile of the Centre and parental engagement and voice. These are all very individual choices, which a centre may not be able to quickly adjust to fit your families needs/wants.
Diversity and Inclusion
Does your centre's educators and children reflect the community in which you share? Is it important to you that your child's centre reflects the diversity seen in the community in which you live? Is there diversity in cultures, abilities and personalities? You need to think how important is it to you that your child(ren) experience this. Many centres will find a variety of ways to teach children about diversity and inclusion such as 'travel agent' experiences for the children, sharing cultural heritage of educators and children within the centre each year.
Communication options for parents and children with Educators will vary between centres. Check with your children's centre to determine what the primary communication methods are for parents and children to engage in. Communication methods can vary from
face to face,
Communication styles is one way a Centre's may be able to meet the needs of parents throughout the year. It is important for parents to note that during the year there can be certain times when educators do not have capacity to meet your needs in a particular moment. As a result a centre may request parents to email concerns, make an appointment to discuss your needs, or make other arrangements to hold discussions with you.
The key is to remember your Centre will need you to tell them what you need, preferably before the issue become a significant worry for you.
A couple of things to remember
Some Educators are more comfortable with the children than with parents. If an educator at your child's centre does not click with you, but your child appears to like them, it is possible that educator find parents intimidating. It will likely be related to previous interactions they may have had with parents, try not to let this impact your feelings about the centre/educator. Remember how the educator's engage with your child is more important as they are together all day long.
Not all personalities are compatible and some people are just naturally drawn to some and not others. If there is an educator that you find challenging to connect with, reach out to another Educator or the Centre Leadership Team. Ask if it is possible to engage with an alternative Educator at collection and drop offs. This happens to all of us at times and does not need to be a reason to remove your child from a centre.
Communication. Centres try a variety of ways to engage with parents regarding their children and it is very challenging to find one that suits all families. Educators are always open to listening to and hearing from parents and their families needs. There maybe times that are more suitable than others to connect with your child's centre. If you are having changes in the home (even positive ones) that may impact your child it can be a good idea to let your child's Centre know. Communication is a two way street and isn't just for your Centre to communicate with you as the parent, your child's centre needs you to share with them also.
Finally the most important thing for everyone to remember is that all centres and parents are working hard to provide the best environment for children to thrive and grow into the amazing human beings they will become. Working together is vital to ensure the best outcomes for children, who are sharing their care between parents and early childhood educators.