WITH the increasing number of early learning centres available for families, choosing the right one can be a daunting task for parents. Given the wide variety of options and services available, it is difficult to compare one to the other.
The best approach is to first figure out what your family’s and child’s needs are, then find an early learning centre that meets those needs.
General Manager for Mission Australia’s Early Learning Centres, Ben Williams, said there are common themes that are worth investigating during your search for the ideal early learning centre, with communication often overlooked as a vital piece of criteria.
“Communicating with families is an extremely important part of how children grow and learn. We offer surveys and advisory groups to parents, so they can have input into our services and their local centre.
We also use Storypark which allows us to share a child’s learning and progress with families online. Parents can view videos, pictures and learning stories, along with giving feedback through comments, their own photos and posts,” he said.
Most parents initially look at costs as one of the major factors on where their child will attend, however fees vary greatly between centres, as does the number of services they offer.
Instead of simply comparing dollar amounts it is best to explore what benefits you receive.
Mr Williams said parents should be looking for value, as some centres may charge more but include everything you need, while others may be less expensive but provide basic care only.
“As a not for profit organisation we offer value for money. There is a return for families with fees being reinvested to continually improve our centres and community services,” he said.
The other main factor when looking at early learning centres are the educators. The number of educators per child and their level of experience or training is vital to ensuring your child gets the best care available. While qualifications are a must, Mr Williams said there is more that educators can give.
“Educators should be passionate professionals looking to mentor our children. Qualifications are of course important but so is personality and identity. We look for long term employees that can build strong connections with the children in our care and guide them”
Along with educators, families and friends, the wider community are also a very big part of a child care centre and their identity. They provide benefits to their early learning organisations with activities and support, and the surrounding environment can help shape their centres.
“Community factor is important. We work in partnership with families and communities to create local centres tailored to local needs,” Mr Williams said. He stressed it was also important to remember that early learning centres should be inclusive, “We have diverse families from across the community with services available to everyone”.
While education and care are key ingredients for any centre, of course sometimes children just need to be children. Centres should have safe, suitable areas for children to play and discover for themselves.
Mr Williams said that grass, trees and sunshine are better for learning than four walls. “It’s not just about aesthetics, it’s about the environment, health and developing in a natural way. We focus on open ended learning that allows children to explore, innovate and problem solve,” he said.