So when do children start learning?
Children start learning the moment they’re born and as a parent you are your child’s first and most important teacher. In 2004, the results of a seven-year research programme in the UK yielded a series of tips about how to get your child off to a flying start at school and the key message was that: what parents do is more important than who the parents are. The activities contributing to higher intellectual, social and behavioural scores were:
· reading with the child
· teaching songs and nursery rhymes
· painting and drawing
· playing with letters and numbers
· visiting the library
· teaching the alphabet and numbers
· taking the children on visits
· creating regular opportunities for them to play with friends at home
What can early childhood education offer my child?
Early childhood education adds to what children are learning at home. While time in a loving, secure home is vital to their development, learning in a new environment gives children a chance to make friends, master new skills and learn to trust people outside of their family.Iram Siraj-Blatchford of London University's institute of education said research gave parents a valuable tool for recognising a good service. "You should observe the centre for a whole morning. Look at the relationships between adults and children. Are they warm and responsive? Are the children just sitting there or are they pro-actively engaged?" Here are some more questions to think about:
What are some of things children learn at an early childhood education (ECE) centre?
We are looking for reinforcement of what our children are learning at home and in the community, and also for children to be exposed to and have rich experiences in numeracy, literacy, science etc. Some of the things we want children to learn in the preschool years are how to get along with others and make friends; how to express their feelings; how to take turns, share and negotiate; how to ask questions and find out more; how to lead a group and learn from others. All these skills help children become happy and capable learners.
When do I need to enrol my child in early childhood education (ECE)?
Enrolling your child in early childhood education (ECE) is entirely voluntary, so it’s up to you when (and if) you do this. If you are looking to enrol your child in ECE, make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to decide on a service as there are many options to choose from and many centres/services have waiting lists. Plus, it may take your child some time to settle in.
What are my options?
Every child is different, so when you are choosing an ECE service for your child, think about whether that service ‘fits’ them. Some ECE centres, such as kindergartens and education/care centres, are led by registered teachers (‘teacher-led services’). Others, like Playcentre and Te Kōhanga Reo, are ‘parent-led services’ which means parents, whānau or caregivers are the educators. There are also services where caregivers look after children at their home or yours, getting advice and support from visiting teachers.
Some services cater for children from birth to school age, others have a specific age range; some have a special character or focus (eg Rudolf Steiner, Montessori, Te Kōhanga Reo); and all vary in the days/hours they are open. How much parents are expected to pay and/or be involved in the running of the centre also varies.
It is always good to visit a few centres to get a feel for what is available, and to question staff about the service they’re providing.
How do I choose and why is it important to choose well?
Teacher educator, child advocate, mother and university academic, Dr Sarah Farquhar (www.childforum.com), gets asked this question a lot. Her answer? “A quality ECE service is one in which I know my child will be happy, learning, safe, healthy, provided with a great environment for play and relaxation, able to do and experience as much, and more, than at home with me and other family members.
“What I look for is enthusiasm, warmth, energy, genuine interest in my child and my child’s world, ability to connect at a personal level with my child, and a knack of knowing just what to say and do at the right moment to promote my child’s learning.”
What she doesn’t want, is the adult(s) caring for her child to have an ‘I know best because I hold a diploma or degree’ attitude, nor a lazy ‘I don’t think it’s necessary for me to do this’ response. “It’s all about our child and how well the service meets our needs. Further down the track we don’t want the emotional costs of worrying about our child, trying to undo some of the bad behaviours or language our child might have learnt, coping with an unfit, uncoordinated child, taking more time off work because our child is sick yet again, rushing around furiously in the weekends or evenings trying to do make-up activities and experiences that our child should have been getting, or having our child undertake extra tuition at school to catch-up with children in the class.
What are some of the questions I should be asking myself?
Some of the questions you should be asking yourself include how long do you want your child to attend? What kind of service do you want? What fees can you afford? What location is best for you? What suits your needs and your child’s needs? Do you want your child to be looked after at home or at a centre? Do you want your child to attend with or without you? Do you want your child to be part of a big group or a small group? How involved do you want to be involved in your child’s formal education? What hours suit you? Are you looking for a service which offers lots of structure or lots of free play?
What are some of the questions I should be asking centres?
You should be asking them whatever you need to know in order to find out if they will provide the service you want for your child. These questions might include how many children are enrolled, what qualifications do the teachers have, are teachers regularly trained, what learning programme is in place, what age can children start, are babies welcome, how are the needs of different children met, how do they help children settle in, how do they discipline children, what is the daily routine, can children sleep when they want or are their set sleep times, what happens if a child is sick or has an accident, what input do parents have in the service, what do they expect of parents, how much does it cost, are they open during school holidays, do they provide snacks and lunch etc?
Specific questions you may wish to ask of centres:
What is their adult to child ratio?
This is important because children do best when they get individual attention from adults and can learn more when they’re in a small group. In small groups teachers can treat children as individuals more easily and there tends to be greater co-operation within the group. Lots of adult attention is especially important for infants and toddlers who need adults to play and talk with them more than older children do. Licensed services will have listed on their licence the minimum number of adults that must be there.
Do they support breastfeeding?
Dr Sarah Farquhar says when parents are looking for a breastfeeding-friendly ECE service, they should 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 childhood 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 preferably up to 24-months and beyond if mothers desire.
What is their cultural kaupapa (what philosophy/values does their programme reflect?)Te Whäriki, 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 Mäori and tikanga Mäori will be part of every licensed ECE programme. You should also see the cultures of individual children attending the service reflected in the programme.
What level of parent involvement is welcomed/expected?
Parents, whänau 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.
How do they manage behaviour?
Every ECE 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.
Ask to see their most current ERO Report
Every licensed early childhood service has to be regularly reviewed by the Education Review Office (ERO). From the ERO report you can find out about the standard of education being offered. The service should have a copy of the most recent ERO report for you to read or you can view a copy at www.ero.govt.nz
Can I take my time making a decision?
It’s wise to take your time, says Dr Sarah Farquhar. “Do not make a final decision too quickly. Have a trial period. If you are considering enrolment at a centre or in a service provided in someone else’s home, have some small visits with your child before starting and stay with your child to observe. Also have some spontaneous visits ‘We were just passing and thought we would pop in to say hi.’ If you are employing a nanny or caregiver in your own home, ask the person to come for just an hour or so over three to five days or to do some childcare for you during the weekend.
“If a service does not live up to your expectations or if you find it does not work out as well had you had expected do not feel embarrassed or shy about withdrawing your child. If you think your child may be experiencing harm or is at risk discontinue using the service immediately. Put your child first.”
How can I tell if there is a good learning programme in place?
A registered ECE service will have a planned programme that both cares for and educates your child. They should be following Te Whäriki, the national early childhood curriculum, which sets out the learning experience goals for children up to school age.
ECE centres 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; will keep a record of each child’s development and set new programmes to extend the child based on these records; and will 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 Whäriki provide a baseline of expectations for all ECE services. Other services, such as Rudolf Steiner and Montessori, add their own curricula and extend the principles and goals of Te Whäriki.
What if I want to be actively involved in my child’s education?
If you want to be actively involved in your child’s education, you may want to look at a parent-led ECE service such as: Playcentre, Te Kōhanga Reo, Ngā Puna Kohungahunga or Pacific Islands early childhood education groups.
Can I go along for a visit beforehand?
Yes, you’ll get a better ‘feel’ for a service and whether it’s right for your child if you visit, preferably more than once. Take your child with you and observe how he/she reacts to what’s going on. It’s best to choose a time when children are at the service and there’s plenty happening. Ask for time with the person in charge so you can ask any questions you may have.
What are some of the things I should be looking for when I visit a Centre?
Probably the most important thing is whether it feels like a happy place. Are the children happy and busy and well cared for? 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 toys 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 formal qualifications do ECE teachers have to have?
The teachers in charge of an ECE centre must be registered teachers who hold a Diploma in Teaching (ECE) or similar qualification. Other staff in the centre may have different qualifications or experience.
What if my child is under two are there any special questions I should be asking/ 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:child ratio? Will there be one special person for your child to bond with?
How much will it cost and are there subsidies available?
Parent-led services are usually cheaper than teacher-led ones. Playcentre, for example, will normally cost not much more than $30 per term, per child. Kindergartens are relatively inexpensive, but expect other teacher-led services to cost more. Many three and four year-olds in teacher-led ECE services will qualify for up to 20 hours free ECE per week. For more information phone 0800 204433, go to www.minedu.govt.nz or contact your local Ministry of Education office.
You may be entitled to a Childcare Subsidy from Work and Income if you’re paying for ECE. Parents in work or training (or in some other circumstances) can get up to 50 hours a week Childcare Subsidy. Other parents can get up to nine hours subsidy a week. The amount you get depends on the number of children in your family, your income, your work or study hours and how many hours your child attends ECE each week. More information on the Childcare Subsidy can be found at www.workingforfamilies.govt.nz or by calling 0800 559 009.
What if I live in a remote area?
The Correspondence School provides learning programmes for three to five year old children who are not able to attend early childhood education centres for reasons such as living in remote areas. Fore more information, go to www.correspondence.school.nz
What if my child has special needs?
The Ministry of Education provides early intervention support for young children from the time that they are identified as having special education needs until they start school. For more information contact your nearest Ministry of Education Special Education office, call 0800 622 222 or email email@example.com
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 in to a teacher-led ECE service. Talking to the teachers 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 many also want to check out a parent-led ECE service like Playcentre, if your child wants to be with you.
How do I know my child is happy and doing well?
To keep in touch with how your child is doing, it’s important you talk to their teacher(s) regularly and look at the information they’re collecting about your child’s learning and development. Expect to be informed on a regular basis and make sure you ask if this isn’t happening. If you have any concerns, discuss these with their teacher(s). It’s also a good idea to get to know your child’s friends and their parents and to listen to what your child has to say about their day.
If I don’t want to enrol my child in ECE but want to learn more about educating them myself in the early years, where can I go?
There are several community-based programmes that will help you get involved in your child’s learning, including Family Start, Home interaction programme for parents of youngsters (HIPPY), Playcentre, Playgroups, Parents as First Teachers (PAFT), SKIP, Whānau Toko I te Ora and Atawhaingia Te Pa Harakeke.
Will my child do better at school if they attend an ECE centre for longer hours?
Dr Sarah Farquhar (www.childforum.com) has looked at the research and believes that children attending full-time ECE/childcare as compared to part-time (around 12.5 hours per week or 2.5 hour sessions) do not have significantly better developmental outcomes. “In other words, it is the experience of attending a group early childhood programme that matters, and more time in the programme does not equal greater benefits for children.”
If my child is in an ECE centre most of the week, will they still be learning anything from me?
Yes, most certainly, says Dr Sarah Farquhar (www.childforum.com). “The best evidence points to parents/family having a far greater impact than the childcare/ECE experience on children’s developmental outcomes.”
Are there any down-sides to Early Childhood Education?
There are some downsides to ECE that parents should be aware of, says Dr Sarah Farquhar (www.childforum.com), including negative outcomes for children’s health, mothers’ sensitivity in interaction with their children, problem behaviours and aggression in children.
“Children attending childcare/ECE programmes can experience worse health outcomes than those who do not, or those in small group settings with less than six other children. They are more likely to need antibiotics for preventable illnesses. This is something that is important for parents to know and to weigh up in their decision-making on childcare/ECE options. The evidence also indicates that children who may be more at risk may be protected by breastfeeding and being in a familial setting, especially before 2.5 years.”
What are my rights?
Every early childhood education centre has a legal responsibility to make sure your child is safe, well-nurtured and cared for in an environment that supports their learning and personal development needs.
ECE centres have a responsibility to provide opportunities for parents, guardians, and whānau members to be involved in decision-making concerning their children and their children’s progress and needs. They should:
· Make you welcome to spend time at the centre, and discuss concerns and take part in decision-making concerning your child
· Talk to you about your child’s progress, interests, abilities and areas for development, on a regular basis
· Give you access to information about your child, the operation of the service and Education Review Office reports.
More detailed information about the legal rights and responsibilities of early childhood education centres is available at the Education Review Office website www.ero.govt.nz
What if I want to make a complaint?
If you’re unhappy with anything happening at the service, check with the service about their complaints process. In a licensed service this should be displayed on a notice-board beside the licence. You can also contact the Ministry of Education www.minedu.govt.nz or look up the phone number of your regional MoE office and ask to be put through to the Ministry’s early childhood team.
Where can I go for further information?
The Team-Up website run by the Ministry of Education has heaps of great information including a downloadable booklet, Choices in Early Childhood Education, which describes all of the early childhood education options available in New Zealand and provides guidance on how to choose which option is best for you and your child. Go to www.teamup.co.nz/earlyyears/
The Ministry of Education’s early childhood education website is another place to go www.minedu.govt.nz/educationSectors/EarlyChildhood
The Education Review Office has an online publication titled: Early Childhood Education: A guide for Parents
The Early Childhood Council www.ecc.org.nz
Te Kōhanga Reo: www.kohanga.ac.nz
Rudolf Steiner: www.rudolfsteinerfederation.org.nz
The HIPPY programme: www.greatpotentials.org.nz
The Education Review Office www.ero.govt.nz
Dr Sarah Farquhar’s website is www.childforum.com
To find out more about what children need to learn and thrive and how you can support them, go to the SKIP (Strategies for Kids, Information for Parents) website http://www.familyservices.govt.nz/info-for-families/skip/ where you can order nine free pamphlets about parenting children under five. The Brainwave Trust also has lots of useful information at www.brainwave.org.nz For info on keeping them active, go to www.sparc.org.nz/education/active-movement/overview to download active movement brochures or call 0800 22 8483.
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