Five tips for choosing an early learning service

Mo and her boys pretending to be trapped behind the bars of the early learnnig centre

Five tips for choosing an early learning service

Mo Rosa is Mum to four-year-old Frankie and three-year-old Sid who attend Uniting Iluka Early Learning at Bondi Beach. Like most mums she was anxious about enrolling her children in childcare … but she couldn’t be happier with the experience.

“It’s pretty daunting handing your toddler over strangers for eight hours a day,” said Mo. “To be honest, I was scared I was sending my child to baby prison.”

“But the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. With Uniting, my boys get access to activities that aren’t easy for me to provide at home – messy stuff like craft and painting – and the social growth I’ve seen in them is phenomenal.

“The other day Frankie came home and said, ‘Mummy, did you know that Aboriginals were our first people?’

“The staff don’t baby them and they don’t put up with challenging behaviour, but they work through the issues in cooperation with the kids and encourage them to think about others.”

Mo’s top tips for choosing an early learning service.

  1. Do a location scout.

Choosing a location close to home or work is going to make life easier. Ideally pick a place within walking distance so you don’t have to worry about traffic.

If you want to get a feel for the service, do a walk-by during lunch or at pick-up time and observe how the staff interact with the children – notice if there’s chaos or a general sense of cooperation and fun. Set up a time for a tour and keep your eyes out for what they have up on the walls and whether or not they have a space for each child to call their own. Do they have somewhere to store bikes, scooters and prams?

At Iluka each of my boys has his own hidey-hole with his name on it to keep his bag. It’s the little things that make kids feel like they belong.

  1. Observe the communication.

Communication is key when it comes to feeling at ease about leaving your kids in childcare.

How quickly do they get back to you when you get in touch? Do they provide regular feedback on your child’s progress? Is parent participation welcomed?

For me it was important to be able to come in and visit the learning environment, join in creative play and maybe read to the kids during story time. I wanted to be involved in day-to-day life at the service.

Even now I still sometimes like to sneak in early at the end of the day and watch them doing their thing.

  1. Look at their organisational values.

School-readiness is certainly something I considered, but to me, social values matter more. If you ask me, the most important value is the ethic of love and I see that every day at Iluka. They’re always asking the question, “What would love do?” It’s such a meaningful way to look at life.

Building a strong social foundation before the age of five is crucial. Literacy and preschool education is important but I also want them to learn ‘foundation for life skills’ like sharing, teamwork and creativity.

They also foster sibling relationships between Sid and Frankie even though they’re in different classrooms. I love the social values Uniting is instilling in my children from an early age and the sense of community spirit our family gets to be part of.

  1. Consider choosing a not-for-profit service.

Choosing a not-for-profit means you know the organisation got into childcare for the right reasons and the welfare of the children comes before making money. I used to be with a for-profit provider and it felt completely different. It’s nice to know your fees are being put back into the organisation rather than into the pockets of an owner or shareholders.

  1. Ask questions and trust your gut.

Don’t be shy to ask everything you can think of – What do your fees include? Is food provided? (At Uniting Iluka the kids are offered food every two hours.) What about nappies?

What are the napping arrangements? What extracurricular activities do they offer? (My boys love kids yoga – they come home and show me tree pose.)

What are the hours? Do they offer long day care options? Are there late fees? What are their closure periods? What’s the process with refunds if I move and need to change services?

How are the team kept up to date with the latest thinking in early learning through professional development? What’s their staff turnover rate?

At the end of the day, what I really want to know is whether my kids will be happy when they come home. If I can say yes to that, I know I’m doing the right thing by them.

Learn more about Uniting early learning.

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