Explorers Learning Academy: Quality, Early-Childhood Education in the Southern Highlands
Tips For Choosing The Right Childcare For Your Little One
As a parent, you will be called upon to make decisions from the very get go. Some of them are simple enough; “Should I let him eat that entire, family sized bag of Cheetos?” Prolly not - you’re gonna want something to munch on later. Some (most) are much tougher; “What will we call her?!”, “Is it time to ditch the dummy?”, “When do we begin her pro-tennis career?” (That one’s easy actually, Andre Agassi’s dad taped ping pong paddles to his chubby little wrists and constructed a tennis-ball baby-mobile for his infant son.… *cough*… guess it paid off…)
One of the biggest decisions you’ll need to make in the first 5 years of your child’s life, will be around childcare. Every family situation is different and there’s not a one-size fits all solution, however, one thing we would all agree on is that the environment we choose for our mini humans needs to provide top-quality care and child-focused, positive surrounds in which to play, learn and ultimately thrive.
Sounds simple enough - but how do we know that the centre we choose will provide such a service? What should we look for in a long daycare, preschool or family daycare provider? The Fold team took a guided tour of Explorers Learning Academy in Mittagong to ‘pick the brains’ of some of their fabulous early childhood educators. Here is just some of what we observed and learned…
Choosing Childcare - A Helpful Guide.
1. Visit the centre! A quality service provider will welcome prospective families and encourage them to take a tour. Seeing first hand what the kids are doing throughout their day is the easiest and best way of getting a sense of what your child’s day will look like as well as getting a feel for the level of care, cleanliness and programme provided. Do the children appear relaxed and happy? Are the educators engaging with the kids? Do the indoor and outdoor learning environments look like somewhere you’d be happy to spend your day?!
At Explorers Learning Academy, that’s a yes, yes and absolutely! Also, try to ascertain the rate of staff turn-over. A long-term team, like the one at Explorers, are a happy, cohesive, highly-qualified bunch!
2. Safety! Obviously the safety of your child is going to be your top priority when selecting a care provider. Find out if every educator has the appropriate first aid and CPR training and ask to see any policies that you consider important, for example, allergy and anaphylaxis procedures, sun-safety guidelines and exclusion from care policies (for when your child or another child is unwell).
In terms of who can gain access to your child throughout the day, ask about sign-in and sign-out procedures. Similarly, enquire about emergency evacuation plans and risk assessment policies. Explorers Learning Academy has earned an “exceeding” rating in its National Quality Standard assessment, which tells you that they have all bases covered when it comes to your child’s safety and security.
3. Learning through play. This is a term we hear when investigating childcare options and, according to Explorers’ educators, the act of play-based learning is one of the most important aspects of a child’s development. But what does “learning through play” actually look like? What is its purpose and why is it so crucial?
A perfect example, one that we witnessed first hand during our tour, is when kids band together to achieve a common goal. As we watched on, an energetic procession of 4 and 5 years olds (AKA big kids) were busily trying to work out how to create a dam within the little creek that so beautifully flows throughout the Explorers’ outdoor learning area. This activity involved lots of communication, task delegation and problem solving - all taking place solely amongst the kids.
Something as simple as filling buckets with rocks and diverting the flow of water requires critical thinking that can’t be taught at such a young age - it has to be learned. And the best way to do that is through play. Play-based learning incorporates gross and fine motor skills, communication, problem solving, imagination and language through role-play, trial and error and peer interaction. Ask the question; What is your centre’s philosophy on learning? Great educators will emphasise the importance of play.
4. Community spirit. Learning to be a useful community member doesn’t happen by accident. How do we teach our tiniest citizens about the importance of caring for our elderly and disabled? Supporting the disadvantaged and celebrating achievement within the community? The simple answer is through modelling these behaviours ourselves and by providing opportunities whereby kids can begin to see value in; providing good leadership, hearing different points of view and showing compassion for the well-being of others. All the warm and fuzzy stuff!
As active members of the Southern Highlands community, Explorer’s ‘big kids’ take regular excursions in their mini bus, getting out and about exploring our community. They visit Harbison Care fortnightly, see productions at local high schools, visit local shops, parks and shows.
5. Sustainability. “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” - Robert Swan, Author. Does the centre you’re looking at encourage recycling, composting and good environmental practices? Do they provide opportunities for learning about topics such as sustainability and waste reduction. It’s never too young to be an environmental warrior!!
As well as all of the above, the Explorers’ outdoor learning area has a chook house and fruit & veg garden. In caring for chickens, planting and harvesting, and tending to their outdoor environment, children are learning the value of farming and sustainability - as well as collecting eggs and juicing their own lemons to make yummy lemon butter!
6. Creativity and daily structure. What will your child's day look like? Is there enough time for free-play? Is artistic expression encouraged? We all want to know what our little ones get up to when they’re away from us. Find out about a centre’s daily structure. Will it be a good fit for your family?
Explorer’s educators place great emphasis on the value of imagination in the early stages of literacy. With this in mind, access to the outdoor environment remains open rain, hail and shine to enable child-led learning opportunities throughout the day. Children are free to move between indoor and outdoor areas as they please, with the exception of meal and rest times. Visually, the centre is dotted with fabulous examples of the children’s artworks, all framed and displayed beautifully so that the kids feel pride in themselves and their creativity.
7. Ratios, experience and qualifications. How many teachers and support staff does the centre employ? Are they full-time, part-time or casual? Who will be the responsible person on your child’s days? Of course there are strict guidelines regarding ratios, but it can’t hurt to check. A centre that has nothing to hide will be happy to share that information with you.
At Explorers, there will be 10-11 staff on the floor at any one time. The educator to child ratio is 1:4 for birth to 2 years, 1:5 for 2-3 years and 1:10 for 3-5 years. As a point of difference, Explorers Learning Academy employ four Early Childhood Teachers (ECT), two more than is required under NSW Education and Care Services legislation.
To clarify, an ECT requires a university degree or equivalent, but that’s not to say that TAFE qualified/ cert III and IV childcare workers aren’t worth their weight in gold!
8. Nutrition. Will you need to send your little one with food for the day or will it be provided by the service? What is the centre’s nutrition policy? Which foods are on the “banned” list? Will someone be monitoring meal times? Will water be encouraged?
9. R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Kids model the behaviours they see around them - good vibes only, please! When visiting a child-care service, try to get a feel for the level of respect amongst educators and children. How are the staff treated by owners/managers/directors? Are all cultures/beliefs recognised and celebrated? Do they have a strong indigenous programme? Are the children taught to be respectful of others and their belongings? Does the centres philosophy fit with your family’s?
Explorers Learning Academy uses the brilliant PALS Program to teach social skills and to model appropriate behaviours such as respect for others, inclusion, sharing and recognising emotions. This fantastic initiative (which stands for Playing And Learning to Socialise) was developed right here in The Southern Highlands and offers a wealth of information for families of young children.
There you have it! Lots of things to look for in a great child care centre. With so many excellent options in The Southern Highlands, you could be quite busy visiting them all!
In a nut-free-nutshell, Explorers Learning Academy Mittagong is an exceptional centre and their ‘exceeding’ national standards rating is testament to that. But don’t just take our word for it! Go check them out for yourself. You’ll find them at 27 Belmore Street Mittagong. You can call them on (02) 4872 1730 or email [email protected].
Thanks for having us, Explorers!
This piece is sponsored by Explorers Learning Academy and is proudly endorsed by The Fold Souther Highlands. The Fold team is excited to share the amazing stories and adventures of our local businesses and we want to say a BIG thank you to you for supporting our sponsors who help make The Fold possible. We strongly believe in the businesses and all the information we share with you on The Fold.