What to look for when choosing an early learning centre
Ask parents with children in early learning, and many will tell you that leaving their child at a centre for the first time was not easy.
For many of us, it’s the first time we will leave our child with someone else and there is a mix of emotions to deal with – the excitement of working and spending time with adults again but also the anxiety, and often guilt, about your child’s care.
That’s why choosing the right early learning centre is so important for families. A child’s first five years is crucial for developing brains – in a baby’s first year, their brain will double with more than one million connections formed every second.
When your first begin to research the early learning centres in your area, it’s a good idea to have a check list of some simple things to look for, to ensure you find high quality early learning and care for your child.
Relationships and interactions
Goodstart Early Learning’s Queensland state manager Dr Lesley Jones told the First Five Years
website high quality early learning and care is underpinned by the relationships educators build with children and families.
“Positive relationships assist young children to feel safe and secure, and this a critical foundation for children feeling confident to explore their environments and to learn,” Dr Jones said.
When visiting a new centre, Dr Jones said looking for educators who are engaged with children and families, are welcoming and show delight in being with young children. She said positive relationships assist young children to feel safe and secure, which is a critical foundation for children feeling confident.
Some examples include:
Early learning programs and play-based learning
- Educators interacting with children at their own height and on the floor
- Children working to their own individual routines and rhythms – some may be eating, some may be playing
- Children engaging in play with others
Play-based learning is when children learn about academic concepts, the world around them independence and relationships with others through experimentation, imagination, testing, rehearsal and practice.
Dr Jones said just about everything important to a young child can be learned through play with high quality programs supporting a play-based approach because it works best.
“As children play, the environments won’t look pristine; messy play and spreading out equipment into large spaces is all part of the learning and fun. However, rooms and playground shouldn’t look uncared for.”
Some examples include:
The physical environment
- Educators playing with single children or very small groups, inside and outside at any one time
- Displays of children’s learning at children’s height, with explanations of the learning that has taken place
As Goodstart Early Learning’s national quality manager Tara Harnett
says, quality is about much more than how a centre looks.
In saying that, there are a number of aspects families can look for when they’re choosing an early learning centre. Dr Jones said the ways in which environments are thoughtfully organised can send clear messages to children about how spaces can be used, and foster a genuine sense of inquiry and exploration.
She said high quality programs offer children materials and equipment that is flexible in its use, so children can use it in multiple ways to explore and test their thinking.
It’s also important that it is safe, hygienic and clean.
“The condition and maintenance of the physical environment are clear indicators of the pride and care the adults take in managing their spaces, for and with children,” she said.
- Equipment and toys accessible to children from low shelves and/or baskets to self-select, use and self-manage
- Posters, displays etc at children’s height
Ms Harnett also recommends observing if the centre has a happy, energetic vibe, if the staff are experienced, passionate and qualified, and if there is regular communication with families about children’s development.
“Also, check out the safety and wellbeing processes that are place, and ask how regularly the staff receive regular training and professional development opportunities,” she said.