What you should ask when looking for an ECE centre

The below blog has been created by our director Nikki after showing many families through Oma Rāpeti and searching for her own child prior to owning a centre. These are some of the common questions she comes across and some pointers with what to look for. 

It can be a time of tumultuous feelings when you make the decision to start the search for an ECE centre for your child and for you. You might be like me and visit ten centres or you may just luck upon your local that just simply feels right. My son was one and a half years old when I started the search for a centre for him. I definitely struggled to find a centre I was happy with, that fit well with our parenting ethos, and that had availability. That was until I came across Oma Rāpeti which worked in well with my own parenting style and my son's personality and needs. It must have been a perfect fit as I ended up purchasing the business a year or so later! 

One of the first points I'd like you to consider is what your parenting style is and how your centre is going to align to that. I will touch on it again later in the blog as it is something that we believe is really important here at Oma Rāpeti. You want your home environment and your child's day to day centre environment to align. 

Personally, we were so lucky to find our happy space here at Oma Rāpeti. Back when I started my search I had no knowledge of philosophy or even what to ask when I visited. My number one focus as a mum was trying to find a centre with amazing nutrition. I wanted my children to have home cooked, organic, sugar free food. What is it that you are looking for? Everyone has a different priority and my first tip is to really think about what it is you want in a centre. Are you looking for low ratios? Free play? Main caregiving? Nutritious food? Qualified teaching staff? A structured day? A small centre? A new centre? Something authentic? A particular location? The list can be large! it is great to sit down and brainstorm exactly what it is you are looking for in care for your child. In this blog I'm aiming to give you some ideas from both a mum and a ECE perspective. 

Some of the first questions to cover

There are a few questions that I hear fairly often and they just give you a really good starting point with the centre. I'll outline these and then throw in a few other questions below to ask as you start to narrow it down. 

What are your ratios? 

The Ministry of Education current ratios is one teacher to five children under two. Most centres run at a lower ratio than this. We often say under three years and about four months old (this various slightly for different children and their capabilities) the ratios should be legally lower. In fact, the government is currently reviewing these numbers. Once your child hits the three and a half mark, then yes their learning and abilities start to mean higher ratios are manageable with meeting their care needs. 

How many qualified teachers do you have?

Long story short, the legal requirement is 50% qualified (with a few different regulations and rules that are a bit in depth for this blog). Most centres will run between 80% and 100% qualified team because qualifications are incredibly important. The government helps support this mindset by increasing funding for centres that run over 80%. The current government ECE review is looking to increase all centres to 100% qualified teachers.

An extra point of interest here. Centres may still use unqualified teachers even when they operate in the 80-100% funding bracket. This is because they have more team than legally required. 

Within this room (that my child will be in), what is your ratio of qualified teachers?

It is important that the centre is calculating the ratios on a room by room basis not on a centre wide basis. 

What is the group size my child will be in? 

The general idea here is the smaller the group size, the better. This means, for example, how many children will be in the room at one time. It is in addition to the teacher ratio mentioned above. 

Digging a little deeper

How long have your team been here? 

I think this would be one of my first questions if I had to search for a centre. A stable and experienced team gives a solid start for your children. Sometimes things happen that cause people to leave and change roles, that is just natural, however you want to see a core stable teaching team.  

Can you explain what my child's caregiving team will look like? 

Some centres have a main/primary caregiving system. This means that your child will have two main caregivers for them and you to build a strong trusting relationship with. They will be the people who look after your child’s care moments, the ones that know your child best and keep an extra special eye on them in your absence. It is important that there are two people so that this does not become an exclusive relationship and to make space for teachers being sick or on leave.

What does the day look like usually?

This question is designed to find out whether the day is fairly structured or child led and fluid. This is a really good chance for you to look at what aligns with your own parenting beliefs. Do you want structured learning for your child or is free play the most important thing for you?

How many transitions will my child go through, and how will you handle these?

A transition in an ECE setting is a change for the child. For example your child will transition into the centre. Here at Oma Rāpeti they have two transitions. One into the centre and one from The Burrow (up to two years old) into The Meadow (our over two space). There is a little more about the transition into the centre below and how it should be managed below. 

What does the transition process into the centre look like? 

We believe a slow, child led transition process is best to settle your child into a centre. Here at Oma Rāpeti we often take up to 2 - 3 weeks, with multiple visits. The transition process into the centre should be nurtured and treasured. Ultimately you want to have a main caregiver allocated to the child, who oversees this transition process. You, as a trusted caregiver for your child, should partake in all of the key rituals and care moments of your child's day initially within the centre space, before you pass those care moments onto your child's teacher. If we were to look at how this worked with something like a nappy change, it might mean that you initially change your child's nappy within our centre. This introduces your child to the space with their trusted caregiver (yourself). The second or third change may be watched by a teacher so they can see how your child enjoys the ritual. This idea behind this is introducing their new caregiver while maintaining consistency and familiarity with you actually doing the nappy change. Finally, once the child is ready the trust is passed over to the teacher who will change the nappy and take the lead role. 

Can I see a sample menu? 

As I mentioned before, as a mum my main concern was nutrition. For me it was key that my children were enjoying a varied, fresh delicious diet while at their centre. Most centres will be able to show you a copy of their menu and walk you through the rituals and mindset around their nutrition.

Do you have a sugar policy? 

I would be asking for some information around specifically around birthday celebrations. There are great ideas around celebrating with special rituals as opposed to cake and treats. 

Some other notes...

What aligns with my parenting style?

This is one for you to ponder; how do I parent and how do I want my child cared for when they are not in my care? One of things we often talk about here at Oma Rāpeti ELC is our mud play. We believe in all weather outside play and during winter often come in dirty, wet and covered in mud. We believe it is healthy and part of just simply being a child. That might suit us and our whānau but what suits you? Are you happy for mud play or do you prefer being inside? In which case perhaps an apartment style centre might suit your needs, or maybe a centre where they stay inside during the winter months. It is really important that you consider the fit of care to your own philosophies as you will find yourself surrounded by like minded parents and caregivers. 

When should I start my search? 

There is no time that is too early to start searching! We have people visiting when they are still pregnant. It absolutely helps to get your name down early, especially if you don't have flexibility in your dates or days. See below for some more notes on under two year old spaces.

Will it matter if my child is full time or part time?

No, most centres can cater for both options. Here at Oma Rāpeti we split our children into a fairly equal spread of full time and part time to ensure we can have a fair load across our teaching team. This is the reason you may hear centres say they only have a full time or part time spot available.

Should I book in a tour? 

It really does help us plan our work load! Some people worry that they may not see the centre authentically but certainly here at Oma Rāpeti it doesn't make a difference in terms of the teachers or children and how they are going about their day. it simply means we can make sure there is someone to spend time with you, showing you through. 

Should I bring my child?

Most centres will welcome along your children. Here at Oma Rāpeti we ask that the child attends at for at least one visit to give them a chance to feel the space for themselves. However, some parents enjoy having the first visit alone, so that they can focus before bringing their child in at a later date. Either option works just as well. 

I want to start my child under two years old, when should I join the waitlist?

As I mentioned earlier in the blog, we do have people join the waitlist when pregnant, which is absolutely fine. The issue with under two spaces is that they are often a smaller license number. For example, we only have 10 children in our Burrow space usually, so the waitlist can be long! It is, however, always worth checking in. You never know, it could pan out that we have availability that works in with you straight away.

What is the enrolment process?

This is how it works here at Oma Rāpeti. Usually you will visit and if you like it join the waitlist. Once a space is confirmed an enrolment form will be emailed/given to you. You need to complete this, pay a bond and bring in ID and immunisations for the team to copy and file. The bond is credited to your account after 6 months here at Oma Rāpeti. Then you will be allocated your first visit, transition period and official start date. Your first visit will be an hour or so with your child just hanging out in the space and enjoying it. From there you will have the remaining visits scheduled along with a process of working through all the care moments and important parts of your child's day. 

But ultimately what is the most important thing?

When it all comes down to it, what is your gut feeling? Ignoring your piles of notes, time spent visiting centres and discussing it around the dinner table - what is your parent intuition saying is going to be the best option for your child? Know that ultimately, you will know what the right fit is for your family.

Please don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions.

Aroha nui,

Owner of Oma Rāpeti ELC and mum to Lachlan and Emme

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Copyright notes

Thank you for taking the time to read and enjoy our blog. Please contact Nikki at home@omarapeti.net.nz before using our content and ideas. We put a lot of time, love and care into our blog but are very passionate about spreading the word of great ECE care, so we are happy to discuss your own situation, with the original ideas credited and linked to us. 


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