It can be daunting, and somewhat scary, trying to find a lovely early childhood centre for your child. This can be especially so in a city like Auckland – there are simply so many ECE options to choose from and a lot of them are truly lovely! They may be close to your home or work, have a philosophy you like, or have been recommended to you by friends or family.
But how do you find the best one for you? Quality of early childhood centres can vary a lot, and there are certain points we think everyone should look at when ‘shopping’ around (and we fully support shopping around too!).
Whether you’re a new parent looking for a nursery, or searching for a kindergarten for your three year old, we hope you find these tips informative and helpful.
"Best" is subjective
Yip that’s right! What’s best to your friend, your neighbour or your co-worker might not be the best for you.
Recommendations are a fantastic way to find a wonderful centre or kindergarten, because you gain first-hand experiences from other parents with an objective viewpoint. If you know someone with a child in ECE, ask them where they attend, and what they like and dislike about the childcare.
Next, before you embark on your journey to find the centre that fits you and your family, take time to sit down with your partner or whānau, and decide what an ideal ECE centre would include for you.
Think about practical aspects like:
· Lunch times (do you pack you own food or is food provided?)
· Opening and closing hours
· Do you already know a philosophy you like (e.g. Montessori or Steiner?)
A lot of this information should be found easily on centre websites, and with a quick phone-call to the office.
Once you’ve found a place that meets your practical requirements, we recommend looking at other, more personal qualities, to find the best centre for you and your child, followed by lots of visiting and observing!
Let’s explore these qualities in more detail.
Philosophy is key
We think that the centre philosophy is key when finding the best ECE centre in Auckland! What does this mean? Simply put, the philosophy of an ECE centre defines their values and beliefs; it shapes and frames the entire programme, so it has a lot of influence!
As a parent, finding a centre with a philosophy that fits well with your parenting philosophy is really important – and a personal choice as well. It’s one reason why, though recommendations and practical reasons are a good start when looking for an ECE service, it’s important to look at all the aspects that make a centre the best one for you and your child.
You can read all about the role of philosophy in ECE here.
A philosophy draws together everything that the ECE centre believes about education, and is summed up in a ‘Philosophy Statement’ that every ECE centre is required to have by the Ministry of Education.
A philosophy connects the concepts of teaching and learning together – describing why teaching happens like it does in that environment, and the context around what’s happening.
You can read our Oma Rāpeti Philosophy here.
Once you’ve read the Philosophy Statement of a centre, it’s then important to visit the centre and make sure you see it in action!
What strikes you as important on the philosophy? Was it the inclusion of family and whanau? Then visit the centre and look around - can you see evidence of whanau contribution? Do you feel welcome as a potential part of the centre community? Perhaps you were really drawn to the incorporation of nature in the philosophy. The next step? You’ve guessed it! Head on down to the centre and check out the outdoor environment. Ask about nature excursions.
Make sure you can see the philosophy in action!
Teachers and Kaiako
This one seems really simple but it’s such a vital part of finding the best ECE centre for you and your child.
As with any workplace, an ECE centre will have different values and this will be reflected in the teachers (Kaiako) working there. As a parent you should feel:
- Comfortable around the teachers
- Welcomed when you arrive
- A valid part of the centre community
- Able to ask any questions about your child’s learning and daily routine
You know what’s best for your child, and what kind of adults you’d like them to be around during the day.
Ask yourself, “Do I feel comfortable with these teachers?”. Your child will most likely pick up on your vibe – so keep in mind that even if they’re uncertain and a little upset (and rightly so, being away from Mum/Dad/whānau is a big deal to them!), if you’re comfortable with the teachers, they will be too...even if it takes some time!
Great ECE centres will always have; welcoming and attentive teachers, dedicated and friendly managers, and welcoming, happy support staff.
It might sound silly but for this one, go with your instincts! If you feel good chatting to the teachers, you’re well on your way to finding the best ECE service for you.
There are some basic environmental factors that we think are really important when looking for what equates to the winning centre, so let’s break those down first.
- A good teacher:child ratio. You can check out the Ministry basic requirements here, but many centres go above and beyond this. At Oma Rāpeti we have a ratio of 10 children to three teachers for The Burrow, and six to eight children to one teacher in The Meadow (age dependent).
- Space to play and move! This means inside and outside should have a great flow between the two, there are small, cosy spaces for children to read or have quiet time, and the children in the centre seem happy moving from space to space.
- Good air-flow. Look for heat-pumps, make sure it feels like fresh air can circulate and it doesn’t feel stuffy, too hot or too cold inside.
- Does the inside environment have good natural lighting? It should feel open, spacious and homely.
Now for the little, but significant extras that take a centre from ‘good’ to ‘great’!
What’s the outdoor environment like? Does it embrace nature for what it is? That being real grass, trees, sand and dirt! An outdoor environment and open-air play is essential for a healthy body, mind and spirit – you should be able to see this in your chosen centre, during all types of weather.
We pride ourselves on creating a "home away from home" environment at Oma Rāpeti, allowing children to engage in self-chosen and self-initiated play – does the indoor environment represent a home-like environment with soft furnishings, a calm atmosphere and peaceful surroundings, or is it busy and crowded?
Of course there’s lots more of environmental factors that we think help make a lovely environment, you can read a little bit more about our areas here for The Meadow and here for The Burrow.
Food and kai
Last, but definitely not least, let’s talk about kai! How food and nutrition is approached within an ECE setting is absolutely vital when looking for the best centre; good nutrition sets your child up for the day. More energy, better brain function, and better moods are just a few benefits – all of which we want for our children!
Does the centre:
- Support healthy nutrition and kai?
- Encourage the children to grow and gather their own vegetables and fruit?
- Have the kitchen and cooking as part of the daily programme, e.g. baking?
- Encourage healthy food choices for lunchbox days?
- Require you to pack your own lunchbox?
- Support sustainability e.g. no packaging or excess rubbish from lunchboxes?
You can read all about how Oma Rāpeti aims to nourish the soul by providing slow and enjoyable dining and kai times here.
Of course we know that finding the best ECE centre is a difficult decision, and it’s clear there are lots of factors to take into consideration. We advise looking at the basics first - the ‘must-haves’ for your family. Next, take into account recommendations from people you trust and ‘shop around’, making sure you visit centres and see them in action. If you know someone within the ECE industry it can be really valuable to find out their recommendation. Finally, but equally as important, look for a centre that supports your parenting philosophy in the best possible way; make a connection with the wonderful teachers, and trust your instincts as a parent.
We wish you luck on your ECE journey and finding your special place!
If you’d like to learn more about us here at Oma Rāpeti, you can book a visit to our lovely home-away-from-home, or send us a message via our waitlist form any time. We’d love to hear from you.