Signs of a Good Childcare Centre


Choosing a great early childhood education centre for your child means being picky and asking a lot of questions.  Begin your search several months before you want your child to start centre, and use the following list as a guide.  A good early childhood education centre should have:

A good reputation

The best early childhood education centres have a welcoming, friendly atmosphere and are known for their nurturing environment and stimulating curriculum.  When you visit a centre, ask for names and numbers of some of the children's parents and call them, or stop by during afternoon pickup time and approach other parents then.  Of course, take anything you hear about a centre with a grain of salt, and base your final judgments on what you see for yourself — a disgruntled parent, for instance, may simply have had a personality conflict with a teacher or early childhood education centre manager.  Observe the children when you visit: If they seem happy to be there, that's a sign that the centre is doing well.

Established ground rules

It's important for an early childhood education centre to be flexible — letting you pick up and drop off your child at different times, for instance — but it should also have clearly established, written regulations for everything from operating hours to emergency procedures.  That way, you know the staff takes its responsibilities seriously.

Look for a centre with a strict sick-child policy.  Find out which illnesses mean your child has to stay home, and for how long.  A tough policy may inconvenience you if your child is ill, but keeping sick children (and staff) away makes sense.  A good early childhood education centre helps cut down on illness by requiring all children and employees to have current immunisations and regular check-ups.

A good early childhood education centre will encourage parents to stop by unannounced, and it will go beyond merely letting you in; it will invite you to become part of its community by helping with activities, accompanying the children on field trips, and so on.

If you'll be supplying your child's food, find out the centre's guidelines.  Some may ask that you pack only nutritious foods, and that's okay — early childhood education centres that don't restrict candy or other sweets may not have your child's best interests at heart.  If the centre has a food plan, find out what it serves for meals and snacks.  Does the menu encourage healthy eating habits and cover all food groups?  If not, keep looking.

A stimulating curriculum

The best early childhood education centres have daily schedules that include plenty of time for physical activity, quiet pursuits (including regular reading sessions), group and individual activities, socialising, crafts, meals, snacks, and free time.  TV and videos should not play a big part in your child's day.  A well-thought-out day based on the National Curriculum – Te Whaariki – stimulates your child's development and makes daily life more fun.  At this point, teachers can begin helping children learn things like letters and numbers in an everyday context (counting toys, cutting out pictures of things that start with a chosen letter of the alphabet, and so on).  But don't evaluate the centre based on how many numbers and letters your child is learning — early childhood education centres aren't the place for a rigorous academic programme.  They combine age-appropriate cognitive and non-cognitive skills and development.

The curriculum should change over time, giving your child the chance to try something new, and should be adjusted to match each child's abilities and skill levels.  Some early childhood education centres (such as Montessori) have specialised educational philosophies, but overall, look for a programme that encourages independence and inspires your child's individuality and creativity.  Also seek out a centre with a wide range of age-appropriate toys that will encourage your child's development and, as she gets older, stimulate creative, imaginative play.

A qualified, caring staff

A trained, early childhood education-qualified teaching staff is one advantage early childhood education centres have over most nannies, Playcentre and home-based childcare providers, who often have no specialised qualified teachers in direct contact with your child, or it is to a comparatively low level.  Early childhood education centre teachers should be qualified and registered, with CPR and other emergency training.

When you're at the early childhood education centre, note how the staff interact with the children.  Teachers should be responsible, enthusiastic, and well prepared.  Look for an early childhood education centre with a staff that shares your philosophy about sleep, discipline, eating, and other issues.  Good teachers will ask detailed questions about your child's health and care requirements to help determine whether their early childhood education centre is right for you.

Make sure the early childhood education centre has a staff large enough staff to give your child the attention and care he/she needs.  According to the Ministry of Education, an early childhood education centre should have one teacher for every four under two-year-olds and one teacher for every ten over-two-year-olds.  Early childhood education centres may vary from this minimum, though, so ask what the teacher-child ratio is and decide whether that's adequate for you.  A good early childhood education centre will keep groups of children small no matter how many teachers they have, to encourage interaction and development.

Look for an early childhood education centre with good staff benefits.  Early childhood education centres that pay their employees well and offer them participation in an ongoing professional development programme are more likely to have teachers who stick around.  Low turnover is key to ensuring consistent, stable care for your child.

Clean, safe facilities

A good early childhood education centre is clean and safe; in fact, it has to be to meet the Ministry of Education' licensing requirements.  Nevertheless, make sure floors, walls, and the kitchen area are clean, food preparation areas are far from toilets, trash isn't left sitting out, and the building is adequately heated, lit, and ventilated.

Make sure the early childhood education centre follows the basic rules of safety, too.  Toys and play equipment should be in good repair, upstairs windows (if any) should have screens or bars, all medicines and hazardous substances should be out of children's reach, and the outdoor play area should be level and secure.  Smoke detectors should be in place and working, heaters should be covered or otherwise protected, and a first-aid kit and fire extinguisher should be close at hand.  The centre should be secure as well so strangers can't just walk in off the street.

Look for a centre with an outdoor play area.  Children should have the chance to play outside every day — running, jumping, and skipping are good for them physically, mentally, and socially.  If you live in a city, where it can be difficult for even the best early childhood education centres to have enough space for a safe outdoor play yard, make sure the centre offers a spacious indoor area (the next best thing).

A current license

Ask to see an early childhood education centre's license, then double-check with a call to your local Ministry of Education office.  Search the ECC’s database. In order to be licensed, early childhood centres must meet the Ministry of Education’s licensing regulations for health and safety.  Of course, a license isn't a guarantee of quality — that's why you have to evaluate the centres and the teachers yourself.