Signs of a bad early childhood education centre


Starting early childhood education centre is a momentous event for you and your child.  To find the best centre, begin making the rounds several months before your child is ready to start, and watch for the warning signs listed below.  If you see any of them, keep looking.

A so-so rating from parents

Don't hesitate to judge an early childhood education centre based on what you've heard from other parents.  If the buzz isn't good, that should raise a warning flag.  Of course, if you talk to only one or two people, take what you hear with a grain of salt.  A disgruntled parent simply may have had a personality conflict with a teacher or the early childhood education centre manager.  But if you hear consistently that parents aren't thrilled with a centre, you should probably pass on it.

Loose rules

Rules and regulations are important for any institution, whether it's a government Ministry or your child's early childhood education centre.  Centres without clearly established, written guidelines for everything from operating hours to emergency procedures are likely to have other organisational problems as well.

In particular, you should cross off your list an early childhood education centre with a lax sick-child policy.  If children (and staff) who come down with a fever or the flu don't have to stay home for at least 24 hours, your child is much more likely to catch something.  The early childhood education centre should require staff and children to have current immunisations and regular check-ups; this is a good indication of how seriously it takes health and cleanliness concerns.

On the flip side, the centre should be relaxed about parents dropping by unannounced.  If not, it could be a sign that the centre is hiding something.  If you run into a closed-door policy, move on.

A curriculum in hiding

Skip early childhood education centres that either have no daily programme or offer one that is static and unchallenging.  Children need variety, change, and a chance to grow.  If the centre doesn't offer organised, age-appropriate activities that change regularly, or if television and videos are a big part of the day's agenda, keep looking.  A teacher who doesn't spend time reading to children, encouraging creative play, and varying activities isn't meeting your child's development needs.  Don't evaluate a centre based on how many numbers and letters the children are learning — quality early childhood education isn’t the place for a rigorous academic programme.

It's also a bad sign if the centre's structure seems rigid, with an inflexible schedule that doesn't leave room for children to explore at their own pace.  The best programmes encourage development naturally, and children in these programmes may look like they're simply playing.  That's okay.

The centre gets another black mark if its selection of age-appropriate toys is thin.  The right toys encourage your child's development by stimulating creative, imaginative play, and having enough toys may prevent classmates from getting into tussles over who gets to play with what.

An under-qualified staff

Early childhood education centre teachers should be qualified and registered, responsible, enthusiastic, and well prepared.  They should share your philosophy on issues such as sleep, discipline, and feeding and have CPR and other emergency training.  Watch how the teachers interact with the children.  If they're inattentive, impatient, or distracted, you'll want to look elsewhere.  The government allows centres to employ primary school-trained teachers.

Also make sure the staff is large enough to give your child the attention and care he or she needs.  According to the Ministry of Education, an early childhood education centre should have one teacher for every four children under two, and one teacher for every ten children over two.

Under-compensated staff

Poor staff benefits lead to high turnover.  Of course, even the best early childhood education centres can sometimes find it hard to hire and keep employees. But early childhood education centres that don't offer regular vacations and other benefits are even less likely to have a loyal staff who can develop a long-term relationship with your child.

Dirty, unsafe facilities

A good early childhood education centre is clean and safe; in fact, it has to be to meet the Ministry of Education’s licensing requirements.  Nevertheless, if food preparation areas are too close to toilets and if floors, walls, and the kitchen aren't clean, you've got a problem.  Similarly, if the building isn't adequately heated, lit, and ventilated and equipment seems rundown, keep looking.  You should also note whether teachers wash their hands after helping children in the bathroom.  They should — every time.

Skip early childhood education centres with safety problems, 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 present and working, radiators and heaters should be covered or otherwise protected, and a first-aid kit and fire extinguisher should be close at hand.  Strangers should not be able to walk in off the street.

An expired license

If an early childhood education centre's license is out of date, cross that centre off your list.  Call the Ministry of Education to check.  A license in itself doesn't guarantee quality care, but since this is a legal requirement to operate an early childhood education service in New Zealand, early childhood education centres that don't have a current one aren't meeting the most basic criteria.  Early childhood education centres must meet the Ministry of Education’s licensing regulations.