Dannevirke: Preschool farewells 'baby whisperer'

By Christine McKay

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Helena Beatson, the head teacher at Dannevirke's First Years Preschool's under-2 area, is retiring after 25 years at the centre. Photo / Christine McKay
Helena Beatson, the head teacher at Dannevirke's First Years Preschool's under-2 area, is retiring after 25 years at the centre. Photo / Christine McKay

After 25 years, First Years Preschool's baby whisperer Helena Beatson is retiring.

"Helena is extremely skilled with infants and toddlers, and has earned that title of baby whisperer because of her amazing skill at settling babies who won't sleep," centre manager Lisa Bond said.

"We are a community-owned centre and one of the services we provide is support for young mothers who can be overwhelmed. Young mums come to get Helena's recipe for getting their babies to sleep.

"This is the end of an era, but Helena will always be on the end of the phone if we have a mum who is really stretched.

"It can be very overwhelming for some of these mums, with sleep deprivation and post-natal depression setting in. So Helena will be there to give advice as a volunteer."

Helena has decided the time is right to retire but it hasn't been a decision she has come to easily.

"If you get a little person you can do so much with them, and here in Dannevirke when children go to school they always know if they've been at First Years."

Trained by Karitane in Wanganui, Helena started at the centre on August 3, 1991.

"I absolutely loved my Karitane training and use it still. I always wanted to go into childcare and when I saw an advertisement for the Dannevirke Community Day Nursery, as the centre was known then, I applied.

"This place had a cool feel about it and still has today."

In 2001, First Years opened its area for under-2s, and Helena had been its head teacher since then. "I've worked with children all my life and here at First Years we've got precious little people."

Helena was head teacher when manager Lisa went into training. "She's a wonderful team leader and is leaving us with big shoes to fill," Lisa said.

"Our very good ERO report recently is a credit to Helena and it's a lovely way for her to go out from here."

In her 25 years at the centre, Helena has seen huge changes.

"When I started it was a mixed-age centre with 28 children, now we've 56," she said. "We have 18 under-2s at any one time and it's a really happy little place."

But it is not all sleeping and cuddling - Helena says the little ones learn a lot, too.

She saw the introduction of the early childhood curriculum, Te Whariki, in 1996 and has been through the government changes requiring qualified teachers in centres, and supporting First Years teachers in gaining their qualifications.

"Helena has always been proactive in upholding the professionalism here at the centre, and she's a huge advocate for children and their parents," Lisa said.

"In many families today, mothers have to work and Helena has worked hard to form trusting relationships with our parents."

Technology has also found its way into the centre, with Helena using cellphone photos, texts and Snapchat to keep in contact with parents.

"It's so important at the beginning to have good relationships with families, and baby has to be happy," she said.

"Now I'm seeing some of my babies from the past who are mums and dads bringing their own children to the centre.

"I'm so lucky, I've had the best job in the world and there hasn't been a day when I've woken up and not wanted to come to work.

"I didn't start here until I was in my 40s, and it's been a very special time in my life."

Helena's special recipe for settling babies is all about good routines.

"We spend time getting them to sleep, settle them and wrap little babies, and a teacher stays with the baby until they're settled. Really it's about getting them into a good routine."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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