Private centre, home-based care, playcentre, kindergarten…the world of early childhood education is a complex and often expensive minefield. No wonder parents and caregivers are overwhelmed when it comes to the best options for under 5s. With most mums and dads in paid work by choice or necessity, the number of preschoolers in care and education facilities is higher than ever. So what should you be looking for as a parent? Why does it cost so much? And which is the best childcare option for you and your child? The New Zealand Herald finds out in a 6-part Premium series. This story is an extended interview with one of the teachers featured in the series, Nicholas Batley.
Nicholas Batley is head teacher of the Glenfield Early Learning Centre.
Where my career started
I left school in 1996 to work in the printing and bindery industry, but at the age of 29 in mid-2009 I was made redundant as the industry was at a low and I was no longer needed where I was employed.
I was at a time in my life where change needed to happen, so I decided to go back to University and do my best to becoming a qualified early childhood education (ECE) teacher.
The decision did not come easily, as there had been well-publicised cases of alleged abuse that made men afraid to join the teaching profession and resulted in the percentage of males in teaching and particularly ECE very low at the time.
I was determined this was not going to change my mind, and so I proceeded with enrolling with the Auckland University of Technology. Come 2012, I had made it through study and became a qualified ECE teacher.
I was working while I was in training and was head-hunted prior to graduation. Between 2012 and 2019, I gained valuable experience as first an ECE teacher and later head teacher for various private companies.
In February 2019, I found my dream job of being the team leader at the social (not-for) profit Glenfield Community Centre's Glenfield Early Learning Centre .
• Choosing childcare: Where do we start?
• Choosing childcare: the options
• Choosing childcare: Why does it cost so much?
• Choosing childcare: How young is too young?
• Choosing childcare: price war for kids
• Choosing childcare: 'Does my child feel loved?'
My day-to-day life
Waking up knowing that I am going to a great place to work makes me so grateful for being given this opportunity of being a teacher.
I arrive at work and make my way to the floor where I set up the room for the day. It is my duty as team leader to make sure all safety checks are complete and the room ready prior to the teachers and children arriving for the day.
Once all this is done, the team gathers together to have a 10-minute meeting. This gives us a chance to quickly talk about any updates for the centre and review children's progress and their interests from the previous day.
As the centre opens, children and parents are warmly greeted by the teachers as they arrive.
We have a morning mat time where we sing songs, talk about the day ahead, and go over the centre rules for the children.
From there, the children are welcome to play freely as the teachers ready art experiences, open the outside area and ready the morning tea table.
As the day progresses, children experience many opportunities to grow and develop new skills. The day is designed to help them learn, and at our centre we feel children learn best while playing with and alongside one another.
Each day, teachers will have a Wā Hui (mat time) where they will have a learning experience set out for the children, whether an interest of the children or a group time of music and movement.
After lunch, the children continue to learn and play until pick-up time when parents and caregivers arrive and are again warmly greeted back into the centre by all the staff.
Overall, my day-to-day life within our centre is positive and productive. I am so happy to be so lucky to be a teacher and see children grow every day.
All staff in the centre have very strong and positive relationships with all the children and families. Of course some children will have their favourite teacher, but together the teachers all have strong connections with our students.
The importance of building strong relationships is key to this success. These relationships are between child-to-teacher, teacher-to-parent, teacher-to-teacher, and finally to whānau and community.
Value of being a teacher
Our centre is one big family and I think it is important to think of it that way. Parents rely and trust you with their children and it is our duty as professionals to uphold this trust.
I value every day I am working on the floor and observing children grow and develop. I love that I can come to work and know what I do as a teacher is making a difference in society.
The importance of ECE is that parents are giving their children the opportunity to learn, to socialise, to build relationships, gain new skills and give them the knowledge to develop and prepare for their future schooling years.
Children are like sponges. They soak up all the knowledge and things they see around them.
If children are only experiencing time at home, going to the supermarket, etc, they will find it difficult when it comes time to go to primary school. If children are given a balance of home time and ECE, they are given many more opportunities to learn and prepare them for an easy transition.
How to find the right centre
Finding the right ECE for your child can sometimes be very difficult. Even for myself, as a parent of three boys and a teacher for nine years, it can still be a challenge.
All parents want the best for their children, and knowing we are leaving them with strangers at the beginning can be daunting and lead to some separation anxiety.
Parents and caregivers may not be aware, but all teachers are required to follow the Code of Professional Responsibility and Standards .
Each centre will go through regular Education Review Office (ERO) evaluations to review and reflect on their practices and documentation. Each has to display their latest ERO report and policies.
This gives families an indication of where the centre sits professionally, but overall the "feel" you get when you first enter a centre and the room your child may go into, is also important and will together give you an indication of what the centre will be like. If the children and staff are happy and friendly, then most likely the centre is good.
When is too early for childcare?
As I mentioned, I am a father of three boys. One at primary school, one in ECE and the other, 9 months, at home with his mother. People always talk about the "perfect time" to put their child into ECE, and my wife and I are having that conversation now about our youngest.
All parents have different reasons why they put their children into ECE.
Some start their children as early as 3 months, as their personal situation means they have to work and have no one else to look after them.
Some start their children after the age of 1, as they want to have bonding time at home with them.
In my opinion, there is no right and wrong; it depends on the individual's personal situation.
This brings me to the point of what can be done to help parents and caregivers who have little choice but to put their children into childcare at such an early age:
• Better Work and Income support for parents and caregivers; and
• Better Government funding for ECE.
The sector suffered nine years where the previous Government maintained a sinking lid policy around ECE funding rather than keeping pace with inflation, which was the previous policy.
Without a massive boost, ECE will never get back to where it should be, and this has resulted in massive pressure on centres like mine that struggle to remunerate their staff fairly while not compromising standards and make this service available to those who might otherwise be unable to afford it as opposed to charging a commercial rate.
With a population topping 5 million, and more and more centres being built, the need for better funding is crucial to cover the everyday running costs as a baseline.
There are plenty of privately-owned centres out there that are making profits from the numbers of children they have on their books. Some centres can cater to rolls as many as 120 children, perhaps larger, and in addition to what they charge, they also receive Government funding to help with the cost to run the business.
In comparison, you have small centres, like the one at which I work licensed for 35 children; a social-profit community centre, struggling to keep afloat and meet the education needs of the children.
Current funding, barely helps cover staffing, which is why I feel the Government needs to really look at what they are doing for every aspect of the education sector and how it impacts on families.
For example, targeted funding for centres like mine would greatly benefit families that struggle to make ends meet. At the end of the day, greater funding would help me and my centre give the children better resources and equipment needed for their learning and development and help massively with staff retention and churn.
Teachers' pay parity
Finally, teachers all over the world have one of the most rewarding but challenging and difficult jobs. Teaching is not easy. You require great skills to work with children every day.
People say, "Oh you are just a babysitter," "It can't be that hard, you just play with children all day".
Well I can tell you that it is not that easy. Children need teachers to direct them down the right path and this takes lots of patience and determination. Teachers are exiting the sector and sometimes the country because of issues like pay parity.
The reason I mention this here is to underscore how important it is for people to recognise the importance of what we do for our youngest generation and allow us to be paid fairly for what we do as professional and passionate teachers.
Overall, I love my job and I love being a teacher, and ultimately I cannot complain that every day I work I get to help and see children grow and become someone special.
Monday: Where do we start?
Tuesday: What are the options?
Wednesday: Why does it cost so much?
Thursday: How young is too young?
Friday: The big players .
Today: Does my child feel loved?
Read the series at nzherald.co.nz/education