Childcare is in demand like it has never been before. So what are the options out there? Quite simply, the choice often boils down to what families are looking for and what they can afford.
Ouch! Let's face it, the economic squeeze is on and an increasing number of people are beginning to feel the pinch. What's more, with the rise in GST to 15% in October, rising prices of food and Emissions Trading Scheme costs, things aren't promising to get any easier. More and more parents are heading back into the workforce – providing of
course that they can get a job.
Making the decision to put your child in childcare while you head out to work is never an easy one. It is a decision that can be made even more difficult by the on-going debate between stay-at-home versus working mothers. Interestingly, however, studies show that a child's well-being is not necessarily related to whether both mum and dad work but more with emotional availability; family satisfaction; quality childcare and the ability to cope with stress.
So let's take a closer look at some of the options available ...
Playcentre offers a fabulous environment for children to learn through play in a setting with great adult-child ratios. In this environment, parents are valued and affirmed as the first and best educators of their children. Subsequently, Playcentre offers a free NZQA-approved adult education programme that teaches parents new skills. However, it also operates through the interaction and involvement of parents assisting and supporting their child's learning in a number of ways. Playcentres are best suited to parents who have time to commit to the programme or who have access to people prepared to do this on
their child's behalf.
Kindergartens predominantly cater for children between the ages of 3- to 5-years-old, however increasing numbers of kindergartens are taking children from age 2. The sessions are run by qualified and registered early childhood teachers. All kindergartens offer ‘20 hours free' early childhood education to 3- and 4-year-old children. What's more, most kindergartens have shifted from the traditional sessional model to offer longer sessions each day. However, parents whose children haven't
as yet reached the required age to enter kindergarten will need to look at other options until then.
These days, licensed daycare centres can be found in most areas. More often than not, daycare centres are offering childcare for people working irregular hours, shift work and weekends, as well as normal working hours. Additionally, most of the daycares are known for employing teachers who have pursued their Career in childcare and have acquired a Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care. This ensures that the educator will be responsible for providing the best possible care of children within a childcare service.
However, due to the demand for services, it pays to do your research to check you can afford the centre and get your child's name down on the waiting list as soon as possible so that you are able to have your first choice. Bear in mind also that once children are enrolled, parents are often obliged to send their children along during periods of time when the service is not needed, in order to keep the child at this facility.
Montessori and Rudolf Steiner Schools
There are 3,400 Montessori families in New Zealand and 72 New Zealand Montessori early childhood education centres. All Montessori learning communities are characterised by multi-aged groupings of at least three years. Children start around 3-years-old and stay until they are 5- to 6-years-old. It is believed that children learn best through child-led learning which encourages independence. However, Montessori is one of the more expensive options of childcare. It's a good idea to download the parents guide from the Montessori website, ask the questions listed in it and visit the centre you are interested in.
There are 10 Rudolf Steiner schools and 24 kindergartens currently operating in New Zealand (with over 3,000 children enrolled). The kindergarten takes children between the ages of 3- and 6.5-years-old. Their philosophy involves seeing the child as not just body and brain, but as a complex interweaving of physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual aspects. They strive for a fully immersed, holistic and hands-on learning experience.
Barnados has been operating in New Zealand since 1972 and offers a range of early childhood services, such as centre-based and home-based care, as well as nannies. Consequently, Barnados caters for people wanting either casual or full-time early childhood care and education. Although home-based carers are vetted and trained as educators and the homes are carefully selected, it is important for the parent to be able to establish a good relationship with the caregiver. Finding the right caregiver for the child and family is an essential key for this arrangement to work well.
There is a range of agencies offering this service either privately owned and operated or community-based. Home-based childcare offers care for small groups of children, usually in the homes of the carer. Although it is not necessary for these services to be chartered, it is the norm. This means that the home-based care is required to meet both educational and other legal requirements. Home-based carers may not be as academically qualified as educators in other early childhood services. However home-based care also costs less than many of the other childcare options available. Home-based care may also be able to provide emergency care if it is needed.
People are able to employ nannies either independently or through an agency. The low child-adult ratio of employing a nanny is one of the advantages of this option. Nannies are able to support and uphold the decisions and values of the family they work with, while the children benefit from the bond of having someone there to care specifically for them. Nannies are also able to provide assistance with housework and cooking meals. However, employers are required to organise holiday pay, sick pay and a replacement if the nanny gets ill.
An Au Pair is a young person (aged between 18- to 30-year-olds) on a visa that lives-in with a family to take care of their children, in return for free board and a small weekly wage. With this option, children benefit from being cared for one-on-one in their own home. It works to your schedule and an Early Childhood Educator is provided to work alongside your Au Pair, providing on-going support. However, families need to have the room available for someone to live with them and be flexible in having another person living in their house.
Whatever option you decide, doing your homework first will mean that you can make the best choice for you and your family.
So what are some of the considerations people need to keep in mind when choosing the right type of childcare option for their child? Basically, people need to begin by looking at when, where and how much care they need. The child's age will play a major factor, as will your budget. It is also important to keep in mind the settings that your child would best thrive in. Finding the best quality care for your child is paramount, so it pays to check out the educational programme offered; whether the centre is licensed and chartered; the qualifications of the staff and the staff-child ratios that exist. The service's ERO report will inform you of just how well the service is doing in providing quality care.
From the experts
There are many things to consider when choosing a childcare centre for your child. The following are some questions to ask and things to consider when visiting a prospective centre.
- What is the daily schedule? Is it flexible or rigid? For example, are the children able to rest when they are tired or only during set times?
- Is there a family play area with furniture, utensils, accessories and space for the children to role-play?
- Science: Is there a table/shelf on which objects of interest may be displayed, such as pinecones, shells, etc? Are there small animals to be looked after by the children?
- Is the atmosphere stimulating – with musical instruments, CD player, mobiles, bulletin boards, displays of children's own work?
- Are there spaces for children to play quietly and/or have privacy?
- Is it an organised playground or can the children move equipment around to make imaginary caves, houses or constructions?
- Are the children allowed to go outside to play whenever they wish or are there set outdoor play times?
- Do staff members take part in the activities outside with the children?
- How do staff manage conflict between children? How do they guide children's behaviour?
- Will any staff member have primary responsibility for my child?
- What is the child:teacher ratio?
- Does the facility appear clean and do the staff model good hygiene practices?
- What are the kitchen facilities like and what types of meals/snacks are provided?
- What are the main teaching philosophies of the centre?
- How is the centre operated and organised? Are parents included in the governance of the centre? (Some are run by a board of directors, by private owners, or by a committee of parents.)
Information provided by: Te Tari Puna Ora o Aotearoa/NZ Childcare Association (NZCA). www.nzca.ac.nz 0800 CHILDCARE
What Government changes mean for you:
- While more and more parents are heading back into the workforce to keep afloat, the latest decision by the Government to cut funding to centres where more than 80% of staff are qualified, may leave many unable to afford early childhood education for their children. It is believed that such a move would affect more than 2000 teacher-led early childhood services and around 93,000 children.
- In order to accommodate the funding cuts, centres have been left with three options – to raise fees by up to $40 a week to cover lost funding, to lay staff off or to reduce the quality of care. Rising childcare costs being the likely result.
- So with the rising cost of early childhood education, what help is there available for parents? The Working for Families package and Childcare Subsidy will be able to provide some assistance to families. In 2004, the Government introduced Working for Families. This is a package designed to help make it easier for parents to work and raise a family.
- The Government funds up to 20 hours a week of Early Childhood Education (ECE) for children aged 3- to 5-years-old attending an Early Childhood Education service. People can choose between receiving 20 hours Early Childhood Education, the Childcare Subsidy or a combination of both payments. Families cannot receive 20 hours ECE and the Childhood Subsidy for the same hours.
- So what is the Childcare Subsidy? The Childcare Subsidy is for preschool children under 5-years-old and attending an early childhood programme for three or more hours a week (or under 6-years-old, if people get the Child Disability Allowance for them). People are able to get help with up to nine hours of childcare a week and, in some cases, up to 50 hours a week if special conditions apply.
If you would like more information about how 20 hours ECE and the Childcare Subsidy work together, you are able to call 0800 559 009. Alternatively, if you have specific questions about 20 Hours ECE, you can talk to your Early Childhood Education service or go to www.teamup.co.nz
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