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Childcare lays the way for move to ‘big school’

Children who have had the benefit of quality childcare and early learning are more likely to make an easy transition to school.

Children need basic skills by the time they start school. They should know how to hold a pencil, open a lunchbox, open and shut a water bottle and pack away books. They also need the ability to handle events that can make them angry, sad or frustrated. School requires them to know how to sit still, listen to a teacher, be open to new experiences, take turns and share.

The start of “big school” can be both exciting and daunting for children. Some parents worry they won’t be able to cope.

Research shows that quality early learning and childcare is a key way to prepare children for school. Quality childcare providers focus on more than numeracy, literacy and a dash of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths). Children’s emotional wellbeing and sense of belonging are vital considerations.

“Being adaptable and resilient is really important for children starting school,” says Felicity Hall, the group business director of Melbourne childcare provider Platypus Junction. “Childcare gives them confidence and emotional wellbeing – simple tools to cope with things such as being angry or frustrated or sad. It gives them a great toolbox in terms of being ready for school.”

About 1.2 million Australian children received formal childcare in 2015, according to federal government figures. The National Quality Standard sets a benchmark for childcare and early-learning services in Australia, and providers are regularly assessed.

Felicity Hall’s family has been in the childcare industry for more than 20 years. Her parents, Dale and Julie Pearce, opened their first Platypus Junction centre in 1995, after their own frustrating search for quality childcare.

The family went on to operate a string of Melbourne (childcare) centres that exceeded the National Quality Standard. Now they are relaunching the family-run business with three new facilities. First to launch was a purpose-built Platypus Junction at Mulgrave. A Croydon centre is set to open in June, and one at Langwarrin opens in early 2018.

Hall says the industry’s understanding of early learning for children under five has grown dramatically in the past two decades. “People are better educated in supporting the child’s transition into new environments,” she says.

Platypus Junction’s staff are no longer referred to as childcare workers, but rather as educators or teachers, hall says. To ensure the highest standard in its kindergarten program, Platypus Junction employs an education director and bachelor-trained teachers who engage the children in mindful play.

“There’s a lot of research from different authorities that say learning through play in the preschool years develops key areas of the brain and really influences creativity,” Hall says. “It pretty much touches on every aspect of development.”

Platypus Junction’s kindergarten program for four-year olds involves everything from project work to group activities and outdoor play, and incorporates technology.

“The kindy students are using mini iPads to explore our botanical rooftop garden, using the iPad, for instance, to zoom in on a leaf and really understand the structure and how plants grow and work with the environment that they’re in,” Hall says. “It’s a really wonderful link, I feel, technology and nature. The students get a lot out of it.”

Source: The Age, Infant Wellbeing and Care Feature

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