When it comes to choosing where you’re going to leave your precious little one, it’s important to feel comfortable and to know that you’ve made the right decision. This is not always easy, and it can be confusing trying to work out what is offered, and which centre is the best match for you and your family.

Below are some points that might help you decide what’s right for you. There are certainly practical decisions that need to be made such as convenience, pricing, operating hours and the waiting list. However here are what I like to call some of the heart factors that could really make a difference for you and your child. There are also National quality standards, all centres in Australia are independently assessed and have a rating. Check the rating of the centres that you are exploring and ensure they are at least meeting the national standards or have a clear plan that demonstrates how they are working towards meeting the minimum standards. You can find more information on the national standards here www.acecqa.gov.au/nqf/national-quality-standard

Most centres will offer you a tour, you can go have a look around and meet the education team to get a feel for the place. I would recommend that you visit at least three different centres. When you enter go with a long list of questions to help you make your decision.

Senses and instinct

When you arrive get a sense of the feeling as soon as you walk in the door, trust your instincts. Look for things such as warm smiling faces and natural, calming environments. Is the centre filled with the aromas of yummy lunch cooking (it’s a good tip to go around 11AM when the food is being prepared)? Have they got calming essential oils burning, or is there an odour of dirty nappies floating through air and the sound of babies crying? Your first impressions are usually correct and if you feel comfortable in this space the chances are your child will too.

Staffing

On your list of questions ask if children are connected to a primary caregiver. This is when one specific educator becomes the key person in your child’s care. Having a key person or primary educator, helps children feel safe and connected with a person that you and your child learn to trust. Ask to meet the room leader and ask what ratio they use for staff to children. There are minimum Australian standards, some centres may have a higher number of educators which allows them to have a smaller number of children in their care. It’s good to know what qualifications are held by the education team in the room where your child will be starting. Whilst higher levels of education don’t always mean higher quality, it is still good to get a sense of the knowledge and skill mix of the team working with your little one.  Ask about the professional development opportunities that the staff receive. It will give you an idea of how up-to-date, the team are with their training and knowledge and how invested the centre is in quality.

Centre vision and educational philosophy

It’s useful to get a sense of the educational philosophies that the centre believes in. Are their programs relationship based? Is child led learning valued? How are the programs developed? Is there a specific philosophy followed? Centre visions should be clearly articulated and should match your own values where possible. Ask about the routines in the room where your child will be placed. Are children allowed lots of choice with their play? Can you see engaging activities set up? Is lunch time fixed, or flexible? Is there inside and outside play available? Do the children appear to be engaged and connected? How does this all fit with your expectations?

Communication, parental and community involvement

A lot of centres offer methods where you receive photos and videos straight to your phone or email during the day. This is a fantastic opportunity to see what your child is up to in real time.  Does the centre offer parent nights and special events? Do they encourage genuine parental involvement? Some centres have parent committees. I even know of a couple of centres who have a children’s committee where the voice of the child is truly valued. Ask about the centre’s involvement in the community. Are they connected to their community and do they offer real life excursions out into the community for the children?

Cultural inclusion and diversity

Is your culture represented at the centre? Do you feel welcome and a sense of belonging? Can you see books, toys and images that your child can relate to? Does the centre engage in a variety of cultural celebrations? A sense of belonging is an essential component for all of us, especially our little ones. It allows us to feel understood, valued and connected.