Smaller families, better-educated parents and increasing research into the benefits of early years education are all leading to a shift in expectations when it comes to ECE. Increasingly, research is showing that attending a high-quality ECE service can benefit children when it comes to readiness for school.
Findings from the New Zealand-based Competent Children, Competent Learners longitudinal study showed that attending ECE made a difference to children when they were aged five and was still making a difference when they were as old as 16.
Research into parental expectations of ECE is still hard to come by but anecdotal evidence suggests that parents are more invested in their children and are more likely to assess the benefits of any type of childcare before deciding rather than just using whatever is available.
A 2007 report from the Ministry of Education which surveyed a number of parents, showed that social development, educational needs, language and cultural needs were the top three reasons given by parents for choosing to send their child to pre-school. They ranked above reasons such as time out for the parent or providing childcare while the parent works.
How can centres ensure they are meeting the needs of modern families?
Parents being more discerning when it comes to choosing childcare for their family, combined with increased competition within the early childhood education sector, means it will be important going forward for centres to meet the needs of modern families.
In fact even today, the Licensing Criteria for ECE Services says that a service must ensure that “positive steps are taken to respect and acknowledge the aspirations held by parents and whānau for their children”.
|Quality of care (e.g. staff interact well with the children)||1||1||1||8||91|
|Children are safe||0||0||1||10||89|
|My child is/will be happy there||0||0||2||8||90|
|It has well qualified and trained staff||1||1||5||23||70|
|A good child-staff ratio||1||1||5||24||71|
|There aren’t too many children, it is not overcrowded||1||1||10||29||60|
|It has good resources (e.g. toys, play area)||0||0||8||35||57|
|Staff are welcoming to parents||0||1||8||31||60|
|The facilities are clean and tidy||0||1||12||33||54|
|The quality of the programme (e.g. the curriculum)||1||1||11||38||49|
|It provides reports on my child’s progress||3||4||15||29||48|
|Good Education Review Office reports||4||4||19||33||40|
|Others (e.g. friends) say it is good||3||5||31||37||24|
|The service matches my child’s cultural needs||15||15||31||18||21|
Robertson, J. (2007). Parental decision making in relation to the use of Early Childhood Education services. Research Division, Ministry of Education, p.103, Table 27.
Many services will already be doing a lot of things towards that, but when future planning should consider the following:
1. WORK WITH PARENTS TO MAKE THEM PART OF THE CHILD’S PRE-SCHOOL YEARS
This is particularly important for children whose parents work long hours and may not get to spend much time with them. The Education Ministry report showed that parents still felt they should be supporting their child’s development which makes it important for centres to include parents’ input wherever possible.
An online learning portfolio or journal can be a great way of keeping parents up to date and allowing them to share ideas and information about their child.
Regular communication with parents can also ensure that both parents and teachers are on the same page when it comes to other areas of development like toilet training for younger children or getting ready for school.
2. EMBRACE TECHNOLOGY
The debate about screen time for young children will no doubt continue, but there is no getting away from the fact that we live in a technological age and this is only likely to increase in the future.
Embracing technology in a smart way - by helping preschool age children make movies or take digital photographs, or by using the internet for research or Spotify to bring different music to the centre - helps children to learn about technology without it taking over, or becoming passive.
3. HAVE A GOOD TRANSITION TO SCHOOL PROGRAMME
While the first years of life should be focused on play, as children near school age they must prepare for more formal learning. While many schools are now running the first year classes with play-based learning more in mind, it will still be a change for many children.
A good transition to school programme can help children develop basic academic skills such as first numbers and letters as well as the soft skills they will need for school such as eating from their lunchbox, packing their bag, knowing when to go to the toilet and working with others.
4. BALANCE ACADEMIC AND PLAY-BASED LEARNING
While free play is still considered to be the best option for young children, more parents may be expecting services to include some academic aspects to their care. And with more parents at work, more of the opportunity for early learning may fall on ECE teachers. The Competent Children, Competent Learners study found that children scored better academically if:
- Staff joined children in their play
- Staff at the ECE centre were responsive to children
- Staff guided children in activities
- Staff asked children open-ended questions
- Children could select activities from a variety of learning areas
- There was lots of printed material available at the centre
The best centres will find a balance - mixing academic learning with play in a way that children will understand. Teaching maths concepts during baking sessions or teaching letters and words during singing or reading sessions are good examples of how the two can be mixed.
5. HAVE POLICIES AND PRICING TO ENSURE ALL CHILDREN HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO EXPERIENCE ECE
Knowing the importance of the early years in development, it is crucial that all children have the opportunity to experience some form of early childhood education. This applies especially to children in families who may not otherwise get the experiences or support needed for their children to really thrive.
To this end, centres should consider their policies and pricing to ensure that all families can access sessions. This might include flexible opening hours or a range of session times, and subsidised sessions or payment plans, based on WINZ or equity funding.
The idea of parents who are concerned with and engaged in their child's early care and education experience should be praised. This can be daunting for some ECE services, but it is important for the sector to take on the challenge of providing quality care and education, the future is exciting.