What’s the best learning environment for my child?

preschool education

Every year, more research comes out that enhances our understanding of children’s brain development, learning and attachments. There is no doubt that the first three years of a child’s life is the most significant time in their lives and that the experiences, both positive and negative, in this time shape a child’s future. A child’s brain goes from about 25% of adult size at birth to an amazing 80% at three years (Brainwave Trust, 2014).

Before a child can learn they need healthy, loving, trusting attachments with adults. There are critical windows where this must be made or the opportunity to reach full potential is lost. In the first 18 months of life, healthy attachments are crucial and lack of healthy attachments is likely to cause problems in later life. The Brainwave Trust states that “lack of early attachment has been shown to correlate with poor social competency, lower ratings of educational competence and other outcomes in the teenage years.”

Poor quality care, in large groups, has been shown through research to actually increase children’s cortisol levels (stress). The Australian Journal of Childcare states “Results demonstrate clearly that children attending high quality childcare have lower stress levels across the day than children attending satisfactory or unsatisfactory programmes. Poor quality childcare is not good for children.”

It is important to consider all this information when making decisions for the care and education of our children. Home based care has been growing each year as an option for children’s education. What was once seen as ‘baby sitting’ is now being proven to be the best environment for children to learn and thrive in. Home based care can provide this nurturing, individualised and flexible environment that children need to thrive.

How to bring quality learning into the home based environment

Link in with an approved licensed home based provider as your first step. Then it’s choosing the right person to care for your child. Many families may already have a trusted family member or friend to be their caregiver while they work or study or you may need to select one. Some home based care providers (such as Footsteps) provide a caregiver service where they help match parents with a caregiver in their area. All caregivers and adults in the home over 17yrs are required to pass a police check before care starts. This can give added peace of mind if your child is being cared for outside your own home.

All home based care environments also undergo strict health and safety checks before care can begin. This includes checking the indoor and outdoor environment, fire plans, first aid kits and more. A caregiver checklist is done too covering considerations such as how behaviour will be managed and essential rules around no smoking or alcohol in the care environment.

After a caregiver and place of care have been established, the programme can then begin. At Footsteps, all our teachers are fully registered Early Childhood Education teachers who visit your child and caregiver at home, delivering fun, one-to-one learning for your child. Every child is unique and this is why it is important that their learning is specifically tailored to them, remembering that 80% of a child’s brain develops in the first three years!

To maintain a high standard of quality across the home based sector, approved providers are licensed by the Ministry of Education, and quality checks are carried out and reports written by the Education Review Office on each service. You can read a services report online at www.ero.govt.nz

Education statistics reported that home based care participation has increased by 96% from 2003 to 2013, showing the increasing awareness by families of home based care as a flexible, affordable and positive choice of education.

How is learning extended in the home setting?

In the home setting, children have the opportunity to follow their interests. A butterfly in the garden might spark a whole morning of learning and discovery; seeing roadworks on a morning walk could spark a new interest. Children are able to be part of home life, such as helping to bake biscuits, while learning math skills of measuring, and science from mixing ingredients. A child’s own culture, language and family values are also easily adapted into the home based care environment.

At Footsteps a teacher visits with the child and caregiver in the home. Parents are welcome too. Together a child’s interests, strengths and development are recognised and an individual plan is made for their learning. Resources and ideas are provided to support this learning. Teachers/kaiako use the National Curriculum Te Whāriki which has a holistic learning approach ensuring social, emotional, physical, language and cognitive development are included. After each visit, a written learning journey is prepared documenting that month’s learning and development, and planning for extending learning through strengths and interests for the coming month. Photos are also taken each month to form part of the child’s Treasure Book, their own portfolio.

What about subsidies for home based care?

Cost is a factor in choosing childcare. When you are with an approved provider like Footsteps, they assist you in accessing the same subsidies that you would in a centre. You can apply for Work and Income childcare subsidies and utilise the 20 hours ECE funding. The actual service that Footsteps provides is fully funded by the Ministry of Education, yes that means it’s FREE!

Some advantages of home based care

  • You can choose the person who is with your child when you can’t be. A caregiver can be chosen who shares values and beliefs that are important to you.
  • Hours and days are flexible.
  • Children are able to feel secure with either one-to-one care, or a maximum of four children to one adult.
  • Routines can be based around what suits you and your child, and days are unhurried with less stress.
  • Learning is individualised to each child.
  • Children can learn through real experiences such as gardening and cooking, and make the most of their community with library visits, bush walks or attending play groups.
  • Home based care is in line with current research for best outcomes for children with small group size, consistency in care and lots of one-on-one time. 
Jacqueline Taylor

Jacqueline Taylor, mum of two, worked for 25 years in ECE and currently works as an early intervention teacher. As a qualified ECE teacher, she is especially interested in working with under 3s to understand and help them develop a strong foundation for the future.

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