What to look for in a childcare centre?

As we head towards a new year many parents will be preparing to send their children off to care, often for the first time. Choosing a childcare centre can be a daunting task. In addition to being located an appropriate distance from your home or work, having places available and being affordable for your budget, there are many other considerations when choosing a good childcare centre.

When you visit a potential centre for your child, look out for the following things:

Secure, well maintained building—People other than staff and parents should not be able to enter the centre without staff knowledge and approval. Children should not be able to leave the facility without adult supervision.

High quality facility—The building and equipment should be high quality with regular maintenance inspections and immediate repair or removal of any damaged or faulty items.

Parking facilities—Parking must allow for the safe drop off and pick up of children.

Climate control—Appropriate heating and cooling with plenty of airflow should be provided so children and staff feel comfortable all year around.

Food—If food is provided at the centre the menu should offer healthy, nutritious meals and snacks appropriate to the weather and the children’s age groups. The centre should follow strict guidelines relating to food safety and food allergy management.

Policies & procedures—The centre’s policies and procedures should be easily accessible to parents and staff. Parents and staff should also be able to provide feedback on centre policies.

CCB & CCTR approved—The centre should be registered as a CCB-approved centre to ensure the centre meets the government regulations and standards and to offer parents access to government fee assistance through CCB and the Childcare Rebate. (Note: Some childcare facilities do not require accreditation or CCB approval, for example, formal kindergartens etc.)

Orientation process—The centre’s orientation process should include the option for pre-start familiarisation visits and documentation of a child’s profile to ensure staff are aware of each child’s unique routine, preferences and background.

Nurturing, inclusive staff—Staff should be warm and welcoming to all children and parents and have a combination of experience and appropriate qualifications.

Resources—Staff and children should have access to plenty of resources to provide a varied program of activities and imaginative play. Look at the resources being used at the service—are they all plastic or does the centre use more sustainable products?

Programs—The program should use a variety of learning techniques to enhance children’s learning experiences and to extend children’s interests. All services should be running by the Early Years Learning Framework as their national curriculum as a minimum.

Outdoor play areas—These areas should offer plenty of imaginative play opportunities, ideally in a natural environment. The area should provide extensive shaded spaces and allow for both individual and group play, as well as quiet play and physical play. The equipment and surfaces should be well maintained and cleaned daily.

Natural environments—Ideally both indoor and outdoor environments should have natural elements woven throughout the centre. Does the service have garden beds where children can be involved with planting and looking after the plants? What other sustainable ideas does the centre use at the service?

More and more centres offer an indoor/outdoor flow which allows children to choose to either be inside or outside, this gives children more choices and allows the program to run more smoothly.

Samantha Ahearn - small

Samantha Ahearn is the Founder and Operations Manager of Giggletree, a company providing boutique consulting, management and new centre setup support to childcare centres Australia wide. For more than 24 years, Samantha has been immersed in the child care industry, having started out as a passionate entrepreneur establishing and managing Long Day Care and Outside School Hours Care services. Samantha was instrumental in the development, support and training for QikKids, one of the most widely used software packages for child care services. She has extensive experience across all aspects of child care administration and management including payroll, accounting procedures, budgets and centre procedures and has been involved in many successful centre start-ups and the ongoing management of early educational services. www.giggletree.com.au