2013 Review Submitted by Warwick Marshall (parent and ECE qualified teacher)
Kindercare Learning Centre Aotea
Address: 41 Aotea Drive, Porirua
Maximum licence number of children: 110 children (including 30 under 2-year-olds)
Hours: 7.30am – 5.30pm. Open all year except for statutory holidays for which you may be charged fees.
Management: This centre is one of 40 (with more opening) around NZ owned by Aucklander’s Allan Wendelborn and Glennie Oborn (cited in a Seventh Day Adventist newsletter as one of NZ’s wealthiest women). The couple own the NZ Tertiary College, a registered early childhood teacher training provider.
In the heart of a residential development stands Kindercare Aotea, a centre built in September 2011. As we drove into the spacious car park we could immediately see the outdoor spaces above and through the bar fencing. Having arrived early and seeing the children inside eating morning tea we decided to wait and go for a drive to see the surrounding modern streets and houses. We drove past the centre a couple of times and the outside areas with bar fencing allowed us to easily see when the children were finished eating and back playing outside. On our third drive by we saw some outdoor action and parked the car looking forward to our visit.
The outdoors area was really quite impressive in terms of design. Bar fencing was used around the perimeter and to separate different ages’ play areas. This made the outdoor areas seem open and wide enabling the children to see long distances and they could see their older and younger peers in the separated play areas.
As we approached the entrance we heard a child who had been dropped off crying out for mum and dad who were walking back to their car. The entrance was guarded by wide, sturdy childproof gating and glass sliding doors that required keypad entry or someone from the inside to let us in. I would have thought that each room having a door to the hallway that leads past the reception to the sliding doors which are surrounded by childproof gating would be enough but it seems keypad entry is still required. I wondered what lurked in surrounding suburbs to be so fearful or alternatively what were the teachers doing or not doing that could allow children to get out unnoticed? I’ve so far encountered keypad access only at the large (100+ children) childcare centres so does this indicate that there are so many children it is hard for teachers to keep tabs on them all?
As we walked through the gating someone promptly let us in through the secured glass sliding doors. I spoke to a couple of people and then the Centre Director, Coral. Eventually my child (a 2.5-year old) received a greeting albeit from above and behind the counter.
Looking around I could see menu information and notices for parents but otherwise it was a fairly office type foyer area void of much evidence that over 100 children were behind the walls. Immediately an enrolment form was put in front of me. A bit taken aback I had to try to let go of my child’s hand and I only roughly completed it because I knew my child was feeling worried and anxious and would want my hand back pretty quickly. However, perhaps I regret this as it may have set the tone for the rapid tour that was about to take place.
It was very hard to keep up with Coral as she briefed me on all I needed to know. I got the feeling she wanted this to be a no frills, bells or whistles whip around. I was able to keep up with most of it due to being a qualified early childhood teacher myself and already having visited one other Kindercare centre, otherwise I wouldn’t have had a clue what I was being told.
Only the 2.5 to 3.5 yrs room was on the itinerary. In an attempt to try to see another room I asked that if my child attended would he be able to visit a sibling in another room. I was told yes but with no invitation to view any other rooms. Coral explained I could view the website, information pack and come back if I wanted. I was surprised when she advised me that if I was serious about my child attending I should complete the enrolment form. At this point I wondered if I had tried harder to complete that enrolment form at the start would we have had a less rushed look around because I would have indicated my ‘seriousness’. Or was it just something about me or the questions I was asking that lacked seriousness? I was told there was a long waiting list, possibly 12 months, so maybe I just wasn’t particularly valued; which would be fair to describe how I was feeling.
We were greeted nicely by the teachers but that was pretty much it as Coral stayed close to us for most of the time. I really would have liked the opportunity to talk directly to the adults that could be caring for my child all day. A great idea I learned from another centre was when the manager took over the teacher’s role for 5-10 minutes while I met and talked with the room teachers.
It quickly became apparent I wouldn’t have much opportunity to look around so I tried to take in as much as possible while half listening to the rapid fire information. First impressions were good -a reasonably sized room with lots of attractively laid out activities. I was told not all but most of the children were back after the holiday break and I saw lots of room to move about. A young boy came in crying and was consoled by the teacher who dropped down to his level for a hug, then content he was gone again in a blink. However, for the rest of our short time I only saw teachers busy resetting activities or standing thus I didn’t see them being present and approachable down at the children’s level, nor did I see any fun or meaningful teacher/child interaction.
I noticed there were potentially good spaces for children to retreat to play with toys and the home corner was pointed out to me as being where they can embark on dramatic play. I didn’t see this area used during our short visit and it looked to me very barren and uninviting. Nice props but simply not enough and not attractively presented. Also some fairly bland looking costumes draped on hangers were placed in the same area. Missing I thought were things from home that parents might otherwise throw out such as cell phones, cooking utensils, silverware, cutlery, china, etc. Otherwise the rest of the room looked reasonably full of stimulating activities.
Just as we headed outside a little girl came alone into the room crying. I was told she was in the process of transitioning though I was unsure if between rooms or new to the centre. I expect this was the same girl crying that I had heard previously as we were entering the centre. Coral asked several teachers to find who would comfort the child. I observed a couple of teachers smiling or showing expressions of ‘what’s wrong’ to the child. I would have preferred to see someone rush down for cuddles to bring emotional relief to this little girl who was obviously upset missing mum and dad.
I was told there was no primary caregiving system at the centre, the reason being so children would not miss a teacher when the teacher is absent. But perhaps the benefits to the child of primary caregiving outweigh this reason. [My personal experience with my child was that his primary caregiver was simply an extra special teacher and his first best friend. I was reassured as I watched him go to her for comfort and when she was absent he still had great relationships with the other teachers. His favourite teacher and friend simply became his preferred ‘go to’ for extra emotional filling up when needed and I appreciated having someone who tended to have that special insight and knowledge about my child.]
Making it outdoors I immediately saw children balancing on the wooden sides around the bushes surrounded by bark. Plastic balancing equipment was on the concrete and a plastic water trough was on the artificial grass covering (astro turf).
The sandpit looked a good size and very inviting with toys attractively laid out but strangely not in use. My child raced to the sandpit but soon lost interest. I touched the sand and to me it seemed course, stony and compact rather than fine, soft sand that one can dig their hands deep and sink into. Great to see the hose right next to the sandpit but I wondered how it would feel with the water mixing with that hard sand.
Above the sandpit towered a great hut that I expect gave the children some views to distant hills and beneath the hut was space to enclose themselves that included a tunnel that wrapped around the sandpit. No doubting the children would invent some great chasing adventures with this exciting layout. A shade sail was recently installed with more coming, these really gave some much needed shelter and Coral mentioned they were a must because the artificial astro turf really heated up. I must have asked a silly question about why no grass because she responded by asking if I’d seen how muddy it gets when it rains.
I was pleased to see a few children beginning to surround the plastic water trough but shock soon set in as I saw them being dressed in aprons to keep them dry. Did I really see this right? Aprons to protect the children from getting wet during water play on a beautiful warm sunny day? Maybe there was something else going on but the impression I got was that children were playing around the water trough wearing waterproof aprons. If true this would certainly prevent opportunities to get wet, splash, pour water everywhere and have fun and, equally important, to cool off from the hot astro turf. But maybe I saw it wrong and unfortunately I didn’t think I had many more ‘silly’ questions left in credit. Anyway, the outdoors area itself had a lot going for it though it did seem very teacher controlled with little opportunity for children to guide and shape their own play spaces.
The centre keeps a spread sheet of what (and I think how much) the children have eaten for the parents who I’m sure value the information. It would be a mean task to feed over 100 children with many having different needs. I was initially pleased to hear they had a vegetarian only menu for all the children to solve this issue. I’m a keen meat eater myself but I guess having a vegetarian only menu would certainly alleviate every parents concern about their child not eating enough greens. Certainly makes things easier for the kitchen than catering to individual needs.
Here I thought I could ask a question and get away with it. I said that my child was half Japanese and asked what they could offer for him. I got a blank stare. Yep, I was pretty vague. Silly question. I expanded a little saying I wanted him to keep up his culture. Another blank stare but one that eventually led to an explanation that Te Reo Maori is compulsory, the Te Whariki curriculum is used, there are teachers from different cultures and once a Chinese teacher facilitated a moon festival day. Sounded positive but I wasn’t satisfied how the centre would have actually helped my child. During our short visit I can’t remember seeing or hearing any evidence of a bicultural practice or multiculturalism.
Coral retrieved my child’s toy from another child and after a quick goodbye snip, snap, snover our visit was over.