2013 Review Submitted by Warwick Marshall (parent and ECE qualified teacher)
Kindercare Learning Centre Tawa
Address: 25 Main Road, Tawa, Wellington
Maximum licence number of children: 100 children (including 25 under 2-year-olds)
Hours: 7.30am – 5.00pm Monday to Thursday and until 5.30pm on Fridays. Open all year except for statutory holidays which you may be charged fees for.
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 also own the NZ Tertiary College, a private registered early childhood teacher training provider.
Pulling into the Kindercare Tawa car park I saw a large, modern and solid building but with a rather puny and flimsy gate cage to stop children in their tracks who might make it through the glass sliding doors. As we entered we were both very excited to be so warmly welcomed by the receptionist/ administrator Melinda, so much so even my usually shy child boisterously returned the greeting. Without hesitation Melinda bounced up to give us the guided tour while providing excellent detailed information.
I thought the foyer itself was fairly bland and office like, e.g. nothing in the way of children’s work display, photos, etc. but I was impressed to see today’s menu, key notices and even a questionnaire on the counter inviting parents to provide feedback, suggestions or submit concerns. Melinda was fine with me carrying my clipboard of questions and off we went… well… almost. We got off to a shaky start with my child’s protests at being there but with some help from Melinda we negotiated terms with him and were able to continue, though the toddler room (1 – 2.5 yrs) was excluded as agreed with my child.
Entering the 2.5 to 3.5-year-old room I was taken aback by the small size of the room but it was homely enough being carpeted and with attractive and colourful wall displays. I saw the teachers busy resetting and thought that would be a big part of their role due to the small room likely to get easily and quickly untidy. The teachers greeted us warmly and great efforts were made to learn and call us by our names which we really appreciated. I noticed there was no uniform and all the teachers looked comfortable and well-presented in their own clothes.
The children appeared to be busy at play though I did notice one girl sitting alone at an empty table and 5 minutes later, as we left the room, I saw the same girl sitting at another empty table and still alone. I wondered if the teachers had noticed her as they seemed busy tidying and resetting.
The art area doubles as the eating area and is a very small space that I thought must get crowded with 20 children all eating. I was told that food came to the room from a distant kitchen but wasn’t told (and forgot to ask) if there were rolling lunches which might ease congestion. Naps are also taken in this room and I felt concerned due to my child being a big sleeper and I couldn’t see how he wouldn’t be disturbed.
Unfortunately the outdoors area also afforded little to the children in terms of space to move and run and natural materials were limited to concrete and artificial green turf (astro turf) that made me feel hot as it reflected the sun on a scorching day. The explanation to my question of why there was no grass was that artificial turf was easier to clean and softer thus preventing injuries. Some trees and bush provided surrounding greenery but nothing here for the children to directly interact with a natural environment, and everything seemed fairly artificial.
I was later surprised to hear that the centre was recently opened (2011) and I wondered why they didn’t factor in more space and nature to provide children opportunity to explore, find privacy and significantly lessen frustration and conflict. Although the spaces were small they weren’t crowded and the children did have plenty of room to move. I was told they weren’t operating at full capacity and thus did not have a waiting list.
I felt uneasy at seeing the next door property units’ windows right next to and above the fence line looking down onto the outdoor play areas.
The sandpits were closed for maintenance but would be reopened soon after being sanitised. I saw plenty of useful looking sand play utensils and the pit looked big enough to accommodate a small group.
I got the impression messy play was generally avoided, e.g. the planter box allowed the children to pour water into it which I could see was a popular thing to do but it looked too high for the children to reach in and get hands dirty whenever they pleased. I noticed a teacher preventing children in the older room from splashing each other outside and I noticed aprons around the painting areas. I was beginning to get the impression that there was a pursuit of order and cleanliness at the expense of nature, exploration and fun.
The two other rooms for the older children appeared similar but the 4-year-olds’ outdoor space was larger and with more challenging and interesting equipment. I noticed my child finally took interest in the play equipment in this area rather than his own ages’ rooms thus I was disappointed when I heard the younger children could not visit this more interesting and far less crowded outdoor space. I also know how much my child loves to watch the older children play.
It became clear to me that the strength of this centre was the teachers who are all friendly, keen and energetic. I enjoyed hearing about a literacy programme from an obviously talented and fun teacher with a subtle yet energetic approach. When she suggested some painting to my child I was relieved that she didn’t reach for the laid out aprons. I appreciated Melinda supervising the children while the teacher and I chatted but I suspect the teachers in the other rooms were all of similar ilk so perhaps it would have been nice to have had more such chats with the other room teachers too.
Also great were the stated ratios of 1 teacher to 4 children in the infants and toddlers and 3 teachers to 20 children in the other rooms. However, as we were led around the centre not only did I have reservations about the facilities (lack of space and natural environment) but I was also unsure that the philosophy, or at least what I saw in action, would fit with the kind of care I wanted for my child.
Briefly before my child’s earlier protests I did manage a quick peek through the toddlers’ room door and exchanged friendly greetings with the teachers but I was disappointed when glimpsing the impersonal and clinical practice of plastic gloves being worn when changing the children. I saw an upset child with a pacifier in her mouth being read to in a vain attempt at distraction rather than trying to identify the problem and offering cuddles. In this and the other rooms I did not see much in the way of affectionate or meaningful interactions between the teachers and children or any teacher being down at the children’s level. I was disappointed to hear there was no primary caregiving approach and was told the teachers care for every child the same way.
The infants and toddlers room had an area blocked off for infants but it looked too packed full of toys thus minimal space for infants to roll or crawl. I’m not a fan of highchairs so was disappointed to see two babies confined in their hook-on highchairs left alone at a table without any food on it while teachers were doing other things, possibly preparing the meals. I also noticed an infant being carried around much of the time where I would have preferred to have seen the teacher sitting and simply being with the child who could then have an opportunity to take the lead.
I asked about the centre’s cultural awareness practices. They have cultural days and great to hear that teachers work with families to use familiar words and phrases. I didn’t see evidence of a bi-cultural practice and noticed a number of children could have been Maori.
The pricing seemed reasonable. I liked the idea of the $2 days for when children are absent due to illness or away on holiday but this is of course with limits.
My child was so pleased to get some stickers as we left and I could see he had enjoyed receiving lots of attention from all the friendly teachers.