2013 Review Submitted by Warwick Marshall (parent and ECE qualified teacher)
Lollipops Educare Petone
Address: 121 The Esplanade, Lower Hutt
Maximum licence number of children: 110 children (including 40 under 2-year-olds)
Number of Teaching Staff: 18
Hours: 7.30am – 5.30pm. Open 52 weeks of the year
Management: Established by Australian owners under the Paradise Childcare brand and sold in 2012 to the NZ Lollipops chain. Today, it is one of around 37 Centres under franchise owners: Mark Finlay, Russell Thompson, and Andy Scott.
My child and I visited Lollipops on The Esplanade in Petone. It was easy to find the fun looking yellow building on the corner across from the beach. We turned into a huge spacious car park that was surrounded by large wooden fencing.
Entering the centre we came to a modern and clean reception/foyer area. No one was around but we could see the children and teachers in the infant room. My child made a beeline for some quirky toys while I looked around for a clue on how to announce our presence. Eventually I decided to open the entrance door again and pushed the buzzer. One of the infant room’s teachers came out and greeted both of us and asked my child’s age so she could find the right person to help us. Rachel came out and greeted us both and asked a few friendly questions related to my child’s needs. She was very comfortable with my clipboard in hand and was ready without delay to show us around. She was very generous with her time walking and talking with us for well over an hour.
As my child was nearly 2.5yrs old it was likely he would be in the 2.5 to 3yrs room. The 4yrs old room was next door but shared the same outdoor area. Child numbers are limited to 30 in each room but today there were only about 25 children in total. From what Rachel was saying it seems that the centre usually operates well under the number limits and has no waiting list. Thus the spaciousness was quite remarkable – both indoors and out, and the impression I had was, even with a full roll, there would still be lots of room for running about, although perhaps only slightly less spacious on a cold, wet day with everyone inside.
We first walked into the emptied 4 yr old room, because my child was hesitant when seeing the children in the other room. Big floor to ceiling windows from the hallway allowed us to see almost the entire rooms so great that my child could just watch for a while through the windows in the quiet hallway.
Walking into the room I felt it lacked a homely feel (more school/office type feeling) due to the very open plan layout with areas divided only by the lino and carpet. I saw steel legged shiny tables that were bare and with no chairs around them. I understood later that it was the other 3yr old room that had the activities laid out. The walls had some hangings on them but perhaps looked incomplete and unattractive. On wet and windy days when all the children are forced inside I would perhaps expect the noise levels to be uncomfortable reverberating off the walls and floor.
The two rooms were connected by the kitchen and a storeroom and was nice to peak through to see the other room, but children likely can’t see over the kitchen bench.
I was struck by the vastness of the outdoors area. A long, wide wooden deck spanning the width of both rooms meet a large concrete area that in turn was surrounded by a large green astro turf area. This was all on the level, no steps, no hills or bumps, all very flat. The concrete path had faded chalk markings of a road for bikes which I expect must have been fun and a couple of low basketball hoops that attracted my child’s attention immediately. He was able to find a ball and take me over to shoot some hoops. We saw two humongous, roofed sandpits each placed at the far corners of the incredibly large rectangular outdoor area (perhaps the size of about 6 tennis courts).
I saw the children interacting well, free to play out or in, some having fun running from place to place and a couple of small groups engaged in the new looking monkey bars and climbing boxes. These looked challenging for the younger ones but I’m not sure how interesting for the bigger children. I saw one child involved in helping a teacher in the garden. All children appeared busy and with so much space child conflict was not an issue.
Rachel informed me that siblings of different ages placed in different rooms could visit each other during the day.
While impressed I did wonder if the outdoors area was spacious or barren. The large garden, which was lovely, was placed on the far left up against the building; it took me 10 minutes to notice it. There didn’t seem to be much out for the children and what was out was not attractively presented and really just lying around on the ground or still in containers. For example, I saw no toys or children in either of the sandpits and the sandpit toys remained packed in a container placed several metres away from the sandpit. Likewise, the water trough was full of some kind of glob but I didn’t see many utensils and it being such a hot day I would have thought to have seen lots of water.
Shade was lacking, the whole rectangular area was sizzling with no shelter from the sun other than hats and sunscreen. All this was accentuated by the lack of any natural materials, trees, bushes, grass, etc. The only genuine and attractive greenery was the out of the way garden. I discussed some of my concerns with Rachel who did say the outdoors area was a part of their current self-review.
We went back inside via the younger children’s room and again noticed the absence of attractively laid out activities. The craft table only looked like it had magazine clippings on it with nothing else arty or crafty nearby. I saw only one painting activity, a trestle sitting idle in a corner, I think I only saw one colour of paint (blue) being available. The home corner looked great, lots of wooden ovens, etc and was nicely set up and appeared the most popular place. Similar to the 4 yrs old room this large room seemed very open with spaces only divided by carpet, lino and the office type tables and plastic chairs. There didn’t appear any private, homely spaces for the children to retreat or explore.
Because my child is half Japanese I asked about cultures being included in the programme. While informed about how it is included, looking around the rooms I saw no evidence of either multiculturalism or biculturalism. I didn’t hear any of the teaching staff using Maori or other languages.
The teachers appeared to be working well together but I got a sense they were going through the motions, particularly cleaning up, etc. I didn’t see any warm interactions between teachers and children, rather teachers standing, walking, cleaning, applying sunscreen, etc. I thought perhaps I didn’t see much energy, smiling or animation. The teacher uniforms also seemed a bit dreary. A child asked for someone to read her a story, one teacher was changing nappies and another cleaning up. When we left 10 minutes later I saw the girl still sitting on the couch alone holding her book. However, the children didn’t seem to hesitate to approach the teachers with a smile or laugh.
I was pleased to hear about the primary care-giving system and felt good that it is referred to as ‘Whanau Group’. I was informed that currently all staff are qualified but the centre’s policy is 80% qualified. The same relievers are usually called on who may not be qualified but experienced or newly qualified and learning the ropes.
Fees are $60 per day and $32 per day from 3 years old due to the 20 hours free ECE subsidy. Parents still pay if their child is away sick but for long periods away reduced fees are offered. Currently children bring their own lunch but the centre is considering providing meals. This confused me a bit with the big kitchen between the two rooms. It was nice to hear that adult to child ratios for the centre (1:4 infants and 1:8 over 2s) was better than government regulations. Feedback to parents was through written stories about their children’s learning and folders containing these stories were easily accessible to children and appeared very informative and colourful.
The programme consists of free play, rolling morning tea during which children are free to come and go, lunch and nap times for children who need it. From 10am to 11am the 4 year olds attend the formal mat-time in their room where a teacher chats with them and explains about some activities on offer. I was pleased to hear that although the children do not have to participate (they can play outside or do something else) they all usually do.
When leaving I asked if we could take a peak in the toddler room. Wow, this was also a very large room. An amazing space with so many things attractively laid out, lots of play opportunities, time-out spaces including a mezzanine to walk up and a huge separate sleep time room. Outside was a nice natural garden area providing natural shade, a hut and a big sandpit that was absolutely full of very busy children and teachers interacting, playing together and completely focused and engaged not even noticing we were there. I should also mention that inside the toddler room was a wall of ceiling to floor windows that looked out to the road and beach allowing children to peak out and see the world. My child instantly took a shine and finally left my side to go and play. I left wondering why the features and teaching of this room were not carried over to the older rooms.