2017 Review submitted by ‘Auckland mum’
Address: 1848 Great North Rd, Avondale, Auckland
Maximum licence number of children: 50 children (including 15 under 2-year-olds)
Staffing: Five qualified and certificated teachers, other staff in training, and the owner assists as and when needed
Hours: 7.00am – 6.00pm (open year round except for public holidays)
Management: Privately owned and the owner is available, approachable and known by children, parents and staff
After going through a double gate system and entering the reception area, I and my daughter were greeted by the centre owner on arrival. She was friendly, remembered my name and situation from my phone call and greeted my daughter personally which I liked.
We were shown around and invited to spend as long as we wanted. We stayed for 2 hours! Every staff member took time to say hello to my daughter as we were shown around. The staff wore uniforms - polo shirts – clothing that looked comfortable for play. We certainly felt welcomed and my daughter felt safe to go and explore independently, and accessed several parts of the play spaces while we were there!
I noticed that the majority of children were very happy and busily engaging in lots of small group play, engaged in their activity or just relaxing and observing. There was plenty of space for a child who wanted to play undisturbed by others, to do so. The noise level was low and no doubt this contributed to the feeling that it was a happy and comfortable environment to be in.
I noticed only one child upset during my visit, he was apparently new, and was being comforted by a staff member, she was down at his level, encouraging him play choices, offering hugs as needed. It was lovely to see a child getting such caring attention and this gave me confidence that my daughter would get the attention she needs if she were ever upset.
There seemed to be a full range of resources available, with most staff spread across the environment to support play. Children were in 2 groups: under- two years and over twos. Within their group the children could move freely between their designated indoor and outdoor spaces and choose where they wanted to play.
There was messy play, water, sand, quiet areas, imaginative play and many more options available to freely choose from. My daughter did a great number of activities while we there and there was plenty to capture her interest. I felt it was safe for her to explore, climb and help herself to what was available. Both the under-twos and the over-twos area provided challenge, and I was especially impressed by the over- twos outdoor area with its open spaces for running, trees for natural shade, and plants to touch and explore.
The staff mostly talked with children at children’s own level. Some were organising or planning to meet children's interests and needs, such as planning a planting project, talking about where equipment might work better, or projects that they had coming up.
When children transitioned from the under-twos to the big kids side it was still possible for them to pop across and visit. The teachers on both sides mentioned that the closeness between the sides really helped with transitions, as the younger children were able to regularly see and get to know older children and the teachers in that area, and see their older or younger siblings.
The staff and the owner all seemed to get along really well together, there was lots of friendly banter but also respect and I liked the team spirit. The conversations between children and teachers seemed really natural – warm and encouraging. It was clear that they knew the children well, as they talked about siblings, events that happened in the weekend, etc.
But one staff member told a toddler: “You are just being silly, move away.” The boy who looked around 20 months was digging dirt out from a plant box and tipping it onto the ground. She took the spade from him, without an explanation beyond that statement (that I saw). The boy stopped and watched the spade being put up high, and then walked away. Considering the plant box was at child's height and the spade was left there, it would not have been obvious to the child that this shouldn't be played with, or what the rules were for playing with it, I would want to spend more time in the under two area and watch more interactions to see how children are redirected or supported with their individual play choices, to see if this was a something that happened frequently or if it was just a one-off.
The over-twos children have a nice large outdoor area. It has a few corners and blind spots for supervision, but there seemed to be enough staff and the staff seemed quite aware and vigilant.
I felt that both areas would benefit from a declutter and tidy - there were piles of papers and broken equipment piled in areas (out of reach of children and on higher surfaces). The owner said they were in the process of repainting some of the surfaces and so it would be worth revisiting in a couple of months, to see if things were tidier and better organised.
There was a mixture of wooden and natural features, such as wooden stepping stones. The under-twos have an Astro turf surface in their outdoors area (which I wondered about as this can be hard on the knees of children who are crawling), with some planter boxes, sand pit and trees surrounding the area. The over-twos area had well established trees, sand pit, plenty of grass, and logs to climb on.
The furnishings and equipment all seemed very well used, although safe and generally in good repair. Most, like the book and toy shelves, were purpose designed for centre use. There was some soft furnishing that felt more home-like, such as a comfy chairs and a couch.
I was delighted to hear there were spaces available for children at the centre, though surprised because it is a lovely place for children. It offers choices of morning or afternoon sessions, daily or full-time weekly enrolments. The fees seemed reasonable, but you do have to pay if your child is sick or away
There were only 9 children under-2 years, making it possible for the 2 teachers caring for them to get to know them well and form primary care relationships.
I was told that all meals are provided and cooked on site and the menu looked like a good range of different flavours and meals options, but I did not stay long enough to see how these are presented and offered to the children.
Early Explorers has set mat times, meals and nappy change times, though are not so regimented that staff will change nappies as needed and follow a child’s own sleep and bottle routines. If a child doesn't want to attend mat time, that is okay.
There were some displays that included a little te reo Māori, and some books and puzzles featuring Māori patterns, and traditional stories. Some displays were being redone due to the spaces being repainted.
Early Explorers has regular parent social events such as BBQ catch ups and an open door policy, so parents are welcomed in being involved and are given opportunities to meet each other, and develop the centre sense of community.
There seems to be good feedback of information to parents. Each child has their own portfolio with photos, art work and learning stories and Early Explorers also has an online version that is accessible for parents that they can contribute too.
We found enough here that I liked, particularly because of the outside area in the over-2s and most of the staff being friendly and positive. My daughter felt safe to leave my side, interact with the other children and staff, and explore the play spaces.
Most of the staff were friendly and warm, and the centre owner was knowledgeable and had high aspirations for her centre and team.
I had a few concerns about some of the clutter and age of the furnishings, etc. I would want to spend more time in the under-2s area to see more of the staff interactions with toddlers than what I observed on this particular day. Maybe a second visit in a couple of months would give happy reassurance here.
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