2013 Review Submitted by Warwick Marshall (parent and ECE qualified teacher)
Box Hill Kids Centre
Address: 35 Box Hill, Khandallah, Wellington
Maximum licence number of children: 30 children (including 12 under 2 year-olds)
Hours: 8.00am – 5.30pm. Closed for a 2-week Christmas break and one week in July.
Management: Box Hill Kids is a non-profit community-based organisation that is managed by a Board comprised of parish, parent and staff representatives.
My child (2.5-year-old) and I hit the jackpot, a real gem located in one of Wellington’s long established suburbs of Khandallah. Box Hill Kids is tucked away off the road behind an Anglican Church. We followed the arrows directing us to the entrance at the side of the building and paused in the doorway to read posters, parent information (e.g. lost property, ‘No Peanuts’) and general community notices about classes (e.g. swimming) and services available in the local area. We opened the door which had a low handle and low window that my child was able to see through. We both quickly received warm greetings from Raewyn, the centre manager, who was standing in the hallway and had been patiently waiting for us as we browsed the foyer.
The building was built some time ago with lovely old wooden walls and floors. One of the first things Raewyn showed us were the parent pouches hanging in the hallway that teachers or other parents put information in; apparently useful for parents to leave notes to each other such as organising play dates. There was also a communication box for parent feedback. Raewyn showed us all their practice licences and requirements that were displayed on the wall and we got to see and hear about all the teachers and view their photos.
Raewyn explained about the group-time programme. The centre is mixed-aged with a strong belief regarding the benefits that brings. However, each day they have group-time where the same two teachers lead somewhat structured activities for similar-aged children. These two teachers also become similar to primary caregivers thus being the extra special teachers for a child and the main go-to people for parents. While not calling this a primary caregiving system it is very similar in its purpose. Raewyn clarified that if a child shows a preference for a different teacher then arrangements are made so they can join a different group.
Leaving the hallway and entering the children’s area I saw one very large room similar to a hall. Immediately I noticed a lot of wooden tables and chairs, wooden toys and other natural materials as well as a comfy couch. Sunlight was pouring onto the lovely wooden floorboards. In places school bags hung from hooks providing children easy access to their belongings. A few paces to our right we entered the infant and toddler’s area separated only by a low barrier. My child was warmly greeted and I saw the littlies busy waddling or crawling about on the (I think) carpeted floor or enjoying the cushioned gym mat obstacles. A couple of things entered my mind as I watched this room. I wondered if the space was sufficiently quiet and peaceful as it was very much exposed to everything that went on in the centre. I saw the teachers smiling and caring though I don’t remember seeing anyone being down at the children’s level but instead busy organising things, though perhaps this was because things were in a state of transition from morning tea.
I should say now that a lasting impression I had of all the teachers was the sincere joy and soft kindness as they interacted with and guided the children. As a result I saw a lot of happy and busy children.
Leaving the littlies we found ourselves in the corner dedicated to toileting and nappy changes. This was a very open area with large windows bringing natural light into the toilets. I saw a bespoke nappy changing station designed for changes lying down but forgot to ask what happened if a child preferred to be changed standing up. I noticed the large amount of bench space was haphazardly packed full of boxes, cleaning equipment and stacks of washing so I wasn’t too sure how it the area actually functioned other than accumulating ‘stuff’.
Next we had a good look at the quality crafted wooden tables and chairs for the toddlers. I was delighted not to see any high chairs though I was shown a small plastic chair that sits on the floor with straps for a child if the extra support is needed. I’m not a big fan of anything that puts a child in a position that they themselves can’t already get into.
Suddenly the room was emptying out. Some spontaneous outings were decided including one group walking to the supermarket. Usually spontaneous outings occur once or twice a month but more frequent during summer and holidays. The children can also visit the hall upstairs when it is empty and enjoy various activities the teachers might set up. Parents have already made agreements in advance for such outings thus enabling the opportunity for teachers to seize the moment. Great that the children were taken into and involved in the local community. But as wonderful as this was it left me with an empty centre to review. However, Raewyn was willing to keep chatting with me until they came back so I could see the centre in operation.
I was very impressed to hear that the centre provides much better ratios and group sizes than required by the licensing regulations. While the centre was of sufficient size to have up to 12 children under 2 years old it chose to keep numbers under 10 and it had a ratio of usually 1 adult to every 3 infants. The over-2 years fluctuated between 20 to 25 children with a ratio usually of 1 adult to every 6 children. These ratios were maintained even during teacher breaks. All staff were fully qualified and registered teachers, but not the relievers. However, the usual relievers fitted well with the team and children.
If I understood right the under 2s had a separate cot room for sleeping but their area is halved and bordered off providing space for the older sleepers. I was assured this arrangement prevented disruption to sleepers. However, renovations soon to go ahead will include an additional sleep room and staff room.
The centre acknowledges that it is a part of the Anglican parish and we were told that while the children are exposed to traditions such as saying grace before meals these are ways of expressing gratitude as much as they are religious. The centre is clear their intention is not to indoctrinate children. I’m not religious myself and I felt totally comfortable throughout our visit.
The centre has structured elements to their daily programme including set meal times and the associated rituals/traditions. The previously mentioned ‘group times’ are determined by each child’s interest but if at that moment a child is already engaged in something or would prefer to do their own thing then that is respected.
I said to Raewyn that my child was half Japanese and asked if they could help in any way with that. She didn’t hesitate with her response telling me to include that on the relevant section of the enrolment form, write down words to be used and these will be worked into the programme. It also happens that one of the teachers can remember some Japanese she learned in college. Raewyn then added that they have identified their bicultural practice and use of Te Reo as something they will be reviewing themselves on. I did notice a little bit of Maori decorative features on the walls but didn’t see or hear much else in terms of a bicultural practice.
Passing by the kitchen located in another corner it looked like a popular spot especially with two big, long steps that allowed many children at one time to watch all the cooking. Children are frequently involved helping prepare the food and love to do baking. The cook knows the interests and abilities of the children so can set up some food prep sessions accordingly. A warm, glowing atmosphere is created with the kitchen being so accessible and with the kitchen being a strong part of the curriculum along with having mixed ages there’s a real family atmosphere. The viewing platform (the two big, long steps) I expect could have multiple uses including seating for any stage performances and maybe occasionally for sitting together and eating baked goodies.
We moved through the plentiful wooden toys and furniture to the final corner of the room that took us to the outside. I realised that for the under 2s to go outside they must pass through this area where the older children play as they don’t have direct access to outside from their space. However, I expect this is where the mixed-age’s philosophy comes into play where the children will look out for each other.
Large wooden decking wrapped around the side and back with steps leading down to the play area. On one side some housing units next door were easily visible while walking down steps. The rest of the play area was surrounded by green bush, ferns and butterflies and a very low wooden fence. Several shade sails provided excellent shelter from both sun and rain much to my relief as I’d forgotten sunscreen and hat for my child.
Rumble, rumble, rumble, wooosh… my child was thrilled when he felt, heard and saw the screeching train passing by only metres down the hill. Very exciting. The sandpit was also pretty exciting with excellent quality (fine and soft) sand, some good fun toys including diggers and a sturdy wooden storage box. With my child enjoying the sandpit I asked Raewyn about the very low fence and she said the children understood not to go over. In fact, car tyres had been placed by the fence to help lift the children higher to get a better view of the trains going past. This is one of the wonderful ways that Box Hill Kids had of not making children feel they were fenced in or imprisoned. I could see children were really respected at this centre and seen to be sensible and competent to listen and understand what to do.
Next to the sandpit was a couple of wooden boxes connected with a wooden plank, all about knee high on a large rectangular patch covered with bark. I wondered if it was new bark as it had a strong colour and felt fairly hard on my feet. I’d imagine it would hurt a bit and scratch if falling on it. I saw my child enjoying balancing across the plank but I thought he’d soon get bored and there wasn’t really much else that seemed very challenging in terms of climbing and swinging; actually there wasn’t anything else at all. However, Raewyn said fundraising was under way for a larger (adult shoulder high) box. The other half of the outdoors area was fairly barren looking covered with matting that was deemed too hard to fall on so no climbing equipment there. Raewyn explained that it was often used for the bikes as it sloped down and car tyres were used as barriers to halt those out of control. But I thought that perhaps more could be done after closing or before opening the centre to ensure this space was inviting whether bikes were being used or not.
As the children returned from their outings and began playing outside I noticed the raised gardens. These were given to the centre for belonging to the Enviro Schools Project. The children helped compost, weed, plant and harvest. I was able to see the children help a teacher clean out a big plastic water trough by using buckets and spades to return the wet soil back to the gardens and my child who jumped up to help them was in his element.
A great example of following interests is where a planter box was turned into a lizard habitat garden. A child who had a knack for catching lizards needed somewhere to put them so an expert from the department of conservation visited to help establish the lizard garden. While the child has since left the lizard garden remains waiting for the next child who has the same knack for catching them. The centre is also involved in other green initiatives, for example, a nappy compost scheme and recycled paper for trees.
The fees of $75 per day with a half day discount if attending 5 days a week I think is a little pricey for most. It reduces to $46.47 per day with ECE subsidies for over 3 year olds. Obviously the fees include meals and enable good teacher/child ratios. It was nice to hear parents are not charged for two weeks over Christmas and a week break in July. Full-time and part-time enrolments are possible and it seems most children attend part-time, e.g. 2 or 3 full days a week. They have a long waiting list but just recently a couple of days had become available which didn’t suit with anyone on the waiting list. Raewyn encouraged me to go look at other centres before deciding and strongly recommended I read the ERO reports adding that while these can only provide a snapshot they are objective.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay and I will see if the days available might suit me and my child.