Rachel Terry decided to open Giggles Learning Centre in Whangarei in partnership with a friend (Miriam) in November 2009 after long struggling to find a childcare solution that fitted their own tamariki.
“It was not easy! The planning, resource consent and licensing stage of our journey took a whole a year,” says Rachel.
"We had chosen a 1940s bungalow, with a huge old plum tree in the backyard. It was a real struggle opening our centre in a residential area but this type of environment was needed to support the home-away-from-home atmosphere that we wanted to create. Together with support from our families, we spent evenings and weekends giving all of the time and energy that we had and eventually the long hours and hard work paid off with all contributing to the wairua of our centre".
When the centre first opened, Miriam and Rachel worked full-time at Giggles with one other teacher. Neither had a background in early childhood education and so both embarked on study for an early childhood degree.
"As the roll increased gradually -- from our own two children to 30 children -- we employed more teachers to maintain a ratio of one teacher to every five children".
Once the roll was full, families began enquiring about spaces for their younger children and so to cater for this need Rachel and one other caregiver started to care for the under two-year-old siblings. The children were dropped off together at Giggles in the morning, stayed for morning tea and then the younger children were transported to the two home-based service houses for their daily programme and returned to Giggles for afternoon tea at 3pm.
In 2011 Miriam went on maternity leave and about this time parents started asking if Giggles would accept “babies” in the centre. They were keen for younger and older siblings to spend more time together. Therefore, in November 2011 Giggles opened its “teina area”, relicensing as a mixed age centre to cater for children between the ages of 12 weeks and five years.
In early 2013 a childcare centre situated very close to Giggles closed down unexpectedly. Rachel says that the setting was similar to Giggles and this was attractive to them. So they contacted the landlord and by May 6th had set up and licensed 'Giggles Kiripaka', with one of their experienced teachers, Pania, stepping in to head the centre. Giggles Kiripaka is licensed for 30 children over two years old and currently has an average of 23 children attending each day.
The foundation of the Giggles philosophy is whānau. Underlying the whānau philosophy are the values of aroha, manaakitanga, ako, tuakana teina relationships and whakawhānaungatanga -- maintaining relationships. Giggles believe in a holistic approach to nurturing and learning that supports children’s strengths and celebrates their diversity.
“We believe that all tamariki should be treated fairly and receive equal opportunities to education. We embrace the learning opportunities to be found in exploring and celebrating differences in the cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds of our tamariki,” says Rachel.
"We are proud to say that all of the new families we meet say the same thing -- Giggles has a wonderful “feel” to it. When children and their whānau walk through our gate they know that they belong."
"Our teina, or children under the age of two, are free to gain access to any area they choose when they are mobile enough to do so. They have a safe space “teina area” both indoors and out to retreat to if the excitement gets too much."
“When we have infants attending they are allocated two primary care-givers and these teachers are rostered to the teina area week on, week off, for as long as the infants desire – usually up to around the time that they start walking and want to explore the rest of the centre without the assistance of their primary caregiver,” says Rachel.
Teachers plan the programme based on the individual interests of children as well as group interests. There is emphasis on the learning achieved through daily care routines and relationships.
Miriam left Giggles in Jan 2014 and Rachel's time is now mostly taken up seeing to managerial and administrative duties of the two centres. She has her base/office at the original Giggles centre (Giggles Cairnfield) and spends the majority of her time there.
“I have three nieces attending the centre so it’s a real bonus to be able to spend so much time with them.”
Head teacher Rochelle organises the staff roster, daily programme and general day-to-day running of the centre -- making sure everyone is in the right place at the right time to best suit the needs of tamariki. Working with Rochelle are three other full-time, qualified teachers and two unqualified teachers. Also, one of the mums (also a qualified primary school teacher) has joined the team in a part-time role.
Giggles Kiripaka is staffed by four teachers including head teacher Pania who is passionate about nature in education and encourages teachers and parents to make use of natural resources. Three of the four teachers at the Kiripaka centre are qualified and one is currently in her second year of study towards her ECE qualification.
Although born of the same whānau-based philosophy as the original centre, Giggles Kiripaka has its own priorities and special qualities which have grown out of the needs of the Kiripaka whānau. The centre caters to mainly older children and the teachers engage the children actively in a lot of project work based on their current interests. Although the learning is still driven by the tamariki, Giggles Kiripaka has a stronger programme structure which leans towards a more distinct school readiness focus.
Rachel says Giggles is pleased to be admitted into the My ECE Hall of Excellence for 2015 because “our tamariki deserve it”.
“We are proud to be offering a service in Northland that is recognised as providing quality care and education that is of a standard that children in main centres or wealthier areas would be as lucky to receive.
“We strive through our practice for ECE teachers to be recognised as professionals. To do this we must remain open to new ideas, maintain reflective practice and complete regular self-review as a means of ongoing improvement.
“Last year we reviewed our performance appraisal process. Linking the performance appraisal process to the registered teacher criteria for both qualified and non-qualified staff and supporting staff to choose their own bi-monthly goals has led to a more individual and professional approach to performance appraisal.”
This in turn has empowered teachers to become more reflective in their practice, to seek out new literature and ideas from other centres, and to be open to change.
Giggles most recent self-review has been about its use of technology, specifically the internet.
“We have introduced our families to online profile books and created our own online community through the use of Facebook. Any reservations have been lost as large numbers of whānau have logged on to view and comment on activities their children have been involved in throughout the day. Issues with “whānau voice” are a thing of the past as families can connect with Giggles from wherever they are.”
Rachel sees being recognised as a centre of excellence as a challenge that will ensure the centre’s continued efforts in gaining new knowledge, and continuous improvement.
“We are just starting to work through various self review plans, identifying the questions we need to ask, what resources we will need and who will be involved.
“I hope that these reviews will lead to some exciting changes that will further improve our practice and the quality of our service and look forward to sharing the details with you all as we progress,” says Rachel.