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FishHead Magazine shoot: 1809 FishHead ECE article. Tuatara Kids (Miramar) 18 September 2013. Photo by Mark Tantrum | www.marktantrum.comIn 1950s New Zea­l­and it was unusu­al for moth­ers with pre-school chil­dren to be in paid work. My moth­er was an excep­tion, sup­ple­ment­ing the fam­ily income by work­ing night shifts as a nurse and, dur­ing the day, look­ing after me, the young­est, while my broth­er and sis­ter were at school. One of my earli­est memor­ies is as a four-year-old trav­el­ling to morn­ing kinder­garten on the back seat of my dad’s bicycle. The sand­pit, music­al instru­ments, play­house and art activ­it­ies — I loved the whole pre-school exper­i­ence and I am sure my hard-work­ing moth­er rel­ished some time to herself.

Just under 30 years ago, I enrolled my first daugh­ter in a newly estab­lished early child­hood facil­ity close to the sec­ond­ary school where I worked as a full-time Eng­lish teach­er on Auckland’s North Shore. Over the eight years my chil­dren atten­ded this centre, the com­pany rap­idly expan­ded, set­ting up more facil­it­ies. At last count, this com­pany now runs over 40 learn­ing centres in cit­ies throughout

New Zea­l­and, all built to meet the demand of women mov­ing back into the workforce.

The lon­git­ud­in­al stat­ist­ics about female employ­ment give a clear pic­ture of the seis­mic shift in fam­ily life that has taken place in recent years, with women’s par­ti­cip­a­tion in the work­force increas­ing from about 25 per­cent just after the Second World War to nearly 68 per­cent today. The intro­duc­tion of paid par­ent­al leave in 2002 and, in 2007, child­care sub­sidies have fur­ther assisted women with young chil­dren return­ing to employment.

For par­ents jug­gling jobs and rais­ing a young fam­ily, the key require­ment is high-qual­ity and afford­able child­care. As there is so much choice avail­able — kinder­garten, Play­centre and a range of child­care centres — the dilemma is how to decide what ser­vice type, pro­gramme and philo­sophy best suits their needs and that of their child. It really depends on what par­ents are look­ing for. There is far more to con­sider than just open­ing hours and a con­veni­ent location.

We have a nation­al early child­hood edu­ca­tion (ECE) cur­riculum (Te Whāriki) that is well regarded inter­na­tion­ally and provides a frame­work for all ECE centres to imple­ment a high qual­ity and effect­ive pro­gramme. A 2008 report pre­pared for the Min­istry of Edu­ca­tion, ‘Out­comes of Early Child­hood Edu­ca­tion’, found con­sist­ent evid­ence that ECE provides a found­a­tion for life-long learn­ing, devel­ops social skills and sup­ports a smooth­er trans­ition into primary school, espe­cially in areas of lit­er­acy and numer­acy development.

This trans­ition var­ies a lot between centres and is some­thing that needs to be con­sidered more. Some centres’ philo­sophies and pro­grammes are in con­trast to the primary schools’ more ‘struc­tured’ envir­on­ment, and this can be dif­fi­cult for some children.

Leav­ing my daugh­ters at day­care and rush­ing off to work, I felt the same anxi­ety and guilt as expressed to me by the young moth­ers return­ing to teach­ing today after tak­ing par­ent­al leave. The best way to assuage this is to find the right centre — one that meets your expect­a­tions of the first steps for your child’s jour­ney into learn­ing. Above all, it must have qual­ity teach­ing staff, who are fully qual­i­fied, motiv­ated and com­mit­ted to children’s learn­ing and development.

Carol Craymer

Carol has an MA in English from the University of Canterbury and has been principal of Queen Margaret college since 2004. Prior to moving to Wellington, she was assistant principal at Orewa college and deputy principal at Takapuna Grammar. However, Carol is not all about 'dotting the is' and crossing the t's'. She has also worked for Radio New Zealand as an announcer, acted in England in a theatre troupe touring schools and raised two daughters.

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