In February 2016, Emily Writes and I started a parenting podcast called Dear Mamas. Our manifesto is no bullshit, no judgement, and we hope to build friendship, support and community. As of this episode, we are very excited to be part of The Spinoff family of podcasts, and we have a sponsor – Little Big Crate, delivering gorgeous threads for your little big person, right to your front door. You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or Stitcher, or listen on The Spinoff Parents. I’ll be posting transcripts of each episode here for anyone who’s unable to listen. Huge thanks to @missashlynm for this transcript.
In this episode we explore the myriad of bewildering ECE options available for our children. Between us, we’ve just about tried them all, and we share our experiences good and bad. We’re joined by an experienced ECE teacher, Jo, who also shares her own experiences and answers all our questions and sets us at ease about our insecurities.
HW: So, kia ora and welcome to another episode of the Dear Mamas podcast, and we have very exciting news! We are now officially a member of The Spinoff family of podcasts. And that’s come about largely due to the fact that Em is now the editor of the new Spinoff Parents section. Which is awesome, congratulations!
EW: Yeah, it’s really exciting! I hope you’ve managed to check it out – well, I mean obviously you have if you’re listening to this podcast on it! – but I hope that it’s a parenting section that’s different to other parenting sections. The aim, the kaupapa, is really the same as the kaupapa of this podcast, which is no bullshit, no judgement, and different perspectives, experiences of parenting, and diversity of voices.
HW: And it’s been great as a reader because, yeah, it has featured such a diverse range of experiences of parents – great writers – writing about all kinds of different aspects of the parenting experience, I think it’s really adding to our narrative and our collective understanding.
EW: Yeah, I really hope so, and if people want to make submissions, or they want to give feedback, I’d love to hear from people about what they are enjoying, what they are not enjoying, what they want to see more of, I really want to hear from people.
HW: And the other really exciting thing about now being part of that Spinoff whanau is that we have a sponsor for the podcast!
EW: We do! Little Big Crate. Little Big Crate are this awesome little local business run by two mums, Melanie and Annette. They started Little Big Crate after their daughter was born, and it’s a really cool, unique idea, I think. What you do is you go onto their website, www.littlebigcrate.com, and you fill out a survey about your little one – they do your two and under child – and you talk about your likes and dislikes, or theirs, so that Melanie and Annette can syle your baby! And they send you a pack of beautiful, beautiful clothes, and you pick which clothes you want to keep, and you pick which clothes you don’t want to keep, and if you don’t want to keep them you just send them back, you get sent a pre-paid postal bag to send the clothes you don’t want back, and it basically means you don’t have to leave the house to shop! But also, for me, the big thing was, it’s the most beautiful clothes by New Zealand – about 80 percent New Zealand made I think they said. And I love that, because I really, really want to support the mums out there who are sewing in between naps and stuff.
HW: So they use a lot of local mums who have started their own small clothing businesses, or local producers who might be just selling at markets but have now got a way to sell online.
EW: Yeah, exactly.
HW: And I have to say – so my daughter’s three, she’s too old to use the service, but if I had known about it or it had been around when she was little, I would have been in like a shot because I found it really hard to leave the house to do much more than the essentials, and shopping for clothes fell into the kind of luxuries department for me when she was small and I went back to work very quickly, but the idea that there could be some special items, not just hand-me-downs and gifts and cheap things you pick up at The Warehouse, but you know, beautiful, special pieces of clothing for special occasions without having to go to the effort of finding them – I totally would have been in there.
EW: Yeah. And I mean, I’ve used the service, for my little Ham. So I got sent the pack for him, and I picked a top and pants that were so cute little matching top and pants set, and I bought that. I would have loved to have bought all of it, actually, it was all so beautiful, but it is really – I think for me it was special occasion clothing, and I loved that it was New Zealand designed as well, because it’s really hard for me to get to a market. I think it’s hard for all parents to try and find those New Zealand items. And I will spend more money on say just one piece of clothing or something really well-made and special that I know is going to last a really long time.
HW: So, thank you so much to Little Big Crate for sponsoring our podcast. You can find them at www.littlebigcrate.com, and thanks also to The Spinoff for hosting us. We recorded this episode on Early Childhood Education a while ago, but we hope you enjoy it, and find it really useful.
EW: Yeah, thank you!
HW: Welcome back to episode 6 of the Dear Mamas podcast.
EW: 6 already!
HW: Yeah, episode 6 already. Um, and we are here to talk about early childhood education, and specifically, the choices we make around early childhood education. Sometimes they are… choices, and sometimes they are choices we have to make because of our situation, and often they change so um, so Emily and I are going to talk about our own choices in our own early childhood education journeys with our children so far. We’ve got an expert with us as well. Would you like to introduce Jo, Emily?
EW: And just before we introduce Jo, I want to say that we are coming from the place of acknowledging that not all mothers and parents have the same choices or access to the same ability to make those, well, you know not everybody has the same choices or the way to do that so we are really coming from a place of acknowledging that and trying to talk about our own experiences, and just… that those are really specific to us and everybody is going to have their, where they’re coming from and that type of thing. I mean I’m really tired and that’s not eloquent at all but I’m just trying – I’m trying to put it out there that we’re not just saying… we’re just saying that we understand that, for some people, you’ve got to work or you maybe don’t have a car… all of those things… there are many, many reasons why parents have their children in early childhood education, and we’re just going to talk about some of the reasons why we do. So…
HW: As always, I’m from a no bullshit, no judgement place.
EW: So, yeah. So Jo, I’m really excited to have Jo, I love Jo. So she’s taught my little Eddie at the most beautiful little community centre. I always called it crèche, but it’s like a community coop place so it has a governance of parents who work with the teachers and Jo as senior teacher. So she’s running the place with the parents. Jo has three beautiful children who are ranged from 18, 8 and 2 and a half, so she’s really busy and she has 20 years experience in teaching so we are really lucky to have Jo, so thanks so much for coming on.
J: Thank you, thank you for having me.
EW: So yeah, I guess I will start by saying I asked Jo to be a part of this discussion because, really, my second sort of foray into early childhood education was Jo’s coop – I’ll just call it your coop, because I had trialled a place before coming to Jo’s place and – the place I tried just wasn’t right for us and we thought that it would be, because we looked at a lot of places and we wanted a place that only did half days and um, Eddie had a respiratory condition, so he’d basically been isolated for the first year and a half of his life, and my husband was a stay at home dad. We were getting to a point where Eddie really needed, he needed to be getting out of the house and having the slow gradual transition into being around other kids, but my husband was struggling with that, that really social side of things. Dad and Mums groups are quite clique-y by the time you have a one and a half year old, like there’s not many – they’re pretty well established by the time you’re one and a half, and my husband’s pretty quiet – Jo’s laughing because she knows my husband, he’s quiet and no bullshit. So you can imagine what he’s going to be like in these groups. Um, and he was also tired, being a parent, being a full time parent of a chronically ill child and I was working and parenting and he needed a break. He needed some time out, so we wanted a place two days a week. So we looked at a place and we thought it’s very small coop and that’s what we wanted, just a place that did half days, and we tried there. We were there for a couple of weeks and it just never seemed to quite click. Actually, it was probably a couple of months. We gave it a good try and wanted him to be able to transition but it just didn’t work. We heard that a place much closer to us did half days and it’s really rare these days to find places these days that only do like 9:30am til 2:30pm or places that are comfortable with you only doing a half day. I remember we walked in and Helen was on the guitar and, or somebody was on the guitar and –
J: It might have been Stacey. I was on maternity leave at that time.
EW: And there was singing and they were just, someone must have whispered in Stacey’s ear or something and then they seamlessly transitioned into singing to Eddie and he just, like, his face just lit up and he joined them and… my husband and I just had this total moment of oh my gosh, this is the place, like it was very small but it wasn’t, it was the teachers. Like it was Stacey and Helen, and they just… Eddie was just drawn to them. So um, we enrolled Eddie there and he did two days a week for quite a long time and then he went up to three days a week. We tried other things like Play Centre, but it was just really challenging in a lot of ways. Part of that, I think, is really that transition from being a family that’s spent a lot of time in hospital and being quite isolated from other families. It’s hard when, with things like Play Centre, it’s quite reliant on you being quite extroverted and connecting with the parents and I’m quite extroverted and I love meeting new people, but I still found Play Centre really tough. I felt like all the Mums knew each other and I didn’t know them but I had to get along with all of them because it felt like everybody had jobs and – there seemed to be a hierarchy of jobs. I found it quite challenging really, and trying to fit that around work and going to Play Centre in my work clothes felt really like… uncomfortable. And yeah, I had this moment sitting in the sun at Play Centre one day and I could see the other parents and stuff and I thought, “This is wonderful,” like, being with my child in the sunshine and watching them play and stuff, and I have to go back to work, and they get to hang out and not have… I realised much later, after I was at home with two children, like, fuck that, you go home and they’ll be like screaming or laughing, you know, like the grass is always greener eh, like it’s so amazing at home and then when you’re, you know, the other way around, it’s just yeah. But crèche works so well for us, but, you know, Jo’s place, and part of that’s because I felt like I really had community there and I felt like I got a lot of help with Eddie. I remember at the beginning feeling so nervous and like, he has a respiratory condition, nobody’s allowed to get sick around him, nobody, if there’s snotty noses we won’t come in and… everybody there was really patient with me. They – the other place I had been at, there had been a hand foot and mouth and communication hadn’t been great, so for us, we can’t handle that. We have to know. We have to know everything when it happens and they said, “This is day care,” and I just felt like it was a really, not a… this isn’t day care. Day care, to me, is a community of people who are going to help me raise my child with me. I’m the parent, but we all like supporting and loving children. To me it is that cliché of the village. To me, it actually is and it stops it being a cliché. You know, so… Holly?
HW: I just wonder if, before – because each of us is going to talk about our experiences, it struck me while listening to you – it may be helpful before we do Jo and I, if we define some of these different terms. …might not be familiar with some of them?
EW: Yeah, so I mean – Jo? Do you want to tackle that, because I mean, I get quite confused about –
HW: Kindy, crèche, and play centre as well, which is a different thing again.
J: Okay so… Obviously Play Centre is parents owned – parent run I should say. I’m not that familiar with Play Centre, I never did it as a parent, but I had a mother that did and she loved it and thrived on it. It is parent led, under government regulations –
HW: Ministry of Education funded.
J: All of that as an ECE.
HW: But it’s the parents that are running the sessions.
J: That’s right. So it’s a great opportunity there for children if that’s the outcome you’re looking for. So I wouldn’t say no to it, I’d say give it a try and something to go for –
EW: And they do training don’t they, Holly, for parents, so it’s a way of furthering your education.
HW: That’s right. I’ll talk a bit about it when we get to me, because I delved into Play Centre a bit. So that’s that one and I guess it’s important that people know the difference between that one and the other types.
J: So then you’ve got kindergarten which has, I guess it’s always been – there’s a 3 – 5 year old age range, but the kindergarten association now has changed its ruling now and they now take from 2 – 5 and a lot of the centres are now full time centres which can take anywhere from 7:30am to 6 in the evening, and then you’ve got the part days kindergartens which run from 8:30am til 2:30pm. It’s open throughout the week these days too, which is another thing, it runs very similarly to an early childhood centre which is five days a week and open to all days and obviously hours do vary too. So you get a part day centre which is 8:30am to 2:30pm or a full day centre which is 7:30am to as late as 7pm, depending on the hours that you need. A lot of centres do break down their hours to accommodate you, but can be quite strict on the hours that they choose to do. Then you’ve got a community based centre which is where I work and – we run part day, so we do six hour sessions for the children. As a personal preference, working in full time childcare and working in part time childcare, I believe six hours is more than enough for a child, but circumstances are so vastly different and I know it all so well from being a parent of 18 years, that situations change and you have to go with what works for your family. So my children have been in various childcares where it works. Some have been full time; I’ve worked for Barnardos childcare which was a very different situation to be involved in.
EW: So what’s Barnados childcare?
J: So Barnados is a foundation that supports families in need, in respect of children that are possibly getting neglect from their upbringing and family circumstances and parents who don’t have enough money to keep affordable, you know, look after their children. CYFs would use them if they need.
EW: Are they centres or just a teacher?
J: No, they are centres. Like Barnados home based carer, which will probably take on one to five children and then you have a Barnados centre. And the centres and the home based carers aren’t just for, kind of, vulnerable –
EW: No no no.
J: But they raise funds from those to support that other work. What they will do is if there’s a family that need, Barnados would find a place for them. So, in my experience, working at Barnados. I worked there for quite a few years with my son who was my first born and it was a centre where I had to become a caregiver instead of a teacher. I was supporting lots of families which needed support and then transitioning to my centre now, where I work in a community where children are very respected and loved and cared for, that I could be that teacher again, to look after children in a different way. But yeah, there’s a variety out there, and it just pays to keep looking until you find the right one and you’ll get that feeling people.
EW: Okay. Well, I think that covers off all the different types, isn’t it? And there’s of course Porse.
J: Home grown and nannies.
EW: Nannies, of course.
J: I think Nanny College does homecare as well.
HW: In our situation, my daughter is almost three; she’ll be three during October and she. In that time she’s had everything, apart from home based care, she was cared for by my, well, first of all I was on maternity leave. Then, I was a member of parliament when she was born, so I went back to work quite quickly, and my partner was looking after her full time as a stay at home Dad for a few months. Then unfortunately he got quite unwell so we needed some extra support for him because he wasn’t able to care for her on his own so we got a nanny in who was there to support him actually, so he was around and still caring for her. You know, as much as he was able to. We had a nanny based at home with them who would pick up the slack when he wasn’t able to. She was awesome, but we just couldn’t afford to pay her for long term. So we kinda did that for a few months and used up all our savings and then it was apparent that his condition wasn’t going to be temporary, so we had to make a different change. So I looked at stepping out of parliament but still needing to work because he wasn’t able to work fulltime either. So then we looked at care options. By the time we did that she was probably… coming up, just over a year old. So from the time when she was about a year old she’s been three days a week into early childhood… into a wonderful ECE, part of the ECE centre in Lower Hutt, where we live and it’s the same thing. We looked, we had several centres and as you both have said you get that feeling when you walk in the door and we certainly got that. She’s really loved it there, although it hasn’t been without its challenges because she… even now, after being there for nearly two years, she still finds it quite hard to be dropped off in the morning, and we’ll talk about that a bit more. So that can be challenging. But throughout all of that I had this idea that I was really committed to the Play Centre philosophy as well, so from the beginning we went to Space, which is a play centre based in program for parents with new babies. You get to meet other parents with babies from about three months on. So we did that, and then we joined a Play Centre session. Initially a couple of days a week, juggling that around parliament, and then a brief stint when I wasn’t working when we went four days a week and that was wonderful and it was like I- you want to be with your child, but it’s good to be around other adults as well and that was great. And then when I went back to work four days a week we went on the fourth day but… the way that Play Centre works, most Play Centres that I know of, because they are run by parents, the sessions are run by parents, you have to be on duty, as in, one of the responsible adults running the session one day a week. We were only going one day a week and so I was working the other four days and going to Play Centre on the fourth and being responsible for the session and just found that it was too stressful and really, for me – Esther loved it, she still talks about her Play Centre and we still go back for birthday parties sometimes.
EW: But it’s my Play Centre!
HW: Um, and I’m in touch with lots of parents.
EW: Play Centre philosophy, it’s like a brand new job.
HW: And like, I love their philosophy around parents’ involvement in their education.
EW: It’s good to get that education behind you. Just makes sense.
EW: Because I remember the first time I learned about stuff like schemas and that was through Play Centre.
HW: Yeah. So that’s been our ECE journey and at the moment she’s going four days a week which is a little experiment we’re trying. I’m trying to get some writing done on that other day when I’m not going to work, and that’s been good for me, in that I’m getting the writing done that I need to get done, but not for her. I think four days is too much for her, so we’ve got about three more weeks of that and she’s going to drop back to her three days a week which I think is her happy place.
J: That’s a good thing to know too. If you have the opportunity to cut down days, or you feel like you need to add a day, because you’re feeling that the child can do it, you go with that, but if you don’t have to.
HW: It’s good to observe that because my feeling before we did that, because watching her was kinda like, “Oh there she is going really well,” you know, she’s dropped her day’s sleep, she does a full day there and she’s tired by the end of the day but she’s coping with it really well. So maybe she can add another, but… And you know, she has, but you know, you can tell by the end of that fourth day that she’s really worn out so.
EW: It’s been really interesting that we looked at, when we had Eddie at Jo’s place, there was a, who has to be at home with him, trying to juggle both of us working more, all of that stuff. I mean it’s sort of funny, I can hear myself justifying it and I just want to be like, I just wanted to put him in fucking care for a day. You know? Because there’s all this judgement, like, could you be at home and put your baby into care? And it’s like, because I loved the place, I wanted a break. Like I trusted implicitly the people at the centre and I wanted a, you know, and because we were just hitting the wall about sleep, we were like, what if we put him in and that morning we just slept, you know. So.
J: Mental health for parents is such a.
EW: So important! It’s so left out of all the discussions about… like there’s just this moral high ground around, like, all the horrible things people say about, like, “Oh why did you have them if you’re not going to look after them?” and all that stuff and. You know, the mean things people say about having a child in care. So I had this whole thing of I can’t do this, but, we were going to have like a nervous breakdown. So I thought, “No. I know all the teachers, Eddie’s been there for years, I will put him in.” And he seemed to cope well, actually, for, he was excited because Eddie was there, but the thing was, it was the getting sick right away, and oh yeah of course, new immune systems, all that, and then we started to try… we were like, we were getting some tests done to find out why he wasn’t sleeping, and the cost is prohibitive when you have, like, you know the half day places that are coops, you pay for the good quality care that you’re getting, you know. So we just couldn’t justify, like on such a low wage, both of us and one income, having him there. So we ended up, I don’t think he was even there very long, maybe a month. He loved it. He went maybe three times and it was going to be once a week, but the main thing was the cost because Eddie was getting the 20 hours free, and I mean, that would have been anywhere we went.
J: Yeah the cost to –
EW: Yeah, because if you’re not working in that time, and I was, I was writing, but the life of a freelancer you can’t ever rely on that money. So, and then Eddie was starting kindy, and so we were like, “Well, we’ll do that.” And then basically one – Ham’s sleep just kept continuing to be terrible and I went into kindy and I just started crying, trying to get the – because I thought I had to leave here with Ham, and what am I going to do? I just thought, “I’m all on my own again,” and Eddie was upset. The head teacher there took me aside and said, “Look I’ve seen you, and I’ve looked and we can actually take Ham to give you a rest,” and I said, “Oh, no no, he’s too young, your place is too big, it’s a big,” and she said, “Just for an hour or two so you can sleep.”
J: That’s awesome.
EW: And then I was still, I was still, “Nata, no it’s too busy,” and she said, “Well why don’t you just sit in the sunshine on the couch?” and I fell asleep on the couch. He was running around and I could see Eddie holding his hand and showing him all the things and I and I saw that they had a whole section just off for all the little babies, and they have a specific teacher per baby, and I thought, because the waiting list is like… Ham went on the waiting list when I was eight weeks pregnant, so we didn’t even know if he would make it, and Eddie was on that same waiting list, from 12 weeks or something – no, sorry, he was four months. Because, first baby, we didn’t know what the wait lists are like. But now we know. So I guess that’s the thing that I would say to parents around kindy waitlists, it’s like a thing now. As soon as you’re pregnant, put them on every kindy waitlist, because if you decide, when their name comes up, that you don’t want it then fine! But generally don’t even try, because it’s so, I was so lucky that I had the perfect circumstance that both of my kids will be going to the same school that the kindy is associated with, I’m real cool to the kindy, all those things, and they happened to have a spot for him. I think they worked with the association or whatever to help, I think I was the, “We need to help this mother,” person, but. Now the boys are there and Ham is there, and I get sometimes, like when I first started I had these moments of, “He’s too young to be at kindy!” but then I thought, “He loves it there.” He’s got the same teacher, they do the same routine for him, getting him to sleep, they sit with him and sing to him and pat him just like we do at home and that’s special. That’s really special. And, you know, so now I have this kind of thing and, well the thing with kindy is, it’s almost free. That’s the difference.
J: A big difference.
EW: We can actually have him in there and try and make money through writing and, if you’re doing kinda freelance work like that, you can make, you can get into a kindy. It’s so cheap. You can fundraise your.
HW: You just made me realise that kohanga is the other option that we didn’t talk about before.
HW: Kohanga and Maori language preschools or early childhood centres. I think, we’re just about to look into the kohanga that’s close to us because… when Esther goes to school, if she goes to a local school she’s got the option of bilingual or immersion units and that would be awesome, but we’d like her to have some exposure before, you know, she goes to school. We can speak a little bit of Te Reo Maori at home, but only a small bit. We’re going to do some research about that, but I, from what I understand about that, very affordable option for families and stuff.
EW: And kohanga, in case anybody’s listening and doesn’t know, is immersion Maori language early childhood education.
J: That’s right and Aoga Amata is the Samoan version of kohanga reo as well.
EW: And we have about three kohanga in Wellington, is that right? Newtown, Seatoun…
J: Sorry, I’m not familiar with… not sure if they’re still open.
HW: I live in Lower Hutt and I know of two, one in Petone and one in Moera, where I am, but I’m sure there are others in the Hutt Valley and there are others around Wellington.
EW: I have friends whose children do kohanga and they say it’s amazing and we thought about doing kohanga as well and, no I’ve heard really good things about kohanga, there’s just not any local to me.
J: No, and that’s a big thing too isn’t it? Something nice and close.
EW: So your three children have been through a lot of different places as well. Like we’ve talked about the places we’ve been involved with.
EW: And we talked a little bit about Barnados and coops and full time care as well.
J: Yeah yeah, definitely. So.
EW: So you’re coming from this not just as a teacher but a parent.
J: A parent and a teacher. Now my 18 year old, who, 18 years ago, I was a stay at home Mum for two years. My partner was studying at the time. We were very young parents, we were only 18 years of age when we had our baby, but we had a village to support us. We had my Mum and Dad, and his Mum and Dad, and we had a large gathering of people to support us through that transition of having a young baby at a young age. So I loved my stint of two years, I did parents as young teachers, which was another system that parents could get involved in.
EW: That’s finished now, isn’t it?
J: Yeah. There is something else out there, I do know, but I can’t remember the name. I can’t… oh; Incredible Years is another thing if parents are looking for support, Google it. It will give some information on support as a parent, just to understand the growth and development of your children, why they do something and you sit there and look at them, thinking, “Why is he continuously stacking those cups and removing them again?” It will give you insight on what it’s all about. But as a young Mum, Parents As First Teachers was the first taste of being an early childhood teacher. I realised my son needed a lot more than just teletubbies and Barney, which was his era… used to drive me a little bit nuts but that’s okay. I went through that for five years, and during that time I studied as an early childhood teacher which again opened my eyes a lot to what he was doing between the ages of two and five. So I realised there was a lot more important things coming that I could teach him. Then, from there, we went to Barnados and he attended with me from ages two to five. That came with its challenging moments as a parent does, you have your child at the centre, eight hours a day was what I was working, and, you know, at times I wanted to pull my hair out, because I had to give attention and love to other children and he wanted my love, and I had to really balance myself out and be two people. At one particular moment one child told me he wanted Mum to be a teacher too, so that he could have his Mum in the centre as well, and that gave me a really strong influence of how I could be two people at once. How I can put a teacher hat on, and how I can be a parent at the same time. So when my other daughter came along, I had a bit more knowledge of how I could be that person, and the centre I’m at now is where she attended with me and it was amazing. I think I had a better experience with her than I did with him, because he had taught me a lot. He had taught me the way of how I could work as a parent, as a team as well. As a teacher you’ve got to work with other people and other adults and be that loving, caring person, and now with my two and a half year old I have in the centre with me now… she’s a little bit challenging, but I call it third child. She is – and I’m older – so things have changed a little bit over my years but there’s a special moment there now and I have balance. I can do both, and I love that I can look after other people’s children and enjoy them as much as I love having my own child there.
HW: So Jo, part of the reason we wanted to have you along tonight was to pick your brains a little bit about some of the common, I guess, you know if we’re thinking about choices, and, you know, if people are thinking about different ECE options for their children, what are the things to look out for in a centre or any of these types of centres when you’re visiting? What would you advise parents to be thinking about looking for, asking questions about when they are visiting?
J: You’re nervous, you’re trying to make sense of it all; you have no idea what this environment does. How do they support my child? How do they feed my child? What do they do when they put them to sleep? You need to ask all of those questions. You need to find out how it all works. If there’s something you want them to do, you need to tell them. You know, from as simple as putting a singlet under a t-shirt, to making sure he gets changed every hour. All those – we’re not gonna judge you on how you do it. I do what I do as a parent, and I don’t expect people to judge me, and I wouldn’t judge anyone else.
EW: That’s really reassuring to hear as often I’ve felt like the neurotic parent, like I need this and this and this and this, or he, you know, I remember sometimes being like to the teachers, “Oh he’s had a night last night where he was a bit up and down and stuff,” and sometimes I’ve thought, “Am I talking too much? Do they dread every time I walk in and I’m telling them everything that’s happened in the last -.”
J: Not at all. Because the last thing is, we can sense something’s not right with a child pretty much the whole day and we’re walking around going, “What’s going on for him? Why was he a little bit upset before over a block that fell down that he wasn’t playing with?” And then you find out at the end of the day what the reason is. You need to know what they are, no matter how big or small or… anything at all. It makes the day much smoother for your child, and it makes it easier for us to support the child as much as possible. The thing is, is that, I mean, being a parent obviously I get it. We have these precious babies and they’re our precious babies. Every child that walks in my door is just as precious as my baby. You had that child, you grow that child, you do everything you can to make that child happy, and I can read it off certain parents, how they want their child to be cared for. It’s not up to us to make a decision; we change it to accommodate us. We want that child to be just as comfortable with us being the same person.
EW: Yeah. I think that tenderness is one of the things that, for me, I feel like the connections I’ve had in the two places that have worked so well for me, the kindy and Jo’s place, are around tenderness of the teachers. I remember one of the teachers at kindy saying to me that Ham was such a lovely little boy. I just had this feeling of, like; I was so wrapped up in sleep and exhaustion that I almost got teary at her saying that. Like she said, “I just really love having him around,” and I was just like, “You love my child!” and it was this thing of, she saw things in him that she saw in other children and that, but it was like she had this little every child in her little area that she cared for and she saw different things in different children and she loved that about them. That, for me, is a great teacher, who I always sensed how much she… The other teachers cared about Eddie and things like, at his happy last day I was trying so hard not to cry because of the beautiful things that were said, like seeing him as a full person.
HW: When teachers say things like that you can see they know your child really well. That is really important. And, like you say, tenderness and… you know it’s funny, because it’s not something I had really thought about before we started Esther in day care, but of course. Physical contact and affection between parents, between parents and teachers… between teachers and children! Is really important, like cuddles and maybe we’ll talk about morning drop offs in a minute. Seeing that there are teachers there that, even though she’s finding it really hard to say goodbye, she’s really happy to go to them for comfort. But as I’m leaving, and they’re happy to be there to provide that, that’s been really important.
EW: and I realised that wasn’t the case everywhere when I went to other places because… there’s something about your place, Jo, that the kids are always draped all over you guys… I don’t think I’ve ever walked in without a child on you. And I loved that when I would say goodbye to Eddie, he would kind of look around to find who he’s going to have cuddles with, he knew anyone that he could. I remember that was one of my big things at the first play site, I was like, “Will you hold him and cuddle him when he’s upset?” I feel like my biggest fear was that he would be crying and he wouldn’t get, like somebody wouldn’t come and pick him up and cuddle him and hold him until, you know, he was… In the reality of a lot of busy places they can’t do that and it’s like there’s a, you know, something around working out how all of that works and stuff, because it was so made stuff like… like we talked about drop off but trying to fit around drop off because, when we’re at the kindy there’s some teachers there that – they’re all awesome teachers – but some of them, Eddie would not go to for a cuddle, and not because of their – he just has this way of connecting with some people and being like, “That’s a cuddle person, that’s not.”
J: Children pick and choose who they –
EW: Having somebody that they can go to when they’re upset, and I love being able to say that they’re like, “Can I have a cuddle, Eddie?” and yeah, so. I’ve always thought that was so funny at your place, how Eddie would just suss out who’s got the comfiest lap today.
J: It’s okay to sit on it for a while, and it should be that. I don’t… a child shouldn’t miss out on what they generally get at home. It’s very important to make the place as homely as possible, and for us as teachers, to read how a parent interacts with their child. So, let’s say we move to settling right now, settling in is one of my biggest, biggest things. Over the years at the centre, things have changed in how we do the settling in process, but for me, it’s really important that you have as much time with your child as you can in the centre environment. A lot of centres have their own rules and I get it, but we have an open door policy where, if you’re starting with us in a month’s time, and you’ve got your set date and you’re ready to start back at work or you’ve got a course that you’re doing or whatever it is, I would encourage you to come as many days as you can and stay for as long as you want and I will make you feel as welcome as possible because the more your child sees us interact with other children, and the more they see us interact with the other parents or with yourselves, it makes them feel at home. It makes them feel comfortable, and the happier you are as a parent, the more comfortable your child will be, because they look for us, as parents, for us as security. We walk into a place and we need to be comfortable, happy and excited, and we know when we walk into an environment that we don’t feel comfortable or happy or excited about, we won’t feel that we can be a part of that.
EW: That’s really around the community of a centre as well, because I know when I was sort of doing the settling in with Ham, I found a lot of it was that I wanted to go to the centre and sit and, you know? Like I would sit on the couch and I would –
J: That’s good! You want to be a part of it too!
EW: I’m just waiting for Mainly Music and I friggin’ hate naming… I shouldn’t say that, but, no Mainly Music’s wonderful and –
J: All of us like it, it’s okay.
EW: But you know? I just enjoyed that community of sitting and you feel quite restful when you’re around and, you know, those places where you can just hang out and go to sleep on the couch, or sit and watch your children play because it’s one of the wonderful things about Play Centre, being able to literally watch your child play, and join in with them playing, and that’s why it’s so great if you’re able to find a place which encourages that, that lets you come in and watch and be part of it.
J: The other important thing is, I mean, my philosophy is that everyone should be welcomed. There’s no pressure to leave, if you didn’t have to work that day, you could sit on our couch. You can feed your baby on our couch; you can do whatever you have to do. You can have a cup of tea. You know that if that feeling you get in that sort of place and if they welcome you that way, that you’ve walked into a really good centre.
EW: So what other tips have you got for settling, because I know settling is the big difficulty, like how do I make sure it’s a smooth transition to a new place?
J: Understanding of your child’s length of time when you walk into the centre is very important. So judging, say for an older child, you can pick an activity, you could talk about it in the car, and say, “Okay today, Eddie, what are we going to do? Are we going to do a puzzle together, are we going to read a book, are we going to play outside? Why don’t we choose one of those things we can do together? And then after we’ve done that together, we can look around and see which teacher you want to go to, because Mummy’s got to go and do these jobs and Mummy has to do the jobs.” Really explain to your children what these jobs are. For children they kind of go, “oh Mum’s going to work,” and then they get anxiety because they don’t actually know what that term means. As simple as saying, “Mummy’s got to go and type on the computer,” is, “My Mum’s going to type on the computer today, I know where she is”or, “My Mum works in this big building and she’s got this big window that she showed me and she looks out at the harbour every day.” Kids want to know exactly what it is you’re doing, and the more they understand that, the more they’ll feel the transition is okay to say goodbye. Unknown, to them, is not a good space. They love to know everything. The younger ones? Distraction. Okay, Ham will go onto something he knows and his primary caregiver will know exactly what that is.
EW: I feel quite bad because I kind of like –
J: It’s just the age group, it’s got nothing to do with –
EW: Like I roll a ball and run away.
J: That’s okay. I am a strong believer though, in saying goodbye. I’ve had children that haven’t had goodbyes and they walk around the centre all day and I’ve rung people on the phone and I’ve tried to use Skype so that they can talk, lots of different strategies. But the goodbye is something that children learn over time, you know? When you go on a big holiday and you’re finally having a Mummy’s weekend away, or Daddy’s weekend or whatever it is, understanding what goodbye means, you always come back. That’s what goodbye means to them. You’ve said goodbye, but you’re coming back.
HW: You’re reminding me, actually, I must’ve been feeling really emo about this, because the first three days that Esther was at day care, you know, after we’d done all the settling visits and I was actually gone and she was there for the day, I wrote her these letters and like, “I need you know that when I go away, I’ll always come back.”
EW: Yes. It’s one of the biggest things we use as our line is, “Always come back.” And they’ll look at you and smile and go, “Yes.”
J: And then when we see the parent walk through the door at the end of the day, I’ll go, “Always come back,” and then they smile and they run with excitement – yay!
EW: Yeah. So what are some of the things like, sometimes I’m not sure with when Eddie’s really upset when I’m leaving, whether to just do the hard, “I have to go to work,” and pass off, or do I wait until he calms down, or, because I’m always reassured that like, seconds later he’s fine.
J: Most people don’t lie about that. Generally what it is, is seconds. You know, I say to parents all the time, some kids have big goodbyes. Some of them don’t have quiet, some of them sit and hide away for a little bit and just don’t want to make a noise. Sometimes I feel like those ones are giving me more of a heartfelt moment, where the ones that are giving loud screams, dramatic – it’s called heartstrings. They’re pulling on them but what he’s really saying is he really, really misses you when you’re not there. But at the same time, I have an awesome time.
EW: They really know how to say like, Eddie has definitely started to say, “But I’ll miss you!” that’s his big thing and I say, “I miss you too, but we’re both going to go do our thing, and you’re going to have fun and I’m going to have fun,” and that’s such a lie.
J: It’s, you know, that word ‘okay’ is a good thing to say. When he says to you, “I’m going to miss you,” you go, “That’s okay, Eddie, I’m going to miss you too,” because it’s okay to miss someone. It’s okay to feel sad, it’s okay to get emotional, but all good things. But some of us will have children that will cry. It’s not about stopping them from crying, it’s more about understanding more about what they do when you’re gone. Really ask the teachers, “What does he do when I leave? Is he walking around sobbing and sad, or does he bounce back and ooh I’m ready to go again?” because that will put your heart at ease when you leave. I see, for twenty years I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen kicking and screaming and then oh phew she’s gone, and they’re off, and I’m like, “What just happened?”
EW: Here’s a hard question – how do you know when your child just isn’t transitioning?
J: They will continue to cry throughout the day, over and over again. They won’t stop. They will cry and cry.
HW: Teachers will tell you that.
J: They will cry and cry. The teachers should ring you. We courtesy call all the time. All the time.
EW: Yeah I remember often having you ring us and say, “He’s fine now.”
J: It’s a… you know, I know as a parent that if I walked out and my child was sad, it would break me. I would be feeling terrible. I would want to run back in there and go, “Don’t worry! We’re good,” you know?
EW: One of the amazing things that the kindy did with me was, because I was so heartbroken about leaving Ham, while also so desperately needing to leave Ham for my health, was she texted me immediately after with a photo of him happily playing, and I kept it as proof, because sometimes I’d be like, and then throughout the day she would text being like, “He’s asleep now, just so you know.”
EW: And send me pictures of him sleeping which was like amazing! He’s asleep, you know? But it was this really, it made me feel really connected to her and also it was so reassuring. You know I wasn’t rushing around thinking, “oh god what’s he doing now? Is he okay?” and get this picture of him angelically sleeping because, of course he will sleep there and not at home. But you know, whatever. I was like, “do you do overnights?”
J: Yeah, do you babysit? Come and hang out in his room.
EW: I’m tempted to be like, “How much do you like him? Can we discuss…” So really what you’re saying is the teacher should tell you.
J: They should tell you. I don’t think it’s fair on a child if they are not ready. And I get that there’s pressures that life brings and I understand that, but it just means that we have to work harder, the parents need to work harder, we need to work together as much as possible if this transition needs to happen and how good we can make it happen. What I can say is, generally when a child gets upset, some of the time, not all of the time, sometimes settling in hasn’t worked as well, or it hasn’t been long enough. But that’s pressures of life as well that generally get in the way of those things. I would encourage people to say in the centres as long as you can, play with your child. It doesn’t mean that teachers interact with your child. That’s a very important thing to note, because we’re slowly rapporting into that child’s, getting that sort of feeling of they’re ready for us to approach them,. You never approach a child too soon, you don’t want to break that trust that you’re there. I would prefer to be working really well with a child next to me and knowing that the new child is just sitting there watching everything I’m doing, and realising that I’m here to support, I’m getting water and I’m putting lunches out, I’m doing all these things, while in the meantime just give me a little glance over, I’m still here. I might give you a smile, or they might turn away, but that doesn’t matter. The fact is that child’s got to know me, that parent is watching every move I make while they’re in the environment. Recently we’ve had two children settle with us and the mother stayed with us for four sessions and the first time she went away she was like, “it just feels so good to know what you do. I’ve seen it, I know what you’re doing at 12 o’clock, I know what you’re doing at 1. I don’t have to question anything.” And then she’ll ask him, “what did you do today?” and, “we did Panui at this time.” It’s all there. The more you understand the day to day routines of the centre, the more you can go to work or whatever, run, you’ve got peace of mind.
HW: Something Esther said to me when she started was, the first couple of days she was there they took photos of her doing each of the things at the times, like having the morning kai and then a sleep and lunch and sleep and afternoon and playing, and they put it into a little flip chart for her so she could see, you know, what each of the things were to happen during the day. And she hung onto that for ages. She loved it, because it was good for the parents as well because we could see what she was doing during the day.
EW: So I’m sure we probably –
HW: We are running out of time.
EW: But I just had a few more questions. It’s so rare to have an ECE teacher that you can grill.
HW: Pick their brains.
EW: But, um, what about getting ready for school? Are there things parents should know about, you know, Eddie’s turning four oh my gosh, and um, so what are the things as a parent that I should be thinking about leading up to school?
J: Right, so the school transition. There’s a big, big thing in this transition to school that everyone’s got their own philosophy on it, but where we are, we’ve worked closely with the local schools and we’ve had principals and teachers and they’ve come up to the centre and spoken to our parents about certain things that they would like to see in their children when they come to school. Biggest thing is self-care skills – being able to put on a raincoat and zip it up. Being able to put your shoes on, toileting, being able to do all those toileting things and the factors that come with it. Social skills are very important, being able to talk with other children, interact with adults. You know, pen and paper… that can be very questionable. It’s nice to have, but most children do it throughout the day you know? If you’re getting a lot of artwork or children are playing in the sandpit with spades, all of these things are using their fine motor skills. These fine motor skills will naturally transform into things that need to happen at school. They’ll get to school, the pencil will be placed in their hand, and they will start learning a different concept.
EW: So don’t get hung up on…?
J: Don’t get hung up on it! If your child enjoys it, yes! Go with it. Scaffold, work alongside those things. But don’t force it upon them. Offer it, as we do. We have a literacy table at work, we have pens and pencils readily available all the time. Every child participates in that at some point of the day, but there’s no saying, “Let’s sit down, we’re going to do some school work.”
HW: Learn your name.
J: Get your book,
HW: Trace around these dotted letters.
J: That’s good to know in a centre, how many times do you see your child’s name in the centre? We have them on cubby holes, we have them on nappy charts, we have them on the wall we have them in baskets where they can find them. Those are the things that will start transitioning that part. It’s readily available. And at home, you can do the same. You can have the name on the fridge, you can have the name on the coffee table, you can go, “Find your name around the house.” Little things like that, or Mum and Dad or siblings, it’s… self-care skills and social skills are the biggest thing you can give your child, because they’ll walk in there all confident because they can take care of their own needs, they can meet and greet people, and a new environment is going to offer them everything they need. It’s just like the environment we cater for, but they’ll learn it in a different way. And if you get the right teacher, it’s even more important.
EW: That’s great, yeah. Okay, did you have any more…
HW: No, I think that’s been a great discussion and what I’m taking away from it, really, is that parents shouldn’t be afraid to be high maintenance when it comes to… because I know it’s a tendency that I have to work quite hard to overcome because you don’t want to be that annoying parent or nuisance or bothering busy teachers, all of that, but it’s really reassuring to hear you talk about… you know… parents should really feel free to ask as many questions, you know, to have that active, ongoing communication and that it’s not actually a nuisance but it sounds like it’s helping the teachers to do their job because the more information they have about the child the better.
J: You’re a parent because you have a child, and because you have something precious you want to be taken care of as well as they can be possibly taken care of and to be taught as well as they possibly can be taught. Although the more we know about the individual, the more we can actually offer that support to them. An open communication is one of the biggest keys.
EW: Yeah that’s really… what’s really resonated with me in our talk is about how much early childhood education isn’t about putting your children off somewhere for six hours. It’s a community thing where you work together to get the right outcomes and that sort of thing for your child but also that you’re a family, a community, a village and you have a role to play with the teacher, aside the teacher. It can be this really beautiful, wonderful thing for your family if it’s the right fit because I feel like that’s something I talk about a lot, that through trying various things, and definitely getting lucky in the centres I’ve found. Like we visited 100 places, like we went everywhere, before we chose Jo’s place and I feel like we had a lot of privilege in being able to do that obviously, and having flexibility around work and being able to do half days. But I think it’s more of a partnership than sometimes it’s represented in the media and in the dominant narrative of what childcare is, sometimes seems like it’s just saying you hand your child over and you don’t see them, where kindy, where I’m at now, and Jo’s place where I was before, feels like a partnership. Things like Story Park and Educa, the booklets, the panui, all of those things, the conversations at the beginning and end of the day and the feedback from the teachers, it’s all we’re in a partnership together, working together for our babies. It’s so important to see when, you know, you’re a parent and a teacher, you know you’ve got that double view of being both and that’s kind of what we all are, we’re parents and teachers and we’re working with teachers to be parents to our kids as well.
HW: Cool. Well we’ve all been drinking water tonight, we didn’t do our customary glass filling. We’ll say thank you so much, Jo.
J: You’re welcome, you’re welcome. I hope I helped out in some way.
EW: And I want to say, because I know there’s been a lot in the news in the last week with teachers, and I feel like teachers get a hammering so much and I’ve tried to say this on my platforms and stuff, I really wanna salute teachers, I wanna salute all of the people that really look after our children and work so hard to help us as families grow and just the ways the teachers nurture children and parents. It’s such an important job and I’m really grateful for the teachers in New Zealand, from ECE to middle school, to high school, intermediate, I’m really, I just wanna say thank you to all of the teachers in New Zealand for what they do for us.
J: Kia ora.
HW: Kia ora.
EW: Kia ora.
That’s it for another Dear Mamas podcast. Thanks for listening, and apologies for the long gap between episodes again. This podcast was produced and presented by me, Holly Walker, and Emily Writes. Thanks to our fabulous guest, Jo, for sharing her time and experience with us. You can find all our previous episodes on Emily’s blog, emilywrites.co.nz under the podcasts tag. You can also subscribe in iTunes, stitcher or wherever you find your podcasts, and please leave us a review while you’re there. We’ll be back with another episode soon. In the meantime, hang in there, you’re doing great.