Phoenix Preschool is a place where tamariki thrive and whānau are always welcome.
With a focus on meaningful connections and community spirit, this Ashburton-based early childhood education service offers something special in the South Island, and provides not just child care, but whānau care too.
To get a sense of how the centre operates, we spoke with Phoenix's Preschool Manager, Ange Ross.
Phoenix Preschool won the MyECE Award for Excellence this year and you receive glowing feedback from families. What do you think makes your community-based service so successful?
We were so proud to receive the MyECE Award for Excellence, and I think that Phoenix is a caring and enriching environment because of the relationships we build every day in every way.
Our centre philosophy has an exceptionally strong whānau-focus and we want every person who comes to the preschool to feel like they're a part of our Phoenix whānau.
We want whānau to know they are an integral part of their child's education – through the planning process, the daily curriculum, sharing photos and stories from home and always being welcome in the centre at any time. We also encourage and support breastfeeding in our centre.
Our staff, Governance Board, Fundraising Committee, whānau, tamariki, and members of the wider community all work together to create a nurturing and progressive educational environment. Relationships underpin everything we do.
What sort of facilities and resources does Phoenix offer?
Although our facilities aren't state-of-the-art, or new and innovative, we make the best of what we have and are truly lucky to have an extensive outdoor area. Over several years, we've been able to extend our outdoors and make it a natural, inviting, intriguing and challenging space where tamariki can explore at their own pace.
When it comes to our rooms, we're a mixed age service, so we have the Kiwi Room for ages five months to two years, and the Pukeko Room for ages two to six. Although we could add a third room, I can see the huge benefits of having the mixed age through tuakana teina and ako because all the tamariki learn so much from each other and through role-modelling.
In terms of equipment, we are an exceptionally well-resourced centre due to being operational for 35 years and can offer our tamariki a wide range of experiences.
We want to set them up for the real world by facing real problems and using real tools to work through them, so we use real carpentry equipment and real gardening tools.
Saying that, we regularly discuss appropriate and responsible use of the tools and the tamariki know that if the equipment is not respected, then it may have to be put away for the day. Because we are mixed age, the tamariki respect our kaupapa and they work together by ensuring that everyone is responsible.
What kinds of opportunities do your tamariki have to engage with the wider community?
We get out into our community as often as we can, for a variety of experiences.
Ashburton College is on our doorstep, so we’ve attended science classes, PolyFest performances and Powhiri ceremonies there, and we also enjoy exploring parts of the large College field, especially during school holidays.
Students from the College are also encouraged to visit us. The Child Development class comes in on a regular basis, and the Health Class recently ran a module with our tamariki on brushing teeth and keeping healthy.
We also try to get out to our local Rosebank Resthome and invite the elderly residents to come and see us when they can.
We have reciprocal visits with several schools that are in walking distance, and we also visit the Ashburton Art Gallery and Museum.
Recently, we even visited Harvey's Bakehouse where we discovered how they make bread and we were able to make and take home our own mini-loaves!
Each year, we also hold several events where preschoolers, whānau and teachers get together outside of the session for some fun activities. This could mean visiting a police station, fire station, farmyard, park, observatory or just hanging out in the centre for takeaway dinner and some special activities. Our annual bus trip is definitely a highlight and we recently headed to Tūranga – the new Christchurch Library.
Starting at a new ECE service – even one as inclusive as Phoenix – can be daunting. How do you help children transition into the early learning environment?
We have a whānau-focused transition procedure because we recognise that it’s not just the child transitioning, but the family as a whole.
Coming into the centre, we have four settling visits that give the child and whānau time to grow their trusting relationship with the Kaiako. This is child-responsive, in that we just work at their pace, and when we feel they’re ready, we'll encourage the family to say goodbye and let their child know when they will return.
We always maintain open communication with our whānau, and if at any time we feel that their child is not coping, we will give them a call. Even if the drop-off has not gone well, we will send them a message the moment the child has settled to play, just to reassure each family that their child is our full focus.
Also, when our tamariki transition between rooms, we run a five week transition programme where the transitioning tamariki will join the older tamariki for longer and longer periods each day, gradually becoming part of the new routine and programme, and building relationships with their new Kaiako.
The transition to school is a big move too. How do you help preschoolers and their whānau prepare for this next step?
At Phoenix we try and do the first visit with the whānau to the school. This way we are able to introduce the family to the school and help support the transition process. We are able to advocate for our families and for the child by ensuring they can ask all the questions they need to get the answers they need.
We try our very best to have a transition visit for each student transitioning to school – sometimes this may just be a teacher and child with their family, other times we are able to take a group of friends or tamariki that are transitioning to the same school together.
One thing we have found at Phoenix is that we have such strong relationships with our families that when they transition off to school, the whānau often feel quite overwhelmed because there is not the same level of engagement with teachers like there is in ECE.
At Phoenix, we see every parent/caregiver every day and we speak to them about how their child’s day has been, their interests, what has been happening at home etc. Once they go to school they have one teacher to 20+ parents. This is certainly something that we need to work on with schools because it's not just the child that transitions to school, but the family as well.
Thanks so much for your insights, Ange, and congratulations on your award.