5 signs of a happy early childhood education centre

Published on Wednesday, 13 October 2021
Last updated on Monday, 11 October 2021

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Whether your child goes to early childhood education (ECE) for short sessions or long days, it’s important that their time is spent in a positive way – and also in a positive environment.

Upbeat educators and bright premises contribute to a happy early learning experience, and although an ECE centre might look great on paper, you need to tour the service and meet its staff to get a real sense of whether it will be a happy fit for your family.

Here are 5 things to look for when choosing a cheerful ECE centre.

1. Positive interactions

Body language tells us a lot about people’s inner feelings, and the way in which staff members interact with you and your child, and one another, really counts.

From the moment you first contact the service, you’ll get a sense of how happy they are to hear from you and help you, and it’s important that you get a good reception when you walk through the door, tour the premises, and embark on regular drop-offs and pick-ups.

Educators should make an effort to build a warm, respectful and responsive relationship with your child, and with yourself, through friendly interactions and genuine communication.

At a happy service, educators also have positive relations with each other. Child care colleagues don’t necessarily need to be best friends, but you’ll see a natural comradery between educators, and a shared commitment to teach and care for children with a smile.

2. An upbeat environment

Every ECE service is designed differently, and whether your service is decked out with super modern décor or has a more homely aesthetic, it needs to have a feel-good physical environment, with the child care community in mind.

The rooms should be clean and bright, with floor space allocated for learning and fun, and happy services have lots of personal touches that show how educators and families are invested in the environment.

Children’s artwork will be on display in all its glory, and you might spot things like pot plants being lovingly cared for, projects that celebrate awareness days, happy snaps (photos), and display boards that showcase achievements and engage everyone in a positive way.

3. Low staff turnover

Although you can’t expect that every staff member will stay at the same child care service for decades, a high staff turn-over is a strong indicator of job dissatisfaction and an unhappy work environment.

Employees stay on at places that make them feel content, fulfilled and valued, so if one educator has been buzzing away in the baby room for 12 years, and another has volunteered her services to set up bee-hives in the outdoor space, you’ll get a sense that they’re happy to dedicate themselves to the centre and its children.

4. Positive reviews

Review reports from the Education Review Office tell you a lot about what an ECE service is doing well, or not-so-well, and it also pays to take parent reviews into account.

If your service is getting lots of positive reviews from mums and dads, both online and through word-of-mouth, this says a lot about its program, practices, facilities, staff and culture.

Parents with children currently or formerly enrolled at the service will know how happy the place is, and if one parent says, ‘The staff are extremely warm and clearly adore the kids,’ this is definitely nice to know.

5. Happy children

Last, but not least, you can tell a lot about a service by the children attending it.

Although it’s natural for under-fives to have moments when they’re sad, unsettled or pushing the boundaries, a happy service is one with happy children.

If a child is upset, an educator will be responding to them in a calm and caring way, and on the whole, you’ll see children enjoying the activities and experiences on offer as they play, make, move and learn in lots of different ways.

Smiling, giggling and fun are key parts of the ECE day, and there will be lots of things to keep individual children interested and entertained.

By pick-up time, they’ll be tired, but happy, and ready to do it all over again another day.

If your child isn’t happy about going to child care, this article might help.

And if you’re looking for your first ECE centre, or a happier alternative to your current one, we recommend that you:

  • Search the options in your area
  • Create a shortlist, based on reviews, ratings, vacancies and fees, then
  • Tour the services you’re keen on.

Our Choosing a Child Care Service Tool Kit contains helpful information, and we encourage you to think about practical matters – and trust your instincts – to find a positive child care placement. Good luck!

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