Growing little minds at home provides the best start

Child Forum’s survey of early childhood educators working in centres and subsequent New Zealand Herald article, Childcare workers speak out again factory farming of children, has provided food for thought for parents of pre-schoolers.  The survey results shared that more than a quarter of childcare centre workers would not place their own children in the centres they work in, with some calling the centres “akin to factory farming of children”.  Those who would not be happy to place their own children at the centres they worked in were concerned about children's safety, staff stress, bullying, lack of staff time to develop relationships with children, and minimal hours of non-contact time to record children's development and plan activities.

These survey results come just days after the Labour Government abolished national standards in education due to standardised testing for the masses being proven ineffective.  Never before has there been a better time for early childhood education to emulate these wider education sector decisions to better acknowledge the unique needs of each child and teacher.  A move away from ‘the factory farming of children’ to return to more authentic relationships, environments and experiences is needed.  This will support the evolution of an early childhood education and care sector that is built on the needs of each individual child rather than a mass-produced, ready-made production line of standardised care and education.   

What these survey results call for is change - a move to a more holistic way of caring for and educating our youngest and most vulnerable citizens. As the early childhood sector has grown, so too has the ratios of children to adults.  It is now not unusual to see centres operating with up to 150 children in one space.  Many early childhood teachers believe that this is a step away from quality outcomes for children, creating busy and stressful spaces that are not designed for optimal care and learning for our young ones.

Despite the 1990s being coined ‘the decade of the brain’, many still do not understand the critical importance that the early years play in setting up a child for a lifetime of success. Only 30% of a baby’s brain is developed at birth. 90% of the remaining 70% of brain development is undertaken in the first three years of life – all in direct response to the environments and relationships that a baby is exposed to.  In a sector that should be defined by our awareness of the first 1,000 days and the critical role our environments and relationships play in early brain development, how are we collectively nurturing the best start in life for our tamariki?

While centre-based care is still seen as ‘the norm’, this survey and teacher feedback will hopefully be the beginning of a greater pull towards a more natural and holistic way of caring for and educating our children such as home-based care and education. 

Home-based care and education works and is increasingly becoming a more popular option for parents and teachers who are looking for a better way to raise our tamariki.  The science of early brain development proves what those of us who already engage with home-based care know intrinsically: that one on one relationships grow children who are confident, resilient and capable explorers of the world around them.   

I have no doubt that we will see a return to raising children in home and connected community environments with the support of our villages. this will be the new norm of the future, taking children away from ‘factory farms’ and putting them back into their natural environment to thrive.  

Kerry Henderson

PORSE In-Home Childcare General Manager