We’ve all heard that it takes a village to raise a child. But how do you find your village when you’re an expat living in Aus with no plans to go back home and reunite with your own familial village?
This was the situation for my husband and I, having moved to Melbourne from Scotland 6 years before we had our first child. Our parents had been to visit, but despite being the sole producers of grandchildren (our siblings unlikely to procreate any time soon), the weather clearly being better than Glasgow and the British pound being strong against the Australian dollar, they went home and left us to get on with it.
When it was time for me to go back to work I wanted to ensure that the childcare centre I chose for my daughter was like a home from home. Somewhere comforting. Somewhere the staff were as caring to me and my husband (tired, emotional parents) as they were to my children. Somewhere we could feel a sense of belonging and make new friends – a ‘village’ not just a childcare centre.
Scouring the local area for centres was an eye-opening experience (and eye-watering when it came to fees). With many of the centres competing for new families, they wowed and dazzled this tired mum with their shiny new rooms, and educational programs and perfect routines and processes. But I never found the emotional attachment I was looking for.
It was in a small, unassuming not-for-profit childcare centre, which has been looking after children in the community for 40 years, that I found my village. It wasn’t as shiny and new – more like comfortable and homely. It wasn’t full of fancy new toys – more like simple crafts, books, mud and nature. But I had a sense that this was the centre I wanted to bring my child to, a village I wanted us to be a part of.
How did I know this is where we belong?
Friendly, welcoming families
All the friendly and welcoming families, many of them also living away from their extended families, have made this centre their village too and accepted us into the centre so warmly. The centre ensures there are many social events throughout the year to welcome new families, and it’s clear that we all enjoy bonding together and have a strong community spirit between us.
Rather than see this as a place to drop and go, parents are involved at every level of the centre. Many regularly come in to do crafts with the kids or read a book or teach them something simple like making dough. The children absolutely love interacting with the parents and it’s very exciting for the child who’s mum or dad is visiting that day.
As a not-for-profit, the centre is run by a board of parents and we collaborate to ensure everyone has input into how the centre is run, where the profits are spent and our plans for the centre in the future. Many past parents are still actively involved in fundraising and events and we get together to look after the beautiful outdoor spaces and educational areas through our working bees. There is opportunity and eagerness to contribute no matter how small from all our parents.
Consistency of educators and staff
Many of the kind and patient educators have been at the centre almost 20 years, one even came to the centre as a child herself. They are genuinely as excited as we are to watch our children grow and learn new things. Their commitment to their village and the children of the village is heartwarming.
The coordinators have also been here for over 15 years keeping the village running smoothly. They ensure new families are welcomed and understand the special nature of the centre. And they always make time for a good chat and a cuppa, just like old friends.
The chef warmly greets us every day to share the delicious menu he’s preparing and we share our family recipes with him so they can be incorporated into the menu. My kids rave about his cooking and apparently I just can’t cook pumpkin soup the way he does!
There is a genuine feeling there that everyone is welcome, accepted and recognised for their role at the centre (parents and educators alike).
And why is all of this important?
A plethora of studies confirm the need for emotional attachment and belonging for children. It’s no different for adults. As social beings, a sense of belonging is a human need, just like food and shelter. A sense of belonging to a greater community than your immediate family has been shown to improve health, happiness and wellbeing.
When you’re searching for a childcare centre for your family, ask yourself, is this my village?
My top tips for knowing if your childcare is a village…
Schedule your visit at drop off or pick up times so that you can bump into other parents to see how they interact with you and the educators.
Ability to be involved
Ask how the centre is run, how can you as a parent get involved in the day to day and the planning at the centre. Do they welcome parent participation, how do other parents get involved?
Ask about their social activities. If there’s one soon, ask to come along! A great way to see how everyone interacts with each other when ‘off duty’.
Consistency of educators and staff
How long have the educators and staff been there and working together? If they’ve worked together a long time, it shows they are happy and loyal to their centre. Consistency of care ensures your child feels secure in their environment and helps them develop strong bonds with their carers.
This year BECEC celebrate their 40th anniversary of providing quality care and education to the Bentleigh community. Families and educators past and present are coming together to enjoy the strong bond and friendships that have grown and lasted over the 40 years at the centre in a celebration on 1st June.
By Lynne Robb, Mum of 2 girls and parent board member
Bentleigh Early Child Education Cooperative