Whether they’re teaching bub to be naturally bilingual, or have set up an extensive, baby-friendly jungle gym, parents who want the best start for their children can choose from a wide variety of pre-school options.
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Research shows that those children who do have an early educational start often stay ahead, and goodness knows there is a universe of literature out there as to how to make this possible.
How can I give my children the best start?
“The first five years are crucial for a child’s brain development as children absorb pretty much anything they’re exposed to,” child psychologist Azza Brown explains. “Early engagement in an enriched learning environment is fairly essential for an ongoing interest in education and learning, as it builds these skills.”
Preschool also places your children ahead of the pack: only 18% of Australian 3-year-olds attend preschool; yet the average participation rate for children across Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries is 70%.
So enrolling your little ones in some form of early childhood education is certainly a good idea. But not all childcare options were created equal.
“Many children go into day care rather than preschool and that’s a very different environment,” Brown says. “School is about structure, listening, social skills, and learning. Preschool offers a more structured environment than day care, where children are usually just given free play.”
What are my childcare options?
You might be seeking childcare a couple of mornings or afternoons a week, or during work hours, Monday to Friday. You may only need childcare during certain weeks of the year, or all year round. But no matter your family’s schedule and childcare needs, there are a multitude of choices available for your pre-schooler.
Long day care centres are open a minimum of 48 weeks of the year, including school holidays, and usually operate between approximately 7:30am and 6pm.
What is an Early Learning Centre (ELC)?
Some childcare centres offer only care (often known as ‘day care centres’), while others (often known as ‘Early Learning Centres’, or ELCs) provide an early learning syllabus and extra-curricular activities as well.
“An ELC can be anything from a long day care centre or a community kindergarten, to a facility affiliated with a school,” Lauren Cummins, head of junior school at Melbourne’s Oakleigh Grammar, explains. “Pre-school and ELCs are the same thing, and are very different to a day care centre.”
While some centres are run by the community, local council or private companies, many independent schools have also set up or are affiliated with ELCs. Most pre-schoolers at a private school-affiliated ELC have a direct pathway to the ‘big’ school; they’re often given first preference when it comes to enrolment.
Private schools and ELCs
Many private schools have set up or are affiliated with ELCs, allowing ELC students to access the ‘big’ school’s facilities, equipment and specialist teaching staff.
“As part of our early learning curriculum at Oakleigh, we offer language, music, religion, sport, IT and dance classes,” Cummins says. “The specialist teachers who take the children for these classes are, in most cases, the same teachers who’ll teach them in ‘big’ school.”
Oakleigh’s curriculum offers pre-literacy and pre-numeracy as well as more ‘hands on’ learning activities, like sculpting and painting. Most ELCs affiliated with private schools have a similar approach, with the ‘big’ schools working in partnership with their ELC.
“We’re one school, and access to Oakleigh’s facilities and community is the same for all families,” Cummins explains. “Our ELC families enjoy inclusion in things like the school disco, grandparents’ events, pastoral care, and speech and occupational therapy.”
Cummins says this also means a “smooth transition” between preschool and ‘big’ school, as the children will have the same classmates, teachers and facilities around them.
Brown agrees. “School is a big step,” she says. “Children who go to preschool are more resilient and adaptive at school. Even just being around other kids, doing group learning activities, and learning how to share and deal with tantrums are important socialisation milestones.”
How much do ELCs cost?
ELCs can be more expensive than other childcare options, but some are comparable to community-run childcare options. Cost can vary widely and fees can be charged per day, per term or per year. Whether your child is enrolled full or part-time also impacts cost.
What Government rebates are available for childcare?
The Child Care Rebate (CCR) is not means tested, and the Child Care Benefit (CCB) is awarded according to income. To qualify for the CCB, you must have your children immunised and meet the work, training and study requirements. The CCB covers 24 to 50 hours of childcare per week, granting up to $4.17 an hour per child.
You must receive the CCB in order to be eligible for the CCR. However, while your income may render your actual CCB entitlement zero, you can still be eligible for the CCR, which will cover 50% of your out-of-pocket childcare costs of up to $7,500 a year.
Can I get the childcare rebate for an ELC?
It depends. The CCR is available to families who use any CCB-approved childcare provider. So if your ELC is CCB-approved, you can receive the CCR.
Cummins explains that while many private school-affiliated ELCs do provide long day care, “it’s up to the school to decide as to if they should provide and register [with the Government] for long day care services”. Once an ELC is registered as a long day care provider, families can claim rebates. And rebates can definitely assist.
“Once families have utilised government rebates, ELCs can be comparable to or cheaper than other childcare options,” Cummins explains.