New Parent's Guide to Kindergarten
The information on this page is for new parents and carers who are considering Click here for GKA's kindergarten a kindergarten education for their child. policies that may interest you as new parents.
Deciding which Kindergarten is right for your child really does mean thinking about what is important to you as a parent. The best Kindergarten is one where parents and staff respect each other’s role in the care and education of the children.
Spending time observing a session in action and arranging a time to talk to staff about the things you see as important will help you decide which centre will be right for your family.
Choosing a Kindergarten is one of the many important decisions parents make about their child’s education. All Kindergartens are staffed by trained professionals who offer a planned program of activities and experiences that aim to help children grow and develop into confident, inquisitive learners. Each Kindergarten has its own characteristic ways of working and parents are able to choose which centre they feel will best suit the needs of their own child. Children are more likely to feel confident and positive during their Kindergarten year when their parents have chosen a program that operates in the way they think is best.
Many families look at a few different Kindergartens to try to get a “feel” for the kind of places they are. It can be difficult to know just what questions to ask and what to look for during these visits. Finding out about the range of ways centres do a few key things can help parents decide which approach “feels” right to them.
Kindergartens vary quite a lot in the way they are run and in their approach to their programs. Gaining information about session times, fees and levies and expectations of family involvement is a starting point for choosing the right Kindergarten for you. Understanding the range of experiences that will be offered and the ways staff work with children is also very important.
Session times and location
Parents need to find a Kindergarten that offers sessions at times that are convenient for them and in a location that suits their needs. There is a lot of dropping off and picking up to be done in the year so working out wether it will be better to enrol in a Kindergarten that is close to work, school, friends, home or your child’s carer is very important.
The total number of Kindergarten hours offered varies from centre to centre as do the length of sessions and the starting and finishing times. Some centres operate on a sessional model , offering three or four sessions between 2 & 4 hours each in either the morning, afternoon or a combination of both.
Other centres operate extended session models that may include a lunch program and an afternoon session on one or two days. Some childcare centres incorporate a Kindergarten program in full time care programs.
It is important to select a centre that offers Kindergarten hours which fit in with your commitments to work and family but that are also likely to suit your child. Some Kindergarten age children are likely to get the most out of more frequent shorter session times, others cope well with attending fewer days but for a longer periods each time.
The Kindergarten program will be planned by staff so that all children will have opportunities to participate fully in a wide range of learning experiences that are appropriate for them in whichever model you choose.
Kindergarten is not fully funded by the government and each Kindergarten management committee needs to charge fees
Some Kindergartens include levies in addition to fees that contribute to specific aspects of their budget or as an alternative to fundraising. Some Kindergartens also charge enrolment application fees that may or may not be refundable when the child commences.
Each centre will have a specific way of collecting fees and levies. Some have cash free systems, some have payment plans if required, some charge fees in advance. It’s important for families to check that the processes for paying fees and levies are suitable for their needs.
Kindergartens can vary a lot in the ways parents are involved. Most centres strongly encourage parents to spend time with their child at Kindergarten and often set up a roster system. During these times some centres depend on specific roles being fulfilled by roster parents whilst others encourage parents to help and participate in any way they would like to.
Some centres encourage families to find alternative care for their younger children so that the roster duty can be special time with the Kindergarten age child. Other centres actively encourage younger brothers and sisters.
Kindergartens also have a range of other ways of involving parents to ensure that the Kindergarten is run efficiently and effectively as possible.
Community based Kindergartens depend on parents who are willing and able to join the voluntary management committee since this is the group that is responsible for many aspects of the Kindergartens operation. A dedicated and enthusiastic group of voluntary members is vital to the efficient running of each centre. Kindergartens affiliated with organisations such as the Geelong Kindergarten Association have significant support in some aspects of their role (such as licensing, policy development, staff employment and payroll) so that they can concentrate their efforts on things that will directly benefit their children. Independent Kindergarten committees have many additional roles and legal responsibilities for parents to fulfil.
Most management committees try hard to keep the costs of Kindergartens down as much as possible and often roster parents for working bees, gardening and maintenance. Being clear about the commitment you will have for these kinds of tasks in different Kindergartens is an important part of the decision making process.
An important consideration in choosing a Kindergarten is the kind of day to day program offered. This aspect of the Kindergarten is likely to be the main influence on how you feel about your child’s year.
Kindergarten teachers develop their programs within a framework of professional understanding about the ways in which young children learn and develop. Each teacher works towards broad educational goals in ways that suit the needs and interests of the particular children they are working with. Parents are usually very keen to know how the Kindergarten program offered in each centre provides the foundation for the more formal settings that come later when the child enters school.
Kindergarten staff usually go to great lengths to explain their programs and what the children are achieving through participating in the range of learning experiences offered. Kindergarten programs develop children’s confidence and skills as learners. Staff focus their programs on enhancing children’s development in all areas and ensuring that each individual child gains confidence in learning amongst their peers. Children participate in a broad range of experiences which provide opportunities to learn about cooperation and being a member of a group as well as opportunities to practice and increase physical skills, communication skills, problem solving skills and creativity. Kindergarten programs provide children with the building blocks they need for learning in school settings later on.
After first visits to Kindergarten programs, some parents are surprised that children seem to be “just playing”. They may wonder where the “learning” is. If you feel like this, it will be really important to gain an understanding of the way children are learning through their play in the centres that you look at. Program plans on notice boards, newsletters and monthly reports often contain this information and staff will be able to answer specific questions you may have.
Early childhood research tells us very clearly that young children need to play in order to learn effectively. Formal, “school like” settings and activities are inappropriate for this age group. Kindergarten staff are experts in structuring play environments for children that provide each individual child with opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills they need for the more formal learning in school years.
The routines that staff establish are an important part of the experience children have at Kindergarten. Parents need to feel comfortable with the way times such as snack, music, stories, indoor and outdoor play are organised and carried out.
Some Kindergartens have a formal routine to their session with specific times for each aspect of their program. Other centres incorporate the same range of opportunities for children but have a less structured routine. All centres have their own approach to allowing for individual choices to be made by children in any or all of these aspects.
When determining the routine for the program, staff make their decision based on their own philosophy and professional knowledge and will be able to discuss the reasons behind the way they do things. Parents can judge whether or not they agree or disagree according to what they value most and what approach is most likely to suit their own child.
Some families feel that “structured” routines will be best for their child whilst others prefer a more flexible approach. It is important to remember that each type of routine can be the basis of an excellent program for children – its what happens during it that counts.
Although Kindergarten staff respect the values of all families, it can be very difficult to negotiate compromises in conflicts over these matters. This is because the way that we feel about these areas as individuals comes from our deepest beliefs about what’s best for children. Parents and staff provide the best Kindergarten experience for children when they agree on “what's best".
The Kindergarten years are a time when children are learning a lot about themselves, their feelings and reactions to things. Getting on with others and learning effective and positive ways to resolve conflicts is an important part of all Kindergarten programs.
Kindergarten staff help children acquire these skills in lots of different ways. The emphasis should always be on a positive approach that guides children to make responsible choices and decisions themselves. Each centre will have a behaviour and guidance policy that outlines their particular approach. Parents can see the approach “in action” during a visit. In programs that are working well, the children will appear really involved in what they are doing and staff will be helping them to negotiate with each other when problems crop up.
Of course things don’t go smoothly all the time in groups of young children. Sometimes adults need to intervene and make decisions in everyone’s best interests. It is critical that you feel that the way these occasions are managed in the centres you visit are appropriate for your child and consistent with what you feel is important.
When problems related to children’s behaviour arise, a positive approach will include staff and parents working together to deal with it.
All Kindergarten staff must work within the strict guidelines provided in the Children’s Services Act 1996 and the Children’s Services Regulations 1998 to ensure children’s safety and well being.
What is a High Quality Program?
Whichever program style parents prefer, there are fundamental things to look for which all “good” programs share. These include:
1. Children seem happy, busy and involved in a wide range of different activities
Kindergartens that provide an inviting and interesting environment will be very active places with a lot of things happening at once. A busy hum of children playing and talking tells us that the range of opportunities provided for the children is just right for their needs.
2. Staff are warm and positive in their interactions with children.
During visits you may see staff working with children in a variety of ways. Throughout any session it is usual for some time to be spent in a one to one situation with individual children, some time with small groups and some time in larger groups.
The interaction between staff and children is one of the most important aspects of a Kindergarten program. The ways adults communicate with children (as well as what they communicate!) has a big impact on how children feel about themselves and the learning skills they develop. Staff who are working effectively with children create a relationship in which children trust them and feel safe and secure. They work in ways (often subtle ones) to help children develop their own ideas, express their own thoughts and feelings and experience that wonderful feeling of “I’m good at this!”
3. Children’s behaviour is managed in consistently positive ways.
Kindergartens provide a wealth of opportunities for children to learn the social skills they need to work and play with others. Kindergarten is at the beginning of a life long journey. The guidance provided by adults during this stage of children’s lives can influence them forever. All children can sometimes behave in ways that are impulsive, dangerous, difficult or careless. Sensitive adults, who know each child well can understand the situation from the child’s point of view and support them positively through these times.
This doesn’t mean that Kindergartens will have no “rules” - it just means that the rules are reinforced in positive ways. In positive interactions children hear and see things from staff that tell them what to do to keep safe and happy while they play.
4. Staff are welcoming and open in discussing their program and why they do things the way they do
Kindergarten programs are most effective when there is a sense of “partnership” between the families and the staff. This means that there is respect and understanding between the adults about each other’s roles.
Kindergartens that work hard to communicate with families and involve families in making important decisions are providing opportunities for this partnership to develop.
All Kindergartens will have information available to families about their centre. It can be very useful to collect the information before organising a visit so that you can read through and note down any questions you may want to ask.
5. Indoor spaces are welcoming and organised in ways that help children make choices and play and work independently.
Kindergartens provide important opportunities for children to develop independence and confidence in themselves as learners. An environment that is organised to create a variety of spaces for different kinds of activities helps children access materials they need, discover new opportunities and interests and play and work constructively together
6. Outdoor spaces present a wide range of opportunities for children to use their bodies, their brains and experience nature and the elements.
Outdoor play is a vital component of Kindergarten programs. A rich environment will provide opportunities for children to increase their strength, coordination and agility as well as opportunities to play creatively with natural materials such as water, sand & mud.
7. Environments contain elements that inspire curiosity and wonder.
Kindergarten programs build on children’s natural curiosity and need to explore and “find out” for themselves. Environments that include things of beauty to listen to, see, touch and talk about are inspiring and stimulating for us all.
Finalising your decision
After visiting a few centres, you still may find it difficult to decide which one is right for you. The list below might help you make some comparisons of centres you are interested in. Some people use a grading scale such as the one below when sorting out the pros and cons for each centre.
4 very satisfied
2 not sure
1 not satisfied
Other information for parents - GKA policies:
GKA has a range of policies in place to support wellbeing within the program, children's development and your involvement as parents, carers and families.
Starting with enrolment, our Privacy & Disclosure statement outlines why we collect your personal information and how we intend to use it.
Kindergarten fees and fee subsidy information are in GKA Fee Policy 2009 and Kindergarten Fee Subsidy information Sheet.
Wellbeing of children at kindergarten sessions starts with Delivery and collection of children includes Nutrition, Drinks, Anaphylaxis, Asthma, Infectious diseases, and in the warmer months in particular, SunSmart for UV protection. Related to the kindergarten program is an Excursion and events policy for visits.
Other policies that may be of interest to you are:
Nappy Changing Policy
GKA Privacy & Disclosure statement
GKA Privacy of Personal Information policy