Thinking outside the box at Goodstart Boronia
One of the centres involved in the project is Goodstart Early Learning Boronia Albert Avenue, in Victoria.
Goodstart Boronia has a strong sense of family and community. Children join the group based on referrals from other families, and connections are made and maintained through family fun days and celebrations.
But when COVID-19 hit, it all stopped. Team members, families and children were isolated, out of their comfort zone, and without their support network.
Kelly Mills, Centre Director at Goodstart Early Learning Boronia, said it was clear to her team that their daily activities had to change in order to keep connected to their community base, and to look after the wellbeing of the families at their centre.
“The lockdown left families with no contact or engagement with our educators – or with other parents for that matter,” Kelly said.
“People felt isolated and out of control. We realised that we needed to try and bring a constant presence and some consistency to families amongst all the uncertainty.”
Key to the approach was connecting daily with families. Parents and carers needed to trust and know that the educators were still there, and they still cared.
So the team made building and relationships their priority, making use of every opportunity to keep in touch, including:
- Regular phone calls and check-ins to update families on their child’s progress, which also acted as a source of adult interaction for isolated parents and carers.
- Front door greetings kept families up-to-date on the progress of their children, and connected to their educators. Kinder staff now walk children out at the end of the day so they can chat to families. Families have said the enthusiasm of the educators greeting them and their children at the front door is welcoming and reassuring.
- Learning packs were created to complete at home, which mirrored the activity happening in the centre. The packs became an extension of what was occurring at Kinder, and children could share their work either via Zoom or on their return to the centre.
- Online channels like Zoom and Goodstart’s Storypark platform were used to share information and photos.
Supporting mental health for children and families
Teresa Venables, Early Childhood Teacher at Boronia, was particularly concerned with the mental health of the children and families in her care.
“We had a lot of children in Kinder with anxiety, so we formed small groups and talked about how they were feeling,” Teresa said.
“We made sure we had places available for children experiencing anxiety, or with diagnosed disorders.
“Our job in long day care is to support families. We work with our children and families from nursery right though to school – we’re here to support you through your parenting.”
As lockdowns and restrictions are eased across the country, early learning is benefitting from the stronger relationships established during the pandemic.
By focusing on connection and engagement, and supporting families in uncertainty, centres have built a sense of comfort, safety and security for families, children and educators. And parents and carers are appreciative.
As one thankful parent said: “We are so grateful they were very rational and measured. We had complete confidence when our daughter returned to the centre. I have so much confidence in what they do and how they do it.”