Childcare and education

Kindy kids

I’ve just set up a Facebook page for this blog, so people know when I’ve actually updated (since I follow no recognisable schedule, let’s be honest), and it’s already prompted me to write something. There is a long list of blog posts waiting to be written, but today I’ll do a quick one about kindy (since I actually need to revise for exams…)

So, kindy. I don’t know precisely how early childhood education works everywhere else in the world, but in New Zealand most children are in some kind of preschool or kindergarten by the time they’re three, and that continues until they start school (on their fifth birthday, which must be endless fun for the poor Year One teachers, with a new kid starting every couple of weeks). The reason why most Kiwi kids are in some kind of kindy or preschool arrangement from the age of three is because of an awesome Government initiative: 20 hours of free ECE teaching per child per week, for all three year olds and four year olds. From what I understand this was initially set up to enable the children of lower income families to benefit from kindy or preschool attendance, but – amazingly – this initiative isn’t means-tested, so we all get to enjoy it. This means that it costs something like $90 a term for Hattie and Joe to attend kindy for nine hours a week (we pay a small supplementary cost each week, which tops up the government funding).

I have fond memories of spending my kindy days in endless play, but I had heard that things were a bit more focussed on being ‘school ready’ these days. I had visions of classroom-like environments and young children being organised to within an inch of their lives. I didn’t actually have any facts upon which to base that concern, but hey! Why would I let that stop me? So, initially, I was fervently intent on sending the kids to a Montessori preschool – I liked the Montessori emphasis on learning through play. We enrolled the two of them in a lovely local preschool, and they were all set to start just after turning three. However, the plan fell apart when we actually did the sums properly and realised that, even with the 20 ECE hours each week, we really couldn’t afford Montessori fees – certainly not on top of the weekly au pair costs. As it turns out we were fortunate to make that decision when we did, since our preschool of choice only takes toilet-trained children, and recent readers of this blog will know that we’ve very recently achieved that particular goal. So it wouldn’t have worked out for us and that preschool, even if money was no object. Can you imagine the pressure of toilet training to a deadline? The mind boggles.

Anyway, that left us in a bit of limbo. The problem with funded ECE is that ‘good’ kindergartens become oversubscribed. And there aren’t enough kindergartens to go round. And there’s a weird issue here (and this might just be in our city – I don’t know), whereby primary schools are zoned (i.e., you can’t just choose to send your kid to a school three suburbs away – you have to choose the school for which your street is zoned), but kindergartens aren’t zoned – you CAN choose the kindy 20 minutes away if that’s what floats your boat. This is quite frustrating because most kindergartens form good relationships with the local schools and organise school readiness visits, but you can’t benefit from that if the kindy and the school are far apart and don’t have a relationship. This was our situation: the local kindy is oversubscribed to the point where kids don’t tend to get in until they’re nearly four, which defeats the purpose of sending them if they’re going to miss out on nearly 50% of their time there.

Without a preschool and with no kindy places available nearby, we were stuck. But a lovely twin mum friend told me about her local kindy, where her five year old had just left and where her twins would also go when they came of age. And it was less than ten minutes away, which was a huge bonus. I visited it, I loved it, the kids visited it, they loved it, and in late April two spaces became available and they became kindy kids. I’d like to insert an adorable ‘first day of kindy’ photo here, but my children just don’t like to pose for stuff like that on command, God damn it! Here’s the best I could manage on the day:

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It turns out that all my fears about kindy being too ‘school-focussed’ where totally unfounded: they NZ kindy system is just as keen on learning through play as any Montessori preschool. The kids’ kindy has an amazing garden and playground, stacks of arts and crafts supplies, mountains of toys of every description, and a rabbit called Toffee. What more could children possibly want, other than kind and lovely teachers? It has those, too. I feel like we’ve been extremely lucky, but I know that my friends are equally delighted with their children’s kindergartens as well, which just goes to show that the overall quality must be pretty high, at least where we live.

The kids settled into kindy very quickly and easily. I think the fact that they’re used to not being with me 24/7 must have helped, and also their experience of having one or two creche sessions a week for the previous few months – the whole ‘Mummy goes away and we stay with the teachers and have fun’ concept wasn’t new to them. And to be honest it’s not actually “Mummy” doing it these days: it’s Pauline, our current (amazing) au pair. I was there for the first day, but I’ve not been able to attend since then, so Pauline handles all drop-offs and pick-ups, and pretty much managed their transition. I do make their lunches, however!

Different kindergartens have different routines, and ours has divided three year olds and four year olds into different sessions, with the four years olds there on Monday to Wednesday, from 8.30am ’til 2.30pm, and the three year olds there on Thursday and Friday, from 8.30am ’til 1pm. However, soon we’ll have the option of sending them for longer days, or more days, with older kids as well. We will probably stick to our current arrangements for the rest of this year. I feel like they’ve got a good mix of activities going on: a couple of play dates with me; a couple of playgroups with Pauline; kindy twice a week; and a bit of time pottering around at home. And they still need a nap most days, and kindy is tiring! They are both extremely busy when they’re there (from what I see of the learning stories, anyway – and how awesome are modern creches and kindergartens, with their online, private learning stories for parents to enjoy?), and there’s so much to do.

My one big concern before they started at kindy was how Joe’s unconventional tastes and preferences would be received by the other kids, many of whom have school-aged siblings and are firmly indoctrinated into the ‘boys don’t wear dresses or pink’ mentality at a young age. However, I was totally reassured by the teachers’ proposal that any unkindness or bullying would be met with some targeted, inclusive ‘colours are for everybody and we can all wear what we want’ sessions. And Joe’s still rocking whatever pink clothing or dresses he fancies on any given day, including to kindy, so clearly nobody has bothered him so far.

I really must get back to my revision, but before I go, let me assure you that I am already showing my true colours as one of those future school mums who forget everything: Pauline rang me from the kindy drop-off today to tell me that we’d forgotten about it being photo day. Because my children return from every session covered in paint and glitter, I dress them like ragamuffins for kindy: they were NOT looking photo-ready today! I contemplated whizzing round with some nicer clothing, but then I decided not to bother. They are kindy kids, they love messy play (God knows they don’t get to do it at home when Mummy’s in charge), we get ‘nice’ photos taken a couple of times a year, and it will be lovely to have photos that accurately reflect this side to them. But I feel a bit bad about the group photo – the other parents will be really glad about my ragamuffin children in the shot, I’m sure!

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