Dee Why and Educa: Empowering Families
Dee Why Children’s Centre is a culturally diverse child care centre in Sydney, Australia. We asked Brenda, the Director - to share some insights into how educators at Dee Why build strong relationships with children and families at the Centre and about the role Educa plays in empowering these families.
Brenda’s Centre is one of 9 early learning services (ages 0-5) funded and managed by the Northern Beaches Council. Opened in the late 70s, Dee Why Children's Centre is licensed for 75 children from birth to school age per day. Currently they have more than 130 families enrolled and 25 staff members (many of whom work part time).
Dee Why is a unique suburb on Sydney's Northern Beaches due to
a. the high density population
b. a much higher proportion of families from a non-English speaking background (NESB) compared to the rest of the local government area.
This makes Dee Why a multicultural centre with bilingual children, families and staff. Almost 50% of families who attend the Centre do not have English as their home language. This diversity is also reflected in the staff, with 25% of centre staff speaking a second language.
Brenda and her staff have become adept at meeting the needs of a mobile population. The suburb of Dee Why is the first place of residence for many migrant families. Once settled in Australia, lots of these families move to other areas within a few years.
“We tend to see waves of new nationalities settling in the suburb, becoming integrated and then moving to other areas of Sydney. In recent years we have had Tibetan, Indian, Nepalese, and Russian and Serbian families moving into and out of our area.”
Also, the expense of housing in Sydney sees young families moving to more affordable suburbs as their families grow. Both these factors mean many families spend only a short time at Dee Why’s Centre.
Learning Philosophies: All About Relationships
….relationships are at the centre of our practice philosophy.
Dee Why rated ‘exceeding’ in the NQS area Partnerships with Families and Communities, so we asked Brenda to tell us more about how they achieved that rating.
“We base our practices on the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (EYLF). One of the central philosophies of the Centre is building the relationships between families, children and educators. We are influenced by the work of Professor Ferre Laevers who focuses on children’s emotional well-being and involvement within the Centre. Professor Laevers states that if the child is not at ease, and doesn’t have the ability to act spontaneously and with confidence, that learning will not take place and that children will not develop to their full capabilities.”
If you’re interested in Professor Laever’s theories, here’s a short video interview with him:
Engaging Families: Inclusive Learning
Because family and community relationships are a focus at Dee Why Children’s Centre, they are apparent in the relationships staff form with families and each other. Educators ensure they engage with families every day. Not only do they talk with families at the beginning and end of the day but they make time for one on one catch-ups during the day as well.
“We love celebrating with families on their birthdays and for diverse cultural events such as Diwali, Chinese New Year, NAIDOC Week, and The Dali Llama’s Birthday. But the biggest family event is our annual December Disco when we host up to 180 people. At this event all children from the nursery to the pre school groups dance the evening away with friends and family. It’s a special night for everyone involved.”
Staff themselves describe the Centre as inclusive, welcoming and nurturing. It’s telling that the centre has very long term employees and Brenda says this is the outcome of strong relationships in a happy and healthy workplace. She tells the story of one staff member running into a parent who had 4 children attend the Centre. To her surprise the eldest child - now in high school, remembered her. It’s not that surprising then, that one preschool Mum we asked to describe the Centre told us it was an “amazing family with fabulous educators”.
Using Educa: Empowering Families
I have found the Educa system to be really useful, as it is such a simple way to find out what is going on at the centre. I love hearing updates on my child's learning and activities. – Katrina (mother of two children)
Using Educa helps Brenda and her team ensure families feel connected to the Centre. In fact, according to Brenda, Educa reveals a wealth of information about their diverse community’s needs. “Due to the strong reporting abilities of Educa we have noticed that many NESB families access the system a higher number of times than other families. We surmise that these families are accessing the information multiple times to ensure they fully understand what is being presented and Educa gives them the opportunity to get family or other close group members to assist in this understanding. It also enables them to post comments and reinforce activities that they are doing at home in a way that permits time for them to compose their questions in a non threatening relaxed manner.”
Educa has become an essential part of the information sharing network for parents, other family members and support people. Brenda tells us that families whose grandparents live in other parts of the world link into Educa, providing them with a unique connection with their grandchildren. For this inclusive multicultural service, nurturing connections with overseas families forms an important link in the partnerships they create between Centre and families. Plus families on holidays post stories about their travels, again maintaining connections with their children's peers and teachers.
Using Educa also means being able to share in their children’s learning at the time it occurs.
As Brenda tells us - “Previously, families would view their child’s documentation of learning at parent interviews; when they have a few spare minutes to read documentation in the hallway at the beginning or end of their day; or in small grabs during the year. Now they are able to see the documentation of their child’s learning and what is happening around the Centre at the time it happens and at their convenience. This has lead to greater involvement with the Centre and gives parents more information and understanding to engage with their child’s day and the staff.” One of Educa’s best features is that it gives Dee Why educators and families the opportunity to celebrate each child’s individual progress.
Finally, we asked Brenda to share with us what a day looks like at Dee Why Children’s Centre and she summed it up beautifully: