A spotlight on Excellence Clarendon Children's Centre

Blog Image for article A spotlight on Excellence Clarendon Children's Centre

Based in South Melbourne, Clarendon Children’s Centre has much to be proud of.

This not-for-profit community managed centre was recently awarded its second Excellent rating from ACECQA and with a focus on meaningful relationships and quality education and care experiences, this service gives children a truly enriching start.

To understand the ideas and programs that underpin this service, we spoke with Linda Davison, Centre Coordinator at Clarendon Children's Centre.

Congratulations on your second Excellent rating, Linda. What do you think makes the centre so special?

In lots of ways I don't think that we're particularly special, in the sense that we don't have a bush kinder program or any particular bells and whistles. However, as a team we really understand that for young children, the foundation of all learning is strong, secure relationships. So we are very focused on that, and in the centre there is a very strong sense of community between families and educators.

I have been here for more than 30 years and I know that there are families whose children attended the centre back when I started and have still retained friendships with each other, and I think relationships really go to the heart of what we’re all about.

In terms of people working together, Clarendon Children’s Centre is community managed. What does this mean in practice?

Although I look after the day-to-day running of the service, we have a management committee that's made up of parents and meets monthly. It has over-arching responsibility for the service and drafts the budget with me each year, which our current families vote on. The committee also determines what our fee structure will be and undertakes big picture, strategic decision-making and anything to do with social and fundraising.

The committee is made up of seven parent members whose children are currently attending the centre and the expectation is that these parents nominate for two years each, with half the committee rotating year on year. However, some members have had multiple children at the centre and have been on the committee for five to seven years. So I think that also speaks to the really strong sense of community in the centre.

In terms of early childhood education and care, what experiences do you offer children that may not be available in every service?

We offer the same kind of group learning play experiences that you would see in other early years learning services, however, a big part of our program is based on our sustainability agendas. So there are a lot of activities that include things like gardening and feeding the worms in the worm farm, but there is also a very strong focus on cooking and knowing where your food comes from – having a really healthy relationship with food and eating nutritious meals.

We have a fantastic cook who is very, very engaged with children in that way and she cooks with children in each of the rooms, pretty much every week. It probably is unusual for children to have as much opportunity for cooking as our kids do, and it's not just cooking cupcakes or easy things. The kids really get involved, and some of the older children are able to cook a meal that they then take home to share with their own family.

That sounds amazing! Are there any other ways in which your children build up life skills?

Yes, our central Melbourne location means that we can do lots of short outings and bigger excursions out of the service. So all of our children, from the youngest to the oldest will, at different times, leave the centre with their educator and walk to various places that are close by, or else take the tram or the community bus somewhere.

We're really about children engaging with the local and wider community and being involved in their community. For instance, recently we were able to take groups of children to the National Gallery of Victoria, travelling by tram and exploring a recent exhibition. These experiences are really meaningful to children and connect with their family experiences too.

When it comes to your staff, have your educators been with you a long time?

It tends to go in waves. We do have a lot of educators who've been here a long time, and out of our team of 19 educators, about half of those have been with us for five years or more, and one educator just left after 24 years.

I think it's good to have a healthy balance – it's really important to have continuity and consistency and we know that that's important in providing a really quality program because it goes to those strong, secure relationships. But at the same time, it's really important to have new ideas and new energy that keeps us fresh and current. So we have a combination of educators.

What do you look for when recruiting new educators?

What we are really looking for is educators who have that capacity to form strong, secure relationships and who are respectful of children. We are very interested in trying to unpack what their 'image of the child’ is because a very strong part of our philosophy is that we believe children are capable, active participants in their own learning – that they have agency and they have rights. That is our fundamental belief system and our educators need to have that really positive image of a child.

And lastly, what do you think parents should look for when selecting an early childhood education and care service?

I think it can be quite difficult for parents because, especially if their first child is attending care, they don't have much experience in knowing what to look for. Definitely, the ACECQA website has some very good information about what makes quality child care and what to look for.

Often you have to trust your gut, but my advice is that when parents visit a centre and look around, a really good indicator is that if you walk through rooms, you want to see evidence of those strong, secure relationships – evidence that children have warm, strong connections with their educators, but also that children are comfortable with the space.

It's always a bit of a concern if I go into a playroom and every child in the room is clustered around the one educator and vying for attention because, for me, that's saying they're not yet secure and they're competing for that connection.

Instead, I like to see that educators are really engaged with children, that they’re down on children's level, sitting with them, not just standing around and supervising. I also like to see that there will be some groups of children at play, independently busy and secure in the space, with a sense of purpose. Settled, but not necessarily quiet, because children often aren’t!

Thank you for your time, Linda, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you!

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