Karen Armstrong - Kids World Early Learning Centre
Published on Tuesday, 07 August 2018
Last updated on Wednesday, 08 December 2021
What is your name?
My name is Karen Armstrong and I am 28 years old. My husband and I own the Kids World Early Learning Centre in Werribee and his name is Kieran Armstrong, so the children have a habit of calling me ‘the other Kieran’ or ‘the girl Kieran’ as they confuse our names.
At Kids World Early Learning Centre in Werribee we have a team of 10 staff and can accept 43 children a day. We are at 90 per cent occupancy so have about 40 children per day and about 60 families that we work with.
What is your professional background and career experience?
I come from a nursing and midwifery background. My mother is a midwife so when I finished school, I followed in her footsteps and studied nursing and midwifery. I absolutely love it but after doing it for six years, I was looking for a change.
My husband has been in early learning for about 10 years, so I decided to enrol in my diploma and join him in purchasing our own centre. I have been studying my diploma for almost a year now and don’t have long to go. While I thought I would know a fair bit considering my background, I am finding it very valuable and insightful. I am using what I am learning in the rooms while I assist our room leaders.
What attracted you to a career in the early childhood sector?
My husband has been in the sector for 10 years and his love and passion for it drew me to it. Upon starting my diploma and working on the floor I found a true love for helping shape the minds of tomorrow. I know what I am doing with these children now, will have a lasting impact on them for the rest of their lives and that is really special.
I live by the fact that more development happens in a person's first 5 years, than the rest of their life so every decision, every word and every instance we have with these children form the building blocks for whom they will be in later life. This sector has the power to change the world for the better and I want to be a part of it.
What does a 'normal' day look like for you?
Is there such a thing!? On average I will be up at 5:30am, feed our bub then be up at Kids World by 6:30am to help open and greet the parents. I will settle the children and chase up some admin work in the morning. We'll ensure everyone has breakfast during family grouping then separate the rooms around 8:30am. I will then assist which room needs me most before morning tea. After morning tea we'll generally take one of the rooms on a local excursion to a variety of places as we love getting out and about. I'll accompany them to be an extra pair of hands.
When we return, it's lunchtime so I will sit and eat with the children. After lunch; many of the children have a sleep so I use this time to catch up on my admin work. Then in the afternoon there is group time in each room so I will assist where required or sneak in to the baby's room to spend time with our bub. As the afternoon approaches, I am on hand to help with experiences for the children and to meet and greet the parents during pick up. Most children and families are gone by just after 6 so it's then the general tidy up till we close at 6:30pm. Then it's home time to cook dinner and prepare to do it all again!
What makes your service unique?
We like to think we are super unique. We work so hard to ensure children have the best start to life and have so much fun! Some of the following points make us unique:
- We are out and about almost every day. We have regular outings for each room weekly and we have four huge excursions for kinder each year for example we went to Sovereign Hill in July. We also have an awesome six seat pram to ensure even our babies can get out for some fun.
- We have a team of staff that have been together for eight years, no turnover issues here; just great consistency of care.
- We are super connected to the community. We have the local doctor, dentist and maternal health nurse all visit regularly and we go on weekly visits to the local disability centre to enjoy their gardens.
- We look after our parents. We have events that involve cooking dinner for them to take home and we offer date nights where we stay open till 10:30pm to allow them some mum and dad time. We offer a morning coffee and even walk them out with umbrella when it's raining.
- We are innovative with the use of Storypark, social media and Qikkids as we use those platforms to really involve our families with voting for pet names, competitions and a plethora of other things.
- We have a community that represents roughly 20 different cultures and often have themed days and even weeks to celebrate them. Parents and staff all get involved for their respective days and they are so much fun
- We love incursions! In the last six months we have had the fire brigade, police, paramedics, Thingle Toodle, doctor, dentist, maternal health nurse, Butterfly Adventures, countless community visitors and so many more visit us.
- I think my husband and I also make our centre special. You don't see commitment like ours often and even having my husband here is a really nice dynamic as the kids are drawn to young males who are so hard to find in the industry.
What are some of the advantages of working in early childhood education and care?
As I mentioned before, you can change the future. What we do with these children today, shapes what will happen tomorrow. It is so powerful and exciting. Another advantage includes loving our job. We wake up every morning wondering what will happen and what fun adventures we will have. We work with children, how can you not love it?
What are some of the biggest challenges facing the sector?
We prefer to look at challenges as opportunities so there aren't many that immediately affect us however there some external ones including helping parents to navigate Centrelink. We find it takes some parents so long to get up and running with their government support that a couple just throw in the towel and then their children miss the benefits of early education. We don’t think the CCS or any other reforms on the horizon are too much to worry about and even though there is a definite oversupply of centres at the moment, we believe if you make your centre great then people will come.
How has your service changed to deal with these challenges?
When we took over the centre was at 40 per cent so we spent six months, investing time, money and effort to make Kids World the best place ever. We invested tens of thousands of dollars in resources, introduced exciting and engaging experiences, re-imagined the whole program and pushed marketing too. There is a definite oversupply of centres in our area but regardless of that we have been able to take the centre from 40 per cent to 90 per cent in six months and will hopefully fill it in the next month. It is so important to have strong occupancy as it allows us to do amazing things (such as the excursions) with our children.
How does the early childhood industry need to change to adapt to these challenges?
It depends how you look at it. Oversupply is good for the customer so we as a sector probably need to come to an acceptance that the days of 100 per cent with a two year waitlist are gone but if you run a great centre you can still have strong occupancy. I think the large providers also need to look at their fees as some of them are insane and you can see so transparently that many of their centres are just money making schemes.
I think we need to get back to the basics, give great education that children enjoy and families feel a part of and then we should be ok.
What advice would you offer someone thinking about a career or looking for a promotion in early childhood education and care?
Do it. You will love every minute of it. You will be paid to come to work and spend time with children- it will change your life for the better.
I believe that outlook is a choice. If you choose to come to work with a positive outlook on what you do and why you are there you will love your job and never lose a love for it. It is important that you love your job because if you don't then the children will know that and will feel it- it's not fair to put that on them. Be passionate, be excitable, be positive and above all else, have fun.
Why is the number of men in early education still so low?
Educator in the spotlight: Meet Ms Rosanne Pugh from KU Ourimbah Preschool and Children's Centre.
Educator in the spotlight: Meet Sandy Kimmins the service manager at Toowoomba Little School in Queensland and learn how a mishap with an RTO led to her long and successful career in the early childhood sector.