kids

Just 5 things to think about when choosing your child's preschool, according to an early childhood expert.

Affinity Education
Thanks to our brand partner, Affinity Education

“So, do you have any questions?” she asked.

And the entire contents of my brain evaporated.

I wasn’t in a job interview but I was just as stressed.

I was trying to get my daughter into an incredibly in-demand local preschool and I couldn’t think of a question that didn’t make me look like a dud, disinterested parent. 

Not because I wasn’t interested or motivated. But because I didn’t even know enough about early education to know where to begin.

I mean, in my defence, I was five years old the last time I had anything to do with it. 

From talking to other parents, I know I’m not alone in feeling confused when it comes to choosing a preschool. 

So, to help us all out, I chatted to Dr Lesley Jones, from Affinity Education — a group that owns and operates more than 160 Lifelong Learning Centres throughout Australia. 

Dr Lesley has worked in early childhood education for more than 30 years and she says there are really only 5 things to think about when choosing your child's preschool. (Phew.)

So here’s a summary of what questions you need answered and exactly how to ask them.

1. Teaching style

“Teaching style refers to the way that teachers or educators approach their work,” Dr Lesley tells Mamamia.

“The easiest way to understand this is to think back to some of the teachers you had as a child. Which ones were your favourites and which ones not so much? The difference was most likely their style.”

According to Dr Lesley, all early childhood teachers use play-based learning as a method of teaching. But their style will differ between different providers.

What to look for: “A Preschool classroom should look busy but not chaotic,” she explains.

“It should have children who look interested in what they are doing. This can mean there is a good level of working noise (children chatting and enjoying each other’s company) but not so noisy that it feels chaotic.”

Questions to ask: What activities do you normally run in a typical day? What is the objective of that activity?

Image: Affinity Education.

ADVERTISEMENT

2. Extracurriculars

Extracurricular or ‘enrichment’ programs are something you’ll see on lots of websites and glossy brochures. But what are they? 

Put simply, Dr Lesley explains they are “very focused, dedicated learning time around the one central topic for a set period of time.”

This could be a STEM program, a language program or a physical sport and fitness program. 

All Affinity Lifelong Learning Centres offer the Healthy Children Enrichment Program, with a range of activities running every week and honestly... I’d like to sign myself up. 

Yoga and relaxation sessions, athletic programs, nutritional cooking classes, gardening and sustainability programs, community engagement, and performing arts. Bliss.

What to look for: Dr Lesley says a good program is designed to develop specific skills. For example, Affinity’s sport program focuses on teaching ball skills, and the STEM programs helps children build foundational scientific concepts through hands-on exploration. 

Questions to ask: What extracurricular activities will my child do in a typical week? And who are the educators that are delivering these? 

Image: Affinity Education.

ADVERTISEMENT

3. COVID safety plan

After two years of rolling shutdowns due to outbreaks this one should be high on any parent’s list, whether you are working or not.    

“A good COVID safe plan is one that follows the most up-to-date public health directives.”

According to Dr Lesley, red flags to watch out for include vague or fluffy wording.

“COVID safe plans should be very well communicated. If the strategy and processes are not clear or communicated well, I’d be concerned that it’s not an embedded plan. A good plan is one where everyone knows what to expect and do,” she says.

What to look for: A COVID response team and clear communication channels. Caution doesn’t mean closure, a good COVID safe plan means that centres have given some considered thought about how to continue to operate under changing circumstances.  

For example, a solid COVID safe plan meant Affinity’s centres remained open throughout COVID so they could continue to support families. 

However, when they did have to close or children couldn’t attend in person, the educators were able to quickly switch to remote learning. Look out for talk of learning from home support, what role you’ll be expected to play and how teaching works via virtual classrooms.             

Questions to ask: What is your COVID safe plan? What happens if a child/family member/team member has COVID?

Image: Supplied.

4. Parent involvement

You’re unlikely to get signed up for the P&C committee at the preschool stage as expectations around family involvement has evolved over recent years. However, getting a bit of an understanding of what your child is learning at preschool will benefit them in the long run.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Good family involvement rests on two-way communication more than time spent in the classroom with the children.

“When parents understand what children are learning about, they can add to this from home and stretch the learning and conversations with their children,” she tells Mamamia

Image: Supplied.

You can expect this information to be shared through digital platforms (Storypark is very commonly used and Affinity Education’s tool of choice), and a conversation each day at drop-off and pick-up — COVID permitting. 

Questions to ask: What channels do you use for updates about the children? How often can I expect an update (daily, weekly)?

5. Logistics

Every early education provider is different. Some provide all food, others provide lunch only and others require you to send a lunchbox. Ditto nappies. Ditto sunscreen. Ditto hats.

So, be sure to make sure those little things align with your family’s needs. 

The Kindergarten and Preschool programs at Lifelong Learning Centres owned and operated by Affinity Education are offered within long daycare setting.  They also provide morning tea, lunch and afternoon snacks. Some centres even provide breakfast.

However, to make sure you have all the info you need, be sure to ask the following questions:

  • What are the hours?
  • Is there an option for long daycare?
  • Is there a minimum number of days required for enrolment?
  • What are the fees?
  • Does the centre operate through school holidays?
  • Will I be charged for days the centre is closed? (Expect the answer to this to be “yes” as it helps keep educators fully employed and paid.)
  • Will I be charged if my child is absent? (Again expect a “yes” — if eligible, the government supports your childcare benefits during absences. Again, this also helps keep educators fully employed.)
  • What food is provided?


There are more than 160 Lifelong Learning Centres owned and operated by Affinity Education Group around Australia. Book a family tour at a preschool or kindergarten program near you. 

Image: Supplied.

Affinity Education
Affinity Education Group is a privately held provider of early childhood education, owning and operating over 160+ child care centres throughout Australia, with a presence in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, and provides care for over 15,000 children.