Childcare is no longer a form of babysitting – it is early learning and care provided by qualified educators who are regulated by the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA).
All childcare employees are now called educators and must have a minimum Certificate III in Children’s Services. Childcare educators have to be qualified and they have to meet quality criteria regulated by ACECQA.
So what’s quality and how do you know it when you see it?
The two main indicators of quality early learning are:
- professional childcare from a qualified educator; and
- lower educator-to-child ratios.
These two indicators encourage:
- close relationships with one consistent educator; and
- play-based learning in a small home environment.
Quality early learning is available in a range of settings, including long day care in a centre, family day care, after school hours care and individual care from a nanny. The different types of childcare have different legal ratios of how many educators care for how many number of children. In a family day care setting, there is a lower ratio of educator to children than in centre based care.
Legally, a family day care educator can only care for up to seven children and only four children under school age. This means in family day care, it’s a smaller, more intimate group. That means a closer interaction and a continuous relationship between the family day educator and children. Many family day care children are cared for by the same educator for years.
Why is this thing called ‘quality early learning’ important?
Around 80 per cent of a child’s brain development occurs in the first five years. Access to quality early learning sets a child up for life-long learning. Research shows that children who attended one year or more of early learning before school, show better test results in literacy and numeracy in Year 4. Research by the Coalition of Australian Governments (COAG) found that children’s literacy and numeracy rises accordingly, when they have one, two and three years of early learning before school.
Put simply, the more years a child has in quality early learning before school, the better they do at school. Quality early learning is not just about letters and numbers though: social skills are really important too.
One in five Australian children start school developmentally vulnerable and not fully ready to learn. If a child is behind when they start school, they tend to stay behind. Research shows that participation in quality early learning can reduce vulnerability by identifying problems with social skills and personal development when a child is very young and working on solutions. Developmental vulnerability is about a third lower in children who attended early learning compared to those who did not.
The evidence is strong: participation in quality early learning has great benefits for young children. Quality early learning is offered in many settings, including centre-based childcare. However, the smaller group and closer interaction with one consistent educator in family day care, means that for many children and families, family day care is the best option.