At the start of Term One this year, the Pahiatua Early Learning Centre opened its doors to 28 children at the previous Pahiatua Kindergarten site in Tyndall Street. Within weeks, enrolments have risen to 45.
As part of the Ruahine Kindergarten Association (RKA), the Early Learning Centre has been created to offer the town’s changing dynamics and its families with more choice in early childhood education (ECE) services. Operating Monday to Friday, 7.30am – 5.30pm, the facility has been refurbished both inside and out to cater for children aged 0-5 years.
Licensed for up to 18 under twos, the Early Learning Centre includes a separate indoor area for the younger children. A sleeping room, age-appropriate toys, and specific learning resources, are just some of the new additions.
The previous Pahiatua Kindergarten community’s fundraising efforts for a redesign of the outdoor learning environment have been used in the relicensed centre and anew sandpit and flying fox are particular highlights for all of the children, with the older ones often showing manaakitanga towards their younger peers.
While many of the families are returning enrolments, other families are also beginning to take advantage of the new early childhood education offering and extended hours.
Parents have access to up to 30 hours free, if their entire ECE subsidy is used at the centre. Open all year, with the exception of statutory holidays and the days in between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the community-based facility also encourages parents to be actively involved in their child’s education.
The Ministry of Education’s ECE curriculum, Te Whariki, is at the core of the centre’s teaching and learning, with a strong focus on free play. Led by Centre Manager and fully qualified teacher, Jacki Jensen, the Early Learning Centre is staffed by qualified and registered teachers, as well as teachers in training, including 19 year-old Jeremy - who responded to a recent job vacancy.
“Yes, I get a bit of ribbing from my friends,” says Jeremy, whose mother, Aunty, and brother all work in early childhood education. “It doesn’t last long though, especially when I tell them I’ve been outside playing in a sandpit or on an obstacle course all day.” Jeremy says his role has given him a great introduction to what could become a long term career. “In a traditionally female dominated sector, it’s great to have someone of Jeremy’s calibre and enthusiasm,” says Jacki. “Interaction with a male role model from an early age can make a huge difference to many of our children.”
“Providing both a kindergarten and an early learning centre means we can offer more choice and flexibility in quality early childhood education,” says RKA’s General Manager, Alison Rudzki. “This is particularly important in a place such as Pahiatua where there are many farming, commuting and working families.”
“As an association, diversifying our options provides us with a long term sustainable business model while offering families with young children access to a full complement of quality ECE offerings.”
In addition to their Early Learning Centre and Holyoake Kindergarten in Pahiatua, RKA has another 22 kindergartens throughout the wider Manawatu, Rangitikei, Bulls, Marton and Foxton areas – most of which have extended their hours to full sessions, 8.30am – 2.30pm, five days a week. RKA have also recently introduced a holiday programme in Palmerston North to provide continuous kindergarten sessions during the term breaks, with plans for more early learning centres and a home based service later this year.