Kids Cottage and community connections

Kids Cottage Early Years Learning Centre share how they have adapted practices according to their community context and maintained connections during the pandemic.

Could you tell us a bit about your service?

Kids Cottage is a small family run service based in North Parramatta. Our early childhood service was established in 2010 originally as a long day care service and recently transitioned to a preschool with flexible long hours for children aged two to six years. Over the past few years Kids Cottage has adapted from the traditional model of separate age grouping to a flexible mixed age preschool. We adopted this model with reflection, training, and collaboration with the local and wider community. This included networking with other early childhood services that implement mixed age practices (family grouping), engaging in training on contemporary approaches and practices and collaboration with our localised KU inclusion support officer.

At Kids Cottage we believe that a high-quality preschool education stems from having strong connections & relationships with children and their families, our team of educators, our local community & the wider community. North Parramatta, which is located on Dharug Country, is a small, relaxed community not too far from the Parramatta CBD. We are proudly connected to services within our local community where we have close relationships with local schools, aged care, shops located within a short walking distance and services such as the local GP. Driving through our community you would often see us walking in our small groups of mixed ages to our fortnightly visits to the aged care facility and stopping off and sharing a babycino together, to visiting the local primary school to join in on their events or meeting the local playgroup for athletics fun down at the local park. Our community connections are a core aspect of our philosophy at Kids Cottage. When our first lockdown kicked in it had us feeling like we had lost a part of our identity. So many families had chosen us because we have such a strong community focus and engagement within the community, therefore this made us critically reflect on how we can keep these relationships and community connections during the pandemic.

How have you adapted your practices according to the community context of your service?

We made it a goal and priority to find creative ways to remain connected to the community. All of our educators have specific roles within the service based on their strengths and interests and each educator strives to keep our community connections. Lockdown 2.0 comes with challenges but confidence and knowledge of how to continue our relationships.

Street library:

At the beginning of lockdown, we added a street library for the local community, particularly after finding that local libraries had closed. We registered it with Street Library Australia as well as displayed notices in the local shops and doctors. We found a lot of local residents walking past our service have used it as their little library. It initially started off with children’s books, but over the last few months it really has become a library for all ages and interests.

Connection to senior citizens:

To keep our community connection with our local aged care facility, our events coordinator organised a zoom performance where the children took ownership of their acts and chose their favourite songs and dances to show our senior citizen friends. We organised a donation from our families to collect board games, craft items & (of course!) chocolates to bring some joy to the lengthy lockdown with no visitors. Sadly, one of our families was moving out of the area and they had an abundance of polar fleece, our sustainability officer had a wonderful idea to make scarves to bring smiles and some warmth to our aged care friends. We were lucky enough to have a few families volunteer to sew the fabric into scarves. Then our creative children decorated the scarves by practising their sewing skills using markers to personalise the gifts. We received photos and messages of gratitude.

Transition to school:

Our wonderful Educational Leader continues to ensure the children who are transitioning to formal learning have a successful and seamless transition. Term 4 would normally mean we headed off on our weekly trips to the library at the local primary school which involved visiting the playground and kinder classrooms. During the pandemic things look and feel a little different but having such strong connections to our local schools we aim to make smooth transitions by holding these sessions over zoom with the kinder teachers and having virtual tours.

Staying connected and active:

Our Munch & Move officers’ main goal this quarter was to ensure all our families who are isolating during the lockdown stay connected and active. Activity packs were organised, and educator puppets were sent to every family with a list of fun activities and challenges to post on our digital platform. We have had some creative images sent in with some families making the most of the friend’s bubbles and getting active outdoors with their educator.

Other ways we remain connected is with our zoom sessions which we run several times a week as well, weekly calls to check in with families (phone or video chat).

We knew immediately this lockdown had a different ‘feel’ from lockdown last year. Last year’s lockdown was a novelty, however, the faces around us showed us we needed to reflect on how our practices would genuinely focus on connection and wellbeing. As lockdown progressed, we had open and honest discussions with our families and local community groups on how they wanted connection to look like; some preferred communication via emails while others preferred video chat. What we all realised was that the ongoing connection is what kept us all going and looking forward to reuniting once lockdown was finished. It was clear to us that it was important to adapt the connection to what suited the family and community group at that point in time. Ultimately, lockdown has been challenging, but we are proud that our practices aligned with our core vision.

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