Your childcare options

Preschool in Australia

In Australia preschool, or kindergarten as it is sometimes known, is not compulsory for children. It is an option for parents however, who have children between the age of 3-5 years. They vary in terms of opening hours and sessions from state to state. A good pre-school is a valuable way for your child to gain an insight into what school will be like. It often provides the stepping stone from childcare to formal schooling which begins in Year One. The findings from the Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE) Project also indicated that: “high quality preschooling, including staff with higher qualifications, is related to better intellectual and social/behavioural development” and in addition, the study also found: “preschool experience, compared to none, enhances all-round development in children.”

The main focus of pre-school is learning through play. The programmes usually consist of several half-day sessions, or the corresponding amount in full days. Preschool should combine structured learning and imaginative individual activities.

Starting Preschool

There are a number of things to consider when deciding to start preschool.
The first thing to consider is that it is useful to attend a nearby preschool. If you have to travel long distances this can often be tiring and inconvenient for your family. You should ask around locally for advice on your near-by pre-schools. Word of mouth recommendations are always excellent and will give you a good insight into the running of the centre.

Secondly, it is important to consider if your child is ready to start pre-school. It is vital to visit the pre-school, preferably without your child at first so you can assess it for yourself. You can then discuss if this is a suitable time to enroll your child with the classroom teachers. Below are some things to consider when evaluating its suitability for your family.

  1. Ask for a copy of the Handbook. They should be able to provide you with one that will outline its policies and procedures for you.
  2. Ask if they have a programme you can have a copy of. This should outline what the weekly focus will be. This will enable you to discuss things with your child at home as well.
  3. Ask if they have an open door policy.
  4. Check the centre itself. Is it roomy and well lit? Inspect the toilets and changing areas to ensure they are clean and well run. Check to see the fencing is secure.
  5. Are there a range of toys for the children to play with? Ask if they regularly cleaned.
  6. Is there a Parent notice-board to keep you informed of events?
  7. What is the ratio of adult to children?
  8. Where and how is the food prepared? Is there a menu for you to look at?
  9. This is a good time to observe the behaviour of the children and the staff as well. Does it seem relaxed and happy? How do the staff respond to a child who is distressed?

On your second visit it is recommended you take your child and see how they both react and interact during your visit. Encourage the teacher to give you feedback as well if they think your child is ready to begin preschool. This will enable you to make a fully informed decision about if it is the right time to enroll or not.