Last year, Petit Early Learning Journey introduced a new national perpetual award. Centre of the Year recognises and celebrates overall team excellence in the delivery of early education and care. The new award complements are centre-based annual Excellence Awards.

To decide the overall winner for Centre of the Year, we looked at four different categories of service delivery. We then tallied the winners and runner-ups of these categories to create an overall aggregate award.

The winner of the first 2023 perpetual award, Centre of the Year, was Petit ELJ Coffs Harbour in New South Wales. The overall runner-up was Petit ELJ Richmond.

Centre Director Alex O’Sullivan from Petit ELJ Coffs Harbour discusses the centre’s strengths that gave them the advantage for first place.

Behind ths group of children who are taking spanish lessons, educators have made learning visible in the studios through photos and art placed on the walls where families can see it.

Voice of the families

Making learning visible

“Our learning is visible across different platforms because our families and children have different needs. So, we post things on the online educational app Storypark and in our daybooks for families. If people are not internet savvy, it is also available in the programming books, and we display it on the walls.”

“When children do art, we showcase it at their level. It is only if the children want to do it, but we display everything in the spaces on the walls. Families should be able to walk into each studio and see what the children are interested in and what learning circle is happening at the moment in that studio.”

Delivering a well-balanced learning program

“First, the children have to be interested in the learning program. If they’re not interested, they won’t be engaged. Then, we reflect on the learning goals we need to help them achieve, such as how we help them meet these goals while keeping them interested and excited in play-based and inquiry-based learning.”

“The children will keep learning if we keep focusing on their interests. But it’s also up to us to know when they’ve had enough and where we need to move on from that. Or in what direction do we need to change?”

“For example, last year, the children were crazy about bugs, which went on for six months. They grew butterflies and explored the life circle. From bugs, they turned to dinosaurs.”

“It all comes down to the educators understanding the programming cycle and knowing when to change direction based on the children’s interests.”

An educator sits on the ground next to a child. She holds up a handful of colourful wet spaghetti from a sensory bin as the toddler reaches towards it. She observes and listens to the child building relationships and trust.

Trust begins with building relationships

“Our team takes the time to get to know the children and their families. They learn their interests, strengths, and what they did on the weekend. It is about being receptive and having warm, caring and meaningful interactions on their level.”

“We want children to feel secure and still be free to explore and learn. Our educators always follow the children’s voices, giving them the freedom to make choices and respecting them.”

“Children are super clever. We need to listen to them and provide them with a safe space where they can learn and share their voices so they believe in themselves. It is about knowing each child’s personality, what interests them, and then extending on this.”

Petit ELJ Cofffs Harbour builds relationships with families by holding events like Mother's Day and Grandparents' Day. A family sit together with their children enjoying the experience.

Family recommendations

“When we create genuine relationships with our families, they are more likely to recommend us to their extended family, friends and work colleagues. However, we’re not focused on trying to get recommendations, it is a positive side effect of building quality relationships.”

“It’s important to us that our team greets all of our parents in the morning and the afternoon. And it’s more than just a greeting. The expectation is that it’s a chat, more like a “getting to know you” discussion. We want families and their children to understand we are here for them.”

The ACECQA reminds us that Quality Area 6 of the National Quality Standard aims for services to build quality relationships with families. When families partner with us, they contribute to the direction of the practice, come to events, collaborate on their children’s learning, and help build a sense of community.

“From these genuine conversations, we can learn so much about our families, what they are doing and their children’s interests.”

“One of the other aspects that we do well at Petit ELJ Coffs Harbour, and our Assistant Centre Director Shani has really helped in this area, is to create memorable family events. So, we invite families and children to attend and be involved in Mother’s Day, our movie night and our Christmas party.”

“We want these events to be a constant part of the fun at Petit ELJ Coffs Harbour. These community get-togethers are exciting and inclusive. They help to create a sense of community and build children’s confidence and identity.”

“Then, when people share these events on places like Instagram, they let their friends and mother’s groups know how special these events are at our centre. Because of this, we often have people contacting us to enquire about enrolments.”

 A group of educators pose outdoors for a photo during book week. They are dressed as colourful crayons: blue, yellow green purple and orange. Behind them is a sandpit and a big chalk board that stretches across the wall. Educators availability is important when planning for families increased enrollment needs.

Planning for families’ increased needs

“When supporting families’ enrollment needs, understanding the laws and the regulations is vital. Rostering can be tricky, so it helps to have a sufficient number of qualified educators available.”

“We have a significant group of educators currently studying and growing their knowledge through professional development. When rostering, it is important to consider how we can meet everyone’s needs and maintain ratios.”

“We plan our roster so that the same people share opening or closing shifts. That way, each studio always has an educator present for mornings and afternoons, and there is a good balance of educators throughout the day.”

What are your team’s most successful attributes?

“At Petit ELJ, we are a supportive and caring community. We know each other on a first-name basis, and we respect each other. And even though we are all different and have differing values and paths in life, we come together as one big family.”

“The best thing about Petit ELJ Coffs Harbour is that our team wants to be here; they want to support the children and their families and each other, and that’s the key to having fun.”

An educator rides a red tricycle next to a young child on a similar vehicle in an outdoor environment at Petit Early Learning Journey Coffs Harbour, the 2023 Perpetual Award winner for Centre of the Year. The educator is smiling, having fun and encouraging the child to pedal as he looks at the educator's feet.

Practise at Petit Early Learning Journey where “community and belonging are high!”

There is never a dull moment in any of our centres. Our teams inspire and support each other to provide the best quality education and care for our children and families.

Our learning community is a place of potential and possibilities – for the children, their families and our centre teams too. Collaboration, teamwork, professional and personal development and a healthy work-life balance are important to us.

Are you ready to let your career grow and thrive with a highly personalised service provider?

Ignite your career today.