Shane Boladeras says his son Quinn follows a play-based kindy program at a day care centre. (ABC Rebecca Turner)
Three-year-old Quinn Boladeras is old enough to go to the kindy run by his local public primary school, but he is staying at day care instead.
- Many families are struggling to juggle jobs and part-time kindergarten
- WA Labor made a 2017 election promise to build a childcare centre at every new primary school
- But the first school with a site for childcare will not open until 2022
His father, Shane Boladeras, said it was too difficult for his family to juggle working hours with pick-ups and drop-offs for Quinn and his big brother, from schools in different locations.
If he went to the local kindergarten, Quinn’s schedule would be different each week, with the local kindy roster of two days one week, followed by three days the next.
Timetables like these — which are common in WA public schools — pose a logistical nightmare for parents trying to juggle jobs, childcare and kindy schedules, not to mention their other children and school hours that can be incompatible with the average working day.
Kindergarten in WA is not compulsory, similar to preschool arrangements in other states, but attendance is strongly encouraged by the Education Department to help children build social and practical skills along with basic literacy and numeracy.
But parents like Mr Boladeras have opted for kindy programs at day care centres to manage what some have described as “the year from hell”.
Shane Boladeras says kindy hours were too difficult for his family to manage. (ABC News: Rebecca Turner)
Mr Boladeras said Quinn was happy to follow a play-based kindy program at Studio 64 Early Learning and Childcare, which was run by a qualified early childhood teacher.
“It’s more expensive, but it’s just more convenient,” Mr Boladeras said.
Studio 64 manager Chanele Duschler said this option had been taken by quite a few families over the past two years.
Her centre also rented out offices, co-working spaces and boardrooms, located on a different floor to the childcare facilities, to families trying to minimise their time commuting.
“It’s difficult for families to manage the different days each fortnight,” she said.
Many parents of young children are struggling to juggle their jobs, childcare and kindy schedules. (Pixabay: Klimkin)
Children can start kindy as young as three and a half, with the WA Government funding 15 hours per week for each child and individual schools choosing how they provide these hours.
For many working parents the free service has been welcomed after years of paying expensive childcare fees.
An exhausting juggle for Sinclair family
The cost is a motivating factor for other parents like Stacey Sinclair, whose four-year-old daughter Quinn has to be shuffled between three different venues each week.
Every Monday, Wednesday and second Friday Quinn is dropped off at before-school care at a neighbouring school, which later drives her to kindy on a bus.
After six hours of kindy, Quinn is driven back for after-school care at the neighbouring school and later picked up by Ms Sinclair after work.
On non-kindy days, Quinn goes to day care.
It is a juggle which other parents at her childcare centre are also, rather exhaustedly, handling.
“That’s what we have to do,” Ms Sinclair said. “There are no other options available.”
Ms Sinclair and her husband, a contractor who frequently works at different locations around the state, chose to start Quinn at kindy because it was cheaper than paying for five days of childcare.
After several years at day care, her daughter was ready for the stimulation of a new environment and was settling in well at kindy, she said.
Is it too much for young children?
Parents whose children have found it harder to cope questioned whether they should have to deal with a formal learning environment at such a young age, especially those at the younger end of the intake.
They included Bayswater mother Christina Araujo, who has been keenly watching the successes of the Finnish education system.
Children in Finland do not attend kindergarten until they are six. It is then compulsory, with kindy programs offered in both early childhood centres and schools.
The Scandinavian country is considered to have one of the highest-performing public education systems in the world.
Ms Araujo, who runs her own business, said her four-year-old son, Joe, had found it hard to handle after-school care after a day at kindy.
It was a big change from the day care schedule he was used to, especially the lack of an afternoon nap and the presence of many bigger, older school children running around.
“I find kindy harder to wrangle than day care. After-school care, it’s been so overwhelming for him,” she said.
“I think it’s the year from hell because there’s so much that is unknown about it.
“You don’t know how you are going to manage dropping them off at 8:50am, go to work and then pick them up. You don’t know how they will adjust.”
So what is the solution?
To avoid or minimise the juggle, some parents have chosen to bypass formal kindy altogether, keeping their children at home or opting for a day care-based kindy program, like Mr Boladeras.
But many parents have been eagerly waiting for the McGowan Government to implement a 2017 election promise, known as EduCare, to provide a site for a childcare centre in the planning for all new primary schools.
There was broad support for the proposal from parents to whom the ABC spoke.
“One hundred per cent, I think for parents it would be a godsend,” Ms Sinclair said.
Mr McGowan told voters the proposal would “eliminate the double drop-off” and make it easier for parents to work.
But the promise has suffered some setbacks in the implementation.
The first schools with a site for childcare — with no guarantee of a centre operating — will not open until almost a year after the next state election in 2021.
While four new primary schools will open in Perth this year, followed by five next year and then another five in 2022, only those at Burns Beach and Wellard will have sites for childcare centres.
Education Minister Sue Ellery said 2,500 square metres on each site would be set aside for a possible childcare centre.
“Any opportunity for a childcare facility to be built on a new primary school site will go through a public process,” she said.
“The process will be open and transparent.
“It is important to note that school principals are not responsible for any aspect of managing childcare services, including staffing, running the program and complying with regulations — that is the responsibility of the service provider.”
Principals not surprised by delays
WA Primary Principals Association president Ian Anderson was not surprised the first school with a childcare site had taken so long to be announced.
He said the Education Department needed to plan for bigger blocks of land to fulfil this election promise, meaning the stock which was inherited by the McGowan Government was not suitable.
“The school sites have to be purchased many years out,” Mr Anderson said.
But before a private operator can be appointed to build and operate the childcare centre, there can be some tricky issues to iron out.
Children can be as young as three and a half when they start kindergarten in WA. (Pixabay: Alicja)
The Australian Childcare Alliance, which represents day care centres, was concerned the new childcare centres could create unwelcome competition in the already oversupplied Perth market.
“If a service is put in an area that is already oversupplied, this will have negative impacts on all services and their families, along with the new one,” WA branch chief executive Rachelle Tucker said.
“In addition, it is a duplication of infrastructure and therefore a poor use of taxpayers’ money.”
Ms Tucker also pointed out a childcare centre operating on a school site would be in competition with the school’s kindy program.
She also said laws requiring childcare centres with more than 25 places to employ a degree-qualified early childhood teacher could put them at a financial disadvantage.
As of this year, centres catering for 60 or more children must employ two teachers.
“Many early learning services already struggle to enrol children over three and a half years and, if that centre is in direct competition with one on a school site, it is unlikely that they will remain financially viable,” she said.
Averting a childcare glut
Phyllis Narula, who runs 12 childcare centres in the Perth metropolitan area with her husband, said she could see the appeal in the proposal for parents, but it could be difficult to implement.
Mrs Narula was also concerned about an oversupply of childcare centres in Perth and said operators carefully considered the demographics and supply of childcare centres in a particular suburb before establishing a new centre.
Phyllis Narula says there is an oversupply of childcare centres in Perth. (ABC News: Rebecca Turner)
Operators would be reluctant to get involved if there already were childcare centres close to a school site.
“I understand the parents’ point of view, that it would be more convenient,” she said.
“It seems a great idea but as an operator I want to see how it pans out.”