Greater political respect needed for early childhood education, says Cooks Hill Preschool director

Focus:  "It is extremely rewarding to watch the children’s development evolve over a lengthy period of time," says Cooks Hill Preschool director Tash Croft.
Focus: "It is extremely rewarding to watch the children’s development evolve over a lengthy period of time," says Cooks Hill Preschool director Tash Croft.

Where did you grow up and what are your strongest childhood memories of enjoyment?

I grew up in Branxton and Singleton, and my strongest memories of young childhood are of playing in our big backyard with my brother – jumping on the trampoline, playing cricket, and swinging on the play equipment.

What did you hope to be when you 'grew up'?

As a child, I thought I’d be a school teacher. I would set my toys up as the students and create lessons and ‘mark’ their work. Even later I was always drawn to young children and loved my babysitting work.

What did you decide to do after finishing school?

I began to hesitate if I would like to be a teacher, and was drawn towards the travel and excitement of hospitality. I completed my Diploma of Tourism and Hotel Management and had great experiences at the Melbourne Hilton, Noah’s on the Beach and Mondo’s Café. After my husband and I had our first child, I did not feel as passionate about my career in hospitality as I felt I was sacrificing quality time with my young family.

What drew you to early education?

After the birth of my first child I was fascinated with the research I read surrounding early childhood development. I began studying my Certificate III in Early Childhood to learn more, and then upon working in the field realised this was my passion. Every child is so unique that my experiences working with children are everchanging and I continue to learn and benefit.

What training did you do?

In between having two more children I continued to study for my Diploma, and then the Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood). I am currently completing the final unit of my Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood) which has allowed me to study some fascinating topics that I am able to share through the preschool curriculum.

Where did you work prior to your current role?

Whilst studying I worked as a casual employee in long day care centres before spending a few years at The Little Unicorn Early Education and Pre-school Centre, Broadmeadow. After having my third child I set up my own Family Day Care business, which was an extremely rewarding experience that I learnt so much from. Working so closely with families was one of the highlights of the role, and has helped to shape my personal philosophy with families at our small community preschool.

When did you join Cooks Hill Preschool?

I began as a casual employee in 2012, and as the director was planning to retire after more than 20 years with the preschool, I began to transition into her role. In July 2013, I became the director and with passionate educators in our team we continue to evolve and aim to provide a preschool experience that children and families want to be involved in. I joined because I was drawn towards the strong family partnership the small community preschool was known for, and I felt ready to take the next step in my professional career as a leader of an early childhood service.

What is the centre's core focus?

We are community early childhood education service and our philosophy is that we are committed to providing a safe, welcoming and happy place for children to play, explore and learn. Our main aim is to bridge the gap from home to school through our two year program by nurturing children to become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens.

The biggest challenges?

There is never enough time to get everything done! Our priority is always the children, so it can be quite challenging to complete all of the ‘behind the scenes’ paperwork required for the preschool.

And the most rewarding part of your job?

As we run a two year preschool program it is extremely rewarding to watch the children’s development evolve over a lengthy period of time, and the partnerships that we create with families during his time is very special. It is a privilege to be so actively involved with children and families during this transition from early childhood to formal education.

What is topical in your sector now?

Unfortunately funding in NSW preschools is always topical as our state has the lowest funding in Australia. The NSW government has funding in place to encourage children to attend preschool for one year before school, which is a great incentive but they have removed funding that supported children to attend for two years prior to school. This is very concerning for children who we identify as needing extra support in an area of their development, as we need the two years to develop and apply for the required supports which will then allow their formal schooling to be more successful. The other concern is the low rate of pay: the average full time wage for an early childhood educator is more than $13 an hour less than the average worker. 

What reform is needed?

Early childhood education needs some of our political leaders to have greater respect and understanding of our role. We have some great advocates but we unfortunately hear some politicians referring to us as babysitters which spreads an unprofessional message about our role. Governments need to have greater understanding of the long term benefits to society of children accessing quality early childhood programs for two years before schooling begins.

Early childhood education needs some of our political leaders to have greater respect and understanding of our role.

Tash Croft