When my son was 14 months old, we were lucky enough to get him into a small, community co-op early childhood education and care (ECEC) centre close to our home, where he thrived. During the pandemic the centre was a sanctuary for my son and provided him with social and educational development opportunities. His educators and friends at the centre were the only faces, other than his Dad and mine, that he saw during lockdowns.
Fast forward to mid-2021, with my son approaching three years old, we decided that our family needed a tree change. We moved from Melbourne to regional Victoria.
We were thrilled to find our new house had a fantastic ECEC centre just around the corner. Shortly before we moved, I sent an enquiry to the local centre but was surprised to hear that they had a very long waitlist. I called three other centres nearby and my heart sank as I learned that every one of them had a waitlist of more than 12 months.
I was very upset; my husband works full time and I work four days per week. We need education and care for our son on those four days. And with him turning three years old, having access to a quality kinder program was very important to us.
We’d hoped that in a regional area we would have access to a small, community centre and, with a less dense population, we would hopefully reduce the likelihood of our son catching COVID before he could be vaccinated.
So, I researched ECEC centres further from home and, after considerable searching, found a centre with good ratings and availability, but it was a 20 minute drive away on the fringe of metro Melbourne.
We had no choice, and enrolled him in the centre. The staff and facilities were fantastic, but starting at a new centre had a big impact on our son. Our bright, bubbly and social child found the transition incredibly challenging. It was exacerbated by the fact that due to COVID restrictions we weren’t allowed to enter the centre during drop off or pick up. The 20 minute drive each way was nerve wracking for my son. The additional distance that we travelled each day meant he was gone longer than if he was at a closer centre. It broke my heart to see him upset.
I was determined to get him into a centre closer to home and checked in with the local centre regularly. Our luck changed after a few months and we were able to get him in one day… and then three days at the centre near our home.
The difference that this has made to our family is HUGE. Of course, our son still had some trepidation with the transition but so far he’s settling in much better. As we pass the centre on our way to the local shops, he’s realised that he’s not so far away from home when at the centre, which we think helps him have a better experience there.
However, we still only have three days at this centre – and we need four - and the days we have are not as compatible with my work hours as I would like. Thankfully, my workplace is understanding and they have allowed me to adjust my hours to accommodate when I need to be home with our son. My husband and I now alternate an additional day working from home, but as many of us know – working from home with a three year old has its challenges! To say it’s been a juggle has been an understatement, but we’re starting to settle into country life now.
My hope for the future is that the government does more to support regional areas where the boom in population is causing challenges for family infrastructure. Towns need adequate ECEC centres to support the families that live in them.
If you would like to share your story please email Maddy at [email protected]