ChildForum Office of Pre-Primary Education

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Welcome into warmth

zigzagzooBelow-zero temperatures and a heavy snowfall would cause many early childhood centres to shut the doors and not open.  

But there are some services with environments that are designed to cope.

ChildForum’s chief executive Dr Sarah Alexander visited ZigZagZoo, an early childhood centre in central Queenstown, following a major snow fall the day before. 

Snow and ice had caused major disruptions at the airport and to roads. 

There were closures of local schools and early childhood services.

She said she found ZigZagZoo to be “a lovely and welcoming centre that reflects well the often challenging weather conditions, to the advantage of children, families and teachers.”

It has underfloor heating inside and outdoor play extensions for the under-2s and the over-2s rooms that can be fully enclosed for wind protection and heated.

Sinead Harrington, the centre’s manager, said that many of the staff lived close by so they were able to ensure childcare was available for those families able to get their children to the centre.

“This is a transient town, families come here often not knowing anyone and not having any support.  It’s good to be able to provide that support. They may have no one else available to help and they may be working in essential services so it’s vital that we do our best to be a centre that can stay open even when it snows,” she said.

Dr Alexander noted three stand-out features of ZigZagZoo.

First, there was no skimping on electricity to save money.

Ms Harrington explained: “power costs are not issue – it’s something that we don’t really think about and we don’t have any thoughts of cutting back on because warm children are happy children.”

Second, the environment was child appropriate with seats, tables, cabinets and displays to suit all children be they crawlers, toddlers, or pre-schoolers.

“A key part of our philosophy is to promote independence so, for example, we have chairs and tables that match children’s heights and capabilities.  We can focus on nurturing children rather than stepping in to assist or interpreting their play.”

A third noteworthy feature was the relaxed and peaceful atmosphere even late in the afternoon when normally everyone would be feeling at least a bit tired or like going home.

“The warmth of the teachers toward the children was very obvious.  I noticed infants engaging in spontaneous fun and caring interactions with each other. This is testament to the enthusiasm and caring of Ms Harrington and members of the staffing team,” said Dr Alexander.

Attendance is capped at 38 children so everyone gets to know everyone and the centre practises primary caregiving supporting close relationships between children and teachers.

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