by Helen Martin
Since taking over the boutique Homestead Early Learning Centre in the beautiful 120-year-old villa by the Helensville/Parakai roundabout last July, owner Amanda Pipe and her team have been making changes. The baby space is now suitable for the age group, teachers are working more closely together with better teacher/child ratios, there’s a big designated sleep room and the outdoor area has been turfed and made more appropriate for infants and toddlers. Amanda has also purchased new, more challenging playground equipment for the preschool playground.
“What we’re working towards is bringing more choice into what the children are doing, depending on what stage they’re at,” she says. “But we’re also maintaining a structure that makes them feel comfortable. We try and make it a really positive environment, a home away from home, with learning and care side by side.”
It’s all about aiming for balance, where structured learning and learning through play keep the children engaged and interested. Opportunities are provided for them to develop their physical, social and intellectual skills, develop confidence and learn about taking appropriate risks on the playground equipment. “We are very focussed on providing learning opportunities appropriate for the current understanding of brain development,” says Amanda. “We encourage life skills children will need in the future, such as empathy, personal connectivity, resilience and creativity. We’re lucky to have such a wonderful natural environment of over 3000 square metres, with plenty of grass and gardens. The children are given opportunities for creativity in art, music and construction and we encourage their fascination with the natural world.”
The children are separated into areas according to age: under two, with three teachers and a maximum of 12 children; two to three-year olds, with two teachers and 12-15children; pre-schoolers three and a half to five, whose days are a little more structured as they are introduced to the idea of school. Currently there are some vacancies in the two-to-four years old space as recently several children left to go to school.
Amanda, whose mother was an early childhood teacher (“so it’s always been part of my life”) began her career as an accountant but switched to early childhood after she had her two children. Inspired by a nurturing early childhood education centre she found for her children in central Auckland, where the staff had incredible connection with and empathy for the children, she resolved to become part of it once her children were less dependent. “The staff there understood children’s different developmental stages and their needs at different ages. I saw how their passion and the pure love of what they were doing were the keys to their success.”
While, as the owner, Amanda oversees all the centre’s business, Lisa Winiata is “the wonderful centre manager”, working closely with Homestead’s six experienced permanent staff and three relievers. “Homestead works so well because all the staff have a common vision and are passionate about what they do. The children are getting a really high quality of education and care while also having a lot of fun,” Amanda says. “All the teams are working well together, and the children are settled and content. I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved and that we are developing a fantastic reputation in Helensville for being a quality childhood education centre.”