Kathryn Tang and the children in her Family Day Care service are a familiar sight in the community of Blackheath as they pick up other children from school for after-school care and visit the local park. Kathryn’s approach to early childhood education is based on the importance of physical development and learning through play, gentle activities, such as baking bread and exploring the garden of her weatherboard cottage in the heart of Blackheath. We spoke to Kathryn about the joys of being a Blue Mountains Family Day Care educator.

Tell us about your background as an early childhood educator

I was a kindergarten preschool teacher in my twenties and early thirties. Later, I worked in a clinic which included working with children with learning difficulties alongside other practitioners and this really brought home the importance of children’s physical development and how this early childhood period is of great value to later learning. I also worked as an assistant at the Blue Mountains Steiner School for five years, and this included movement work with children with learning difficulties.

I started part-time with Blue Mountains Family Day Care four years ago, doing two days a week with three- and four-year-olds. Then I just dived in last year and it was the first time I’d ever worked with children under three. It’s been a wonderful privilege to watch children’s development. That age is so stunning. Like watching a baby learn to walk and the process of getting co-ordinated. It’s an amazing period of childhood, looking at it from a developmental point of view.

What’s the best thing about being a Blue Mountains Family Day Care educator?

It's really vocational for me. I get to watch children’s development, to have warm connected relationships with them, and support their development. 
I enjoy working collaboratively with parents and with other educators. I appreciate the relationships and the support - working as a team.

Do you have a particular philosophy around childhood development?

I embrace play and plenty of movement. That doesn’t have to look like gym. It means we go to the park, run around; things like rolling down the hill, balancing on logs, swinging, sliding. It’s about providing opportunities to develop movement, co-ordination and gross motor skills through play. And then there’s sand play, sensory play, and messy play for fine motor development and sensory integration.

Twenty years ago we didn’t hear much about it. We knew you had to be healthy, and that developing gross and fine motor skills was early childhood bedrock stuff but I didn’t realise how profound an impact it had on later learning. Now early childhood educators often have a good sense of it, even if a service or centre can’t accommodate it as much as is ideal. Building with blocks, playing in the sandpit, it looks like a low-key thing but it’s really important.

What can Family Day Care services offer that a larger centre might not?

You can be incredibly flexible with your program because you have fewer children. And because you’re at home, you can follow the child’s interests. You get to know each other well so that you can tailor experiences. 

You can change your program when you need or want to. You can have a whole program ready for the day, they walk in the door, and then the way they look you know none of that will fly, so you do something completely different.

You can get really messy too. Here we get very messy but it’s all okay, you can kind of deal with anything. 

What do the children love about the service?

They love seeing each other. I think it’s the relationships that are the most important thing. They get very connected to each other and sometimes live close to each other. We go up to the school to pick up kids for after school care, one girl walks past her own house, and we see people we know. So I guess being close to school, close to home, means that the relationships in the community are real. If we go to the park we meet the walking group and the dog group and they get used to seeing us. 

Are there are other features you particularly like to focus on in your service?

Providing opportunities for creativity including art and craft, play, exploration and experimentation: for example, painting, drawing, construction, potions, sewing, and wool crafts.

Baking is popular. The older children help to plan what we’ll cook next and we all look forward to it. The whole process seem to calm us down – measuring, mixing, stirring, spooning then waiting for things to cook and cool down while we set the table for a little party. 

We also enjoy going into the garden and picking vegetables and herbs. We eat some of the vegetables as we pick them and they enjoy trying them, even if they don’t like a particular vegetable and spit it out!

What’s the best thing about working with children?

The fun. It makes you engage and be in the present. And I love the relaxed homely atmosphere. I believe play is the basis of childhood and learning, so watching creative play, it’s just a joy.  Watching children become resourceful through play and learning will always be a joy. 

If you are interested in becoming an educator with Blue Mountains Family Day Care, or would like to find a place for your child in the service, please email us at familydaycare@bmcc.nsw.gov.au or call 4780 5652


Photo (top): Courtesy of The Big Fix