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Bringing child care strategies home

Child care centres are a place of laughter, learning, and play. Children learn from their surrounds and their carers at the centre through play-based programs. You can bring these elements into your own home to help your child’s development.  



Children are curious and stories are great ‘brain food’ for their imaginations. Early learning experts encourage reading at home to improve literacy and communication.

Reading to children isn’t a complicated exercise. It’s ideal to regularly set aside a time when you can read together. Some parents like to read with their children before bed and the traditional ‘bedtime story’ is still going strong. Picture books are better for younger children so they can associate the words on the page with the illustrations. Older children can better handle books with longer blocks of text.  



“Play has many valuable purposes.  It is a means by which children develop their physical, intellectual, emotional, social and moral capacities.  It is a means of creating and preserving friendships.  It also provides a state of mind that is uniquely suited for high-level reasoning, insightful problem solving and all sorts of creative endeavours.”

– Peter Gray.  


Child care centres implement play-centred learning programs under the guidance of the Early Years Learning Framework, and parents can just as easily implement a play centred ‘program’ of their own at home.

Inviting your child’s friends to your home for a playdate is one way to facilitate this. Hosting a playdate doesn’t mean children are avoiding doing something productive or ‘wasting time’. Rather, they have the opportunity to work in a team, recognise the importance working together, and understand that other opinions matter besides their own. Early Childhood Australia has a short list defining the different types of ‘play’.


Get outdoors

Following from the last point, play-based learning isn’t always done indoors. If you live in a home with a backyard area, spend time with your child outside or encourage them to play in the yard. Child care centres have outdoor areas where children are active, and an abundance of loose-part resources are available to them.

Loose parts allow children to move, manipulate, control, change, carry, combine, redesign, line up, take apart and put back together in endless ways.  They invite conversations, interactions and they encourage collaboration and cooperation. They promote social competence because they support creativity and innovation. Loose parts can be available in both indoor and outdoor environments and offer excellent opportunities for open-ended learning and higher levels of critical thinking and creativity.   

The journey of opening a Nature Kindergarten and Why?

I’ve been asked to share our journey about opening Mayfield Nature Kindergarten.  In combining some of the “why’s” along with some of the “how’s, hopefully I’ll be able to create a picture in your mind that illustrates our vision and values that underpin our work with children.


Firstly, a little background about us.  I (Sharon) have a background in early childhood having worked as a Group Leader, Assistant Director and Director, and I’ve also taught in Primary schools from year 1 through to year 6.  After having our own children, I resigned from teaching in schools, and my husband Scott and I decided to open our first childcare centre.  We were very fortunate to find a lovely little centre in Karana Downs, which was fairly close to home.  Two years later we opened two more centres in Springfield and Capalaba.


We were fortunate when we found Karana that it already had the most beautiful, natural playground for children full of dirt, rocks, grass, sand and trees.  When we purchased Springfield and Capalaba, they were what we would call “McDonald’s playgrounds”.  They were a plain, boring, artificial, sanitized, plastic spaces – not a blade of grass, a piece of dirt or a natural item in sight.  Before opening both Springfield and Capalaba, we bulldozed the artificial playgrounds and transformed them into beautiful, natural spaces with sandstone boulders, mud pits, grass, trees, sand, timber and logs.  We purposely furnished these 2 new centres with natural timber furniture and focused on creating beautiful natural spaces indoors to match the beautiful, natural outdoor spaces we had created. Plastic toys were few and far between and we tried to acquire natural materials and loose parts where possible.  Over time, we’ve made big changes to the indoor environments at our Karana Downs Centre and the team have really focused on creating more homely and natural spaces.


A few years ago we heard about the lovely Claire Warden, and thought she aligned beautifully with our beliefs and philosophy about natural spaces and environments for children so we wanted to learn more about “ Nature Pedagogy“ approach meant.  I went off to a single day presentation and when I heard the statement about children having access to nature inside, outside and beyond all day every day, it firmly planted the vision in my mind of having a child care centre on a large property so that children could have this amazing opportunity every day.  It’s taken a while, but we finally found a beautiful property of 155 acres, with a gorgeous little Queenslander Cottage built in approximately 1902, with bush, dams, and river access that would be just perfect for a Nature Kindergarten.  We bought the property, quickly did some renovations and started the process of speaking with council about the application process.

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Unfortunately, this has been the most frustrating part.  When we spoke with council back in September 2015, they were about to go through some code changes, so we were advised to hold off on applying until the beginning of 2016.  The new code didn’t actually come to our council until the March of 2016.  When the application was submitted there was further information requited about the pod we were going to build for children’s toilets and the waste system, and it seemed that no-one wanted to quote on that job.  Eventually we found someone, but then there was extra information required and extra costs involved for having signage on the property.  We’re finally at the stage of public notification, but it’s also now the end of October, and the public notification will be up until mid-December.  We’d hoped to be able to open the Kindy in 2016, but we are still with council, and we are still waiting ….. a very frustrating place to be.  Once we have council approval, the pod needs to be built, and then we need to go through the child care licensing process.  It’s all a much longer process that we would have ever anticipated, so my advice to anyone else would be – patience!


When planning for Mayfield Nature Kindergarten, we thought really deeply about what we wanted it to look like and feel like.  We knew it was going to be a small and intimate space with a maximum of 27 children, but we also didn’t want it to feel like a “centre”.  We wanted the space to feel like a home.  We didn’t want the children to be separated into “rooms” or “groups”, we wanted every child to belong to the whole space, and we wanted every educator to belong to every child.  When we furnished the Kindy, we didn’t want it to “look” like a centre, we wanted it to look like a home, so we’ve purposefully selected lounge suites, coffee tables, buffet cabinets, bean bags and dining tables that you would find in children’s homes.


We have been feeling the beginning of a wonderful shift in the thinking of some families who attend our current child care centres.  For a long time now, many families have believed that children needed to have “structured programs” so they can be “ready for school”, and play has been seen as a frivolous waste of time.  We are starting to feel however, that the research about the importance of play as the primary means of learning for children is finally making an impact on a few families.  Families are specifically seeking out our centres because we have such a strong focus on children having authentic childhoods, children connecting with the natural world and children being seen as capable, competent, independent and creative thinkers who can have significant input into their own day.  The children in our services can choose if they want to play inside or outside, the can choose to eat when they’re hungry, and sleep if/when they are tired.


The old model of child care saw adults as the complete controllers of the day, and adults had a full dictatorship over the children in their care.  Children would have no choice and no real voice.  An example would be that 9am was a whole class group time, 9.30 was a whole class morning tea, 10am was the designated “indoor play time” and 11am was the designated “outdoor play time” etc.  It was very inflexible, and followed an adult clock, and an adult agenda.  Each set of educators only really knew the children directly in their care, and it didn’t really matter whether the children were interested in the group time or if the children wanted to continue playing – they had no choice, they had to sit at the group time or pack up when the teacher said.  Reflection upon this practice saw that teachers spent the majority of their time trying to control the behaviour of children who weren’t interested.  “Cross your legs”, “stop touching so and so”, “you’re not listening” were commonly heard at group times.  “Lets let the children out for a run” was often heard if the inside time got too rowdy and loud.  “Stop wriggling” and “close your eyes” was often heard at the compulsory sleep times from 12pm until 2pm.  Thankfully, we’ve grown and learnt a lot about children’s natural rhythms, routines and flows and we’ve listened to the mountains of research about developmentally appropriate practice and working respectfully with children.


At our services, each child is at the centre of our decision making.  We don’t just have 1 routine for the whole group; we have multiple routines for all the children in our care.  We don’t coop children up inside; we allow children a choice to be indoors or outdoors.   We don’t make mandatory eating and sleeping times, we allow children to listen to their bodies and decide when they feel hungry or tired.  Putting children at the centre of the equation respects each child as an individual and empowers children to make decisions.  It gives children a voice and allows them to make choices that are right for them.  Some people think “they will just run wild”, however in our experience, children make good decisions for themselves, they become deeply engaged in their learning and their social/emotional maturity grows significantly.  We often hear the saying “they have to line up when they get to school”, and our response is that they learn that very quickly – it’s not a hard skill to learn, and they’re more developmentally ready to line up when they’re older.  We often hear the saying “they can’t eat when they want at school”, and what we have found is that school is starting to listen to the developmental needs of children, and many are implementing a snack/break time earlier in morning as they too are beginning to consider the best developmentally appropriate practices for young  children.


In Queensland in Prep (4.5 years – 5.5 years), they have been trialing a program called “Age Appropriate Pedagogies”.  What it basically means is “the art of age appropriate teaching” which really means “play-based learning ” – because that is what is age-appropriate for prep.  Why aren’t they using the word “PLAY”?  There is such a cultural aversion to the word “play” within our community.  Play has been seen as bad.  Play has been seen as a waste of time.  Play has been seen as inferior.  The government now knows that play is imperative, play is valuable and play is the best way for children to learn, but they are battling against a belief in the greater community that play is a waste of time.  So – they decided to call it “age appropriate pedagogy” because the greater community won’t really understand that it’s a fancy word for “play-based curriculum”.


Bringing the story back to the development of our nature kindergarten, we recently had an interesting conversation with two members of staff from ACECQA.  One of the topics of conversation was about the weekly trips to Mayfield.  We described the opportunity for the children to engage with “raw nature”.  We spoke about children accessing only items in nature for their play, we spoke about the different areas the children would play and the increase in creative capacity and problem solving back at the service.  One of the questions we were asked was “So there is no intentional teaching?”  This was such an interesting question because everything we do at  Mayfield is intentional.  We intentionally don’t bring extra resources, we intentionally let children source items from nature in their play, we intentionally notice and discuss items in the natural environment, we intentionally speak about the flora and fauna of the land, we intentionally speak with children about their curiosities and questions, and we are very intentional about leaving time to explore, wonder, discuss, problem solve and create.


Intentionality is something that is often misunderstood.  Some think of intentional teaching as sitting down at a table doing worksheets, others think of intentional teaching as reading facts out of a book, some think of intentional teaching as researching on the internet, but there are a thousand other ways teachers are being intentional, and even the art of being the silent pedagogue is a very intentional practice.  Intentionality moves well beyond teaching abc’s and 123’s.


At Mayfield, every choice we have made is intentional – from the homely set-up, to the ages, to the furniture, to the resources, to the philosophy.  Every facet of the Kindy is intentional.  There will be intentional teaching and learning around the natural elements of earth, light, water and air.  There will be intentional teaching and learning around farms, rivers, dams, vegetables, fruit, seasons, weather, cooking, and a million other opportunities that present themselves each day, often sparked by children’s questions and curiosities.  Do we need bright, plastic equipment with a pre-determined purpose… no, we will provide children with a multitude of loose parts that children can use in an infinite number of ways, whilst engaging their imaginative and creative minds.  Every choice and decision we make is carefully thought about, with children at the heart.


We can’t wait until we can finally open the doors to Mayfield.  We’ve already delighted in having our Karana children out each week, but it will be such a great feeling of achievement and satisfaction to finally realise our dreams of opening a Nature Kindergarten.  We believe the families in our local community will embrace this beautiful space, and we can’t wait to see children and their families play, grow and learn in this beautiful space.


Written by Sharon and Scott Kneen

Owners of Eskay Kids – Karana Downs, Capalaba, Springfield & Mayfield






Ten Play-Based Learning Ideas

Our list of play ideas for preschoolers will empower children to create, explore, imagine, discover, problem solve and achieve success. Open-ended materials that can be used in a hundred different ways are the absolute best choice for children.  The opportunities for creative exploration are boundless and children will use materials in a way we adults would never expect.


IMG_8443 Mortar and Pestle – Mortar and pestle with herbs, flowers, small bowls and cups, water. Children can make potions and perfumes, and experiment with colour, quantity and smell.
IMG_9076 Mini Sand Pit – Trays with a layer of sand on the bottom with sticks and twigs for drawing, writing, doodling, exploring and creating. Children are often mesmerized by this experience. You can also add small rocks or rakes to further develop this play experience.
DSCF8856 Pebble Play – Pebbles of different colours, different shapes, different sizes for transient art work. Transient art is art that is created then dismantled. It can be photographed but it isn’t permanent.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Mud Kitchen – A mud kitchen with sticks, leaves, mud, rucks, water, bowls, trays and anything else you can access.  Mud and water are the key ingredients, and children love exploring the texture of mud in their imaginary kitchens.
IMG_8815 Boxes – Cardboard boxes, scissors, masking tape, sticky tape, cellophane, paper, pens, string.  The best toy ever is a cardboard box.
Dress Ups Dress Ups – Offcuts of fabric, old clothes, shoes, bags, purses for children to dress up and role play.  There’s nothing better than being a mummy or being a daddy or even a dinosaur, a fireman or a character from Frozen.  Children’s imaginations will take the lead.
DSCN8377 Dancing and Singing – Music and dance by making their own instruments and add scarves or other items. Try different styles of music including classical, jazz, blues, tribal drums, top 40, but don’t forget the old nursery rhymes that are wonderful for developing early reading skills with their rhythm and rhyme.
Water Water Play – Water, containers, bowls, cups, spoons, buckets, watering cans, funnels, tubing, pump, string, tape. Children are naturally attracted to water and learn many mathematical and scientific skills during water play while they are pouring, measuring, floating, sinking, filling, and emptying.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Clay or Dough – Playdough or clay – either with tools or without tools. Can add sticks, rocks, leaves etc. Not only great for a creative medium, but also for strengthening all the hand and arm muscles children will need as they get older. It is great to do these activities both standing and sitting, as they develop different muscles in each position.


block-play-1-1436165-639x958 Blocks – The old classic, blocks the plain wooden ones. with no required outcome.  Lego, duplo and mobilo are fine so long as they are used in an open-ended fashion where there is no requirement to ‘create what’s on the box’.







Learning Through Play


Before you start worrying about your child’s education, every parent needs to understand the importance of play both in brain development and as a means to learn. Multiple studies have shown that play-based learning is one of the most effective means to educate a child. In fact, in early childhood, play and learning should not be separate.

What is child’s play?

If you consider the best action of play to be sitting with a child and entertaining them, think again. Play can be enjoyable but it can also be challenging and even frustrating for a child. But keep in mind that enjoyment is the key driver. Play does not have to involve anything tangible or material. Pretending or fantasy is a great means to expand imagination. Imaginative thoughts or ideas may exist within the child and are not necessarily known or shared with the parent or educator. Play can also be active and that means not just physical but mental or verbal participation via engagement with the environment. Play should be voluntary, even if that requires an invitation to play. It’s not play for the child if they do not want to participate. Play can be self motivating. Playing alone is still play and should not be considered less rewarding for the child than play with others.

Early Childhood Development

The act of play builds the neural pathways of the brain and the brain’s plasticity for greater learning capacity as the child grows. Play involves the skills of exploration, negotiation, risk taking, imagination and creating. These skills also contribute to the development of a good memory and ultimately better performance at school. In summary, play provides the groundwork for the brain’s structural design.  

Other Skills and Benefits for Your Child

General health and wellbeing is improved with play because play raises optimism and curiosity. Physical activity also allows the child to develop motor skills and energetic play releases endorphins, further increasing general well being. Social activity is also an important aspect of play with others, whether it’s adults or children. This helps a child learn to resolve conflict, negotiate problems in groups, make choices with concern for wider implications, learn empathy, and generally moderate their behaviour with others in mind.

How to Help Encourage Quality Play at Home

Listen to your child and discover their interests and adapt the home for play sessions with this in mind. The home play checklist to consider:

  1. Use the home’s physical environment to create a space that promotes play such as arranging furniture and other features of the home and garden to entice and promote play. These can be fixed items or a dynamic approach of moving furniture and household items.
  2. Make sure the home feels secure so the child can play confidently and without influences or factors in the house that may make the child feel uncomfortable or constrained in play.
  3. Allocate large amounts of time for play; allowing them time to become fully engrossed in games and projects.
  4. Don’t underestimate the power of conversation in play. Studies have shown long conversations are a very effective element of good childhood education. To promote conversation during play, ask questions that will promote a child’s understanding and learning.

Eskay Kids Early Childhood Play Program

Early childhood centres, like Eskay, that have play-based learning programs have integrated certain aspects of play prompted on the latest research regarding early childhood education. This includes the following. At Eskay this includes the following:

Indoor and Outdoor Activity

The incorporation of a daily routine of both indoor and outdoor active play.

High Energy

At times, educators are engaged in physical activity to a moderate to high level, reflecting the same level of physical energy as the children.

Music and Movement

The use of music, movement and other creative expression on a daily basis.

For a tour of one of our Eskay early learning centres contact us today:

07 3823 1145
39 Holland Crescent, Capalaba QLD 4157

07 3381 8882
6 Community Place, Springfield QLD 4300

07 3201 1145
36-38 Collage Road, Mount Crosby QLD 4306

Importance of Play

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We often speak with families who want “a structured learning environment” for their child.  In essence, what many are looking for is an ‘academic program’ that they think will give their child a head start in school.  The quicker they learn their ABCs and 123s, to read, write, count, add, the better … right?  Our programs are not “academic based”, they are purely about play, so how can that possibly prepare children for success at school?  Interested? Read on.

Long-Term Mental Health

Peter Gray is one of our heroes and his TED talk, The Decline of Play and the Rise of Mental Disorders, is one of our absolute favourites.  There has been much research done comparing the childhoods of the past, to the childhoods of today, and the massive rise in stress, anxiety, depression and suicide. We often relate these disorders with older children and adults, however they can start developing in the early childhood in stressful  situations, and compound throughout teens and into adulthood. The type of early childhood program you choose for your child can have a significant impact on your child’s mental health.

Successful Life Not Just School Smarts

There’s a beautiful poster which I’ve included below. It highlights what is important in a good childcare centre or early childhood program. Through play and allowing children to be children, they are building creative and critical thinking skills, resilience, motivation, perseverance, curiosity, enthusiasm, self-discipline, initiative, leadership, collaboration, resourcefulness, fairness, confidence, and co-operation. Our job in early childhood is to help children develop the tools for a successful life, not just a successful year in prep.

Eskay Importance of Play

Academic Versus Play-Based Outcomes

A study compared children attending play-based learning programs, with those attending academic-based programs. They have studied these children through the years and they are now in their mid-adulthood. The research strongly indicates that the children who attended play-based programs were much more successful in life. Academically, the children ended up being about the same, but socially they were worlds apart. The children who attended the formal, academic programs had more crime, more disruption in the community, poor relationships with families, not married as often, and had difficulty holding a job. Click the link for the seven-minute YouTube video on play-based versus academic-based learning.

Observation and Intervention

In the book Learning and Teaching through Play by Anne Kennedy and Lennie Barblett, the authors show that “adopting a play-based approach does not mean that children are left on their own with adults only acting as supervisors.  Instead, it means that informed educators observe children in play, interact sensitively with them and use their professional knowledge to promote and extend every child’s wellbeing and knowledge”.  Our educators at Eskay Kids spend a significant amount of time observing and reflecting on children’s play. When is the right time to step in, when is the right time to observe from afar, when is the right time to question, extend and plan? We understand that play is a vital tool for learning, so each day we provide children with flexible environments, open-ended materials, time for uninterrupted play, choice of indoor or outdoor play and age-appropriate responses and intentional teaching. There are many opportunities for complete free play, interspersed with opportunities for intentional teaching.

Children Learn Best Through Play

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that all children have a right to play and also to be active participants in all matters affecting their lives.  The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) has a specific emphasis on play-based learning, and our National Quality Framework, under which we are assessed, refers to “learning through play” as one of the pedagogical principles of our programs. The EYLF states that “play provides opportunities for children to learn as they discover, create, improvise and imagine.  When children play with other children they create social groups, test out ideas, challenge each other’s thinking and build new understandings. Play provides a supportive environment where children can ask questions, solve problems and engage in critical thinking.  Play can expand and enhance their desire to know and to learn. In these ways play can promote a positive disposition towards learning.” All early childhood documents provided in Australia (and around the world) acknowledge that play is vital for children, play is essential and children learn best through play.

Play is an Investment in Your Child’s Future

Getting children ready for school has always been a big item for discussion, with report card grades, Naplan scores, select high schools and universities at the forefront of parent’ minds. We know parents want the absolute best for their children, however with today’s rush for ‘everything earlier’ and ‘everything now’, the research is ignored. When you release children from the academic push and pressure they flourish and do much better in the long term. We can’t stress it enough: play is the best way for children to learn and develop to their best potential in future years.

For more information on Eskay Kids centres contact us today:-

07 3823 1145
39 Holland Crescent, Capalaba QLD 4157

07 3381 8882
6 Community Place, Springfield QLD 4300

07 3201 1145
36-38 Collage Road, Mount Crosby QLD 4306




Mother’s Day Offer!


Eskay Kids Capalaba and Springfield Child Care and Early Education Centres have a special Mother’s Day Gift for you!

This week we will waive the $50 enrolment fee PLUS provide a free hat, shirt & bag to all families who enrol with us up to 9th May 2016.*




39 Holland Crescent, Capalaba QLD 4157 AND
6 Community Place, Springfield QLD 4300

*New enrolments only. Minimum enrolment of 2 days each week. Must have a start date within May.



Karana – A Place of Many Possibilities

In creating our “Place of many possibilities”, today four buckets were left in the environment with sand, water, bark & seed pods, and a fifth bucket with small cardboard containers.
The possibilities really did prove endless as children opened their imaginations – they discussed, explored, cooked and created with these simple materials that had no agenda other than what the children might make of them.

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Mud Play at Capalaba!

Our Back Yard has been a hive of sensory exploration over the past week. The Mud Pit was host to children who carefully dug and searched finding hidden treasures. The Mud Pie Kitchen whipped up delicious creations as the children measured, collaborated and problem solved together. Rain changes our environments and the mud is always a favourite medium to explore! Exploration and investigation are key traits of a Enthusiastic learner!

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Quarry at Springfield

The children have been planning how they will create tracks for their trucks to drive along. Some of the children’s suggestions have been to include rocks so that the trucks can ‘go over’ and ‘pick up’ the rocks. With their ideas and planning, our very own quarry was created this week with an assortment of gravels and rocks.

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