North Melbourne Children’s Centre coordinator Maree Rabach knows better than most that a solid foundation for young children is the first step to building strong communities.
After 44 years working as an early childhood educator, she has a lifetime of experience supporting children through the most challenging yet exciting phase in their lives.
Starting with jobs in babysitting and nannying for families, Maree has always loved working with young children.
“I had my start in early childhood education in 1979 at Lady Huntingfield Children’s Centre, where I was an educator on the floor. I then applied to be a coordinator and the rest is history,” Maree said.
For many children, a childcare centre is the very first place other than home where they learn to interact with the world around them.
In the first five years of life, a child’s cognitive development is strongly influenced by their environment. From learning social skills to cultivating the independence necessary to support the transition to school, early childhood education is critical to getting children off to the best start possible.
At the heart of early childhood education is empowering children. Maree explains that a child-first approach is essential. The role is about advocating for children and making a real contribution to their lives.
“You have to understand the importance of the environment you’re providing for these children – early educators set the foundation for children that allows them to reach their fullest potential.
“At the end of the day, we want to make sure the children that come to us are safe, healthy and happy,” Maree said.
No two days are the same at North Melbourne Children’s Centre, a vibrant place right at the heart of North Melbourne’s tight-knit community.
The centre has become a social hub for parents and children alike, with families often building friendships that last a lifetime. It’s also a critical educational resource for young families and new parents, hosting events ranging from information sessions to parents’ nights.
“You end up building a real connection with the children and their families. Families can be with us over a long span of time – we get a lot of siblings coming in one after the other,” Maree said.
For Maree and many other educators, the best part of the job is the relationships formed with children and their families, and the stories they hear.
“We really get to know the families and children. If you’re not a talker or don’t have a genuine interest in people, this isn’t the job for you!’ Maree said.
Walking through the centre, you’ll find educators engaged in conversation with the children, chatting about anything from what they did on the weekend, to their favorite snack at the moment.
“We like to give the children some freedom and flexibility in their day. You don’t want their time to be too strictly structured, as they are still young. We do dedicate time towards indoor and outdoor play, learning, rest and quiet time, as well as meals and snacks,” Maree said.
North Melbourne Children’s Centre is home to a diverse cohort of young children and families. According to Maree more than half of the 80 children that attend speak a language other than English at home. Building values of respect and equity among young children is critical in an increasingly multicultural community.
Maree has had several grown-up children return to register their own children at the children’s centre – a testament to the importance of early educators to both children and the wider community.
“A standout moment for me was when a dad came in to enroll his child and it turned out I had taught him 30 years ago! We both remembered each other, it was lovely.
“It is immensely rewarding to see the impact our early educators have made on the lives of children. Older children or even adults who attended when they were younger often come back and ask to have a look around, reminisce and say hi to our staff,” Maree said.
A massive challenge for the centre and early educators in general was continuing to provide support to children and their families throughout the pandemic.
“Lockdown had a huge impact, as children and parents couldn’t come in. Many families and children really struggled, so it was a time for us to really focus on being advocates for the children’s wellbeing and supporting families too. We made an effort to maintain authentic and engaging relationships, calling to check in and seeing how we could help from a distance,” Maree said.
“We’d do things like leave parcels with craft supplies for the children for parents to collect from our foyer and had a lending library set up with books for both adults and children.”
Maree has a few words of advice for those thinking of pursuing a career in early childhood education.
“You have the opportunity to play a crucial role in enhancing every child’s wellbeing. You’ll form deep relationships and will always be surrounded by lovely people. It is an incredibly rewarding job,” Maree said.
Each year on 6 September, we celebrate Early Childhood Educator Day. It’s an opportunity to celebrate our early childhood educators and recognise the essential role they play in children’s growth.
Learn more about our Childcare in the city.