I have been quietly online stalking Mark from Woodland Education ever since I came across a shared article about his use of technology in early years education, not only as a learning tool but a tool to improve the customers experience.I followed up with a Google search and I came across their cool St Kilda early learning space. Last week being part of the SBS Insight special on childcare I had the chance to meet Mark in person for a quick chat and disclose my online stalking. Luckily he wasn’t taken aback and I got to hear a lot more about his centre and philosophy so here is 5 minutes with Mark:
So when I am talking to educators and centre owners I like to ask why you got into childcare and normally I am used to stories about being in the industry for 20 years. Not this time. Mark has been in, wait for it….the ARMY. Just a regular combat role for 8 years and then there’s the law degree. No doubt that came in handy when setting up a centre! It just so happened Mark’s mum was a retired Principal looking for a new challenge. They bought a 30-place centre in Croyden, 40 minutes from Melbourne and learnt the ropes the hard way. With Mark’s Mum getting bogged down in paper-based journaling and documenting and Mark focusing on building up the low-occupancy business they were looking at ways to make life for parents and educators easier.
Woodland moved to online documentation when iPads where just being launched back in 2010. They have since opened 2 more centres including their flagship St Kilda business. And I will use the word business, if you watched Insight Mark says we do make a profit “don’t hold it against us”. I think anytime there is a social service we don’t like to think of it’s association to profit as we have seen it too many times go wrong, we don’t have to look to far back and just see how carried away ABC were with profits over service. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other that is just our fear as parents.
Their system called xplor also allows for a digital sign in. Parents can follow the learning journey and receive live updates throughout the day in photos, comments from educators and video. After hours the kids can collect digital badges for working towards learning outcomes they are covering at the centre and parents can have conversations over the dinner table that doesn’t go like: Parent: “What was the most exciting thing you did today?”
Child: “Nothing” “I don’t remember”
Any parent, particularly of those under the age of seven can relate to these conversations. My son’s school is using a website to update parents on what has been happening in the day and when we watch it with him all sorts of new information spurts out. When I was speaking to the teacher he said it was really about the learning and it was just a tool. If it didn’t have that outcome he wouldn’t use it. So we can get carried away with shinny high tech products that mean you can see pictures of your kids and collect badges but if it weren’t connected to the framework it would be just an efficiency measure.
You may think I’m not being very unbiased in this article well there are two reasons for that;
- It’s my blog and I pay the bills so a large amount of my content is opinion-based
- I love what Mark is doing.
He is taking early years education, updating, renovating and getting parents involved.
So while Woodland Education may not have the combat power and strategic weight of a large childcare group, we may be witnessing a change to an approach, which looks inwards to support excellence in education and engages our kiddies in fun, play-based activities. But also looks outwards to connect parents with their child’s education to help them find a way to build their knowledge on the outcomes the Early Years Learning Framework and connect with their child’s learning so we are all working towards the same goals.
A coalition force of like-minded childcare services will be needed to advance Australia’s interests in this area, but as parents we can start simply by getting more involved, talking to educators and finding out what ‘We’ can learn and do and to support our educators to embrace technology as a tool for transformational change to a process-based service to help the educators concentrate more on our kids than on admin. Check out a little video