10 tips for surviving returning to work after maternity/paternity leave.

Research* states that children whose family connects with, contributes to and engages with their early learning services have better outcomes for learning and for life.

For many families, returning to work after the birth of their baby is fraught with emotion. There is the excitement of returning to the workforce and engaging with other adults again alongside a feeling of dread and guilt about placing their baby in child care. Parents struggle with concerns about the level of care and attention that their child is going to receive and feel as though they will potentially miss out on important milestones and beautiful moments with their baby.  Here we discuss ways that families can reduce the stress of returning to work after maternity/paternity leave.

  1. Budget Planning. The unexpected high costs of quality child care can add to stresses of returning to work. Before returning to work contact the Department of Human Services to receive an estimate of the child care benefit and child care rebate that you will be entitled to. You will receive a percentage amount and many parents get confused as to what will this mean for them. Services all charge varied rates and this percentage is NOT necessarily off the actual fee that you will pay. It is incredibly important that you contact your potential child care services to get an accurate quote of the amount that you will pay as an out of pocket expense. There is more than just the added cost of child care to consider, you may also need to consider the additional cost of fuel now that you are working and driving more, costs of parking, cost of public transport, meals and coffee (are you going to take lunch every day? will you buy coffee from the cafe now?) are all items that you should consider in your budget planning.
  2. Do your research. There are a wide range of early childhood education and care services available for families. These include Long Day Care (aka. child care centres), Family Day Care (where a small group of children are cared for in a home environment by qualified and registered educators), Nanny services, Occasional Care Services and In-Home Care services. It is important that you understand the way that each service operates so that you can make an informed decision about what type of care service you are comfortable with.  www.careforkids.com.au has a range of checklists available to families to help you choose the right service for you.
  3. Start care earlier than needed. So that you and your child can build a trusting, caring, mutually respectful relationship with the educators who will be caring for your child it is important to create an orientation/transition plan. This is where you initially visit the service and stay with your child for a very short period of time (usually an hour), gradually building up to a full day over a week or two (depending on how quickly your child settles). Initially, it is best if you can be available to collect your child early from care even when they have settled into full days. Gradually increasing from two days to full time care will assist you and your child to feel most comfortable. Use these days as “training” for returning to work – getting ready and leaving so that you will arrive at the centre at the time that you will be doing so when you return to work.
  4. Create home/child care connections. Building a “bridge” between home and care settings can assist children to feel safe, secure and supported. As an educator I use to have parents create a “me page” to be brought into the service when they first commenced care this would then go with the children as they moved to another room creating yet another connection from their old room to their new room. This was an A4 sized picture collage created by the family which included images of their family, pets, special toys and favourite things with short description labels so that educators could use this to talk with the child about their special people and things, creating a comforting link to home when at care. We would also create a “day care page” which would stay at home on the fridge (usually at the child’s level) that had images of the centre director, the child’s educators, the place where they ate meals, the sleep room, the change room, the play area and the outside area. This page helped families and children to keep the connection to care when they were at home, especially for children who only attended one or two days a week. Families could use this as a catalyst for conversation at any time.
  5. Plan for illnesses. When first attending an early childhood education and care service children are exposed to new bugs and germs that they have not developed immunity to yet. Be prepared for coughs, colds, fevers and exposure to common communicable diseases such as tummy bugs and hand, foot and mouth. Couples should discuss their plans for when their child comes down with an illness, will they take it in turn to take time off from work? Is there a relative or close friend who can be available to care for your child in the event of a minor illness? Preparing for this will mean that if it does occur you already know what you are going to do. Ensuring that your child is getting a nutritious, balanced diet will also improve their ability to fight off these illnesses. Make sure that you are aware of your employer’s policies and procedures relating to sick leave and carers leave.
  6.  Flexible child routine. Even children with the most rigid routines at home, will undoubtedly change this routine when attending care. Children can also quickly fall into having one routine at home and one slightly altered routine at care. It is best to provide an outline of your child’s routine to your early childhood education and care service but to be prepared for this to change according to your child’s needs while at the service. Educators will make every effort to keep to your routines. consider though that children usually have their own bedroom at home, whilst in early childhood education and care settings they are sharing a room with multiple other children. They probably don’t have the number of other children and adults coming in and out of your home that they encounter every day at care and these things can initially unsettle a routine. Being flexible with your child’s routine will reduce your stress levels in the event that they are not exactly the same whilst in care.
  7. Wear something over your uniform. The last thing you want is to go to work with the lingering smell of 1. baby vomit or 2. baby poo never mind the smear of this morning’s breakfast on your collar. I highly recommend wearing an over-shirt of some description once you are ready for work and until after you drop your child off at care. This way you are not as flustered in the event of a last minute “accident” and can still go to work with stain free attire. This is a small mercy when you have had “one of those mornings”.
  8. Stay connected and up to date. The first five years is a time of rapid and critical development for your child and you want to make sure that you are not missing a thing. It is also proven that children who have family that connects with, contributes to and engages with their early learning services have better outcomes for learning and for life. EarlyWorks supports families to stay connected and informed about their child’s day with a FREE online parent portal. You will be informed of your child’s food intake, bottles, sleep times and get a real time view into their daily routine. Through EarlyWorks, you are provided with an insight into your child’s day, providing a platform to launch conversations and engagement about experiences that are relevant and interesting to your child NOW. Even babies benefit from family having conversations with them about their day, exposing them to rich language and deep connections. You are able to access the portal at any time day or night, allowing you to take the time to review and reflect on your child’s learning and development AND to contribute your own experiences and suggestions for future developmental opportunities. EarlyWorks allows you to contribute and communicate securely, providing easy access to all past communications and contributions. EarlyWorks can be accessed using your smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer.
  9. Take care of yourself. Make sure that you are eating well balanced nutritious meals, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep and looking after yourself. You may find that preparing meals for the week in advance over a weekend helps to make sure that even on the nights where you can’t be bothered you can just pull out a healthy satisfying meal from the freezer. Keep an eye on your water intake, as most people don’t drink enough H2O which can lead to headaches, moodiness, inability to concentrate, poor sleep quality and other negative side effects that you could definitely do without. Allocate time out for you at least once a week – a relaxing bath or a walk along the beach is enough if it is all you can manage.
  10. It’s ok to get help. Many families struggle with returning to work after maternity/paternity leave. At times it can feel overwhelming and you may need support. You can call Parentline on 1300 30 1300 for the cost of a local call. Web Counselling is also available on Tuesday and Thursday between 11am and 2pm.


* Charles Sturt University, 2012 Sandie Wong, Frances Press, Jennifer Sumsion & Louise Hard



What is EarlyWorks?

EarlyWorks is a comprehensive early childhood programming, documentation, portfolio and optional CCMS integration system. EarlyWorks provides a clean and intuitive interface which simplifies and streamlines ALL aspects of childcare management across an entire service (or group of services), including program planning, individual and group observations, educational evaluations, effortless creation of child portfolios and a detailed collaborative Quality Improvement Plan. EarlyWorks’ […]


Increase family engagement with your program

Do parents/families of children who attend early childhood education and care services understand the level of research and planning that goes into developing a high quality early education program?

The above question is partially answered through the regular comments from services such as “Parents don’t even look at the documentation”, “Families never look at our program/curriculum” and “We spend so much time creating meaningful programs and parents never even notice the educational value of what we do”.

Families and parents do not know what they do not know.

There are many parents and families that do know and understand the value of early childhood education and seek out services that deliver exceptional education and care programs. There are also many parents and families that do not know or understand the value to their child, that do not know what they should be looking for or what an early childhood educator actually does. It is taken for granted that the wider community know what is expected of early childhood educators, those working within the profession know, those delivering the training on becoming an early childhood educator know, but how are people that do not work within the profession supposed to know something that has not been widely publicised and does not experience the same funding and media coverage as formal schooling? When media cover the high costs of “child care” how is it that they never investigate the true value that is behind these costs? It is the role of every service owner/director, principal and early childhood educator to convey to everyone including parents and families exactly what level of educational program and practice is provided to children attending these services. Upon enrolment, during the first visit and through regular family education evenings or written communications, early childhood education services must be informing parents and families of exactly what goes into the creation of the program/curriculum and why this is so important and valuable to their child’s future. For early childhood education and care to be revered and for early childhood educators to be viewed as professionals, something must be done to inform families of the educational practices that are occurring every day in Long Day Care, Family Day Care, Kindergartens, Pre-schools and Outside school hours’ care.

Why is it valuable to their child’s future?

Did you know that 90% of total brain development and that 85% of intellectual and social development occurs by the age of 5? To me, early childhood is the very foundation on which our future is created. Early childhood educators are influencing the hearts and minds of our future leaders, workforce and society. It is for these reasons that in early childhood education services, children are provided with a team of professional educators who research, collaborate, investigate, analyse, critically reflect on, plan, predict and implement a personalised (interest and strength based) education and care program. This level of dedicated education planning is not available for the rest of a child’s school life, yet families are currently unaware of the intricacies of the planning and collaborative effort that goes into early childhood education.

Family Engagement. 

When seeking family engagement and contribution to the services program many educators are at a loss as to how to encourage this on a deeper level. When there is a blank piece of paper on a wall that has a sign above it saying “parent ideas/suggestions” the comments that are sometimes (though rarely) written down are “lower fees”, “longer hours” and the occasional “more preparation for school activities please”. If families are not educated on the ways that the service creates and implements their program, then how are parents going to understand what is actually being asked of them? When speaking about children’s interests with families, educators need to explain the reason this is valuable and how they could use this information to inform their program.  Early childhood educators actively seek out family and parent input to children’s learning because when children have families who connect with and contribute to their early learning service it is proven that they have better outcomes for learning and for life *. When educators ask about a child’s current interests or what they enjoy doing at home, it is not just out of curiosity but out of a desire to understand the child holistically so that they can develop the best possible approach to learning for this child.

Educators share learning observations and programs with families and parents to provide them with an insight into their child’s abilities, areas of focus for learning and to provide a catalyst for conversations and continued learning at home. Each observation contains detailed learning analysis and an individually catered future learning plan. Educators are not aiming to produce a cute memory but are deeply invested in creating a program that will provide every child with the best possible foundations for a psychologically, physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy life. Once again, if families and parents are not informed of the value of these observations or portfolios then how are they supposed to know?

Through educating familes on what exactly the educational program consists of within your service, including the actual processes and the depth of pedagogical analysis that occurs,  you will find that families will be willing contributors and active participants in the process of learning, even if the contribution is not visible to anyone other than the child.

* Charles Sturt University, 2012 Sandie Wong, Frances Press, Jennifer Sumsion & Louise Hard

group of teachers

Looking at Reflective Practice

“Children’s learning and development is advanced when they experience interactions with highly effective early childhood professionals. Early childhood professionals become more effective through critical reflection and a strong culture of professional enquiry.” (Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework, p.14)

Critical reflection occurs when educators delve deeper into learning to truly understand what learning took place, why learning took place and how learning took place for each individual child. For educators to critically reflect, there must be a thorough understanding of child development, learning styles, current best practice approaches, professional research, child likes, interests, background, etc. This knowledge will evolve and be re-shaped over time as educators are exposed to new studies, new best practice approaches, new children, new families, new communities and through the individual’s evolving pedagogy. It is this very landscape of constant change that provides the foundations of reflective practice.

Educators are encouraged to establish a process of critical reflection through the Australian National Quality Framework (NQS, EYLF, MTOP,etc.). Through discussing learning with other professionals such as mentors, co-workers, managers, lecturers, children, families and other related support agencies, the overall reflection becomes more detailed and the perspective more varied. Educators then have the tools to expand the possibilities of where a learning experience could possibly evolve to. Being open to the possibilities of the unexpected to occur, allows for learning to occur that could not have been predicted.

Educators can begin critically reflecting by retelling the “story” of what was observed to another early childhood professional. Through asking the question “what do you think is happening here” educators open the dialogue for a conversation of professional interpretation. Establishing a professional learning community can be done through a variety of ways, such as:  liaising with other local early childhood education services, joining online forums and groups, attending professional development or simply by making the time at a team meeting.

Through discussions with children, educators also gain insight to support critical reflection. Asking children what they thought would happen, why they thought it would happen and what actually happened provides clues to the child’s current understanding. Knowing where a child’s understanding is now, allows educators to once again reflect a little deeper on the learning and future possibilities.

There are a vast number of ways to engage in reflective practice, to show this is taking place and to assist with future reflection takes formal planning and documentation.

It is not enough to see a child painting and for the early childhood professional to only see that the child is learning paint.

better outcomes for children

Stay connected, contribute towards learning and collaborate with your child’s educators

Research* states that children where family connects with, contributes to and engages with their learning services have better outcomes for learning and for life.

EarlyWorks supports this engagement by providing families with a FREE online portal. Through EarlyWorks, you are provided with an insight into your child’s day, providing a platform to launch conversations and engagement about experiences that are relevant to your child NOW.

You are able to access the portal at any time day or night, allowing you to take the time to review and reflect on your child’s learning AND to contribute your own experiences and suggestions for future educational opportunities.

EarlyWorks allows you to contribute and communicate securely, providing easy access to all past communications and contributions.

EarlyWorks can be accessed using your smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer.

* Charles Sturt University, 2012 Sandie Wong, Frances Press, Jennifer Sumsion & Louise Hard

How to embed the EarlyWorks login widget on your website

To allow your families and staff to login to EarlyWorks directly from your website, EarlyWorks offers a login form to place on your website.


The code to add the EarlyWorks login widget to your website appears below:

<script src="http://earlyworks.net.au/embed/loginform.js"></script>
Who is documentation for?

Who are you documenting for?

When creating documentation who are you speaking to?

Who are we actually documenting this information for?

When documentation is being completed to “meet an R&A requirement” the depth and value of the content is greatly compromised.

Documentation is for:

The child – so that they receive developmentally appropriate catered programs, so that they are able to reflect on their own growth, learning and understandings, to feel valued and supported and so much more.

The Families – to understand their child’s current knowledge and areas of strength, to share in and contribute to their child’s learning journey, as a platform for communication and discussion, etc.

You as an educator – so that you have a clear understanding of the current knowledge, ideas, culture, likes, interests and goals of the children, to establish the best way to move forward in curriculum planning, to assess and develop your own professional development requirements, etc.

Your Colleagues – to gather information to enhance practice, for curriculum development, to establish training and development needs, to promote appropriate learning opportunities, etc.

External support agencies – to assist them to best cater for each child’s needs, to understand the whole child and assist their development in the best possible way, to provide strategies for learning to educators, to communicate with the child and family, etc.

Rating & Assessment – if documentation is completed with the above information kept in mind, the regulatory requirements will already be met.

documentation, digital documentation, programming, portfolios, early childhood education

What is an observation? What should we document?

Observing or collecting information is the first step of the planning cycle. What we choose to document here must be able to provide the answers to the next steps (questioning/analysing). If we do not have valuable observations that tell the reader who, what, where, why and when then how is it possible to analyse anything?

If we have an observation that is meaningful, we are then able to question/analyse which will then allow us to have the information we need to PLAN appropriately (the next step in the planning cycle). Consider the reader when recording observations – they did not see what occurred at the time of the observation and don’t understand the valuable learning that was occurring. It is our role as the writer of the observation to “make learning visible”.


The Basic Observation, Documentation & Programming Planning Cycle

Does this scenario sound familiar? So often I meet incredible Educators that are overwhelmed with too much information on “how to program”. Educators are so desperately wanting to engage and support children to reach their full potentials that “getting it wrong” terrifies them. The terror of getting it wrong and never being 100% sure if what they think is right, actually is right can lead to educators not programming at all.

We are bringing the “HOW” of observations, documentation & programming back to basics and gently leading educators to follow the planning cycle (without having to get lost in a desk load of papers) and effortlessly create portfolios, personalised programs and communicate with families all whilst showing where the children’s interests have been scaffolded to further learning opportunities incorporating learning outcomes, NQS, principles and practices.