The most recent ABS census data says almost half of all two-parent families have both parents working; either full-time or part-time. And with the official retirement age increasing, the opportunity for some grandparents to take care of their grandchildren is becoming less feasible.
Accordingly, out-of-school hours (OOSH) enrolment figures released by the Department of Education and Training should come as no surprise. From June 2017 to June 2018, there was an increase of 17,320 students accessing OOSH services across the country.
The rising cost of living, coupled with an expected primary school population increase of 44 per cent in NSW by 2041, suggest demand for OOSH services will only continue. What does this mean for our youngest generation?
Research suggests OOSH providers offer busy families far more than just a convenient babysitting service. Benefits for children include improved social skills and boosted confidence, a heightened sense of belonging, academic support from educators and increased opportunities for play-based learning and physical activity.
Tracey Sweetman is the general operations manager of St Nicholas OOSH, one of the region’s newest and fastest-growing providers. Ms Sweetman said St Nicholas OOSH actively encourages children and their families to contribute their ideas for activities and learning experiences.
“When children come to St Nicholas OOSH we want them to be excited to be there, to have a sense of identity, enabling them to be confident and involved learners,” Ms Sweetman said.
“Our educators focus on customising activities that are in line with the children’s interests — whether they be physical, cultural, creative or imaginative — and that they may not have the opportunity to take part in at home or school.”
Grant Diggins, principal at St Aloysius Primary School, Chisholm, says the onsite St Nicholas OOSH operations are “highly valued” by families.
“In addition to providing families with support and convenience, it’s also a place where they know their children will be safe and can take part in interesting activities,” Mr Diggins said. “I’ve recently had parents tell me their children have begged them to go to OOSH care, even when they’re available to look after them.”
Rebekah Sadlier’s children, Molly and Samuel, attend the St Nicholas OOSH service in Chisholm. She said as a working mother it’s a service she “couldn’t do without” and takes great comfort in knowing that when the school bell rings, and she is in a meeting, her children are safe and well looked after.
“One of the things I love about St Nicholas OOSH is that it gives children a chance to be children without devices. They’re given time to do what interests them, including running around in the fresh air with their friends, burning off energy,” Ms Sadlier said.
Children also have the opportunity to build on friendships outside a structured classroom setting and form new relationships with students beyond their immediate peer group.
Since St Nicholas OOSH commenced operations at Glendale in October 2018, it has expanded to serve nine schools across the Diocese, with three more services to open later this month. In line with commitment to serve and support families, St Nicholas OOSH will eventually expand its operations to all Catholic schools in the Diocese that require before-school, after-school and vacation care.