Making a difference for tamariki
Early Childhood Teacher at Childspace
Studying early childhood education at high school and growing up in a large extended whānau with many young tamariki (children), ignited a passion for working in the sector for Brooke Simpson (Ngāti Maniapoto).
“I enrolled for the Open Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga New Zealand Diploma in Early Childhood Education and Care (Level 5) because I wanted to challenge myself, gain more experience and skills, and work with children which was something I was passionate about,” says Brooke.
“I have quite a tight knit whānau, so growing up there have been lots of younger children and babies around me, and I just love spending time with them. It led me to wanting to become an early childhood teacher, and to work in an environment with children, as I thoroughly enjoy it.”
“My siblings have just started having children now too; I can’t even think of a time when there wasn’t a baby in my family.”
The early childhood education diploma and degree programmes are delivered by Open Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga through a mix of online study and, at various times during their study journey, ākonga (learners) also attend regional workshops and undertake practicums in early childhood education settings.
During her studies Brooke worked at a local plant nursery and having a supportive employer when she needed to take time off to attend practicum placements made all the difference.
“My employer’s wife was a new entrance teacher, so he understood what was involved. He said to me ‘you can’t be here all your life, you have to go out and do what you need to do.’”
There were times when studying was challenging, says Brooke, and she began to question why she was studying.
"After attending a practicum, it reminded me of why I was studying, and that every day is not going to be easy. There will be days when it is hard, but you must keep pushing through,” says Brooke.
Having the combined support of her whānau, Open Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga, employer, and staff at her placements, has helped a lot, she says.
Brooke says the support she has received from Open Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga kaimahi (staff) has been great, “whenever I've had questions, I’ve received great feedback and advice from the academic staff, and they have consistently checked in with me to see if I am ok or need any help.”
"I’ve appreciated the emails I receive when my regional lecturers know I haven't been online recently.”
Brooke says she also found it hard at times to interpret what was needed for an assignment, “I would look at the online talk channels and found another learner had already asked my question, which was really helpful.”
“The support system at Open Polytechnic is really good,” says Brooke.
“Not only were the academic staff supportive, the courses and information provided in the diploma were very helpful to further my knowledge and skills working in early childhood education, they also helped extend my te reo Māori, which has been a great goal of mine to achieve.”
Completing the New Zealand Diploma in Early Childhood Education and Care (Level 5) at the end of 2022 gave Brooke the confidence boost she needed to enrol in the Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood Education) which she started in February 2023.
Graduates of the New Zealand Diploma in Early Childhood Education and Care (Level 5) are able to apply to cross-credit their completed diploma courses into the degree programme.
“There were times where I doubted myself and my knowledge, but when I completed my diploma, and my results were higher than I expected, I knew I had to believe in myself, and it gave me the confidence to continue with my degree.”
Throughout her studies it was the practicums at local early childhood centres, that were the most enjoyable, says Brooke.
Her initial five-week practicum as part of her degree studies, was at Kinderen Early Childhood Education Centre in New Plymouth.
Brooke says she loved her placement at Kinderen and attending different practicums, as they provide the opportunity to learn new and different philosophies, routines, and perspectives at each. “I enjoy building relationships with staff, tamariki and their whānau and hearing feedback, advice and experiences from other staff that helps me build on my own personal philosophy.”
“I have also enjoyed setting up areas of play for tamariki to interact and engage in a way that encourages imaginative/symbolic play.”
Having gained a full-time role as a teacher in training at BestStart in New Plymouth, Brooke describes the centre as a beautiful place with awesome staff, and amazing children.
Brooke says the teachers at BestStart have been very supportive. “They’ve said on many occasions - if I get stuck on anything, or have any questions relating to a course, to let them know, and they will help me.”
A typical day for Brooke at BestStart involves supporting the children and fulfilling their needs throughout the day.
“I have been allocated a certain number of children, I had six previously and now I have three. I write learning stories for them and individual learning plans.
"What’s great about this is that I've just started learning how to write these through my online studies, so it has been helpful doing these at work at the same time.”
“The same applies to learning about the curriculum, it helps that I am learning about this through my course and understand what is being taught and discussed at the centre.”
With now working full-time and studying at a higher level, it has become even more important to have a routine, says Brooke.
“Time management is something I’ve found challenging throughout my studies, but I've learnt to be more organised, and better prepared.”
“I’ve been trying to have make sure I have a balance.”
“Throughout the week I do the course readings, and in the weekends, I focus on my assignments. It’s working so far,” she says.
Having self-control and staying focussed helps too, as it is easy to get distracted by other things.
Equally important is to recognise when you need to take a break from a study session if you feel like it is getting too much, says Brooke.
Brooke acknowledges studying while working can be hard, but says it is achievable.
“I’ve had friends interested in studying but they have thought they would not be organised enough. I have said to them if I can do it, you can too.”
“If you're passionate about something then you will put the effort and time into it, so I think it’s important to know what you are passionate about before you start your studies.”
“It’s about stepping out of your comfort zone and giving new things a try and you will likely end up loving it,” says Brooke.
On reflection, Brooke says her studies have not only equipped her with the knowledge and skills to work in early childhood environments but have also helped her learn different philosophies and outlooks.
After completing her degree, Brooke plans to become a registered teacher and continue working in the early childhood sector.
Whenever I've had questions, I’ve received great feedback and advice from the academic staff, and they have consistently checked in with me to see if I am ok or need any help.