From new parents to grandparents and those interested in working in childcare, the Certificate in Parenting and Care of Children offered at the Ara Institute of Canterbury southern campuses has upskilled some 300 people over the last 10 years.
At 20 hours per week for 12 weeks, the programme is offered through a blend of face to face and online delivery. No fees and child-friendly hours make it accessible for parents too.
Leanna Macartney had two young children when she enrolled in the programme around seven years ago. "I wanted to be the best parent I could," she says. "I wanted a better understanding of childhood development."
She found the programme so interesting that she considered early childhood teaching as a career option and an alternative to the hospitality work she'd been doing. "Once I had children I wanted something more career focused. Raising children on my own, I also wanted to be well paid and working as a teacher would give me the opportunity to spend time with my family in the weekends and holidays.
"I really got into the development and psychology aspects of the programme so I enrolled in a Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood Education) and completed that through correspondence. It was not easy, but it was worth it in the long run."
Whilst studying, Leanna worked as a kindergarten relief teacher and after graduating got a one year contract with a local kindergarten in Timaru.
Graduate Jonelle Fulton says the Certificate in Parenting and Care of Children at Ara was the perfect stepping stone to further study in Early Childhood Education.
While many of Leanna's classmates were young mothers, Jonelle Fulton had a mixed class. Also working in hospitality before enrolling and not long out of secondary school, Jonelle had always been drawn to early childhood but was not ready to commit to a degree. The Certificate in Parenting and Care of Children was the perfect stepping stone.
"I loved it. Alison the tutor was amazing, an awesome teacher, she helped us any way she could. I couldn't have asked for better. I immediately went into applying for the degree in early childhood teaching. I'm starting third year and will finish halfway through next year."
Whilst studying, Jonelle works for a home-based company in Central Otago where she has responsibility for eight children along with another early childhood teacher. She loves the close relationships she builds with the children.
"I've always enjoyed being around young kids, there is so much learning that goes on at this age, they say the early years is where it all starts and I really see that. I want to give them the best start, plus it is just so fun. There are lots of things I love about it, being part of the first years, there are so many milestones, when they learn to tie their shoelaces or ride a bike, taking responsibility for themselves - I enjoy seeing kids achieve."
Many students of the Ara programme don't go on to further study, but benefit from upskilling their own parenting. "A lot of it is not fancy things. It's basics like the importance of touch, love and caring," Certificate in Parenting and Care of Children tutor Alison Hughes says.
"Some students haven't seen and experienced good parenting for themselves. They might not know the basics, so we cover all of that. The first year of a baby's life is so important to their development – some young mums don't understand that initially."
"The programme is also not a walk in the park. It is a qualification and there are assessments that they need to pass. We touch on everything - life skills, parenting through divorce, first aid, pregnancy and labour, brain development, early years and child psychology."
The programme is conducted in a supportive environment and provides new networks and friendships, which are also valuable to new parents and grandparents. "We have had a couple of grandparents who had care of their grandchildren and wanted to refresh their knowledge and skills. Also parents of older children who wanted to better parent their teens. It really suits a range of people," Alison says.
The Certificate in Parenting and Child care runs twice yearly at Timaru, Ashburton and Oamaru. The next one begins in Timaru on 22 August. Visit www.ara.ac.nz/study-options/qualifications-and-courses/programmes/Certificate-in-Parenting-and-Care-of-Children.xml