• Michelle Meehan | Features Writer - intouch


As a service that provides care and education for children, it’s little wonder that family is at the heart of Tillys Play and Development Centres. Founded by Donna and Ron MacIntyre in 1994, the family owned and operated business has become an institution in the Hunter’s childcare industry.

Growing from a single service at Largs, Tillys now incorporates eight long day care and OOSH services across Newcastle and the Hunter Valley, with more than 200 educators and staff providing care and education to 738 children per day.

But despite their growing size and undeniable success, family remains at the core of everything they do.

Firstly, there is the sheer number of family who have been directly involved in the business. Aside from Donna and Ron, this includes three of their four children - Jessica, Anna and James – as well as everyone from a daughter-in-law, a mother-in-law and a sister-in-law, to nieces, nephews and even Donna’s own mother, who used to work part-time as a cleaner at the Largs centre.

Then there are the long-term staff members who Donna says feel like members of their extended family group, as well as the intangible “home-like” atmosphere created at the centres to ensure all of the children feel comfortable in their care.

Donna said these elements are the key to delivering a successful and, more importantly, high-quality service.

“We started Tillys in 1994 with the passion and drive to bring only the best quality care and education to the children who walk through the doors every day,” she said.

“Our spaces are their spaces. Somewhere they belong, are loved, considered as capable and resourceful and where we instil a life-long love of learning.

“All of our services are managed by the family or very longterm employees who are considered family, all of whom have spent many years on the floor as educators themselves and have varying teaching and childcare qualifications.

“We are not a management team of accountants. We are a family of early education and care professionals. We stay true to our values, and we do what we do because we love it.”

More than two decades after they began their childcare journey Donna and Ron still remain actively involved in the day-to-day running of the business.

An Early Childhood trained educator herself, Donna is involved in the employment of all staff and educators at Tillys and has input into the design and implementation of Tillys’ educational programs. She also designs all centre policies and procedure, and trains all staff in Child Protection and workplace health and safety.

As a builder and carpenter by trade, Ron is hands-on when each new centre is being built, from the first plans that are drawn up to the final finished centre.

While Tillys will celebrate 24 years of continuous operation this year, there’s plenty more in store for the business, which in the past few years has built a new centre at Bolwarra and opened their largest and most recent service in Rutherford.

Since 2010, they have also operated a registered training organisation – Tillys College of Childcare – offering Certificate and Diploma courses to help fill what Donna saw was a shortage of trained staff in the childcare sector.

Donna said Tillys was constantly growing and changing, whether through plans for a new centre, or research into the latest changes in early education practice.

“We have just opened our eighth centre at Rutherford. It is our biggest centre to date, is approved for 174 childcare places per day and offers care for children aged 0-6 years, alongside Out of School Hours Care (OOSH) and Vacation Care for school-aged children 5-12 years,” she said.

“Our Rutherford centre is our third Tillys centre to incorporate OOSH care into our long day care facilities. We are also looking into the possibility of offering 24-hour care to families within this centre.

“We are also in the process of building our ninth centre at Cardiff, which will open in early 2019.

“We have extremely high expectations of our Nominated Supervisors, Educational Leaders and Educators, who rise to the challenge, and as a team, we are consistently looking for ways we can improve and further meet the needs of our children and their families.

“Tillys is driven by ongoing professional development in the field of early education and by up-to-date research and training, focused on the formation of the developing brain.

“Our approach reflects our national curriculum – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (0-6yrs) and My Time Our Place (6-12yrs), and is based on the combination of guided and spontaneous play experiences and the inclusion of shorter, structured learning sessions such as Gymbaroo.”

The inclusion of Gymbaroo at the beginning of 2017 has been one of the biggest changes incorporated across all of their centres in the past few years, with the sensory-motor program proving a real hit with the kids. Its implementation once again comes back to the business’ focus on family and the needs of the children.

“Gymbaroo was established 34 years ago by an Australian pioneer, Margaret Sassé. Margaret was passionate about the physical and neurological development of children and the relationship between these and later learning at school,” Donna said.

“The motor system is a key element in the growth of both the body and the brain. To enable children to learn well, they need lots of opportunities to repeat new motor experiences. Experience helps the brain send proper signals to the muscles and vice-versa.

“We’ve also introduced a Supported Playgroup within three of our centres. This is another free service that we have started to support our children, families and the local community.

“Our supported playgroups are led by one of our experienced Early Childhood Educators and is a great way for children to learn about the word, make friends and develop social skills and a fantastic support group for mums and dads.”

Pictured Top: Front row: Ron and Donna MacIntyre (Owners and Approved Providers), Danae (Fleet Manager) and James MacIntyre (Maintenance Manager). Back Row: Jessica Taylor (Quality Improvement Advisor), Anna MacIntyre (Educator) and Tania Brown (Operations Manager).

Image Credit: Larissa Cluff (intouch Magazine)

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