You may not know it, but SHHS operates the largest campus-based child care provider in North America. The team at UBC Child Care Services (UBC CCS) currently cares for over 600 children at 27 locations across campus. And yet, for the hundreds of families with children in care, Child Care Services offers a personal and familiar child care environment that belies the size of their organization.

It’s really all about empowering our staff to personalize their care and programs to suit the children and families they work with, to make their own decisions about everything from budgets to field trips to activity and equipment scheduling. – Darcelle Cottons, Director, UBC Child Care Services

Child Playing at Kittawake centre

Children playing at the Kittiwake centre.

We had the pleasure of chatting with several key members of the UBC Child Care Services team to learn more about this world-renowned child care organization. In particular, we wanted to find out how such a large organization remains nimble and innovative and how they make it feel like home for each child and family.

A practice

There are many factors behind the success of UBC Child Care model, one that is sought out by early childhood education students and professionals, but also architects, urban planners, and licensing officers from near and far. One of the keys, according to Darcelle Cottons, Director of Child Care Services, is that they provide their educators with a great deal of autonomy in how they operate their centres.

Whereas some child care organizations designate a set curriculum and schedule, UBC CCS allows the team at each centre to collectively develop programming according to the needs of the children and families – and in line with the team’s variety of skills, strengths, interests, and passions. The best way to summarize this approach is to say that CCS educators are given the opportunity to treat their work as a practice. Through this philosophy, the UBC CCS team has built a wonderful culture of autonomy, creativity, passion, and innovation.


Children Playing in the Mud

This culture is built on a strong foundation of trust, not only between the administration and the 120+ educators, but between UBC CCS and the provincial licensing officers. Because CCS exceeds regulations in every aspect of what they do (from educator-child ratios to the quality of facilities), licensing officers not only trust them to take innovative approaches to child care, they view UBC CCS as a model for the rest of the province.

We’ve built a very strong relationship with the provincial licensing agency. They have an enormous trust in the work that we do. So we have the opportunity to bring new ideas to the table, to try out things that perhaps nobody has ever done before. – Deborah Thompson, Manager, UBC CCS

CommunicationFun with Water

Communication is also central to UBC CCS. It is so important that much of their professional development efforts focus on fostering strong communication skills. Educators learn how to effectively communicate with children, families, and each other. And unlike many work environments, a lot of that communication is person-to-person.

“One of the reasons we focus on communication skills is because a lot of centre decisions are made collaboratively,” says Darcelle. “When you have a room full of equally passionate educators, it would be easy for collaboration to result in conflict. And we see conflict, certainly, but what we focus on is ‘constructive conflict.’” Through that approach, Darcelle explains, teams of educators can turn conflict around and create something that no one had thought of before – their award-winning Truth & Reconciliation program at the Salal centre, for example, or the campfire gatherings at Kittiwake, where families are able to come together for an evening campfire.

Forest, field, and yard

Child Climbing Tree

In many ways, UBC is the ideal location for a child care centre. There are so many opportunities to take the children outside and into nature on a daily basis, which is one of the fundamental values of UBC CCS.

Each centre has a unique yard as part of its facility. Just take a walk by the Owl at the Barn centre in the “Old Barn” at the south end of Main Mall. The yard is a beautifully designed space, with natural structures, obstacles, and play areas. You couldn’t ask for more. But there is! Children in CCS also have immediate access to the many outdoor spaces on campus, including sprawling fields, vibrant gardens, and access to the magical forest in Pacific Spirit Park. To top it all off, it’s just a short trip to world class attractions like the Beaty Biodiversity Museum!

The Boomerang Club

Some workplaces are the kind where you just can’t stay away. Bev Christian, Assistant Director, tells us that in Child Care Services they have what they call The Boomerang Club. “It’s something we all joke about when staff move on for one reason or another. More often than not, they find their way back. It’s just that kind of workplace.”

UBC is a place where you can explore, learn, and grow throughout your career in ECE [Early Childhood Education]. The surrounding forest is an amazing environment that supports natural learning…. Having [27] centres around you gives you the opportunity to meet and learn from so many people with a variety of strengths. UBC provides many educational and professional development opportunities, and the management team is unquestionably supportive. I love where I work because it feels like home! – Nicole Farrell, Senior Educator, Pioggia split-age child care centre

Learn more about UBC Child Care Services.