Getting to know Gayle Kee – a child care expert who really does care...

✦ And plays to learn for life

The care, stewardship and development of our young ones is critical, something TG’s Child Care has excelled in for the past 24 years by providing a safe, fun, engaging environment for children. Driven by their mantra “Playing is Learning for Life”, their trusted and respected reputation has been built with purpose, expertise and care. And it shows. As their website states, “Families say TG’s Child Care just feels right.”

Most readers will be more than aware of TG’s Child Care, either from having their own youngsters attend one of the six centres regionally or through knowing someone who has been there, maybe even knowing one of the fabulous individuals that work there.

However, we wanted to get to know a little more about the lady that conceptualised and grew the business to what it is today, to find out what makes her tick and what it takes to run such a successful enterprise.

Talk to Gayle Kee for less than a minute and it is evidently clear that she is a lady of conviction that truly cares about what she does. As in truly cares! Child care isn’t just a job for Gayle, it is a way of life, early childhood education is a passion that she has honed and provided to countless grateful families over the years.

She takes immense pride in providing a secure environment that can help children grow naturally, that can aid their development and allow them to really be themselves. These notions of love, care and development were ingrained in her from an early age, growing up with two younger sisters in rural Victoria with both parents in the teaching profession. Regular, long family holidays would allow the young Gayle to see and learn new things, to encounter fresh environments, situations, people and ways of thinking.

This was evident when, during the final two years of her primary schooling, her parents took up teaching positions on an aboriginal settlement in Papunya in the Northern Territory. It proved a real eye opener and key event for Gayle.

“This was one of the most significant events of my early years, learning about a very different culture and living in a very different and beautiful part of Australia,” she says. “It also significantly shaped me with my learning and understanding around other cultures and the importance of inclusivity, ensuring everyone is included and respected and has a sense of belonging.”

Underdog advocate

She admits that from a very early age she was a strong advocate of the underdog, of wanting to always protect those that were struggling, being teased, bullied or marginalised in anyway.

“If teachers would pour scorn on or belittle any of my classmates I would instinctively take their side,” she says. “I guess I have always felt a very natural tendency to provide care and support to those vulnerable or struggling in some capacity. I’m a huge advocate of inclusivity and do not like to see people left out.”

Gayle’s mother was a kindergarten teacher and Gayle would often spend time at her mother’s school, watching how she helped her pupils. This helped develop an awareness of how important a role teaching and education can play in developing a child into the best version of themselves that in turn fuelled her desire to want to pursue it as a career.

She later enrolled in a teacher’s training course for early childhood development in Melbourne and took her first job at a preschool in Churchill.

Gayle and Trevor met in High School and were childhood sweethearts. Trevor would, in time, become her husband, best friend, biggest influence and business partner.

Trevor specialised in landscaping and, once the opportunity arose to help develop a childcare centre on the Sunshine Coast, the couple took the plunge. It was a daunting challenge and a very steep learning curve says Gayle, but one that her and Trevor were well suited to as their combined expertise proved a perfect match.

After developing two childcare centres locally, it dawned on the couple that they wanted to establish their own centre. One day Trevor called his wife to say he had instinctively bought an old cottage in Wauchope which would be the perfect location for their first official childcare centre venture together and off they went!

By 2007 childcare centres had become very “en vogue”, with huge interest and demands. Almost inevitably, Gayle and Trevor were approached to sell their Wauchope business that they had built up - not an easy decision but one they decided to do. However, almost immediately they both regretted it.

“It felt like a loss of identity of sorts,” reflects Gayle. “There was a definite sense of loss, it was very peculiar. I would be around town and people would regularly comment that the centre was no longer the same, that standards had dropped. It even got to a point where I couldn’t even drive past our old centre for the fear of regret and sadness it evoked.”

Back on the horse!

It wasn’t long before Gayle and Trevor were looking for a new location to allow them to establish their next, new childcare centre. This took them inland to the town of Uralla where they bought the old school master’s residence in 2008, and purpose-built a new centre on the large block. Trevor’s sharp eye and expertise in landscaping ensured the outdoor environment and playspaces were in top shape in no time and Gayle brought her experience in building the culture and developing the actual care and education facilities for the children which saw prompt and steady enrolments.

Stepping back momentarily to when Gayle and Trevor still owned the facility in Wauchope, they had attended a seminar in Hawaii on operating and managing multi-centre services. They were there holidaying and attended out of curiosity but never thought for one moment they would expand beyond the solitary centre. Running one was challenging enough, they told themselves.

Fast forward to 2009, however, and an opportunity arose in Armidale to take on a centre that had, admittedly, seen better days.

“It was very run down, a premises that had been operational for over 15 years but had been clearly neglected,” Gayle remembers. “Safety was clearly the number one priority at that time as the facilities were threadbare to put it mildly – there was only one sandpit, one climbing frame, the entire outdoor area a synthetic surface virtually completely devoid of gardens with plants or any greenery. It was really very sad and you could see the effect it had on the children and their behaviour as the lack of smiley faces or happiness attested to.”

Whether it was the lessons learned from the Hawaii seminar, Gayle’s penchance for helping the underdog or the couple’s drive to take on new challenges and opportunities, they decided to acquire the business and immediately set about reinvigorating it.