Taking care of the kids
WORKING alone with a gaggle of pre-schoolers and toddlers every day might not be most people's idea of fun, but for Tracy Lee Cairns it's a joy.
The Ballina family day care educator was recently named the regional winner of the 2013 Excellence in Family Day Care Awards for Lismore and the Far North Coast.
She's now in the running for best in the state, and could share in $20,000 worth of prizes, including training and toys.
"I'm still in shock really," Ms Cairns said.
"I'm a bit shy of all this, I don't like to put myself out there much - I just love kids."
"Every day is different - and I get to teach them so many things on so many different levels."
While Ms Cairns said she "learnt patience" raising her two primary school-aged children, but she's also a very experienced educator.
"I've worked with Ballina Byron Family Day Care for 16 years and when I left school at 18 I worked at a centre for another three years."
Group sizes are limited to five in family day care, and the care takes place in a more homely environment, which some kids find more comforting.
But that also means there's more pressure on the educator, who is usually working alone.
"When I first started, it was really scary and really daunting," Ms Cairns admitted.
"But I actually enjoy it more - it's more personal, you get more one-on-one with the child.
"You get to know them better, and also the family. It doesn't take long for the family to build up a trust and a bond with you, which is lovely.
"You're sort of like an auntie to the child as well as an educator.
"I treat them as my own children."
On a recent holiday, she met a family whose children she cared for, who are now 11 and 15.
"They still remembered me. When you walk down the street and they can remember you it's really touching."