Community partnerships and the benefits of learning through play

This month we hear from Nominated Supervisors, Ona Buckley and Daniel Betts, Preschool Supervisor, Michelle Williams and Early Childhood Teacher, Whitney Williams from Guliyali Preschool.

Recently awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA, the NSW Central Coast based service shares learnings from their longstanding partnership with residents of a local retirement village, part of their Ageless Play Program.

Partnerships are embedded in every aspect of our practice at Guliyali Preschool. Engaging meaningfully with our community promotes understanding and provides a genuine opportunity for relationship-building and collaboration. We have developed strong partnerships with many different organisations, colleagues and community members to enhance educational programs for our children and our service as a whole. These reciprocal relationships provide an opportunity to learn from each other, share ideas and plan for continuous improvement.

At Guliyali Preschool, our community engagement programs are meaningful, authentic and mutually beneficial. Our longest running community partnership project has been with the Living Choice Deepwater Court retirement village residents who engage in our Ageless Play Program that has been running consistently for six years. 

Our relationship with the Deep Water Court retirement village sprouted from a conversation with a new family over 10 years ago. The family had recently moved into our local area away from their support network. The mother mentioned to an educator that her child was finding the move challenging as he missed the interactions with his elderly neighbours and grandparents. To support this family the educator made contact with the local retirement village and organised a visit. To begin with, the visits were only once a term, however as the relationships grew the partnership organically grew into monthly and now weekly visits. Each year we reflect on the partnership and the feedback from our families and children overwhelmingly supports us continuing these beautiful weekly connections. 

Mutual benefits

‘We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.’

George Bernard Shaw

Our Ageless Play community members, many of them retired school teachers, have unique strengths that we draw on to create programs that are inspiring and rewarding for everyone involved. The project has mutual benefits for the children in our service, the residents in the village and for our wider community. Through this program children learn the importance of providing friendship and companionship to others, regardless of whether they are significantly older or younger than themselves. The program enables our children to develop positive attitudes towards the elderly and to feel comfortable around those with disabilities and impairments. The retirement village coordinator reports that these visits help the residents break up their everyday routine, reduce feelings of isolation associated with ageing, and allows participants to rekindle relationships with the broader community. 

Reciprocal relationships

Our programs evolve to meet the needs of all stakeholders. Our Ageless Play program seeks to bring together various generations through a range of play opportunities, supporting communities and nurturing relationships. All key stakeholders are empowered throughout the delivery of the program as their voices are respected and heard. Children and residents of the village contribute to decision making within the group by making decisions on what activities to participate in. Educators benefit from the residents’ expertise and residents gain an increase in self-esteem and emotional and social wellbeing, reconnecting them with their community. Our Ageless Play partnership evolved and endured despite the visitation and communication challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was strengthened during the pandemic, and we were able to break down the restriction barriers by using technology to send video messages as well as traditional communication methods such as letter writing to maintain our relationships with the residents. 

Here are some strategies that we think could help services who are thinking about how to build their community engagement and partnerships:

1. Build local knowledge

Become familiar with your local community and the available resources and organisations with whom you can share experiences with. Take the time to visit places in the community that are easily accessible or invite members from local community groups into your service to share their knowledge and skills. Engage in authentic and respectful community celebrations that will build children’s understanding of their community and their respect for diversity.

2. Get involved!

Be a part of everything – become informed of community agencies in your area and reach out to local organisations that may also be looking to build a community partnership. Seeking the support and advice of community agencies such as libraries, Senior Citizen Associations, Rotary Clubs and Lions Clubs may assist in providing links that can be nurtured and developed into long lasting relationships. 

3. Think broadly

Consult with stakeholders. Many families, educators, teachers and/or staff have links to community groups that would be happy to form community connections with children’s education and care services. There are a myriad of ways and opportunities for children to feel a sense of belonging in, contributing to, and influencing their world.

4. Critically reflect

Spend time reflecting on your sense of community and think about how it has been informed. Reflecting on what community means to you and the service can enrich decision making, increase awareness of influences and bias and provide goals for continuous community improvement projects. 

What has helped guide and support your community partnerships?

Living our values

Our service philosophy and vision remind us daily of our role in the community, it inspires us and provides direction and purpose. Visual representations of our philosophy around our preschool outline the purpose and principles under which we operate. It’s a tool to assist with the navigation towards our continuous improvement. 

Communicate widely and effectively

Effective means of communication aids in shared decision making for children. As educators, we must be givers of information but also receivers. Communication is integral in building relationships and engaging with others to create connected communities. We recognise that this comes in many forms: verbal, non-verbal, online, newsletters, informal and formal meetings and social media platforms. We are mindful of first languages and take a ‘not a one size fits all approach’ when communicating with our community. 

Recognise the experts within

Learn about your colleagues’ hidden areas of expertise, your families’ special skills and community resources that might benefit your program. Reach out to other children’s education and care services in your community. Acknowledging and recognising these ‘hidden experts’ identifies opportunities to initiate and establish community connections and collaborations. 

Interested in finding out more?

The Ageless Play Program is just one of many community-based partnerships and exceptional practices recognised in the awarding of the Excellent rating to Guliyali Preschool. Read more about their practices on the ACECQA Excellent Rating page.

Read more about Guliyali Preschool, which is situated within the grounds of Woy Woy Public School. Guliyali Preschool invites interested children’s education and care services to connect and share practice.

Looking to get involved with Ageless Play? Learn more about intergenerational programs here.

More information on the importance of your service vision and philosophy can be found in the following ACECQA blog post – Does your service vision lead the way?


Podcasts as a gateway for new understandings

Educator and children listening to podcast on table

This month we hear from Laura Stone and Linda Harrison from ABC Kids Early Education about using podcasts to build and support children’s learning and understanding. ABC Kids Early Education is a source for ABC Kids and ABC Kids Listen digital content aligned to six key areas: creativity and expression, family, community and culture, language and literacy, STEM and sustainability and nature.

When considering the diverse learning styles of young children, listening to podcasts can offer a fascinating new dimension to educator and teacher planning and practice. Children’s developing capacity to focus attention on each of their senses is a technique used in early childhood mindfulness practice.  There is now an array of quality podcasts available for young children that encourage ‘purposeful listening’, helping young minds and bodies to learn to listen with intent – thereby resulting in a natural calmness. Most quality children’s podcasts are great co-listening experiences and can be just as soothing and engaging for adult co-listeners as they are for children.

ABC kids noisy by nature logo bird calling

Listening to podcasts can help children develop important skills for ‘efferent’ listening – listening for factual information or ideas. For example, in ABC Kids Listen’s Noisy by Nature, children can hear many of the interesting sounds made by Australian animals and insects, while learning fun facts to help develop their understandings and respect for biodiversity in different natural environments along the way.  Just as reading a great storybook or having an in depth ‘picture talk’ will tease out additional understandings from children’s real-life experiences, so to can beautiful podcasts.

In Noisy by Nature, presenter Dr Ann Jones talks to children as if they are old friends – she asks questions, waits for a response, atmosphere builds in a layered soundscape of wind, waves and distant bird calls. We hear something loud or melodic or just plain silly ring out above the rest!  What is that wonderfully weird sound of nature? Noisy by Nature is a transportive experience for little listeners.

Educator and children drawing plants outside

An amazing podcast can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. A child’s gaze when listening to a cleverly crafted podcast is quite a special thing to behold. Just like hearing a story from a loved grown-up, you can see the imagining behind their eyes. As adults, we could liken this experience to the emotional journey we go on when reading a real page turner! No pictures, just an evocative narrative to take you to some place new in your mind. You can see yourself there with the characters, with the landscape, in the moment. Great podcasts are exciting!

What is joint media engagement?

According to the ECA Statement on young children and digital technologies, joint media engagement involves children, peers and/ or adults participating in digital activities together such as co-playing games and apps, co-viewing programs or co-listening to digital content together.

Listening to well-chosen appropriate audio content together provides children with the opportunity to ask questions and put forward ideas, which helps build language development through collaborative learning. These shared digital play experiences can also help educators scaffold children’s development of important dispositions for learning such as curiosity, interest, enthusiasm and imagination (Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (EYLF), Learning Outcome 4.1).

Using the ABC Kids Noisy by Nature podcasts as provocations for learning

Educator and children sitting at table making nest out of leaves

After listening to Your babbling birds, children explore bird habitats and create a nest for a Kookaburra using natural & upcycled materials.

Noisy by Nature episodes can be used as provocations to help educators and teachers intentionally engage children in learning. Sparking wonder in Australian animals or animal groups (marsupials, nocturnal animals, insects, amphibians, mammals), these audio resources can be used at any stage of an ongoing inquiry-based investigation. The podcasts allow children to be absorbed and fascinated by natures’ phenomenons, which provides the perfect springboard for meaningful play-based project work.

Aligning with the National Quality Standard (NQS) Element 1.2.2 ‘Responsive teaching and scaffolding’, podcasts can support the co-construction of knowledge about our sometimes weird and always wonderful world. The interesting facts about insects, animals and their natural habitats offer opportunities for educators to link programming to Learning Outcome 2.1 ‘Children become socially responsible and show respect for the environment’ in the EYLF. Thought-provoking follow-up learning experiences can focus on environmentally responsible practices and conservation to foster an appreciation of the earth and animals that inhabit it for future generations.

ABC Kids Early Education has designed a new free online resource with inspiring ideas for ways educators can use Noisy by Nature audio content to engage children in further explorations through hands-on, play-based learning.

View the ABC Kids Noisy by Nature Early Education Resources

These nature-based podcasts can support programming and planning across program areas including:

  • Environmental awareness
  • Respect for diversity
  • Science
  • Mindfulness

How can podcasts provoke follow-up outdoor education?

After listening, follow-up learning experiences in outdoor spaces can open-up inquiry and investigations into beach, bush or neighbourhood environments. Real life experiences in nature provide opportunities for children to connect with the landscape and their community, as well as explore nature and scientific concepts. According to the EYLF, including the exploration of nature in early childhood outdoor education programs “fosters an appreciation of the natural environment, develops environmental awareness and provides a platform for ongoing environmental education” (EYLF Principle: Learning environments).

The Noisy by Nature Excursion Early Education Resources could become a useful planning tool for outdoor education experiences in your local community. These free resources suggest ways children can make connections in their learning while out and about – linking to the EYLF and NQS in the following programming areas:

  • ‘Before you go…’
  • ‘While you are there…’ and
  • ‘When you get back…’.

Children as digital audio content creators

Educators and teachers can further support children’s developing digital literacy skills by encouraging them to make their own recordings of different sounds in nature, using a handheld device. This learning experience can help young children become familiar with how the different functions of digital technologies work, through exploratory play in a digital context. These child-created podcasts can be shared with families to support collaborative partnerships.

Share the ways you have engaged with ABC Kids Listen podcasts at your early childhood setting! The ABC would love to see your photos and learning stories in the ABC Kids Early Education Reflective Journal. Email the team at earlyeducation@abc.net.au.

References

Introducing new foods to children in education and care services

This month we hear from the National Nutrition Network – Early Childhood Education and Care (‘the Network’). This group of academics, researchers and implementers promote best practice nutrition and healthy eating in the early years throughout Australia. The Network provides practical resources based on research that support children’s education and care services to promote healthy eating. ACECQA would like to thank Amy Wakem, Lara Hernandez, Shabnam Kashef and Caryn Maslen for their contribution to our learning community. 

What’s all the fuss about fussy eaters?

Fussy eating is a phase that many children go through. Up to 50% of all 0-3-year-old children refuse to eat new and different foods at least half the time [1]. For some children, fussy eating tendencies are short-lived, but for others, they can last for much longer.

In a supportive eating environment, children can tell when they are hungry, when they are full and they can self-regulate their eating behaviours. It is their caregiver’s role to provide nutritious food, decide how often food is offered (through routine meal and snack times), and provide a relaxed child-friendly mealtime environment. This should include using appropriately sized utensils for children, as well as sitting and eating with the children. A child’s role is to choose whether to eat what has been provided and how much. 

It can take up to 10 or more exposures to a new food before a child may feel comfortable with it [2]. Mouthing a food (moving it around in the mouth but not swallowing) may be misinterpreted as a rejection of that food, however, this can be part of the acceptance process. Infants and young children learn how to self-feed and explore food using all of their senses, including touch, smell and taste. This is an important part of the development process. 

To create a child-friendly mealtime, avoid pressuring children to eat everything on their plate, and try not to make a big deal if they refuse a certain food. Forcing or bribing a child to eat can make them forget their own hunger and fullness cues. Educators who recognise how a child is eating by nodding and smiling rather than providing lots of praise or commenting on what has or has not been eaten are encouraging a child to respond to their own cues. 

Remember, too, that persistence is key. Keep offering a variety of foods, include food-based experiences (for example, cooking activities, designing a vegetable patch and growing and picking vegetables), and seek support from others when you need it. 

Encouraging children to try new foods

There are many different ways that educators and service leaders can encourage children to try new foods. 

You can encourage children to become familiar with new foods by:

  • Creating a children’s garden space where they plant, grow and harvest different foods. It doesn’t have to be big, growing herbs is a good place to start!
  • Reading books about different foods helps introduce children to food from around the world and increase their language of food. 
  • Offering a variety of nutritious food to children regularly which considers the individual dietary, health or cultural needs of each child (National Regulations 78 and 79).
  • Providing regular cooking experiences where children can explore texture, colour and smell, for example, grating, cutting and peeling carrots or apples. 

Take a whole-of-service approach and involve everyone in your service community by:

  • Role modelling healthy eating, helping to create relaxed mealtime environments and encouraging children to try new foods.
  • Planning menus with children and the service cook/chef that provide opportunities for children to try a variety of foods in a variety of meals and ways. 
  • Providing a range of resources that support children’s changing interest in fruit, vegetables and different foods. 
  • Respecting different food preferences by involving families in the decision making process when planning healthy eating activities and changing seasonal menus (Standard 6.1, Element 6.1.2). Ask families to share recipes of their child’s favourite home or cultural foods and include these on the menu. 
  • Regularly communicate with families and your community about how foods are introduced to children and the healthy eating activities happening at the service. Services should be displaying the weekly menu for families to review, including what the child has been given to eat each day (National Regulation 80). You can also create a visual display or share information through your communication channels such as your newsletter or Facebook page. 
  • Incorporating discussions about food and healthy eating habits into the daily program to encourage each child to make their own food choices. (NQS Standard 2.1).

Consider these reflective questions at your next staff meeting

  • How could you incorporate activities that involve new foods into your everyday program?
  • How do your current practices encourage children to try new foods in a supportive and positive way at mealtimes?
  • What information can you share with families about fussy eating, trying new foods and how you plan healthy eating activities? 
  • How do you share information about children’s mealtimes with families? Does your service display the menu, and how is this information presented to ensure it is accessible and informative (National Regulation 80. Is the menu engaging and interactive?
  • How does your service plan for children’s food preferences and requirements, including cultural or specific dietary needs? (NQS Standard 2.1)

Fussy eating is a part of children’s development, and support for families, educators and teachers is available. Seek out more information and activity ideas to introduce new foods, starting with the resource list below.

Resources to support and continue your learning

  • For tools and resources with a vegetable focus go to VegKit, which provides tools and resources to support approved providers, cooks, teachers and educators as they seek to increase children’s vegetable intake.
  • For other helpful advice on understanding fussy eating in children and healthy eating in general go to Start Them Right, a guide for parents on how and what to feed children from birth to five years. The Growing Good Habits website has information on fussy eaters to share with your families too. 

[1] Better Health Channel, Toddlers and fussy eating, Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria. Accessed, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/toddlers-and-fussy-eating

[2] Nekitsing C, Blundell-Birtill P, Cockroft JE, Hetherington MM. Systematic review and meta-analysis of strategies to increase vegetable consumption in preschool children aged 2–5 years. Appetite. 2018 Aug 1;127:138-54. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29702128/

Singleton Heights Pre-School: Partnerships improving outcomes for children

This month we hear from Singleton Heights Pre-School Inc. Centre Director, Neisha Dean, and gain insight into the service’s collaborative partnerships improving outcomes for children.

Recently awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA, Singleton Heights Pre-School is a not-for-profit community preschool based in the NSW Upper Hunter Valley. Many enrolled families in the community are engaged with mining and the Australian Defence Force, however, they also have a high proportion of families who qualify for the low income subsidy relief. One exemplary practice recognised in the preschool’s Excellent award rating is their collaborative partnerships with professional and community organisations. These ongoing partnerships, forged through respectful and reciprocal relationships, have supported the preschool to continuously improve service access, environments, amenities and resources that improve outcomes for children.

Can you tell us about some of your collaborative partnerships?

Cooinda Local Aged Care Facility

Our relationship with Cooinda commenced in late 2019, following a suggestion from one of our families who had a relationship with the facility. A highly successful first visit promoted positive responses from children and residents, alike. From there, the relationship has gone from strength to strength and has been extended by families outside of service interactions as well as residents now visiting the preschool. The partnership has also endured despite the visitation and communication challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. During 2020, interactions have been sustained through the use of Zoom and iPad technology and has involved the sharing of laminated art-books (to assist with cleaning between use), joint singing and dancing sessions and shared group times and play experiences. 

The relationship has supported children to learn to interact with people who experience visual, cognitive, mobility, speech and hearing impairment. The children have developed problem-solving, language, social skills and practice tolerance, understanding, respect and empathy as they pass pieces of games, puzzles and craft to their elderly companions Calming sensory play introduced by the children, such as moulding play dough, has now been embedded in activities at Cooinda residents. Despite initial hesitancy, the use of Zoom has also led to a change in attitude regarding the use of technology and the engagement of the residents with it. 

Woodwork Partnership

We have a ten-year partnership with a retired woodworker who has contributed to the replacement and creation of new resources and furniture throughout the service in both a volunteer and paid capacity. The partnership has supported the community member to share his skills and high-quality work, while developing relationships which are beneficial for the social and emotional wellbeing of all involved. Children have a heightened knowledge, understanding and engagement with the woodwork and resources and are being deliberate in their play as they source tools, and in the creations they make. 

Glencore Ravensworth Open Cut Mine (GROCM)

In 2015, the service was approached by local mining company and employer of some enrolled families, GROCM, to enter into a pilot community sustainability partnership. The service has been provided with a greenhouse, and receives planting materials from the mine. Children care for seedlings which are then sold back to the company for regeneration planting, with profits from the sale of the seedlings going to the service. Children have also assisted the company to plant the trees they initially grew, at one of their local properties, and children are provided with regular updates about the rehabilitation program. 

Children’s involvement in the seed planting and initial growth of the trees has supported their ability to understand plant lifecycles and sustainability practices. It also actively engages children in the rehabilitation of local land, which will provide benefits to the local community in future years. 

This project was part of the Pre-School winning first place in the NSW Keep Australia Beautiful awards, in the “School’s Environmental Achievement Award – Population Category E (over 20 000) section, an achievement we are very proud of.

The partnership has also led to collaborations to acquire funding to finance upgrades to service environments and equipment. One upgrade involved materials for the construction of outdoor wooden tables and chairs, which further engaged the partnership with the local woodworker. The tables are custom designed in height and support children from across classrooms to share meals and learning together. 

How have funding partnerships supported outcomes for children?

How have funding partnerships supported outcomes for children?

Over the past four years, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of children attending the service who identify as Aboriginal, families who qualify for low income subsidy relief, and families who have no other support networks in the local area. In response to family need and growing enrolments in 2019, which reflected 118 waitlisted children, the service successfully gained NSW Government ‘Start Strong Capital Works Program’ funding to build a fourth classroom to support an additional 40 enrolments, with 20 extra children each day. Operational since September of 2019, 45% of children in this new classroom identify as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage. 

Our not-for-profit service has also successfully received Government and community support funding to upgrade soft fall, provide additional shade covering, install new playground equipment, complete new flooring and fencing projects, refurbish a bathroom, and construct a new verandah. We were also able to install a third water tank and pump and create drought-tolerant gardens, introduce a physical Acknowledgement of Country display, purchase furniture for the classrooms and construct a woodwork shed. Our  financial commitment to acquiring funding and grants has resulted in the continuous improvement of service practices, environments and resources to provide children with improved access to high quality learning environments and resources.

Recognising community support opportunities

When looking for grant opportunities you can often find some to support current or new projects, or initiatives at services. While not all grants will have eligibility criteria that apply to all services, there are many different types. Before applying for any grant we think there are some key considerations to think about.

Align a grant with goals and priorities

We needed to be clear of our service priorities and goals, as outlined in our Quality Improvement Plan, Business Plan, and through our practices and procedures in relation to maintenance. Sometimes a new and exciting opportunity will arise. However, important considerations are the current service priorities and the eligibility criteria of the funding grant.

Consult and engage with all stakeholders 

During any grant application process, it is important to consult with Educators and staff, management, families and children to ensure all stakeholders feel knowledgeable, involved and heard. When all voices are engaged, it promotes thorough reflection on the diverse possibilities of a project. 

The consultation and engagementprocess includes many conversations, but can also involve surveys, brainstorming sessions, site meetings, the sharing and discussion of draft plans and seeking creative input from individuals in the form of visual or written project ideas. To support effective communication, plans need to be organised and clear. Communicating with enthusiasm and positivity will support stakeholders to feel more comfortable during periods of change.

Forge genuine partnerships 

Our philosophy and everyday practice reflect our genuine commitment to creating partnerships with organisations in our local community. We may benefit from receiving a grant toward a project or initiative at the service, however, it’s important that the relationship is mutually beneficial. We achieve this by promoting an organisation’s support not only within the service, but throughout our local community. We attend events and presentations organised by the organisation supplying the funding and invite them to celebrations within the preschool.

Interested in finding out more?

Collaborative partnerships are just one of many exceptional practices recognised in the awarding of the Excellent rating to Singleton Heights Pre-School Inc. Read more about their practices on the ACECQA Excellent Rating page. You can also contact Neisha Dean via email admin@singletonheightspreschool.com.au

Does your service vision lead the way?

Child looking through fingers

When vision leads the way

One lesson from supporting providers and leaders of education and care services through ACECQA’s Quality Support Program is that a united service vision gives direction and motivation for the team to achieve quality outcomes for children and families. This is consistent with a finding of ACECQA’s Quality Improvement Research Project (2019) that ‘the Approved Provider’s vision for quality practice, and resourcing and support to realise this vision was a key enabler in achieving quality improvement’ (p.30).

Why have a vision

‘I have a dream…’ announced civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr in his famous speech in 1963. King had a vision for equality and inclusion. Through painting a clear picture of his vision, he was able to influence the people, captivate their imagination, and unify them under a common goal.

Loris Malaguzzi, co-founder of the educational philosophy, the Reggio Emilia approach, shared a vision with the families of this region in Italy. It was to create schools where children would learn about justice and equity, and be seen as active participants with rights who are capable of constructing their own knowledge. This philosophy has had a wide reaching influence on pedagogical practices and how many of us in education and care see children today.

Dr Jillian Rodd, an educational and developmental psychologist who specialises in aspects of leadership in early childhood education, explains that, ‘vision is the means by which leaders captivate the imagination of their followers and engage loyalty and support. Vision provides direction for and sustains action in the team, can boost morale and self-esteem and acts as a buffer against stress during periods of change’ (2006, p.26).

As a service leader, you have the opportunity to collaborate with your team, educators, children, families and community to formulate a shared service vision for all. Your service vision will inspire, provide direction and purpose.

To have vision is to be able to see, to be able to think about and to plan for the current and future goals of the service.

How is a vision formulated?

A vision statement captures the values and beliefs of your team and helps define your service goals. An effective vision statement is short, simple and specific to provide clarity and understanding. An example is ACECQA’s vision: Children have the best start in life through high quality early childhood education and care. This vision is driven by the organisation’s values and purpose. It inspires, provides direction and influences how the organisation can achieve its goals.

You might like to consider Stephen Covey’s strategy for formulating a vision. He suggests to ‘begin with the end in mind’ (2016, p.102). To do this, identify the current quality practices you wish to keep in your service, and then visualise what you cannot yet see but would like to see happening. You might like to take others with you through this visualisation. Take some deep breaths and envision your ideal service:

  • What is it about the service that is important to you?
  • What do you see?
  • Take a look around, what does it look like?
  • What can you hear, what do you smell?
  • What are you feeling?
  • How are the children engaging with the learning spaces?

As thoughts surface during the visualisation, remember these. These thoughts will be guided by your values, examples of which could include honesty, integrity or collaboration. These thoughts are also influenced by your beliefs about how children learn and develop, and what you feel is important for them to experience in your service. You might like to document them on sticky notes and include them as part of a brainstorming session for discussion.

Values and beliefs shape our behaviours. When teams identify shared values, a sense of trust is promoted as is a sense of belonging. This leads to a unified way of working. When you have an awareness of your beliefs and values, you are able to reflect on how these may impact your program and pedagogical practices and, in turn, children’s learning. Reflecting on these together as a team can inform the writing of your service vision statement.

Remember a vision statement is short and specific, can usually be summed up in one or two sentences and it helps define your service goals. Considering the goals of your service also supports the creation of a vision. What do you want to achieve, how will you achieve it and by when? The Australian Department of Health’s vision statement is an example of this –Better health and wellbeing for all Australians, now and for future generations.

Your vision and your philosophy

If your vision is your compass, then your statement of philosophy is your map. It supports your vision statement, and also relates to the purpose of your service. It outlines what your service aims to provide and endeavours to foster. Your vision will become a guide to support you to make decisions for and with children that align with the service philosophy. Your philosophy is a representation of your vision that outlines the purpose and principles under which your service operates. It’s another tool to assist with the navigation towards your shared desired outcomes.

The creation of a service vision might lead to a review or creation of the service philosophy. You might like to revisit your service philosophy as a team. Does it reflect your service’s core values? Does it identify what drives practices? Does it support your vision? Openly identify, reflect on and celebrate each other’s unique and shared values and beliefs?

Your team are an important part of the success of the vision for your services. Support them to support you by providing them with the time, training, support and resources they might need to help you get to where you want your service to be.

Remember to keep sight of your vision. It guides the decisions you make each and every day as you strive to achieve quality outcomes for your children and families.

References and further reading

ACECQA information sheet – Belonging, Being & Becoming for educators

ACECQA information sheet – Reviewing your service philosophy

ACECQA Newsletter 6 – Reflecting on your service philosophy

ACECQA, 2019. The Quality Improvement Research Project. [online] Sydney.

Covey, S. R (2016). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, Simon and Schuster, New York

Rodd, J. (2006). Leadership in Early Childhood, 3rd Edition, Allen and Unwin, Australia.

Leading Innovation

CK photo with awards

This month we hear from C&K Coolum Community Childcare and Kindergarten Centre Coordinator, Jennifer Leo, and Educational Leader, Carol Ruskin. This service was awarded the Emeritus Professor Dr Mary Mahoney AO Award for Excellence in Innovation in Curriculum at the inaugural C&K Innovation in Curriculum Awards. This is the first time a C&K long day care service has been honoured with this award.

Dr Mahoney has given a lifetime of service to medical education, general practice training and The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP). This award honours her, as former C&K President, and acknowledges education and care services or individual employees who encompass C&K values and demonstrate innovative implementation of the organisation’s Listening and Learning Together Curriculum Approach

C&K Coolum Community Childcare and Kindergarten has a long-established a leadership team. Built on our experience, research and ongoing professional learning, the team has a common belief that a child’s early years are the most experientially critical to their life and are foundational to them becoming a life-long learner. 

Five years ago we developed a clear plan and objectives of what the leadership team wanted to achieve for the children and families of the service in the future. Our goal is to provide every child with opportunities to become a strong, confident and capable learner and to succeed as they transition to formal schooling.  

The service’s professional teaching team actively promotes the importance of early learning within the education continuum and the role of long day care education within the community. It achieves this through collective professional practice, documentation, engagement with the local community, connection to education facilities and continuing professional development.  

The changing landscape of modern Australian family life means that more children are attending early childhood education and care at a young age more than ever before.  At C&K Coolum we acknowledge this societal change and recognise the important role we have as educators to support each child’s learning and development journey. This has been the impetus for our service to continually strive for excellence by supporting and connecting our children and families to create a genuine community of learners

Educators, families, children and the community are all seen as equal participants within the C&K Coolum inclusive learning environment.  We strongly believe it takes a village to raise a child.

Some key strategies have supported our success promoting and leading innovation.

1. Fostering inquiry-based professional development.

From our experience, it is important to develop a long-term, centre-specific, ‘inquiry-based,’ professional development plan. 

When doing this:

  • ensure each step is built on the integrity and success of the previous step, ensuring that knowledge and skills genuinely grow
  • use critical reflection as the impetus to make positive change and ensure you are remaining true to the centre philosophy, and  
  • discuss success and areas for improvement openly with the team using positivity and support. 

A good starting point is for each educator to reflect on and respond to these questions: 

  • What is your image of a child, a teacher and early childhood education?
  • What theory or philosophy has influenced you and your beliefs about this image?
  • What is the one professional development project you would like to do to enhance your image?

2. Using distributed leadership

Identify and then use all educators’ strengths by using a ‘Distributed Leadership Model’ to support engagement and ensure projects are genuinely meaningful:

  • appoint a willing leader to guide the projects and provide continuous support to the team
  • as a team, celebrate every success as this breeds further success
  • critically reflect to ensure the journey stays true to C&K’s core values, and 
  • trust, support and respect each other and enjoy the journey. 

Appointing non-contact time for educators to further their leadership goals, research, and engage in and with the community is an important factor for success.

3. Creating accessible visual displays

Create visual and readily available files and displays that reflect the development of each continuous improvement project:

  • include educators’ contributions, related articles, correspondence, and information from supporting agencies 
  • personalise and highlight the contribution of each leader of a project with a photo on the front of the file, and 
  • invite families to be part of this visual display to support their engagement, connection and understanding of the project.

Recommended resources

Within our C&K Coolum context, some resources were integral to our quality practice and innovation success:

  • organisational professional development support resources and tools, and
  • professional networks and resources such as Communities of Practice groups, contemporary information from current students, ACECQA resources and research.

Our teaching team continues to be a vital resource. As new information is shared, a contribution is made to a project or a colleague has an inspirational idea, it generates enthusiasm and inspiration amongst the teaching team. The collective sharing and discovering of new resources relevant to each project is motivating.

Interested in finding out more?

To engage with C&K Coolum and find out more about their innovative practice, you can email:

For every child, every right

In this month’s blog, we look at the role of the National Children’s Commissioner and explore some of the projects and resources developed by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) that are relevant to approved providers, coordinators, educators, teachers and staff members working in the children’s education and care sector. 

The Australian Human Rights Commission has welcomed the appointment of Ms Anne Hollonds as the new National Children’s Commissioner.

Ms Hollonds, who will commence her five-year appointment in November 2020, replaces inaugural National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell, who has served in the role for the past seven years.

The National Children’s Commissioner 

The Commonwealth Government established the National Children’s Commissioner position in 2012 to help promote the rights, wellbeing and development of children and young people in Australia, and ensure their voices, including those of the most vulnerable, are heard at the national level.

The Commissioner promotes public discussion and awareness of issues affecting children, conducts research and education programs, and consults directly with children and representative organisations. The role also examines relevant existing and proposed Commonwealth legislation to determine if it recognises and protects children’s human rights in Australia.

The work of the Commissioner complements the work conducted by state and territory children’s commissioners and guardians. The position sits within the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Australia’s national independent statutory body dealing with human rights.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was ratified in Australia in December 1990. The UNCRC is the main international human rights treaty on children’s rights, and as a party Australia has a duty to ensure that all children in Australia enjoy the rights set out in the treaty.

The UNCRC outlines the rights of children in international law. It contains 54 articles that cover all aspects of a child’s life and set out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children everywhere are entitled to.

The articles within the UNCRC are embedded within the objectives and guiding principles of the National Quality Framework (NQF). The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and the Framework for School Age Care (FSAC) also explicitly incorporate the UNCRC and children’s rights. Likewise, the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics is based on the principles of the UNCRC.

Projects and resources for education and care services

The AHRC and the Commissioner have undertaken a number of major projects to draw attention to the human rights challenges facing children. Two projects, of particular relevance to the children’s education and care sector, are the:

  •  Child Safe Organisations project
  • Building Belonging toolkit of resources
Child Safe Organisations

As part of the Child Safe Organisations project, the Australian Government asked the Commissioner to lead the development of National Principles for Child Safe Organisations (the National Principles), released in February 2019.

Endorsed at the time by members of the Council of Australian Governments, the National Principles are based on the ten Child Safe Standards recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) that all organisations that engage in child-related work are required to implement. They are however broader in scope, going beyond sexual abuse to cover other forms of potential harm. The Principles aim to provide a nationally consistent approach to creating organisational cultures that foster child safety and wellbeing across all sectors in Australia.

The National Office for Child Safety, established in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, works with the Commissioner, states and territories and the non-government sector to coordinate national adoption of the National Principles.

All organisations that work, or come into contact, with children are encouraged to implement the National Principles to become a child safe organisation. This includes, but is not limited to, sport and recreation clubs, education and care services, schools, child and youth support services, and out-of-home care services.

Practical tools and training resources are available to help organisations implement the National Principles.

At present, compliance with the National Principles is not mandatory. However, organisations – including education and care services, are encouraged to adopt them to demonstrate leadership and commitment to child safety and wellbeing.

Food for thought…

Ensuring the safety, health and wellbeing of children is an objective of the NQF, and always a priority. Children’s education and care services play an important role in creating and maintaining safe and nurturing spaces that reinforce each child’s right to experience quality education and care in an environment that provides for their ongoing health and safety.

How might you adopt the National Principles to support best practice and advocate for children’s fundamental right to be protected and kept safe?

*Note: While the National Principles are broadly aligned with existing child safe approaches reflected in the NQF, education and care services must continue to comply with the NQF and meet existing legislative requirements in their state or territory in addition to their choice to comply with the National Principles. Links to state and territory child safe requirements and resources are available on the ACECQA website.

Building Belonging

Recognising that children’s education and care environments provide the ideal setting for children to begin learning about their rights and responsibilities, and to develop respect for those around them, the AHRC worked closely with the sector to develop ‘Building Belonging’.

Building Belonging is a toolkit of resources which includes an eBook, song with actions, educator guide, posters and lesson plans. The resources aim to provide educators with simple and practical ideas on how to handle challenging or confronting questions about racial differences, while also offering children stimulating activities and games to engage them with ideas around cultural diversity.

The toolkit has been designed to cater to both education and care and early primary school settings, developed to support the achievement of learning outcomes under the EYLF and the Australian Curriculum. The resources closely align with the National Quality Standard (NQS) and are linked to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Additionally, these resources support the fulfilment of children’s rights principles set out in the UNCRC.

The toolkit is a valuable resource that can be used to support Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) development and review. It can also assist educators in identifying current strengths and priorities for improvement when tackling the issues of cultural diversity and prejudice.

Food for thought…

Take a moment to consider if, or how, your service has accessed and used this resource in practice. Are there opportunities to incorporate, or extend on the use of this resource to support the development of cultural competence in your service?

Additional resources

The AHRC website promotes and provides a range of educational resources and materials aimed at building a universal culture and understanding of human rights. A recent news article, which may be of particular interest to education and care services, explores the potential effect the disruptions caused by COVID-19 may have on children and the important role educators, teachers, parents and carers play in supporting children’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

Throughout these unprecedented and uncertain times educators and service leaders have shown dedication, resilience and a commitment to continuing to deliver quality education and care to support children and their families. Every children’s education and care service makes ethical choices reflective of their values, and throughout the COVID-19 crisis it has been heartening to see the continued emphasis on the safety, health and wellbeing of children and their rights and best interests remaining paramount.

Thank you for your valued work for Australian children, families and communities during this challenging period.

Further resources

ACECQA – We Hear You – Building Belonging: A toolkit for early childhood educators on cultural diversity and responding to racial prejudice

ACECQA – Reporting requirements about children

Australian Government – The National Office for Child Safety

Australian Human Rights Commission – Child Safe Organisations

UNICEFThe Convention on the Rights of the Child: The child-friendly version

The endless possibilities of using digital devices in OSHC safely

The use of digital devices is prevalent in education today. Smart phones, tablets and laptops are commonplace in classrooms where they are often used to support academic learning and facilitate communication. However, use of these devices is often absent in the planning and implementation of programs in the outside school hours care (OSHC) settings the same children attend.

Excessive screen time is a valid concern and service leaders, educators and families alike may be concerned that the use of digital devices in the service may lead to a culture of unrestricted screen time. However, service leaders and educators are encouraged to reflect on the learning and development opportunities digital devices offer, how they are made available to children, and how they can be used appropriately. It is also important to collaborate with children and families when considering the opportunities.

The benefits for children’s learning

Digital devices offer access to a range of information, programs and software applications. These can provide children with rich, open-ended experiences that nurture creative expression and promote opportunities to extend their learning. The outcomes include school age children developing a host of learning dispositions such as curiosity, perseverance, problem solving and confidence (Framework for School Age Care, Outcome 4, p.33).

Children can enjoy experiences such as:

  • music production – inviting children to compose, record and mix sounds and tracks, or experiment with different sounds
  • photo manipulation – providing children with images to edit
  • animation design – children can use their creativity to tell stories of the day
  • movie editing – educators can support the creation of a film festival where children can script, audition, film and edit short films
  • coding and robotics – workshops and specialised games and activities can be planned to build children’s knowledge of writing scripts and programs.

Many experiences involving the use of digital devices in leisure-based learning can promote a high degree of social interaction, supporting children to collaborate, learn from and help each other (National Quality Standard (NQS), Quality Area 5). When digital devices are used as a basis for collaborative project work, educators can use intentionality in their practices to enhance children’s learning. Quality Area 1 of the NQS refers to intentionality specifically for school age children and how educators can use strategies to extend on children’s learning. This is also explored further in the Framework for School Age Care (Intentionality, p.15). Examples of how educators can be deliberate and purposeful in their practices when children work in groups could include:

  • Facilitating conversations that give children an opportunity to express their ideas in a group setting.
  • Posing challenging questions and assisting children to clarify thinking with each other.
  • Providing support for children to negotiate, compromise and accept different ways of doing and being.
  • Identifying the many ways that children can engage in group decision-making.

Inclusion in processes

As children move through the school age care setting, their capacity for independence and self-direction increases. Educators may observe children’s growing interest in digital devices and may need to respond to requests from children about access to these. Some service leaders and educators may start to look at their own use of technology, and consider ways to include children into some of the processes at the service. Children in OSHC settings may be able to be involved by:

  • recording their own learning and planning experiences using a digital device
  • researching planned experiences
  • assisting with service procedures, such as online grocery shopping or resource purchasing.

Engagement for effective decision-making

Children’s sense of becoming can be further enhanced when educators support children to identify, understand and acknowledge potential risks when using digital devices. Engaging children in this process gives them an opportunity to participate actively in their ongoing learning and make decisions which influence their world. Educators can consider this when initiating open and honest conversations that alert children to potential risks, and provide opportunities to discuss strategies children can use to keep themselves safe online.

Service leaders and educators may wish to consider how they can collaborate with children, families, and their broader school and community connections, to establish guidelines and aspirations that support the use of digital devices both at the service and in the home. This collaboration and consistency will prepare children for their high school years when they frequently engage with these devices, often outside of the supervision of adults.

Reflective questions

Before embracing the use of digital devices, service leaders and educators can thoughtfully consider how they can engage with devices in their unique settings. Some reflective questions to consider may include:

  • How do our philosophy and beliefs about children underpin our leisure-based program? In what ways do our beliefs support the use of digital devices?
  • In what ways can we engage children, families and the broader community regarding the use of digital devices in our service? How can we advocate for the benefit to children’s learning at this time?
  • How can we adjust our practices to make sure the children are given an opportunity to enjoy the learning benefits that come from using digital devices?
  • How can we manage any potential risks associated with the use of these devices?

Additional reading

The value of outdoor learning

In the second of three posts, guest bloggers Kathryn Wetenhall and Rebecca Andrews from John Brotchie Nursery School shared another key strength of their quality practice: effective partnerships with their families and local community.

In this final post of this series, John Brotchie Nursery School showcases the value of outdoor learning for the children at their service.

John Brotchie Nursery School was awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA in May 2020.

Valuing learning in the outdoors

At John Brotchie Nursery School, we created a daily program and natural environments that demonstrate our commitment to the importance of children learning outdoors. The children have big blocks of unhurried time to play and discover in their outdoor environment. Our outdoor play space has lots of natural elements that include trees, plants, rocks, dirt, sand, water, fire and animals. We encourage children to physically challenge themselves and participate in “risky play”. Our children can climb trees, move big boulders, play in the rain, get covered in dirt and regularly leave our gates to go and play in local bushlands through our Bush School program.

We have seen so many benefits for our children through our outdoor play philosophy. Physically our children become fit, strong, healthy and highly coordinated. Emotionally, we see them develop higher resilience and a greater ability to self-regulate. Socially, we see them working cooperatively and showing respect and being more empathetic to their peers. The outdoors gives us opportunities to have meaningful conversations about things that the children are experiencing, feeling and seeing.

Our children have the opportunity to develop a vocabulary that they may not otherwise acquire without these experiences. As we watch plants grow, to count seed pods and learn about natural life cycles, the science and mathematics opportunities present themselves abundantly.

The real life, outdoor learning experiences that our childrenhave every day make learning meaningful, exciting and memorable. We hear children enthusiastically sharing their day with their families, retelling their adventures, and in some cases, their misadventures. We have developed a culture and love for the outdoors. When children arrive at preschool they are ready to play outside come rain, hail or shine. Outdoor, risky, messy play is part of our culture and families expect wet, dirty clothes at the end of the day. Parents and carers pack their child’s bag with ample spare clothes and happily wash and return ready for the next adventure. We also provide clothes for the mud pit, wet weather clothes and gumboots for children and educators so everyone is prepared and able to participate in outdoor play.

Our weekly Bush School program has really developed our appreciation for the outdoors. Children and educators appreciate the many and varied opportunities we have to be outdoors. The educators feel calmer outside and also notice that the children are calmer and engaged when learning outdoors. Our regular visits outside the gate have provided so many wonderful experiences for the children that we just can’t experience inside the gate. Our days out at Bush School really give us that opportunity of unhurried time, a sense of being and an opportunity to connect with nature and each other. Think about natural spaces that you could consider taking the children at your service to; you’ll see their creativity and imagination flourish.

All the educators truly enjoy their job at John Brotchie Nursery School. We have created a space, not only for the children, but for us as educators where we feel a sense of belonging, a place where we have a voice and a sense of agency. We all feel valued and challenged to continuously improve, try new things and make changes. We are very proud of our recent Excellent rating, and we look forward to what the future holds for us as educators, our children and community.

Thank you to Rebecca and Leesa for their contribution and dedication to improving outcomes for children, and for sharing their practices and strategies with ACECQA and the education and care sector.

To find out more about the Excellent Rating, visit the ACECQA website. 

Related resources to build your understanding of outdoor play, and embracing risky play and bush and beach kinder.

Effective partnerships contribute to positive outcomes for children

In the first post of a three part series, guest bloggers Kathryn Wetenhall and Rebecca Andrews from John Brotchie Nursery School shared a key strength of their quality practice: a positive attitude towards continuous improvement.

In this second instalment, educators and teachers from John Brotchie Nursery School discuss how effective partnerships with families, colleagues, organisations and community members contribute to positive outcomes for children at their service.

John Brotchie Nursery School was awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA in May 2020.

Partnerships

Partnerships are an embedded aspect of our preschool culture at John Brotchie. We have developed partnerships with many different organisations, colleagues and community members to enhance educational programs for our children and our service as a whole. These reciprocal relationships provide an opportunity to learn from each other, share ideas and plan for continuous improvement.

Our partnerships begin with our preschool community. Positive relationships with families are established as soon as children are enrolled in our service. We gather information about our families, including their strengths, interests, culture and beliefs. Parents have the opportunity to participate in our program and even become mentors for our educators.

One of our longest running parent mentors has been Jane. Jane is a scientist and has supported the educators to become more confident with embedding science into our preschool curriculum. She has developed our team’s knowledge of scientific concepts and together we have developed experiences for children that Jane and educators implement together. Other parents have been integral in helping educators understand cultural diversity. Donna has supported our educators to understand Jewish traditions and celebrations that her family and community participate in. These are just two examples demonstrating the important role that parents and family play in supporting and mentoring our team.

We also draw on the depth and breadth of knowledge of colleagues within our local community. We have developed networks with local preschools, other education and care services and schools in our area. Networks and professional learning communities enable us to utilise the strengths and knowledge of other professionals. One of our local network groups is with four other NSW departmental preschools. We meet once a term to discuss, reflect and share information about program documentation, policy development and emerging early childhood topics of interest. Working together, we build on our knowledge and implementation of early childhood pedagogy.

Our partnerships extend to the broader community. We have broken down distance barriers by using technology to network with colleagues who are in rural and remote areas. One of our strongest and longest running network groups has been with our colleagues from the Dubbo School of Distance Education and Broken Hill School of the Air, both distance education preschools. We have worked together to further our understanding of Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (EYLF) to support the development of high-quality, play-based programs in these rural and remote regions of NSW.

We believe that this reciprocal partnership has improved learning outcomes for children here at John Brotchie Nursery School and for the children in some of New South Wales’ most remote communities.

We have gained a wealth of knowledge from our partnerships and network groups. Our educators have really valued the reciprocal relationships of network groups and have implemented some wonderful changes to our practices. You might be able to start a network group in your local area for educators and teachers. We encourage you to reach out, call a colleague and introduce yourself!

In the final instalment of our guest blog post series, Kathryn Wetenhall and Rebecca Andrews from John Brotchie Nursery School discuss the value of outdoor learning and describe the many opportunities for outdoor play for children at their service.

Related resources on partnerships