Thinking about applying for the Excellent rating?

We regularly hear of exceptional practice occurring in education and care services however when speaking with educators and providers, many are unsure of what it takes to be rated Excellent by ACECQA. In this We Hear You post, ACECQA provides advice on applying for the rating and we hear tips from the Director of an Excellent rated service, Megan Dodds of KU Corrimal East Preschool.

Services rated Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS) overall are eligible to apply to ACECQA for the highest quality rating – the Excellent rating.

Many of these services are delivering exceptional practice but are hesitant to apply for the Excellent rating, thinking the application process involves a lot of work. While this might be a common first impression, the process needn’t be as time-consuming and complex as you may think. The truly hard work lies in the delivery of exceptional practice.

Choosing to apply for the Excellent rating may involve some internal discussions and as Megan from KU Corrimal East Preschool describes, getting started is a time for reflection.

Once a service has decided to apply, they will need to submit an application which addresses the following criteria:

  1. The service exemplifies and promotes exceptional education and care that improves outcomes for children and families.
  2. The service demonstrates leadership that contributes to the development of a community, a local area, or the wider education and care sector.
  3. The service demonstrates commitment to sustained excellent practice through continuous improvement and comprehensive forward planning.

This is a different process to that carried out by the regulatory authority during assessment and rating as Megan shares.

The application does not need to be lengthy; you can succinctly describe exemplary examples of leadership, environments and/or practices and the resultant quality outcomes for children and families.

For KU Corrimal East Preschool, choosing the themes to respond to was one of the most challenging parts of the application process.

There is no one set formula; each application will be different and assessed in relation to the context of the service and community. The focus is not the amount of information provided or the format you choose to present it in, but rather on the way the application clearly identifies and outlines genuine examples of:

  • leadership, practice and/or environments that address the criteria and themes, and
  • quality outcomes for children, families and communities.

Excellence is contextual; it is about improving outcomes for children, families and communities while connecting with community through strong leadership and a commitment to engaging with continuous improvement on a deep level.

When preparing your application, Megan suggests that you collaborate and network to get other people’s perspectives on the work that you do as this may identify ideas for your application that you had not considered.

ACECQA staff will seek additional information from the relevant regulatory authority and will conduct a teleconference to discuss the application. A visit may also be arranged to verify, clarify or add to the information provided in the application. ACECQA staff are also available to answer questions and guide applicants through the process.

ACECQA has awarded the Excellent rating to a range of services across Australia. Long day care, family day care, outside school hours care, kindergartens and preschools in both city and regional areas and across the range of socio-economic areas have been recognised.

For more information about the application process, take a look at the application criteria and guidelines and the presentation identifying tips on addressing the selection criteria.

Unpacking the planning cycle: Part 3

During the month of September, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring the ongoing planning cycle and documentation – ‘Unpacking the planning cycle’.

In the final instalment of our series, we close the loop on the planning cycle by returning to documentation and records, as well as the practice of evaluating children’s learning and wellbeing using the learning frameworks and educator guides.

Unpacking the planning cycle - blog graphic

Unpacking the planning cycle

Part 3: Closing the loop: Planning, implementing and evaluating

In part two of our series, we looked at Gathering meaningful information, questioning and interpreting the learning. We considered some questions to reflect on about the effectiveness of methods used to capture children’s strengths, interests and relationships over time and to consider whether Element 1.2.1 (Each child’s learning and development is assessed as part of an ongoing cycle of planning, documenting and evaluation) was visible in this process.

This article closes the loop of the planning cycle by returning to children’s records and evaluating children’s learning and wellbeing as well as reflecting on the effectiveness of pedagogy.

The learning frameworks emphasise assessing, planning and documenting children’s learning, development and wellbeing, enabling educators in partnership with children, families and other professionals to:

  • plan effectively for children’s current and future learning/wellbeing
  • communicate about children’s learning and progress
  • determine the extent to which all children are progressing toward realising learning outcomes and if not, what might be impeding their progress
  • identify children who may need additional support to achieve particular learning outcomes, providing that support or assisting families to access specialist help
  • evaluate the effectiveness of learning opportunities, environments and experiences offered and the approaches taken to enable children’s learning/ wellbeing
  • reflect on pedagogy that will suit this context and these children (Early Years Learning Framework, p.17/ Framework for School Age Care, p.16).

The Educator guides to the approved learning frameworks support educators to engage in the planning cycle, with a particular focus on completing the cycle by assessing and evaluating learning and wellbeing. This is a key component of the process and involves educator decision making about the educational program and practice. It involves setting goals and planning experiences, interactions and environments that build on children’s interests, abilities and identities in relation to the learning outcomes.

At this stage, it is helpful to revisit the series of vignettes from article two in this series, which presented examples across a range of different ages. Here, each example showcases a number of methods and techniques to collect information as well as the addition of goals, plans and the evaluation of learning and wellbeing.

unpacking-the-planning-cycle-part-3-fdc-case-study

unpacking-the-planning-cycle-part-3-bihn-case-study

unpacking-the-planning-cycle-part-3-oshc-case-study

Thoughts and ideas for your next team meeting:

  • Where are we in terms of our individual and collective team skills and knowledge about the planning cycle?
  • What does this mean for individual and collective professional development plans?

Resources and further reading

Early Childhood Australia – Planning and documentation video series

Gowrie – Early Years Learning framework –  Assessing children’s learning

ACECQA – Cycle of planning

We hope you have found this blog series informative, thought provoking and a catalyst for quality improvement. If you would like to further investigate Quality Area 1, the webcast of the ACECQA National Workshop Educational program and practice is a great place to start. It provides information and resources, as well as prompts for educators to reflect on their professional development needs.

Read the complete series:

Part 1: Why do we document? Thinking through the what and the how of the cycle of planning for children’s learning, wellbeing and development

Part 2: Gathering meaningful information, questioning and interpreting the learning

Part 3: Closing the loop: Planning, implementing and evaluating

Inspiring Excellent practice

Educators often ask how they can implement practice from Excellent rated services. Megan Alston, the manager of ACECQA’s Educational Leadership & Excellence team, explains that excellence is driven by context and describes how services can learn from highly accomplished programs, partnerships and practices.

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One of the purposes of the Excellent rating is for our sector to learn from and be inspired by examples of highly accomplished practice, innovation and creativity in education and care. It’s one of the reasons why ACECQA shares examples of practice from Excellent rated services.

Sometimes it’s obvious why practice we’ve shared is excellent, because the example is so new, fresh, interesting and creative. At other times we describe highly accomplished practice, but the example might not sound so remarkable. This can be because a practice that achieves outstanding outcomes at one service may be out of place at another. Excellence is driven by context.

You might be wondering, if excellence is context dependent, then how does ACECQA identify highly accomplished practice? How can excellence be achieved or explained? Is it more than a matter of simply copying a project that another service has done?

While there is a lot to learn from hearing about programs, partnerships and practices of Excellent rated services, there is even more to learn from the process used to identify, implement, evaluate and adapt these programs and practices. When you consider the process, it becomes clearer that highly accomplished practice can be delivered in any setting and will more often than not reflect the setting it is in.

This process tends to involve:

  1. Developing a deep understanding of the service’s children and families, and the community in which they live
  2. Implementing programs, practices and partnerships that support the circumstances, strengths, needs, and interests of the children and families that attend the service
  3. Reviewing, adjusting and extending programs, practices and partnerships
  4. Knowing things are working because the programs, partnerships and programs improve outcomes for the children and families attending the service.

These four areas are explored below including examples from services rated Excellent by ACECQA.

Understanding

In highly accomplished services, there is a demonstrated deep understanding of the circumstances, strengths, capabilities and interests of the children and families who attend the service.  This deep understanding can be developed in a number of ways:

  • Discussions with children and families, including conversations, surveys, forms and information nights
  • Working collaboratively with professionals such as health experts who bring a different perspective and understanding of the children and families attending the service
  • Undertaking, reading or participating in research that reveals information about the children and families attending the service.

Educators and other staff who use some or all of these techniques build a complex understanding of the children and families. They are then in a position to implement targeted programs, practices and partnerships that improve education outcomes.

Baxter Kindergarten and Children’s Centre uses socio economic and census data to learn about families in its area. The service examined the available information and, understanding that many families in the area work during weekends, introduced an extended hours program to meet the needs of the community.

At exceptional services, educators and staff also know and understand the environment and community in which they operate. They identify organisations and build community partnerships to support and enrich the experiences of children and families.

Gowrie Victoria Docklands implemented an extensive “community connections excursion program” to build and maintain children’s connections with the service’s local community after learning that only 31% of families who attend the service live locally.

Implementing

In highly accomplished services, educators and other staff engage in deep critical reflection. They implement, review and adapt programs, practices and partnerships and can define and describe the improvements that flow to children and families. By working in partnership with families, children and the community they can research and seek out options, work with and learn from other professionals and access training to help them accomplish their goals.

Knowing that many of the families using the service are mining families, Bundaberg Family Day Care developed a resources pack called FIFO-DIDO-BIBO (Fly In Fly Out – Drive In Drive Out – Bus In Bus Out) containing strategies for families to support their children while a parent is away from home. Further to this, after figures revealed high rates of obesity in Bundaberg the service developed a free school holiday program to promote healthy lifestyles and physical activity within the community.

Taking advantage of its local surroundings and through investigating strategies to energise children’s play, Pelican Waters implemented a ‘Bush and Beach Kindy’ program to develop children’s understanding of the local land and extend their nature-based play.

Bribie Island Community Kindergarten involved families with the design and construction of the outdoor area of the service; ideas were suggested which educators have researched further and re-designed to fit the space. Families also made or donated resources including a thongaphone, learning circle, pipe track and bush telephone.

Reviewing

In highly accomplished services, educators critically reflect on their programs, practices and partnerships and adapt and extend these where needed to achieve better outcomes.

After identifying a need for hearing impaired children, Albury Preschool secured a grant to install a Soundfield Amplification System to assist children with hearing impairments to learn. The service then partnered with Charles Sturt University to undertake its own research project to measure how the amplification system positively benefits all children.

Addressing high levels of disadvantage in the local community, Swallowcliffe operates multiple integrated programs to improve education outcomes. Educators and staff phone families weekly to follow up on non-attendance or share good news stories about their child’s achievements.

University of Western Australia Early Learning Centre (UWA ELC) participated in a research project on sign language for babies. Noticing improvements for children from increased bonding with families and educators, the service extended this by introducing video clips with more words and some families took classes to implement signing at home.

Improving

Educators and staff at highly accomplished services identify targets and know when they have improved outcomes for children and families. They can clearly define and share these.

Globe Wilkins established relationships with Wunanbiri Preschool and the Multi Mix Mob to strengthen the embedding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives at the service. This resulted in more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families enrolling with the service.

When ACECQA assesses applications for the Excellent rating we look for innovation and creativity, but also for practice that is highly accomplished. We look at how:

  • educators and staff at the service understand the children and families and the environment in which they live
  • the service’s practices, projects and partnerships are tailored to take into account and build on the unique circumstances and strengths of the children and families
  • the educators and staff at the service partner with children, families and community agencies to create exceptional outcomes.

The process used by highly accomplished services – to identify, implement, evaluate and adapt programs and practices – can be implemented in any service type, whether it is big or small or based in a city, suburb or regional area.

Remember, exceptional practice is one aspect of the Excellent rating criteria. Excellent rated services also demonstrate leadership that develops a local area, community or the sector and demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement and comprehensive forward planning.

See the ACECQA website for more information about the Excellent rating.

Unpacking the planning cycle: Part 2

During the month of September, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring the ongoing planning cycle and documentation – ‘Unpacking the planning cycle’.

In this second instalment, we extend our discussion about documentation to consider the information you are collecting and the way it is used to understand and add value to learning outcomes for children.

Unpacking the planning cycle - blog graphic

Unpacking the planning cycle

Part 2: Gathering meaningful information, questioning and interpreting the learning

In our last instalment, we looked at Why do we document? Thinking through the what and the how of the cycle of planning for children’s learning, wellbeing and development. We left you with some questions to reflect on how you document, plan and critically reflect on children’s learning/wellbeing in relation to Element 1.2.1: Each child’s learning and development is assessed as part of an ongoing cycle of planning, documenting and evaluation.

The Guide to the National Quality Standard highlights what the National Quality Standard (NQS) aims to achieve with this Element:

Educators use a variety of strategies to collect, document, organise, synthesise and interpret the information that they gather to assess children’s learning. They search for appropriate ways to collect rich and meaningful information that depicts children’s learning in context, describes their progress and identifies their strengths, skills and understandings (p. 38).

ACECQA’s Using the early years planning cycle takes educators through the process of critical reflection, providing practice examples as well as linking the planning cycle back to service philosophy.

In part two we ask you to consider the information you are collecting, how meaningful it is and the way it is analysed and used to interpret each child’s learning. It is important to remember the reason you are collecting information – it needs to add value to outcomes for children.

The following series of vignettes present examples across a range of different ages. Below each case study are questions to encourage educators to focus on the meaningful aspects that might inform the planning cycle. They showcase a range of methods and techniques of collecting information as well as questions and ideas to draw out learning. Remember, there is no one way of documenting – these vignettes are presented as just one example of the planning cycle.

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Questioning and interpreting the learning:

  • What does this information tell us about the way children under three learn?
  • How does this learning affect the way we plan opportunities and environments?
  • How can we further support Jade in transferring and adapting learning and support her agency and interactions?

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Questioning and interpreting the learning:

  • What does this information tell us about Bihn‘s sense of belonging, connectedness and wellbeing?
  • How can we build on the knowledge and understandings that Bihn has developed?
  • How can we support Bihn’s increasing capacity for self-regulation and provide opportunities for him to engage independently with tasks and play?

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Questioning and interpreting the learning:

  • How can we support these children to find effective ways of communicating their concerns and to collaborate with others?
  • In what ways are we supporting children’s understanding of interdependence and how can we facilitate this sense of ownership and belonging within the program?

Thoughts and ideas for your next team meeting:

  • How do we know what is meaningful information and what is not?
  • How effective are your processes for capturing and recording information about children’s strengths, interests, relationships and learning over a period of time?

Resources and further reading

Child Australia – Effective Curriculum Planning and Documentation Methods in Education and Care Services

Early Childhood Australia – Case studies: Documenting children’s learning and development

ACECQA – We Hear You – How we document: Albury Out of School Hours Care

Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework: Practice Principle Guide – Assessment for Learning and Development

Read the complete series:

Part 1: Why do we document? Thinking through the what and the how of the cycle of planning for children’s learning, wellbeing and development

Part 2: Gathering meaningful information, questioning and interpreting the learning

Part 3: Closing the loop: Planning, implementing and evaluating

Unpacking the planning cycle: Part 1

During the month of September, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring the ongoing planning cycle and documentation – ‘Unpacking the planning cycle’.

In the first instalment, we consider the challenges and requirements of Quality Area 1 and Element 1.2.1 and the why, what and how of planning for children’s learning, wellbeing and development.

Unpacking the planning cycle - blog graphic

Unpacking the planning cycle

Many educators are finding Element 1.2.1 – Each child’s learning and development is assessed as part of an ongoing cycle of planning, documenting and evaluation – one of the most challenging, according to national assessment and rating data analysis.

Is it because educators struggle to articulate practice and why we document? Or could it be that they are not sure about what is required in relation to Quality Area 1: Educational Program and Practice? Or is it a question of not being sure about how to assess children’s learning and development as part of a cycle of planning?

We hear from some educators that, at times, they feel documentation is onerous and time consuming. ACECQA is keen to share examples of practice such as those showcased in EYLF in Action: Educators’ stories and models for practice and celebrate the wonderful work that educators are doing to contribute to children’s learning and wellbeing. We recognise there is a wide variety of experience within our readership and we encourage you to engage with the Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework and Educators’ Guide to the Framework for School Age Care to take a deeper look at the planning cycle involving questioning philosophy and theory.

Over the course of the next few ACECQA blog posts, we will present a series to assist in unpacking and clarifying the requirements of the National Quality Framework (NQF), revisiting and building familiarity with legislative requirements under Quality Area 1. We hope this series will be used by educators to feel empowered and increase their knowledge and understanding of the requirements of the National Quality Standard (NQS) in relation to Element 1.2.1 and the cycle of planning in particular.

Part 1: Why do we document? Thinking through the what and the how of the cycle of planning for children’s learning, wellbeing and development

When we think about planning, we should be thinking about the full planning cycle and keep in mind that documentation is only one part of that process. The focus should be on gathering, analysing and interpreting information that is:

  • rich and meaningful, and not simply a description of what children are doing
  • relevant to individual children, while capturing their identity, culture and what they are investigating and exploring
  • focused on achievements and children’s strengths, what children know, can do and understand.

Often we hear about educators, nominated supervisors and approved providers being caught up in the myth of what documentation and the planning cycle should look like rather than knowing or understanding the requirements. While these are not new concepts, for some, the purpose of documentation may have been lost along the way.

Let’s revisit why it is important to engage in the cycle of planning, starting with the requirements of the NQS. Quality Area 1 and Standard 1.2 especially require educators and coordinators to be focused, active and reflective in designing and delivering the program for each child. This involves a wide range of practices including:

  • observing children and gathering meaningful information about children’s current knowledge, identity and culture to assess their learning and progress, a crucial step in planning meaningful learning experiences
  • interpreting the learning and setting goals for individual and group learning
  • involving families in decision making
  • planning for further learning that supports children as capable, competent people with agency and the ability to make choices and decisions
  • engaging with the principles, practices and outcomes of approved learning frameworks
  • critically reflecting on children’s learning and development in a collaborative way with colleagues to affirm and challenge practices.

Now let’s move to what is required under Quality Area 1 to inform the planning cycle.

The Education and Care Services National Law requires services to deliver a program that is based on an approved learning framework and takes into account the learning needs and interests of each child (Section 168). Assessments or evaluations are also expected to support the delivery of the program for children according to the Education and Care Services National Regulations.

For children preschool age and under the focus is on:

  • assessments of developmental needs, interests, experiences, participation and progress against the outcomes of the program (Regulation 74(1a)).

For school age children the focus is on:

  • evaluation of the child’s wellbeing, development and learning (Regulation 74(1b)).

In either case, the amount of documentation depends on how often and for how long children attend a service (Regulation 74(2a)). The program must be displayed (Regulation 75a) and information about the content, operation and the child’s participation must be provided to parents on request (Regulation 76).

The Early Years Learning Framework in Action: Educators’ stories and models for practice provides a wide range of examples and techniques for recording and documenting the planning cycle, including journals, jottings, electronic records and online programs.

In thinking about why we plan and document the way we do, you might want to consider the following questions at your next team meeting.

Thoughts and ideas for your next team meeting:

  • How do you currently document and why do you do it the way you do?
  • What theories inform the ways you organise your documentation? (Refer to the Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework, 54-57 and Educators’ Guide to the Framework for School Age Care, p.21-24.)
  • How have you critically reflected on and evaluated the program?

Resources and further reading

ACECQA – Occasional Paper 1 – Educational Program and Practice: An analysis of Quality Area 1 of the National Quality Standard

ACECQA – Information sheet: Guidelines for documenting children’s learning

ACECQA – We Hear You – ACECQA helps unlock the door on documentation

Read the complete series:

Part 1: Why do we document? Thinking through the what and the how of the cycle of planning for children’s learning, wellbeing and development

Part 2: Gathering meaningful information, questioning and interpreting the learning

Part 3: Closing the loop: Planning, implementing and evaluating

Why are we so afraid to march to the beat of our own drum?

This month on We Hear You, Meghan Woods, an early childhood teacher and member of the Educational Leadership Working Group at Gumnut Cottage, located on the campus of Macquarie University in Sydney, reflects on the important role of a service’s philosophy and the key issue that might be driving practice in early childhood education and care services across Australia.

ACECQA Newsletter - August 2016 - Content - Meghan Woods - Gumnut Cottage photo #2

In the last year I have had the opportunity to attend a variety of different professional training sessions. Meeting educators from all across NSW, I recently found myself reflecting on a recurring driver in all of our conversations. While there was always passion, energy and knowledge, there was often also a sense of fear. Regardless of the topic of conversation, this fear, this anxiety, was lurking in the background. At times, it was underlying in our conversations, at others it was clearly articulated: “Is what we are doing right?”

My reflections seemed to be suggesting that there is an underlying anxiety in some early childhood educators around their pedagogy, the programs they are delivering and how they are documenting their practice, as well as the way this might affect their rating as a quality early childhood service.

Today, I was sitting in our outdoor space when I was handed a book by Caspar, one of the two-year-olds in my class. His smile said that he wanted to share this book with me. So we found a spot on a rug and began to read.

Many of you would be familiar with this book – Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees. As I began to read, I couldn’t help but smile. The story had me drawing a direct parallel between my earlier reflections and the tale of a giraffe who had no confidence in his ability to dance, and who, with the support of a wise cricket, discovered he could be the best dancer once he found the right music.

So, how can we as educators find the music that we need to be the best we can be?

I believe that our music can be found in our service’s philosophy. The philosophy is the one document in a service that is unique and only applicable to that service. It communicates the distinctive rhythm and beat that is created when we work together with children, their families and our team of educators.

With that in mind, here is my challenge to our leaders in early childhood services: Does your philosophy clearly communicate the distinctive rhythm of your community? We need more leaders who can embrace their inner wise cricket and help us all to establish the music that we need to be our best dancers/educators.

Our responsibility as educators is to find the music that allows us to be the best dancers we can be.

Are we salsa dancers, ballroom dancers, jazz dancers, tap dancers, break dancers or head bang along to 80s rock dancers?  With so many styles of music, how can we be sure which is the right one for us?

Music can be so varied, however it still contains fundamental elements. In all music, you find components such as rhythm, melody, harmony, dynamics, texture, tone or colour. In this same way, our approaches to our teaching, documentation, programs and practices need to be underpinned by our fundamentals – the regulations, the Early Years Learning Framework and current research. We need to be mindful that our music must also be reflective of our community and sector. It is dynamic in nature. It is an expression of who we are and what we value.

As a sector, we need to be like a good radio station – we need to be broadcasting and celebrating the unique role that early childhood education services play within the Australian community. We have a deep connection with a huge number of families and work in partnership with them to nurture the future generations of the Australian community.

Exploring and connecting with nature

Educators at Goodstart Red Hill had long admired forest kindergartens from afar, never really considering how that might look in an Australian setting. Then they realised they had an amazing and diverse environment right on their doorstep. Skye Devereaux, Early Childhood Teacher and Educational Leader, writes this month on how Goodstart Red Hill developed their Nature Space program.

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The Educational Leadership team at Red Hill had a goal to provide all our children with regular opportunities to connect with nature and develop a sense of wonder, curiosity and respect for the environment around them. We wanted children to develop a love for nature and the world in which they live, in the hope that they have a strong connection with the environment they grow up in and, maybe one day, will figure out how to fix the environmental issues they inherit.

The planning process was extensive, spanning many months from when the idea was born in late 2013. We identified a nearby wild space with access to Ithaca Creek, which our service backs on to, and a wonderful enclosed forest space. Excursion plans were completed, along with a variety of risk and benefit assessments for the different activities we imagined would take place. We consulted with the Goodstart Health and Safety Team, seeking advice and guidance. The Red Hill educational team participated in training with Nikki Buchan, an educational consultant, on bush schools and the benefits of wild nature play. An event was then held to inform parents about the Nature Space program where we invited feedback and answered questions.

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After this preparation we began taking small, mixed age, focus groups of children to the wild space, observing how they engaged in the space and the supports they (and we) needed.

We hosted a weekend Clean Up Australia Day event with our families, introducing them to the wild space. Fifty people from our learning community attended and our risk and benefit assessments were displayed through the wild space.

At the end of February 2014, we began taking whole class groups out to the wild space. Each class, from toddler through to kindergarten, ventured out for one morning each week between 10am and 11.30am. We packed our little red wagon with first aid essentials, water bottles and baskets for collecting, and let the natural environment seize our imaginations and guide our play.

Since beginning our nature play program, the children at Red Hill are noticeably more confident and resilient learners, with an adventurous, enquiry based approach to learning. Through their play in the wild space they have become proficient at self-risk assessment, and approach risky play with careful consideration and minimal, respectful support from their peers and teachers.

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The children have learned to slow down and spend time to look, watch and wonder. The Nature Space program allows time for the children to imagine and create using only what the environment provides. A log becomes a baby, crushed bark some snow and a bouncing log becomes a rocket, a horse or a broomstick.

Children willingly collaborate and support one another in the challenges presented with determined perseverance and confidence in their eventual success, if not this week then perhaps the next. The older children, now with several years of play experience in the space, share their stories and pass down skills to the younger children and so each new year group learns about the Magical Forest, Sunshine Hill and The Giant’s Chair, each named by children who have now passed through the dense trees and leafy carpet for a final time. They are creating new, oral histories but at the same time are curious about the original occupants of the space, wondering what came before.

In the two and a half years since the program launched, the way we inhabit the space has changed somewhat. As the environment and our knowledge of it have developed, so too has our play. While our time was initially focussed on the creek and Sunshine Hill, now we play almost exclusively in the forest.

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Make believe play has emerged as the prevailing form during the visits, with games and ideas carrying over weeks and even months.

Mindfulness has become a focus of the groups’ visits with children engaged in before and after practices of being, reflecting on their presence in time and space.

Our hope continues to be that these children will grow up with fond childhood memories of their time spent in this space with us, and leave us having developed a strong connection to and understanding of the world around them.