Seven metres squared

In addition to promoting physical activity, engaging outdoor learning environments play a significant role in the development of children’s behavioural and social skills.

This month on We Hear You, we explore the importance of outdoor play in a world that is becoming increasingly technological and outline the requirements for outdoor environments in education and care services.

In a world where play is becoming more sedimentary and screen-based, how can we maximise play and learning in the outdoor environment? In studies on children’s perspectives in the outdoor environment, the children found the outdoor environment to be a place which offers the opportunity to pretend, socialise, observe and move (Merewether, 2015). Research has also identified that some educators view the outdoor environment only as a place for gross motor activities with inherent risks (Leggett & Newman, 2017).

All centre based education and care services must provide access to unencumbered outdoor space that is at least seven square metres for each child (Regulation 108 (2)). All services, including family day care and outside school hours care, should allow children to explore and experience a natural environment (Regulation 113) that is adequately shaded (Regulation 114).

The rise in the interest in forest schools, beach, river and bush kindergartens have seen educators and children exploring outdoor learning environments, outside the realm of their service fence or family day care backyard. It’s outdoors in which children learn that many environments are fragile. Children become aware of how we can treasure and show respect for these spaces (Robertson, 2011) while also becoming socially responsible and showing respect and care for the environment in which they live and learn.

The learning frameworks reinforce the notion that engaging in play and leisure outdoors allows children to develop their emerging autonomy, independence, resilience, their understanding of the inter-dependence of living things and their sense of agency (adapted from the Early Years Learning Framework, p. 21; and the Framework for School Age Care, p. 20).

Outdoors, children move and play in different ways – there is a lot to see, hear, touch, experience, explore and even taste when playing outdoors.

The outdoor environment provides children with the ability to engage with the natural world and explore nature and concepts through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning. The possibilities for a child to learn about their world is endless while playing outdoors, as are the opportunities for educators to scaffold learning, curiosity and development.

Outdoor play promotes children’s physical and psychological development through physical activities and play experiences that are challenging, extend thinking and offer opportunities to assess and take appropriate risks. It is important for educators to undertake risk benefit analyses to understand when and what risky play can benefit children’s learning, outweighing the risk and minimising any unacceptable or unnecessary risks. Educators can scaffold school age children to consider the foreseeable risk of an activity of their choice, against the benefits of a stimulating play outdoor environment (Guide to the NQF).

In response to the growing body of research which identifies the health risks for children resulting from an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, the Australian Government guidelines on physical activity provide guidance on the amount of physical activity children should be engaging in. At least seven square metres per child is more than a calculation, and providing access to the natural environment is more than being outdoors. Interesting and engaging outdoor space promises endless possibilities and opportunities for children to create their own learnings, test their theories, identify and build their capabilities, use their imaginations to construct and create and work collaboratively with others, while building a respect for and valuing of the natural environment.

A topic for the next team meeting could be to consider strategies to further enhance the learning outcomes in the outdoor environment.

References

Leggett, N. & Newman, L. (2017). ‘Challenging educators’ beliefs about play in the indoor and outdoor environment.’ Australian journal of early childhood, 42 (1), pp. 24-32.

Mereweather, J. (2015). ‘Young children’s perspectives of outdoor learning spaces: What matters?’ Australian journal of early childhood, 40(1), pp. 99-108.

Robertson, J. (2011). ‘Who needs a forest?’ Rattler, 99, pp. 10-13.

Understanding and exploring educational leadership

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone shares her insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest. 

‘Developing and supporting teams to achieve the best outcomes for children is at the very heart of educational leadership’ (ACECQA)

Educational leaders are highly valued and instrumental in establishing, delivering, maintaining and continually improving quality education and care for Australia’s children. ACECQA’s The Educational Leader Resource and accompanying videos provide insights into, and perspectives of, the role through the eyes of educational leaders, academics and service leaders.

In this blog, we’ll be unpacking Part Two of the Resource: A model for understanding and exploring educational leadership.

In this part of the Resource, we are introduced to the Educational Leadership Model (ELM) as a way to analyse and advocate for the role within our own services and the wider Australian context. The dimensions of the ELM are described first in terms of what they mean for an educational leader and then explored in more detail by five leading Australian academics. They examine the dimensions from their own perspectives, sharing research insights and practical suggestions.

The ELM invites educational leaders to broaden their thinking and reflect on the role as one that requires growth and development of key capabilities. The model assists those who are interested in imagining the possibilities of the role for themselves, as professionals, while also maintaining the responsibilities of the role, under the National Law. The ELM has been designed to support educational leaders in empowering the educator teams in diverse settings, as they enrich and promote children’s learning and wellbeing.

The ELM comprises four key elements – knowledge, professionalism, relationships and reflection – that intersect and form the foundation of educational leadership.

Knowledge

Professor Frances Press unpacks what an educational leader needs to know, the different types of knowledge, and how it is used and developed. She considers the way knowledge changes over time according to the context of where we work, where we live and where we are in our own lives. When we think about knowledge, it is helpful to think about the category and type of knowledge that we use in our work with children and families.

A category of knowledge includes information, evidence and understanding and recognising that the types of knowledge central to our work with children, families and educators includes pedagogical, theoretical and contextual knowledge. Continuing to build your knowledge and sharing your knowledge is important – as an educational leader, it is important that you support and promote this in your educator team.

Reflective questions

    • What do you need to know about the children, families and educators as an educational leader?
    • What do you already know, and who do you share this with?
    • How might you actively, respectfully and regularly build the type of knowledge you need?

 

Professionalism

The process of setting the tone for professionalism begins with educational leaders thinking of themselves as professionals with ethical responsibilities to which they hold themselves accountable. Professionalism is also about advocating for the place of effective educational programs and practice in the delivery of children’s education and care. From time to time, it might mean taking courageous action and having the capacity to speak up for children’s right to quality education.

Dr Lennie Barblett outlines further how educators demonstrate their professionalism in their everyday work, through their relationships with children, families, colleagues and community members. An educational leader isn’t just a professional – he or she is someone who uses their developed professionalism to lead educator teams as they connect with each other to build a positive organisational culture where learning is key.

Reflective questions

    • Think of an example of someone who demonstrates outstanding professional leadership skills. What qualities, attributes and dispositions does this person demonstrate to make them outstanding?
    • What dispositions do you consider important to role model and demonstrate in your work in the service? (Examples could include: honesty, respect for others.)

 

Relationships

Much of what is prescribed and promoted as fundamental to the educational leader role, and is vital for bringing ideas to fruition, relies on effective and collaborative relationships. More than just gaining agreement, collegial and collaborative relationships promote a shared vision of quality practices that stand the test of time.

Professor Andrea Nolan shares with readers a greater understanding of the foundations that we need to build and maintain effective relationships. Some examples include motivation, a sense of empowerment, team leadership and strong communication skills. A respectful and trusting relationship is established through the use of non-judgemental communication and by ensuring confidentiality (Nolan & Molla, 2017), where educators feel a sense of comfort to freely and reflectively critique practice.

Reflective questions

    • How effective are your current relationships with educators and service management?
    • How can you collaborate with other educators to build meaningful and trusting relationships within the service?

 

Reflection

This dimension of the ELM recognises that educational leaders are reflective professionals who consider the impact of their work and that of others, on children, families, colleagues and the wider education and care community. Reflection is essential to the everyday work of an educational leader, however it isn’t always easy to undertake.

Dr Jennifer Cartmel and Dr Marilyn Casley remind us that reflection features in our approved learning frameworks as a guiding principle and practice of children’s education and care. Reflection is an important skill of the educational leader, one that is supported by the other dimensions of the ELM, in particular, the building of quality relationships and a professional learning community. Remember, reflective practice is enhanced through quality relationships as educator teams find common ground and create partnerships that provide high quality environments in which children grow and develop to their full potential.

Reflective questions

    • What is my knowledge of the process of engaging in (and recording) reflection and how can I support this in others?
    • What questions can I develop to help others in my team to reflective meaningfully on their own practice?

 

Throughout the blog, we’ve posed reflective questions you can use to further build your understanding and experience with each dimension of the ELM.

I encourage you to explore the four dimensions of the ELM, what they mean for you as an educational leader and how you might further develop the key capabilities of knowledge, professionalism, relationships and reflection. The deeper unpacking of the four dimensions in The Educational Leader Resource by leading researchers and academics is useful to support you on your continuous improvement journey.

Further reading and resources

The importance of self-assessment in a culture of continuous quality improvement

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone shares her insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest. 

‘Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning’ – Benjamin Franklin

The National Quality Framework (NQF) provides a national approach to quality improvement for education and care services across Australia. A key objective of the NQF is to promote continuous improvement in the provision of quality education and care services, with one of its six guiding principles focused on the expectation that best practice underpins service provision.

Self-assessment is fundamental to an effective cycle of quality improvement and is essential to providing quality outcomes for children and families. It is an important first step in the quality assessment and rating process, incorporating continuous self-assessment, the development and implementation of a Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), assessment and rating by the state or territory regulatory authority and the publication of quality ratings, which aims to raise quality and drive continuous improvement and consistency in education and care services.

What is self-assessment? 

All education and care services must complete self-assessment to inform the development of a QIP. The Education and Care Services National Regulations (Reg.55 (1) (a)) requires the approved provider of an education and care service to prepare a QIP, which includes assessment of the quality of practices against the NQS and the regulations. The need for an effective self-assessment and quality improvement process to support continuous improvement is also recognised in the National Quality Standard (NQS). Element 7.2.1 aims to support services to regularly monitor and review their performance to guide planning and improve service quality.

Self-assessment is about critically reflecting and evaluating your service practice, recognising strengths and identifying opportunities for improvement. It should provide an honest account and informed picture of your unique service context, your current practice and the quality of education and care experienced by children and families attending your service.

The self-assessment process is the starting point for determining and planning quality improvements within your education and care service. The outcomes of your self-assessment should directly inform the development of your QIP. There should be clear links between your service’s self-assessment documentation and identified priorities for attention in your QIP.

Remember: Your self-assessment identifies areas for improvement and your QIP can then be used to prioritise these improvements.

The narrative of quality improvement

It is important that all members of your education and care service community have an awareness of the process and requirements of self-assessment. Moreover, how this process directly informs, shapes and prioritises your service’s unique narrative, and ongoing journey, of quality improvement.

The diagram below provides a useful visual reference detailing the self-assessment process. It shows self-assessment as a comprehensive cyclical process involving five steps: critical reflection of your service philosophy, self-assessment of service practice against the NQS and the regulatory requirements, identification of strengths and opportunities for quality improvement, transferal of outcomes of the self-assessment to inform the development or update of your service QIP and review and reflection of the self-assessment process. This diagram, and further information on the role of self-assessment in driving reflection and determining quality improvements, can be accessed within ACECQA’s Self-assessment Tool.

Documenting your story of continuous improvement

It is important to remember that while it is not a requirement that self-assessment documentation is submitted to the regulatory authority, you must be able to demonstrate that the self-assessment has informed the development and review of the QIP.

ACECQA, in response to sector feedback, has developed a Self-assessment Tool to support education and care services to document their unique story of continuous quality improvement.

The Self-assessment Tool is a free optional resource suitable for all service types and provides a ‘starting point’ for planning to improve quality outcomes for children and families. Services may choose to apply or adapt the Self- Assessment Tool in a way that meets the needs of their unique service context.

The Self-assessment Tool offers a process aimed at helping services to identify strengths, areas of compliance, practices that are Exceeding the NQS, and areas and opportunities for quality improvement. It is also designed to complement and contribute to the development, review and update of your service QIP. The ACECQA Information Sheet Developing and reviewing your Quality Improvement Plan provides more information on the link between these documents.

The Self-assessment Tool provides one approach to documenting your quality improvement journey. However, it is important to remember that use of the ACECQA Self-assessment Tool is not a mandated requirement and approved providers, service leaders and educators are encouraged to choose a process and format that suits their unique service context, community, and self-assessment and planning approach.

Note: An optional Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) template is available on the ACECQA website for download. The template has recently been updated to include the three Exceeding NQS themes and quick links to resources for each NQS quality area.

Reflecting on the quality of your practice

Self-assessment requires all members of your service team to understand the NQS and the related regulatory requirements to effectively reflect on and evaluate current service practice, policies and procedures.

The Guide to the National Quality Framework is a comprehensive reference document designed to help education and care providers, service leaders, educators and authorised officers understand and apply NQF. It is a vital tool in supporting the self-assessment process within your service.

Section 3 of the Guide provides useful information on the assessment and rating process – including self-assessment and quality improvement. This section also provides a guide to the NQS including introductory statements for each quality area, standard and element that describe the intent and how practices contribute to quality outcomes for all children and families. The guide to the NQS references regulatory requirements underpinning each element and includes a set of reflective questions, for each standard of each NQS quality area, that serve as useful prompts and a natural starting point for critical reflection on the ‘how’, ‘what’ and ‘why’ of your service practice.

What else could be considered?

Additional information, research and data may also be considered and contribute to effective self-assessment, examples may include:

    • Guiding principles of the NQF
    • Approved learning frameworks
    • Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) community profile information
    • Contemporary research
    • Action research
    • Professional standards e.g. Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics
    • Best practice guidelines e.g. Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Children
    • Service data e.g. incidents, complaints, maintenance registers etc.
    • Feedback from regular surveys provided by children, families, educators and/or the broader community etc.
    • Compliance history
    • Previous self-assessment, quality improvement plans and assessment and rating reports/outcomes

Remember, the ACECQA website is a useful repository of free and easily accessible information that can help you to navigate and implement the NQF.

 

Self-assessment is a continuous process – ‘there’s always room for improvement’

Aristotle reminds us that ‘we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit’. Under the NQF, education and care services are encouraged to continuously focus on quality improvement. Continuous improvement, as the name suggests, involves constantly re-examining and improving practice – finding a rhythm that works for your service and making change for the better. Remember, continuous improvement isn’t about setting a high pace –  some of the biggest differences can be made through small, incremental improvements done consistently.

A key strength of the NQF is that it supports education and care services to commit to best practice and engage in ongoing critical reflection and self-assessment (as a matter of habit) to inform professional judgements and drive continuous quality improvement. Importantly, these regular habits or patterns of behaviour, when engaged in with mutual respect and collaboration, can assist in establishing a positive organisational culture focused on quality and improved outcomes for children and families.

Self-assessment is fundamental in planning for and moving towards quality improvement. Without such processes, it is difficult to gain a clear, authentic picture of what you do well and identify the areas that should be prioritised for quality improvement. However, while self-assessment is often a ‘starting point’ for reflecting on and improving current practice, it is not an ‘end point’ finalised once current service practice has been evaluated.

To be most effective, self-assessment should be a continuous, regular and systematic process of critical reflection. This requires an ongoing commitment on behalf of education and care services and teams to attend to critical reflection, analyse practice and be open to the possibility of change motivated by quality improvement and the best interests of children and families. How this is reflected in practice will look different for each service.

A collaborative process and a shared vision  

The National Regulations (Regulations 55 and 56) require the approved provider of an education and care service to prepare, review and revise a QIP. However, it is not expected that they are solely responsible for all the work, decisions or outcomes. Rather self-assessment and quality improvement planning will benefit from being a shared and collaborative process engaging everyone: the approved provider, nominated supervisor, service leaders and management, coordinators, educational leaders, educators and other service staff.

Your service’s journey of self-assessment and quality improvement should also provide an opportunity for collaboration with and input from children, families and the broader community. Each member of your service team, families, children and the community will bring different perspectives, opinions and perceptions and have something unique to offer.

A continuous, regular and systematic process of critical reflection and self-assessment can provide a rich opportunity for professional development, learning and the building of professional competency within your service. When conducted as a collaborative process of professional inquiry, self-assessment can support educators to more confidently articulate practice, share ideas, pedagogical beliefs, knowledge, and opportunities for improvement at your service. Further, a regular and coordinated approach to self-assessment can build a spirit of collegiality and professionalism, support the building of shared professional knowledge, understanding and skills and the development of shared goals and vision. When all members of an education and care service have consistency of purpose and understand what is guiding their practice, they can work together for continuous quality improvements to enhance outcomes for children.

With this in mind, why not take this opportunity to reflect on your service’s self-assessment processes by identifying both strengths and areas for improvement. Consider the following reflective questions:

  • Is a commitment to ongoing self-assessment and continuous quality improvement reflected in your service philosophy?
  • Is self-assessment an ongoing, regular and systematic process? If not, how could practice be adapted?
  • Are all members of your service community invited to have a voice, participate in and be represented in the self-assessment process?
  • How do your self-assessment processes support educators to confidently articulate professional knowledge, values and practice?
  • How does your self-assessment process support professional collaboration (element 4.2.1)?
  • How are self-assessment and a focus on continuous quality improvement embedded into your service culture?

Further reading and resources to support your practice

Understanding critical reflection

Donna Morley, Director of KU Lance Children’s Centre, explains why educators should embrace professional learning opportunities to inform the way they critically reflect. 

KU Lance was awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA in March 2018. 

‘Critical reflection’ is a common phrase in early childhood education that can often be misinterpreted and underestimated. As a Centre Director, I have run into experiences where staff have advised me that they have completed their critical reflection on children’s learning and the program, when in fact they have simply stated what happened during an activity or perhaps observed some progress in the child’s development and planned a new experience based on their observations. While these are all expectations of the planning cycle, critical reflection involves higher order thinking, drilling down and using multiple perspectives and creative thinking. These aspects are often missed by educators and are sometimes challenging to understand and use.

In my experience, it takes both time and getting to know the other educators in your team, to develop the skills, understanding and motivation to truly embrace and undertake critical reflection. Critical reflection in an education and care service is multifaceted, and involves thinking about all of your practices and procedures with honesty and purpose. There is a level of bravery required to be able to identify the need for change within your service environment. As humans, we are sometimes content with familiarity, predictability and some of us do not like change. Critical reflection means being ready for change, willing to challenge yourself and others and being able to adapt.

So how have I developed the skills to critically reflect, and how have I promoted these skills within my team? One example that I’d like to share with you, is when I eagerly snapped up the opportunity to join a group of educators from a range of services in a KU Professional Learning Community (PLC). We initially came together to learn about the work of Ann Pelo and use her methods to examine our work with children. Ann is known amongst early childhood educators for her unique perspective on challenging predefined practices and shifting the focus ‘from instruction to inquiry’. With a facilitator in the group, we began sharing the same children’s book with each of our classes to explore the practice of ‘researching with children’. At our meetings we would share our critical reflections of the children’s responses. Essentially, we told the stories of what the children had developed around the book, the stories of their artworks, their buildings and their discussions. As the PLC got to know each other, built trust and confidence and settled into this new meeting and sharing routine, we were encouraged, challenged and sometimes unsettled by provocations from our PLC facilitator. The PLC facilitator provided academic readings that assisted us to drill down deeper into the critical reflection of our work, and the work of the children. As there was a heightened level of trust between members of the PLC, we drew inspiration from each other and found that having a group who respected, listened, considered each other’s perspectives and looked to external sources for challenge, was very valuable in the development of our own critical reflection strategies.

After seeing Ann Pelo at the KU Conference, and spending an intensive five days at a writing workshop with her, the PLC plunged into some intense critical reflection around children’s learning as well as our own practice. Ann gave us permission to become involved in the children’s learning stories, to make this work personal and to think outside the square.  At times it was terrifying, and I was thankful that we had each other for support.  We took our learning back to our service teams, inspiring them to think beyond the obvious, to dig deeper, and to be brave in their own critical reflection of their teaching practices.

Some of the PLC changed jobs, or took on new roles within KU, however, we committed to make our PLC meetings a priority. The meetings continue to renew our purpose and vigour, and provides us with the ability and support to think differently about working through various issues and obstacles.

The reality for many early childhood professionals is one of professional isolation, where the opportunity to discuss children’s learning at a level of deep understanding and theoretical exploration is rare. It has been a privilege to be involved in a group who can share stories, experiences and insights so generously. My involvement reinforced the value and benefit of professional learning communities. The value of working within a trusted community of learners who are similarly educated and have a range of perspectives and experiences has been incredibly positive.

The benefit to my own team and the children of the service has also been extraordinary. Our ability to critically reflect on a more profound level continues to develop. The initial work with Ann Pelo’s approaches empowered staff to be brave and to dig into the unknown, to explore practitioner research alongside children and trust each other more, in a combined effort towards improvement in our practice. The results have been amazing, and in 2018 our service was awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA which I believe was a direct result of continued critical reflection instigated by a small group of educators who formed a PLC and embraced courage.

Creating positive mealtimes

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone shares her insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest. 

Mealtimes at education and care services offer many rich opportunities to promote positive outcomes for children. Positive mealtimes are not only about nutritional requirements – they can shape children’s learning, development, health and wellbeing.

They involve every child enjoying nutritious and culturally appropriate food and snacks in a social, responsive, pleasurable, safe and educative environment. They also demonstrate outcomes from each National Quality Standard (NQS) quality area.

I encourage you to view your current mealtimes with a positive mealtime ‘lens’ and use these reflective questions to inspire conversations with your team.

1. Does your physical environment promote positive mealtimes?

The physical environment (NQS Quality Area 3) influences quality practice and has a significant impact on mealtimes and the potential for social interaction, learning, inclusion, safety, and wellbeing. The change in mood when we eat outdoors is a perfect example of this impact.

The components of this physical environment are broad, including everything from table and chair arrangements and table settings to noise levels and serving utensils.

Each service has a unique environment, and few have access to purpose-built, family-style dining areas. Food may also be brought from home to be eaten at the service. In outside-school-hours care services, food may be eaten on a bench or in a hall that requires daily transformation.

Whatever the environment, consider these questions:

  • Mealtime location: Does it promote a sense of belonging? Does it support mealtimes being social and relaxed occasions where children have time to eat, choose and interact, or does it uphold mealtimes as a rushed routine?
  • Is the environment child-centred? Do furniture and utensils suit different ages and sizes of children? Does the space accommodate children’s developing skills and independence and the inherent ‘mess’ that can sometime come with it?
  • Inclusion: Can each child access, participate and engage in mealtimes? Does the environment reflect and respect children’s needs?
  • Table settings: Do table and chair arrangements promote social interaction and engagement between children and between educators and children? Do table settings support mealtimes as an occasion?
  • Agency: Does the environment promote children’s agency and self-help skills? E.g. setting tables; finding their place; sharing food; serving food; processing waste.
  • Connection to the broader food environment: Is there a connection between mealtime and other food environments? This connection could be physical (e.g. the dining area is next to the kitchen; garden produce is used in meals); social (e.g. the cook has a relationship with children and educators; garden produce is shared with families); or through the educational program (e.g. the kitchen, garden, mealtimes or composting are used for learning experiences).
  • Transitions: Are transitions to and from mealtime environments respectful to children and calm?

2. Do mealtimes nurture relationships?

Secure, respectful and reciprocal relationships are fundamental principles of the approved learning frameworks, and relationships between children and with children are integral to NQS Quality Area 5.

Connections with others support the development of children’s identity and social and emotional competence. Research has confirmed the nature, quality and consistency of interactions between educators and children is one of the most important influences on quality education and care.

Mealtimes are intrinsically social and offer regular opportunities to have positive interactions, build secure relationships, learn from one another, provide emotional support, promote language and inspire learning.

You could also consider:

  • Positive interactions: Educators who consistently model positive interactions and mealtime skills will support children’s development.
  • Relationship building opportunities: Are educators able to sit with children at mealtimes or is attention focused on simultaneously serving, cleaning, supervising, setting up environments or doing paperwork? Quality interactions and relationships need quality time and attention.

3. Do mealtimes promote holistic health?

Healthy eating is integral to promoting children’s health (NQS Quality Area 2), with physical, social and emotional health all being nurtured by positive meals times.  A healthy menu (or healthy food brought from home) provides a firm foundation for health.

For holistic health, the healthy menu needs to be provided safely and in a health-promoting environment that also considers social and emotional health and wellbeing. The mealtime environment, relationships and staffing are important influences.

Beyond the firm foundation of a healthy menu, you could promote positive social and emotional health and wellbeing by:

  • Creating positive mealtimes that are social, relaxed and calm
  • Actively involving children in mealtimes
  • Never using food as a punishment or reward
  • Not discussing food in relation to a child’s weight or size
  • Not labelling foods as good/bad/clean/junk; instead, talk about ‘everyday’ and ‘sometimes/treat’ foods
  • Respecting children’s appetites and preferences and never forcing children to eat
  • Respecting children’s cultural diversity and the values and beliefs of families (NQS Quality Area 6)
  • Being respectful of children and families when food choices or food brought from home are inconsistent with food and nutrition policies
  • Ensuring the menu reflects the needs of the children and community.

4. Are mealtimes a part of the educational program?

Positive mealtimes offer immense opportunity for each child’s learning and development to be enhanced and extended (NQS Quality Area 1).

Mealtimes allow children to learn about:

  • their identity (I prefer certain foods. My family celebrates our culture with food.)
  • relationships (When we sit for lunch, we share the milk. I like to sit next to my friend so I can talk to them.)
  • their community (We grow mint in our garden. Our cook’s name is Sam.)
  • literacy (My name card has an ‘A’. I can explain how to chop fruit.)
  • numeracy (There are six people at our table. I can make a pattern with my peas.), and
  • their world (Pancakes are made from wheat. When I have food in my mouth I don’t try and talk at the same time).

Connecting the mealtime environment to the kitchen, garden and waste processing also supports learning and development.

5. Does staffing organisation and leadership promote positive mealtimes?

Positive mealtimes require supportive staffing arrangements (NQS Quality Area 4) and effective leadership (NQS Quality Area 7).

For mealtimes to be social, responsive, pleasurable, safe and educative, educators need to be seen as an important part of them. Staffing at mealtimes can be challenging as staff responsibilities and meal breaks are juggled.

Positive mealtimes that are embedded in practice are visible in policies, procedures and programs, and guided by the service philosophy.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information Sheet – Relationships with children

ACECQA – Information Sheet – Supporting agency: Involving children in decision-making

ACECQA – Information Sheet – The environment as “The Third Teacher’

Department of Health – Resources – Get up and Grow: Healthy eating and physical activity

Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation – Resources – Pleasurable food education

 

Tips for discussing practice at an Assessment and Rating visit

ACECQA’s Quality Support Program Team outlines the importance of articulating practice and provides practical tips to assist educators articulate the achievements and strengths of their service and team members during assessment and rating visits. 

As an educator, your contribution to your service’s assessment and rating visit can really make a difference.

The visit is your opportunity to highlight what your service and educators do well, celebrate your strengths and achievements, open conversations about the quality of your programs and practices, and gain valuable feedback.

Many will be thinking that this is easier said than done. After all, one of the things that many educators find difficult is communicating to the authorised officer all that your service does well, and how practices provide quality outcomes for children and families.

This is the skill of articulating practice.

In fact, educators articulate practice on a daily basis. They talk with and about children and their knowledge, strengths, ideas, culture, abilities and interests. They also discuss children’s learning, their social and emotional development, wellbeing, and friendships.

Articulation is generally understood to mean the act of expressing something in a coherent, understood way. Articulation in education and care is essential to building relationships with children (Element 5.1.1) and collaborative partnerships with families and communities (QA 6).

It is through these conversations and relationships that educators gain an understanding of, and build on, the strengths, aspirations and priorities of children and families. This in turn makes your education and care programs, practices and policies meaningful, inclusive and child-centred.

Authorised officers are trained to follow an ‘observe-discuss-sight’ method at the visit to gather evidence to support a rating against the NQS, including compliance with the National Law and National Regulations.

While authorised officers may ask questions to gain more information and examples, it is important to think about what you would like to discuss and which examples highlight how the educators, service leaders and team are meeting or exceeding the NQS. The term ‘discuss’ is used in the Guide to the National Quality Framework to provide opportunities for respectful two-way conversations between authorised officers and the educators or service leaders to identify examples of quality practice that align with the NQS.

Here are four practical tips to assist you in articulating practice during your service’s Assessment and Rating visit:

Tip 1 – Build knowledge

Support your educators to build on and become confident in their knowledge of the NQS, the relevant Approved Learning Framework/s and your Quality Improvement Plan. Hold regular meetings, reflective sessions and, if relevant, professional development workshops to discuss these topics.

A good working knowledge of these fundamentals is a basis for providing quality outcomes for the children in the service and their families. This knowledge will, in turn, provide educators with the ability to look at practices in the service and articulate them in the context of these documents.

Tip 2 – Practice articulating practice!

Start talking about the service philosophy and how it informs decisions, along with discussing the ‘what’, ‘how’ and especially the ‘why’ of practices. Talk to your families, children, each other, management and the community.

Team meetings are a good opportunity to have these discussions with other educators and it can be useful to add ‘quality practice’ and ‘reflective practice’ as regular agenda items.

The reflective questions in the Guide to the NQF can be used to provoke discussions in these meetings. You can use techniques such as brainstorming or mind mapping to document what quality at your service looks like in a Standard or Element and to discuss how your service is performing.

 Tip 3 – Ongoing self-assessment/walk in the Authorised Officer’s shoes

Ongoing self-assessment against the NQS and related regulatory requirements drives continuous improvement and is essential to providing quality outcomes for children (Guide to the NQF, p.316).

As part of your self-assessment, identify what an authorised officer might observe, discuss or sight about the quality of your service practices and programs. To do this, “step into the authorised officer’s shoes” and take a walk around your service or in your family day care (FDC) office and educators’ homes.

As an example, let’s look at what some of the ‘discuss’ items for QA 3 could include:

Element 3.1.1 Fit for purpose

  • How the environment is planned and organised, taking into consideration the need for safe, yet challenging spaces.
  • How FDC educators balance their family members’ need for privacy with providing sufficient space for the children who are educated and cared for.

Element 3.1.2 Upkeep

  • What regular safety checks are in place, as well as maintenance monitoring of the building and equipment.

Element 3.2.1 Inclusive environment

  • How natural environments are valued at the service and plans for outdoor and indoor environments are given equal consideration.

Element 3.2.2 Resources support play-based learning

  • How resources, materials and equipment are provided and arranged to support children’s play, exploration and investigations
  • The way in which children are invited to choose resources.

Element 3.2.3 Environmentally responsible

  • How children and educators are supported to engage with and respect the natural environment on a regular basis.

Many more examples of what authorised officers may observe, discuss and sight for each of the quality areas are in the Guide to the NQF.

Tip 4 – Language

It is important to ensure that the language you and your educators use during a visit is both authentic and makes reference to the language of the NQS. This helps demonstrate familiarity with the NQS and will show the authorised officer your service’s commitment to quality outcomes.

It can also be helpful to practice discussing your approach with words that emphasise the importance of children and families at your service and show collaboration, for example, using phrases such as:

  • “Together with the children we discussed….”
  • “Families were able to share their thoughts through…”
  • “After the team reflected on this feedback we changed the way we…”
  • “The children share their ideas by…”
  • “The children and educators reflected on…..and together decided…”
  • “Children and families are able to have input into decisions about…through…”

Confident and effective articulation of practice at your service’s assessment and rating visit is an attainable goal. An investment of time and the ongoing commitment of the entire team is certain to reap benefits.

Each child, every child – building positive relationships and supportive environments

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone shares her insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest. 

As a new year starts, children, educators and staff are returning from breaks, new families are joining education and care services, and children are transitioning between groups, rooms or service types. It’s often a busy period of adjustment and organisation – and a significant time for building relationships, and creating learning environments where each child can feel included and supported.

Why do educator-child relationships matter?

Research shows that high quality educator to child relationships and interactions are key elements to create a quality education and care environment. These are significant influences on children’s social and emotional development – actively contributing to positive learning, development, wellbeing and future life outcomes.

Developing relationships with children is an important component of the National Quality Standard (NQS). Quality Area 5 focuses on educators developing responsive, warm, trusting and respectful relationships with children that promote their wellbeing, self-esteem, sense of security and belonging.

Respectful relationships with children and families help educators find out more about each child’s strengths, ideas, culture, capabilities and interests. This knowledge supports provision of responsive learning environments and quality child-centred educational programs and practices. This maximises opportunities to enhance each child’s learning and development.

When children experience nurturing and respectful relationships with educators they develop an understanding of themselves as competent, capable and respected, and feel a sense of belonging. This helps children feel safe, secure, and included, and helps them grow confidence to play, explore and learn. Gaining each child’s trust and making an effort to get to know them well is an ongoing process of relationship building, and extends far beyond simply being friendly.

Building respectful, trusting educator-child relationships

A new year brings the opportunity to critically reflect on how respectful, trusting educator-child relationships are developed and maintained within your education and care service. Evaluating the success of your existing policies, procedures and practices can help identify and affirm strengths and highlight possible improvements to better support each child to feel secure, confident and included.

Regularly revisiting requirements and key guidance documents helps ensure these strengths of your service remain a priority and grow stronger over time.

Where to start?   

These key guidance documents provide valuable suggestions for educators as they develop responsive, warm, trusting and respectful relationships with children.

The Education and Care Services National Regulations require education and care services to have policies and procedures about interactions with children (reg. 155, 156 and 168). The start of a new year is a good time to review and evaluate how your policies are reflected in service practices, and how they actively promote relationships with children that are responsive, respectful and support children’s sense of security and belonging. For example, how your service’s policies are informed by your service’s philosophy, and guide its enrolment and orientation procedures.

The Guide to the National Quality Framework (NQF) is designed to help education and care providers, service leaders, educators and authorised officers understand and apply NQF. The guidance for the Standards and Elements within Quality Area 5 provide valuable suggestions for the way that educators can work with children to support their current wellbeing and their future development. The ‘questions to guide reflection’ are a useful tool for reviewing and evaluating your current practice.

National approved learning frameworks support education and care services’ reflections on how the elements, principles, practice and learning outcomes guide knowledge and practice.

Early Childhood Australia’s (ECA’s) Code of Ethics provides a framework for reflection on ethical responsibilities of education and care professionals, and a collection of statements offering guidance about educators’ practice and relationships with children.

Reflective questions to inspire conversations with your team

  • What are all the ways that you get to know each child well?
  • How do children demonstrate a sense of belonging, security and comfort?
  • How does your service help children form secure attachments with educators? (e.g. primary caregiving groups/key educator system, orientation, settling in procedures)
  • Does your service philosophy support a commitment to building relationships with children? How does this inform your service policies, procedures and everyday practice?

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information Sheet – Relationships with children

We Hear You – Responsive, respectful relationships