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

4 thoughts on “Unpacking the planning cycle: Part 1”

  1. I am currently working with the Educators of our service, critically reflecting on our ‘Planning Cycle’ processes and it’s effectiveness/ function within our centre and found this piece article helpful in encouraging the beginning of conversations, thank you!
    I’ll be looking forward to hearing more regarding this topic and others, specifically regarding Programs and Planning and Educational Leaders.

  2. I have part 1 of unpacking the planning cycle, which I found very helpful.I would love the rest of your documents on planning please can you email them to me
    Thanks Felicity

  3. This is perfect! Here at Darwin Family Day Care we have restructured our style of planning focusing strongly on the planning cycle. We are having a lot of commendable work presented to our practice mentors. We have also made this an option to do it electronically again making huge positive impacts on our educators who struggle with the text based version. Very exciting times ahead.

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