Review, reflect and celebrate: A story from the sector on celebrating children’s achievements

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

In early October, I was fortunate to present at and participate in the 2017 Australian Council for Educational Leaders (ACEL) National Conference, and meet with Rosanne Pugh from KU Ourimbah. Rosanne was the well-deserved recipient of the ACEL Leadership Award for 2017. The prestigious award recognises Rosanne as an educational leader who has made a significant contribution to education, educational leadership and improving outcomes for children.

During our catch up, Rosanne shared a wonderful story about how she reflected on the purpose and intent of her service’s end-of-year celebrations, as well as the collaboration with children and families to create a more authentic and meaningful coming together centred on sharing of learning and driven by the children.

Rosanne shares her story with us this month and takes us through the celebrations and ‘ceremony’ at KU Ourimbah.

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As we prepare to celebrate the capacity and competence of our children, now is the time to challenge some of our embedded cultural practices we might take for granted as children embark on their school careers and families together take a moment to reflect upon their children’s rich, early childhood experiences.

At KU Ourimbah ‘Graduation’ has been replaced by ‘Ceremony’. Children are not expected to perform for their parents but rather share their learning with them in ways they have devised for themselves. It is ceremonious because this is an occasion for shared celebration. Children direct the day for their families and we ask families to reserve this day, well in advance, rather than have children exhausted by ‘evening do’s’.  This is after all, about children and families. It is not a marketing exercise or crowd pleaser, this is a child-led event and as such, there is a big difference in how we express our values. In how we place children’s interests at the centre of all that we do. We can of course be pleased, delighted, joyful and nostalgic. We can be moved by the magnificence of our children and how we choose to illuminate this.

Families overwhelmingly have embraced this approach and our event looks like this:

The children invite their parents for a tour. In our space in KU Ourimbah this involves children acting as tour-guides for their families and walking their favourite routes across The Central Coast Campus of The University of Newcastle, together. It is an everyday happening for our children that they walk on campus and having already discussed their personalised map and the places of importance that they want to share with their families, the children take charge, with map at the ready.

Parents, too, are complicit. They have already seen the map and understand through our on-line communications that they are in for a walking treat, with stations where they can pond dip, make natural art, litter pick and to be prepared. As families opt in and out of these activities we know the children are explaining what they have learnt about the surroundings, sharing their ecological citizenship and talking, talking, talking as they walk, revealing what they love about their life in early childhood. A communal family picnic precedes the ceremony held in a familiar lecture theatre.

Each year the ceremony is different. This year, the children choose their favourite memories for our PowerPoint images backed by music from one of our Indigenous families. We are welcomed to Country and the children co-sing. Some of the music is in language and there has been a song written in language for this moment and will be shared for the first time when we are all together.

Our ceremony finishes with an afternoon tea, fruit platters, cold drinks, a cake made by our cook skilled in the art of representing each child artistically through decoration.

We want to celebrate our children and in so doing we are showcasing what is important to them and what they want their families to appreciate and know about. It is a celebration of their voices. If we can do that, we have contributed to a new culture with parents, their children and extended families and friends.

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I hope Rosanne’s story inspires and motivates you to consider a different approach to ‘doing things the way we always have’. The New Year, with a revised National Quality Standard, may be just the place to start thinking about challenging these views and looking to a new approach!

What is research telling us about children’s physical activity in the early years?

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

In the November ACECQA Newsletter, we featured the release of the first national 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years. The guidelines take a more holistic view of children’s experience as they reference a 24-hour period, recognising that each movement behaviour is interlinked and integral to health. The guidelines also provide an opportunity to work collaboratively with families and the child at the centre of decision-making about how much time is engaged in sedentary pursuits or physical activity at the service and the home.

In this month’s blog, we share examples of the research being undertaken around the country, with our focus on how best to support Australian children to engage in recommended levels of physical activity.

Research from around the globe is pointing to strong correlations between physical activity and learning. As Pasi Sahlberg, the educator and author who specialises in the progressive approaches undertaken in Finland notes, ‘We also know from research that children’s brains work better when they move’. An experienced Finnish teacher put it this way: ‘Not only do they concentrate better in class, but they are more successful at negotiating, socialising, building teams and friendships together’ (Doyle in Sahlberg, 2018, p.23).

Below is an overview of some of the research and initial findings, as well as questions to prompt your own investigation and practice.

Early Start – University of Wollongong

Early Start is a strategic teaching, research and community engagement initiative from the University of Wollongong. The research associated with Early Start is diverse and focuses on a number of different themes, including physical activity.

In 2017, Early Start was commissioned, in collaboration with researchers from Canada, to develop the new Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years. Researchers from Early Start, namely Professor Anthony Okely, are now working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Kingdom working party to develop similar international guidelines.

Early Start has been involved in a number of other significant research studies focusing on physical activity in the early years. For example, between 2014 and 2016 Early Start conducted a multi-component physical activity intervention known as Jump Start in 43 NSW early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings from areas of disadvantage. This study, which aimed to increase physical activity during the preschool hours, comprises five components broadly focusing on gross motor skills, facilitation of active energy breaks and incorporating physical activity into other curriculum areas. Data from the study is currently being analysed. Additional information can be found in this recent research paper on increasing physical activity.

Myrto-Foteini Mavilidi and Early Start have recently investigated the effect of incorporating integrated physical activity into learning experiences facilitated in ECEC settings. Irrespective of focus area (numeracy, language, geography etc.), the study found learning was enhanced when integrated physical activity was part of the learning experience. They have published a number research papers, including one on the immediate and delayed effects of integrating physical activity.

Other studies, conducted by Y.G. Ellis and colleagues, have looked into the time children spend in sedentary behaviour in ECEC settings and the potential effectiveness of environment-based interventions on reducing sedentary time.  Their results show children in ECEC spend approximately 50% of their time sitting and that a simple environmental intervention has the potential to modify the amount of time children spend sitting.

Some of the most recent research on the early years facilitated by Early Start focuses on improving the quality of the environment of ECEC settings in relation to movement-play and physical activity. This research involves professional development for educators and uses the MOVERS environmental rating scale.

A critical area of research within Early Start focuses on the role of educators in physical activity learning experiences. K.L. Tonge and colleagues are interested in how high quality interactions between children and educators can enhance physical activity experiences in ECEC settings.

PLAYCE – University of Western Australia

The Play Spaces & Environments for Children’s Physical Activity study (PLAYCE) is a four-year Healthway funded study (2015-2018). PLAYCE is investigating a range of features, including indoor and outdoor space, play equipment, and natural features of the environment, to determine which have the most influence on children’s physical activity and health whilst attending ECEC. The research team is working with the ECEC sector in Western Australia and nationally to develop a checklist to assess whether services are meeting the standards detailed in Quality Area 3 of the National Quality Standard. This will help services identify what they can do to improve the quality of their physical environment to better support children’s physical activity, health and development.

So far, over 115 long day care services and 1400 children (2-5 years) and families have taken part in the PLAYCE study. Preliminary findings show less than one third of children meet the recommended three hours of physical activity per day and less than 8% achieve this recommendation in an average day while attending ECEC.

Physical health and wellbeing project – Gowrie Training and Consultancy and Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

Gowrie Training and Consultancy (Tasmania) are collaborating with the Faculty of Education, QUT, in an Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) funded research project – Physical health and wellbeing: innovative approaches in an inner-city community. Project leader Dr Megan Gibson from QUT, together with Professor Andrew Hills from the University Tasmania, will be working with Gowrie Training and Consultancy and educators from the Lady Gowrie Integrated Child and Family Centre in Tasmania.

The AEDC is a national, population-based evaluation of child development in the first year of full-time schooling. AEDC data can help professionals working with children and families to think critically about how to effectively support children’s development. Early childhood educators are well placed to proactively use AEDC data to support and enhance children’s learning and development.

The project applies action research to support and enhance children’s physical health and wellbeing through:

  • building educator capability in relation to using AEDC data sets to inform professional decisions
  • enacting pedagogical practices that afford children opportunities to engage in challenging physical play, and
  • measuring and communicating about the effects of intentional, sustained and contextual practices to families, the local community and other ECEC services.

The overarching research question is:

How can early childhood educators enable children to flourish in the area of physical health and wellbeing?

The project involves educators applying key elements of action research to explore possibilities for children to flourish physically. Pedagogical documentation is central to the project as a tool for reflective practice that enables different ways of thinking about physical development. Examples of key areas of focus include: physical literacy, risk, the use of the outdoor environment, innovative ways to use equipment and resources, and educator decision-making.

Across the course of the project, educators are exploring resources to inform and shape their thinking about physical health and wellbeing, with examples including Active Healthy Kids Australia and Gooey Brains.

Early research findings have seen enhanced experiences and opportunities for children in the area of physical development.

For further information on the Physical health and wellbeing project, you can contact: Dr Megan Gibson, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education, QUT – ml.gibson@qut.edu.au. You can also read about the range of AEDC projects currently funded in Tasmania.

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Now we have taken you through examples of the latest research and studies, how might you engage with their findings to improve quality outcomes for children?

Conducting an action research project at your service is one way to incorporate some of the ideas. The prompt questions below are another means of reflecting on physical activity at your service. You could also use some of the specific questions from any of the above studies or findings.

Questions for further investigation:

  • What innovative ideas could you incorporate into your environments to increase activity? For example, Duplo boards on the walls for construction or taking away chairs from the art area.
  • What skills and knowledge do educators have about physical activity, recommendations and fundamental movement skills?
  • How is risk aversion impacting physical activity?
  • What impact is the provisioning of outdoor environments having on children’s physical activity?

References

Sahlberg, P. (2018) FinnishED Leadership: Four big, inexpensive ideas to transform education, Corwin, California.

Family day care services: How using only one brush can unfairly taint all

Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) Chief Executive Officer, Gabrielle Sinclair, reflects on the quality ratings of family day care services and looks beyond the headline figures.

The family day care sector is in the spotlight regularly, but sadly often not for the right reasons. Family day care has been, and remains, a preferred and appropriate option for many Australian families. The latest Early Childhood Education and Care National Workforce Census, undertaken by the Australian Government, estimates there are more than 30,000 educators working in the family day care sector.

Our most recent NQF Snapshot (Q3, 2017) shows that, as at 1 October 2017, 78% of approved family day care services have been quality rated, equating to some 664 individual services. Less than half (43%) of these are rated Meeting National Quality Standard (NQS) or above.

It would be wrong not to acknowledge that, as a service type, family day care services need to improve their quality ratings. More than three quarters (76%) of centre-based care services are rated Meeting NQS or above, with a third (33%) of these rated Exceeding NQS or above. In contrast, only 16% of family day care services are rated Exceeding NQS or above. However, this is not the complete story. To take the headline figures and then conclude that all family day care services are poor quality is misleading for families.

At the top end of performance, three family day care services have achieved an Excellent rating. To be eligible for this rating, a service must first be rated as Exceeding NQS and then demonstrate how they are promoting exceptional education and care that improves outcomes for children and families, and showing leadership and a commitment to sustained excellent practice through continuous improvement.

One of the three Excellent rated family day care services, Wynnum Family Day Care in Queensland, received the rating for the second time late last year (the Excellent rating lasts for a period of three years), having been the first family day care service in Australia to receive the rating in 2013.

There are then 106 family day care services rated Exceeding NQS and 175 rated Meeting NQS. To be rated Meeting NQS, a service needs to meet all of the quality areas, standards and elements of the NQS. This is a high bar and means that a service may be rated Working Towards NQS based on not meeting only one (or all 58) elements of the NQS.

We want families and the general public to understand what Working Towards NQS means and to look below the overall rating so that they are well-informed about their choices.

Almost 100 (96) family day care services rated Working Towards NQS do not meet seven or fewer elements of the NQS. At the other end of the spectrum, a similar number (94) of family day care services do not meet 27 or more elements of the NQS.

By examining the element level performance of all services rated Working Towards NQS, families will have a much better idea of the range of quality and how close, or far away, individual services are from meeting all of the requirements.

It is also the case that individual services can be rated Exceeding NQS for one or more of the seven quality areas without achieving an overall rating of Exceeding NQS. This could be because they do not receive enough ratings of Exceeding NQS across the seven quality areas or because their performance is below Meeting NQS in one or more of the quality areas.

While only 109 family day care services are rated Exceeding NQS or above overall, a total of 215 services are rated Exceeding NQS for one or more of the quality areas, with 28 services rated Exceeding NQS for all seven quality areas.

While the National Quality Framework is committed to shining a light on poor quality and taking swift action in response to fraudulent behaviour or practice that poses a significant risk to children, we should also ensure that the efforts of the majority of family day care providers and educators are not disregarded or diminished.

One of ACECQA’s roles is to promote and foster continuous quality improvement and to support parents and the community in understanding what quality means. It will always be important to provide a balanced and accurate portrayal of performance across all service types. One of the most important aspects of the quality rating system is that it provides freely available information to assist the decisions of parents and carers when considering which education and care service would best suit the needs of their children.

I would encourage educators to help families to be aware of, and understand, their service’s quality rating and to explain how they are tracking on their journey of continuous quality improvement.