The endless possibilities of using digital devices in OSHC safely

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

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

The benefits for children’s learning

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

Children can enjoy experiences such as:

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

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

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

Inclusion in processes

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

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

Engagement for effective decision-making

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

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

Reflective questions

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

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

Additional reading

The value of outdoor learning

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

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

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

Valuing learning in the outdoors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Effective partnerships contribute to positive outcomes for children

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

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

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

Partnerships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related resources on partnerships

Positive attitudes improve practice

This month on the NEL Blog, guest bloggers Kathryn Wetenhall and Rebecca Andrews from John Brotchie Nursery School, share their service’s key strengths in their quality practice approach that contribute to successful outcomes for children.

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

In this first blog post, you’ll learn a little bit about the preschool and their positive attitude towards continuous quality improvement.

Introduction to John Brotchie Nursery School

John Brotchie Nursery School is a NSW Department of Education preschool situated in Botany, NSW. Our preschool has been a part of the local community for over 70 years and is highly regarded by local families and the community. Our team of educators pride themselves on providing an innovative, high quality and dynamic educational program for preschool age children. Our program supports children to become capable, confident and creative learners.

We believe that children have a natural disposition for learning that allows them to thrive in the 21st century. Our practices are guided by a variety of theories, approaches to learning and current research. The main approaches that underpin our educational program and daily curriculum are play-based learning, outdoor learning and responsiveness to children.

We were assessed and rated as Exceeding National Quality Standard in all seven quality areas. In May 2020, we were awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA. The process of applying for the Excellent rating was a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on our strengths and achievements.

We would like to share three approaches to learning that highlight our strengths in providing quality practice at our service. These strengths are:

    • our positive attitude towards continuous improvement
    • our partnerships with families and colleagues
    • our strong emphasis on outdoor learning.

We believe that these strengths in our practice contribute to successful outcomes for the children at John Brotchie Nursery School.

Positive attitude towards continuous improvement

One of our greatest strengths at John Brotchie Nursery School is our positive attitude towards trying new ideas. We embrace change and have robust conversations that lead to improved practice and outcomes for children. All of our educators have a passionate approach to their work with young children. They are involved in professional development and are always striving for personal and whole preschool improvement. We have a strong team ethic and workplace culture in which we support, encourage and value each other.

Our educators have strengths, interests and knowledge that they contribute to the educational program.

For example, Kath has a keen interest in creating inspirational learning environments that invite children to discover and learn. She leads and mentors educators around the topic of aesthetics and the important role it plays in our environment. Rebecca has researched outdoor education and has an in depth knowledge around Forest Schools. She has visited Denmark and the United Kingdom to see the use of outdoor education in practice. Rebecca was instrumental in starting and driving the successful continuation of our Bush School program. Leesa has a background in horticulture and is passionate about the natural world. She is our resident expert on nature and the environment, and the educators, children and families will go to her if they have a question or want to know more about anything living.

Over the last five years, John Brotchie Nursery School has used action research and a whole service approach to support the professional development of educators, which then translates into our curriculum. Some of our projects to date have included a ‘mathematics in the preschool’ program, embedding Aboriginal perspectives, language and literacy into the curriculum and most recently, a STEM program. As a team, we collaborate on each action research project and bring our own professional development into the planning.

Our ‘mathematics in the preschool’ program began after our educators read ‘ECERS-E: The Four Curricular Subscales Extension to the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS-R)’ by Sylva, Siraj-Blatchford and Taggart (2011). Over a full year of collaborative critical reflection and self-assessment, we are able to incorporate concepts from this very helpful resource into the development of the mathematics program. We continue to regularly access other relevant resources and professional development courses to suit the needs of our service and interests of the children. We believe that the overall pedagogy is improved at the service this way.

Our educators find this style of professional development valuable because we learn as a team and take time to gain a deep understanding of new concepts. We enjoy the practical nature of action research, with the ability to implement as we learn. The success of projects such as ‘mathematics in the preschool’ has led to further action research projects and embedded an authentic culture of reflection, research, and re-action, repeat!

We love learning new things and learning from each other, and we embrace making changes that improve our practice and the outcomes for our children. We encourage others to have a team-based, whole service approach to focused professional development – they can see for themselves the impact it can have on their children at their service.

In the next instalment of our guest blog post series, Kathryn Wetenhall and Rebecca Andrews from John Brotchie Nursery School discuss the partnerships at their service and why relationships are important to their children’s educational and developmental outcomes.

Related resources to support your continuous quality improvement.

Supporting healthy food provision during COVID-19

Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) services across Australia have been feeling the impacts of COVID-19, including the challenge of continuing to provide a healthy menu to children in care.

State and territory regulatory bodies support a ‘common sense’ approach to regulation on food provision during this time. They understand that ECEC services are experiencing supply issues and may need support to meet children’s nutritional needs. Please check with your state or territory regulatory authority for further information.

The National Nutrition Network – ECEC has compiled a list of tips and resources to support services and cooks to continue to meet the Australian Dietary Guidelines and support children’s health and wellbeing during this time.

Consider ingredient substitutions

If you have experienced difficulties in sourcing regular ingredients, Early Childhood Australia and the Healthy Eating Advisory Service have compiled some helpful tips on food swaps and alternative suppliers on their websites. The Nutrition Australia Qld (NAQ) Nutrition’s Food Foundations Program has put together a tip sheet for ingredient swaps.

The Australian Childcare Alliance has developed a video: Adapting Children’s Service menus around food shortages inresponse to food shortages as well.

Include variety and key food groups

Aim to provide a variety of food and drinks from the five-food groups, and try to include a mix of colours and textures! The five food groups are:

  • vegetables and legumes/beans
  • fruit
  • grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties
  • lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans
  • milk, yoghurt cheese and/or alternatives, mostly reduced fat.

Discretionary foods (such as ones with high sugar, high fat or high salt content) are not recommended for inclusion on an ECEC service menu. The ‘healthy eating for children’ brochure from the Eat for Health website provides a guide to the types and amounts of food each child needs daily and also identifies substitutes within each food group.

If meat is not accessible consider using legumes or other protein rich plant-based alternatives. This Munch & Move program tip-sheet on creating a healthy vegetarian meal for ECEC services highlights the need for protein, iron and vitamin C sources and an additional tip-sheet that suggests ways to include iron rich foods in menus.

Recipe ideas

The following sites provide recipes suitable for ECEC:

Food safety and supply

Effective hygiene and food safety practices are always important to ensure children and staff remain healthy. Studies suggest that coronavirus (COVID-19) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions such as the type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment.

There is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through food.

For trusted and up to date advice about coronavirus hygiene and food safety advice, head to:

Remember, you are not alone

Reach out for nutrition support from established resource hubs and programs. Read on to see what is available across most states and territories in Australia.

QLD & NT 

Food Foundations Program 

Food Foundations is Queensland’s early years nutrition and food safety program and provides tools, training and resources for best practice in nutrition, menu planning, meal times and food safety. Services provided include online resources, consultancy and in-person and online professional development training.   

NSW 

Munch & Move 

Munch & Move is NSW Health initiative that supports the healthy development of children birth to 5 years by promoting physical activity, healthy eating and reduced small screen time. Munch & Move offers free professional development training and resources to educators working in NSW early childhood education and care services. 

ACT

ACT Nutrition Support Services

The ACT Nutrition Support Service is an initiative of Nutrition Australia ACT Inc, supported by the ACT Government. Through its professional advice this service can support staff and management to give children the best start in life with Nutrition and Food Handling Courses, menu assessments, parent information sessions and more.

Food&ME Preschool

A course that provides practical ideas and materials to support the delivery of nutrition education to preschool students using the Food&ME Preschool Curriculum resource. Food&ME Preschool is mapped to the Early Years Learning Framework and the National Quality Standards.

TAS 

Healthy Kids online 

On Healthy Kids online you will find information on: 

  • how and what to feed young children  
  • how you can help create healthy places and spaces in your community
  • active play ideas for under fives 
  • looking after teeth.

VIC 

Healthy Eating Advisory Service 

The Healthy Eating Advisory Service provides free support for early childhood services in Victoria to provide and promote healthy foods and drinks. Visit the website for:

  • tips for promoting healthy eating during coronavirus
  • menu planning guidelines and assessments  
  • online training  
  • advice on promoting healthy eating 
  • allergies and intolerances 
  • healthy recipes. 

WA 

SNAC (Supporting Nutrition in Australian Childcare)

A support site for education and care centres and early years educators.  This is a place to connect with other childcare professionals to share experiences, ideas and thoughts and to build a network of support. There are many reliable, accurate resources to help you provide a healthy eating environment at your centre, including recipes and factsheets.

About the authors.

Amy Wakem and Lara Hernandez co-lead the intervention stream of the National Nutrition Network-Early Childhood Education and Care (NNN-ECEC). The NNN-ECEC’s mission is to promote best practice food provision within education and care services to facilitate health, nutrition and positive developmental outcomes for children.

Amy is a dietitian with the Healthy Eating Advisory Service, which is delivered by Nutrition Australia Vic Division with support from the Victorian Government.

Lara is the manager for the NSW Health Munch & Move program.

Supporting educator wellbeing


ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone encourages you to consider your own wellbeing during this challenging time, and the role it plays in your work with children, families and colleagues.

Wellbeing incorporates both physical and psychological aspects and is central to belonging, being and becoming. Without a strong sense of wellbeing, it is difficult to have a sense of belonging, to trust others and feel confident in being, and to optimistically engage in experiences that contribute to becoming (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 33; Framework for School Age Care, p. 30).

The work and commitment of educators, teachers, staff, service leaders and approved providers is widely acknowledged and valued, as you collaboratively continue the important work of providing Australian children and families with quality early learning and school age care services. During these challenging times, a safe, predictable place for children and families is valued more than ever. In this blog, I’d like to invite you to consider your own wellbeing, and that of others within your service and community during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Australian studies have identified that educators’ wellbeing can be adversely impacted when effective, ongoing supports are not in place. Along with high rates of stress, this contributes to emotional exhaustion and educators leaving the profession (Jones, Hadley & Johnstone, 2017). We also know anecdotally that educators, service leaders, children and families are experiencing a higher level of stress from a variety of sources since the outbreak of COVID-19.

We all have a role to play in observing and monitoring the wellbeing of the people we work with. This attentiveness and responsiveness allows us all to better understand each other and build a well and effective team. Educators with a strong sense of wellbeing will be better positioned to meet the emotional needs of children returning to services, while supporting them in self-regulation and developing resilience. These capacities are essential for building secure relationships with children (Quality Area 5).

ACECQA has developed the Supporting educators during these challenging times information sheet to help service leaders reflect on and review their current practices and strategies to support the wellbeing of their staff. The information and resources can help build and support your own resilience and the wellbeing of others. The information sheet also features government and sector initiatives to support service leaders in their important role, as well as information for their teams.

ACECQA’s family focused brand StartingBlocks.gov.au has also developed some COVID-19 resources to share with families to support their changing circumstances and health and wellbeing at this time.

As a result of the complex nature of educator wellbeing, comprehensively and proactively addressing issues requires a shared approach to taking responsibility, including educators, educational leaders, nominated supervisors, service leaders and approved providers.

It is this collaborative and positive approach that will enable us to support each other and our individual and collective wellbeing, which is even more important in these challenging times.

Related resources to build understanding of educator wellbeing during COVID-19

Reference

Jones, C., Hadley, F. & Johnstone, M. (2017). ‘Retaining early childhood teachers: What factors contribute to high job satisfaction in early childhood settings in Australia’. New Zealand International Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, 20(2), 1-18. Retrieved from: https://researchers.mq.edu.au/en/publications/retaining-early-childhood-teachers-what-factors-contribute-to-hig

COVID-19 conversations with children

Rear view shot of a mother speaking with her young daughter

ACECQA’s General Manager, Strategy, Communications and Consistency, Michael Petrie, shares insights and learnings to support conversations with children.

All of us here at ACECQA are focusing our efforts on working with governments to provide the children’s education and care sector and families with up to date and reliable information about Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Whether that be health advice, information regarding financial sustainability for services, or advice for families on what activities they can do at home with their children, we are here to support you as best as we can throughout this period.

Talking to children about COVID-19 and what to expect going forward is critically important and would be a current priority for all parents and families.

Every parent knows the personalities of their children, especially how they react to changing circumstances. The coming months will be a test of the resilience of all of our community, not just our children.

Each child or age group will have their own level of awareness, and it is important to answer their questions honestly so they have the level of reassurance they may need.

On this point, I’d like to share a discussion my wife and I had with our children about COVID-19.

Following last month’s government announcements regarding travel restrictions and closing restaurants/venues, my wife and I decided it was important to have a conversation with our children about what was happening… but, more importantly, what was to come.

Not exactly knowing where their respective level of awareness was at – even though we had briefly discussed ‘the virus’ with them – we started with the basics of what COVID-19 is and the health issues associated with it.

Both of my children are in primary school, with a ‘we already know this’ attitude, and they told us their teachers had discussed the virus and the importance of hand washing, covering mouth/nose when coughing or sneezing and keeping a level of distance between people.

Starting with the basics was good, as it resulted in them asking us questions about their school closing and online classes until holidays started. We replied that, at this point schools weren’t closing, but if they did, their teachers could provide online lessons for them to complete at home until school holidays started.

I’d love to be able to report that they were happy with this answer – but the groan we received was exactly what we expected!

We quickly turned the conversation to what we really wanted to focus on… and this was to outline what was likely to happen in our house and community over the next few months.

We explained that to help limit the spread of COVID-19, there would need to be a number of changes to how we lived. Mum and Dad would probably be working from home for the next little while, they wouldn’t be able to play their team sports on the weekend, we couldn’t go out to restaurants or the movies, they wouldn’t be able catch up for play dates with their friends, and their grandparents would no longer be able to fly across and stay with us as planned.

This was the confronting bit of the conversation and the part they didn’t really understand.

A lot of questions followed, so we did our best to explain why COVID-19 meant there needed to be fundamental changes to their, and everyone’s, way of living for the time being.

We explained that we all had to do our part, but that it wasn’t all bad news. There were alternatives we could explore as a family – we could chat to friends and grandparents over the internet, all four of us could play more games at home together (yes, including PlayStation!), we could have movie nights and our own weekly sporting competitions in the backyard (my knees willing!).

While we couldn’t give them the definitive answer as to when things would be back to normal, they did, for the time being at least, seem reassured that everything was going to be different for a while and that’s ok.

My wife and I know this is just the start of the many conversations we will have with our children over the coming months, and they know to come and talk to us if they do become worried about anything. There are no silly questions during this time, and keeping open conversations running to mythbust any fears that might develop is very healthy.

As I mentioned at the start, every parent knows their child and how to talk with them. Different age groups have different levels of understanding of the world around them.

So, if you are looking for tips on how to engage in these conversations, we will be sharing advice from experts via ACECQA’s family focused StartingBlocks.gov.au on its website and Facebook page.

Services can access the latest information, support and guidance about COVID-19 on the ACECQA website. You may also wish to share these resources with the families at your service:

Go well.

Michael Petrie

Keeping children’s food safe

Correct food safety practices are integral to the provision of safe food for children (National Quality Standard (NQS) Quality Area 2, Children’s Health and Safety).

ACECQA spoke with Nutrition Australia Queensland’s Nutritionist and Food Safety Auditor Abbey Warren who shared some key tips and advice for keeping children’s food safe.

Abbey notes that as a result of their developing immune systems, children under the age of five years are vulnerable to food poisoning and at a greater risk of developing serious health complications.

Abbey shared that in her role as a food safety auditor specialising in the food safety requirements of vulnerable populations, including early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings, she has seen varying levels of food safety compliance.

“Everyone working within an ECEC environment has a responsibility to keep food safe, regardless of whether food is cooked on site by a chef or cook, delivered by a catering company or brought in by families” Abbey said.

Abbey shared her top three critical reflection points on food safety. These are all centred around the most commonly seen areas of non-compliance with accepted food handling standards and behaviours.

1. Do all staff have the skills and knowledge to care for food safely?

Anyone involved in the stages of food handling must have the skills and knowledge to do so safely. The chef or cook in the kitchen requires different skills and knowledge ie. Food safety supervisor training, compared to an educator who is involved in serving food to children who has had more basic training and general food safety knowledge and skills.

It is important that knowledge is current and reflected on frequently. A regular food safety agenda item at staff meetings is an effective way of ensuring food safety knowledge is current and at the forefront of mind. One month, it may cover correct hand washing and another month, it may cover food storage or cleaning. This is integral in ensuring that food safety remains a priority in the service.

The correct skills and knowledge of everyone involved in food handling is an important safeguard to promote the health and safety of children while minimising risks and protecting children from harm (NQS Quality Area 2).

2. Are the facilities appropriate for the amount and type of food being stored?

All food storage areas must be clean, pest free and well maintained (NQS Element 3.1.2). Food must be in sealed containers or bags and correctly labelled with the product name, opened date and best before date.

Items must be stored in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions. If a product is opened, it is important that the storage instructions are followed. Storage instructions may state that the products must be refrigerated after opening or stored in a cool dry place. These requirements should always be checked and followed before storing foods.

It is important to consider that Dry storage areas include pantries, cupboards or rooms where low risk foods are stored.

Abbey’s top tips to ensure the food in your fridge stays at the correct temperature include:

  • Avoid overloading
  • Ensure hot food has stopped steaming before putting it into the fridge
  • Minimise the time the door is held open
  • If lunchboxes or insulated lunch bags are brought in by families, ensure there is enough space to store these in a fridge and that insulated bags are unzipped to allow cool air to circulate.

3. Is food cooked or reheated to safe temperatures?

Cooking and heating food kills off pathogenic microorganisms if the correct temperatures are reached.

It is important to consider the following:

Cooking temperature – Potentially hazardous foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, seafood and cooked rice and pasta are required to be cooked to an internal temperature above 75°C to ensure any pathogenic microorganisms in the products are killed off.

Reheating temperature – Once potentially hazardous foods have been cooked above 75°C and then cooled for later use, they can then be reheated once to a temperature above 60°C.

To ensure the safety of cooked and reheated food:

  • Test internal food temperature with a probe thermometer and document temperature reached
  • Ensure thermometers are cleaned and sanitised after every use
  • Cooked and reheated food will need to be cooled for a short period of time to allow it to drop to a safe temperature for children to consume. Portioning food into small bowls/plates will help speed up cooling time
  • Prevent cooling food from contamination.

Young children are a highly vulnerable group when it comes to food poisoning and it is important that we all take every practical measure possible to ensure their safety while they attend a service.

Reflecting on your own food safety practices and the measures in place at your service is important to do regularly due to the ever changing nature of the food environment. Doing so will highlight what is being done well and what may require improvement to ensure the provision of safe food for children. For more information, refer to the Guide to the NQF Quality Area 2.

Exceeding the National Quality Standard with Be You: Part 2

In our last blog, Be You spoke to We Hear You about their national initiative for educators and how engagement with their program can help education and care services demonstrate the Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS) themes. In this follow-up blog, Be You chats with ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, and shares some case studies from services that use their implementation of the Be You initiative as evidence towards the Exceeding NQS themes.

‘Wellbeing incorporates both physical and psychological aspects and is central to belonging, being and becoming. Without a strong sense of wellbeing, it is difficult to have a sense of belonging, to trust others and feel confident in being, and to optimistically engage in experiences that contribute to becoming’. (EYLF. Pg.33 & MTOP pg. 30)

Be You promotes mental health and wellbeing of children aged from the early years to 18. Led by Beyond Blue with delivery partners Early Childhood Australia and headspace, it offers educators evidence-based online professional learning and an effective whole-learning community approach to mental health and wellbeing.

Case study

Exceeding NQS Theme 1: Practice is embedded in service operations

Carey Bay Preschool in NSW has carried over some practices from previous KidsMatter engagement into their Be You Action Plan.

  • Educational Leader Melinda Lynch and educator Taylah Sullivan have included mental health actions in the service’s Quality Improvement Plan (QIP).
  • Nominated Supervisor Wendy March explains one practice captured in the service’s QIP in relation to Quality Area 4 element 4.2.2: Professional standards guide practice, interactions and relationships: “In our staff meetings, we continually reflect to ensure educators feel supported in their roles and discuss ways we can support one another.”

This is an example of one way that Carey Bay Preschool has embedded a commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of educators into service operations.

Case study

Exceeding NQS Theme 2: Practice is informed by critical reflection

Ruth Simpkins, Director of Griffith University Tallowood and Boronia Child Care Centres in QLD, regularly checks in with her Be You Consultant, Kathryn.

  • During their online check-in, they use the Be You Reflection Tool to engage in professional conversations and document current practices, policies and procedures that promote wellbeing at the two services. 
  • Opportunities for continuous improvement are also identified and Ruth engages her staff in weekly discussions about creating a mentally healthy learning community. 
  • The documentation in the Reflection Tool, the commitment of regular check-ins with a Be You Consultant, and weekly discussions with staff all demonstrate that practice at Tallowwood and Boronia is informed by critical reflection.

Case study

Exceeding NQS Theme 3: Practice is shaped by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community

The team at Hawthorn Early Learning in Victoria have reflected on the ‘Connect’ and ‘Include’ learning modules in the Mentally Healthy Communities domain of Be You.

They have acknowledged and celebrated their existing practice of having an annual event at a local park to welcome new families. Educators have also reflected upon the diversity of family structures and how this impacts on their daily communication practices.

Through Be You, the service has committed to action to ensure that their communication is inclusive. For example, the service is making a commitment to communication practices which include both parents in separated families.

Engaging with Be You Professional Learning modules can promote learning and critical reflection on practices which engage families effectively, sensitively and confidentially. This fosters the mental health of children and young people.

In conversations about module content, actions to promote meaningful engagement with families can be documented in a Be You Action Plan: practices already in place, as well as planned future actions.

Through Be You, the service has committed to action to ensure that their communication is inclusive.

Educators have also committed to actioning some new practices to help families connect to the early learning service and the wider community. For example – they have committed to learning the names of family members to more meaningfully greet and interact with them; regularly inviting families to attend music sessions and excursions, and linking families with child and mental health services.

Case study

Bringing it all together

Hillsong Child Care Centres in NSW and QLD are using Be You to embed, inform and shape practice across all seven quality areas of the NQS.

  • Debra Williams, National Compliance and Development Manager, is using the Be You Reflection tool as a source of reflective prompts for educators in their weekly self-assessment process, which focuses on individual elements of the NQS.
  • In this way, the Be You Reflection Tool is assisting staff and management to gather ‘theme indicators’- evidence about how the services feel they currently demonstrate the Exceeding NQS themes – and generate ideas for ways to continuously grow and improve.

Each service is unique, and these case studies provide examples of the ways services can demonstrate the Exceeding NSW themes in ways which are relevant to their specific service, context and community.

Smiling children with smiling staff member

Register to learn more

Registering your learning community for Be You is FREE and will provide access to Be You implementation tools and resources and the support of Be You Consultants. To learn more about how to connect Be You and the Exceeding NQS themes, book for one of the Essentials or National Check-In events.

Exceeding the National Quality Standard with Be You: Part 1

Children and educator playing indoors with fabric

This month Be You talks to We Hear You about their national initiative for educators and how engagement with their program can help education and care services to demonstrate the Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS) themes.

Be You promotes mental health and wellbeing of children aged from the early years to 18. Led by Beyond Blue, with delivery partners Early Childhood Australia and headspace, it offers educators evidence-based online professional learning and an effective whole-learning community approach to mental health and wellbeing.

Exceeding National Quality Standard themes and Be You

Be You can support education and care services to reflect and demonstrate the three NQS Exceeding themes.

What are the Exceeding NQS themes?

A rating of Exceeding NQS means that the service is performing above and beyond the requirements of the NQS.  

The three Exceeding NQS themes are used to determine if approved education and care services exceed each of the fifteen NQS quality standards. Services must demonstrate these themes in practice for a standard to be rated as Exceeding NQS. The themes are:

1: Practice is embedded in service operations

2: Practice is informed by critical reflection

3: Practice is shaped by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community

This determination occurs during the assessment and rating process undertaken by state and territory regulatory authorities. Authorised officers use ‘observe’, ‘discuss’ and ‘sight’ techniques to gather evidence that is used to assess if the Exceeding NQS themes are evident in practice. All three themes must be demonstrated for a standard to be rated Exceeding NQS.

How can Be You support services with the demonstration of the Exceeding NQS themes?

Be You has shared some examples of ways it can help services to reflect and demonstrate the three Exceeding NQS themes.

  • Participation in Be You involves positive professional learning actions to support the mental health and wellbeing of children (NQS Standard 2.1) and staff (NQS Standards 4.1 and 4.2).

Participation also involves embedding these actions within service policies, procedures and practices. Through Be You, high quality practices can be established, sustained and consistently implemented, and this can support the demonstration of Exceeding NQS Theme 1 – Practice is embedded in service operations.

  • Critical reflection is a very important part of the Be You implementation process.

Be You has a variety of implementation tools which serve as triggers for, and ways of documenting, critical reflection. For example, when promoting children’s mental health and wellbeing, the Be You Reflection Tool, Action Plan or Always Be You Learning Map could provide supporting evidence to demonstrate Exceeding Theme 2 – Practice is informed by critical reflection for Standard 2.1. These tools will also support educators and teams in their ongoing reflective practice for all standards.  Critical reflection is also central to Standard 1.3 and a key pedagogical principle of the approved learning frameworks.

The three learning modules within the family partnerships domain can help services identify meaningful ways to engage with families. Be You surveys can also assist in canvassing families’ voices as to how well the service supports them to feel welcome and have a sense of belonging and connection.  Reflection on the modules and survey results can be used together to identify areas for growth in communication and relationships with families.

This could then be used to demonstrate Exceeding Theme 3 – Practice is shaped by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community for particular standards.

Register to learn more

It’s FREE to register your learning community with Be You and gain access to the program’s implementation tools and resources and the support of Be You Consultants. To learn more about how to connect to Be You and the Exceeding NQS themes, book for one of the Essentials or National Check-In events.

In our follow-up NEL blog, we’ll share some case studies from education and care services that could help in your understanding of the connection between engagement with Be You and the demonstration of the Exceeding NQS themes.