A guiding principle of the National Quality Framework that informs the development of our education and care programs is the view that all children are capable and competent learners who have agency. There is also a long-standing body of evidence showing that children learn best through a play-based program.
The National Quality Standard (NQS) encourages educators to facilitate and extend each child’s learning and development. This can be supported through a play-based program by using practice that is thoughtful, intentional, collaborative and responsive to the everyday flow of experiences and events for children and educators.
When educators collaborate with children to design and implement a play-based program, they are providing children with opportunities to learn as they discover, create, improvise, test theories, imagine and engage with others.
For school age children, learning is supported through play and leisure when educators act with intentionality to build on children’s interests and nurture their developing life skills. This can be achieved by ensuring the program complements their experiences, opportunities and relationships at school, at home and in the community.
Intentional and responsive educators actively engage in children’s learning and share decision-making with them. They interact with children during play, routines and projects to listen to children’s ideas and thoughts, to stimulate their thinking and experiences, and to enrich their learning. They also recognise and respect children’s emerging independence and right to privacy: there will be times when it may not be appropriate to intervene or interrupt their play or leisure activities.
Providing time, space and learning activities that facilitate thoughtful and challenging conversations with children.
Engaging with children by listening, showing interest and asking open ended questions to encourage thinking and conversation.
Using a range of communication strategies that involve explanations, speculation and problem solving.
Collaborating with children to develop further knowledge and skills, and extend perspectives.
Using teaching strategies that compliment the goals for children’s learning.
Providing instructional/intentional support to children during play, routines and transitions.
Reflective questions and activities
These reflective questions and activities can be shared at your next team meeting to unpack how you and the educator team use intentional teaching strategies to support children’s learning and development through play:
During children’s play, how responsive are we to their ideas, thinking and interests?
Activity: share an example of how you have collaborated with children to further develop their knowledge and skills through play.
How do planned or intentional aspects of the program support spontaneous play and leisure experiences initiated by children?
Activity: Reflect on the children’s program and identify the experiences and activities that have been intentionally planned to complement the goals that have been set for children’s learning. Brainstorm ways that you could engage children and families in identifying and setting meaningful and relevant learning outcomes and goals.
This month we hear from Donna Wynn, a Principal Project Officer from theQueensland Department of Education. Recently involved in the development and facilitation of the Queensland Department of Education Early Childhood Education and Care Metropolitan Region Educational Leader Professional Program, Donna provides an overview of the intensive six-month program.
Now in the final phase of delivery, the program has engaged and supported 40 educational leaders.
The comprehensive six-month program adopted a range of professional activities and a multilayered approach to leadership learning and development incorporating workshops, webinars, workplace tasks, reflective practice and professional conversations. Some key aspects of the program included:
Introduction day – An introduction day was held to welcome participants and provide an overview of the objectives and structure of the program. The day included professional workshops and presentations exploring topics including: leadership, coaching and mentoring, emotional intelligence, leading and influencing change and unpacking the role of the educational leader.
Webinars – Monthly professional practice webinars, delivered by experienced education and care practitioners, were provided throughout the course of the program. The webinars focused predominately on educational program and practice including: curriculum decision-making, the assessment and planning cycle and critical reflection. A final webinar explored the role of educational leader in supporting professional development and maintaining the momentum for continuous quality improvement.
Professional conversations – One to one professional conversation sessions were an important quality characteristic of the professional program. Participants were partnered with an experienced early childhood professional and provided time and guidance to work on goals relevant to their workplace, giving them increased confidence in their professional roles and own abilities.
Workplace tasks – Evidence-based learning tasks, which complemented the monthly professional practice webinars, were provided to invite individual reflection on skill development and support participants in establishing goals for educational program and practice within their service. The workplace tasks were seen as an invaluable professional development tool that could be incorporated into the context of educator’s daily work and used to support professional collaboration and learning among service teams.
Digital space – To promote professional dialogue, networking and connection, an online collaboration space was provided where participants could pose questions, seek advice and share information and resources.
Educational Leader toolkit – Throughout thecourse of the program, participants built their own ‘Educational Leader confidence toolkit’ – a practical collection of information, workbooks, workplace activities and reflections. Principal Program Officers also developed and distributed virtual information including e-books and monthly ‘educational leader professional program quick tips’ to support key learnings and professional practice.
Throughout the professional program, participants developed their understanding of leadership through the lens of leading self, leading others and leading practice. Core competencies and concepts explored throughout the program included:
Projecting a professional image.
Understanding your role as a leader.
Communicating with influence.
Courageous decision making.
Leading the way – team vision.
Developing and growing the team.
Mentoring and coaching – SMART, GROWTH and COACH models.
Planning, organising and delegating.
Building collaborative teams.
Driving continuous improvement.
Influencing practice change.
Facilitating professional discussions.
Feedback on the program
Feedback on the Educational Leader Professional Program has been positive, with participants engaging in an array of processes and measures to support continuous quality improvement, professionalism and professional collaboration across their education and care services.
What participants are doing so far
Developing or re-developing shared team visions.
Applying a focus on capturing strengths and ideas of all team members.
Ongoing reflective practice on self-awareness and awareness of others.
Using Inquiry Cycles to collaboratively create change.
Well-developed confidence in knowledge of the role and responsibilities of the Educational Leader.
Deepening critically reflective practice.
Fostering team knowledge and understanding of the components of high-quality play.
Where to now?
The Educational Leader Professional Program is in the final phase of delivery. In November there will be an official presentation ceremony and celebratory morning tea for participants of the program. As part of the event, participants will be provided with the opportunity to present on their involvement in the program, articulate their leadership stance and share the strategies they have implemented within their service to support and strengthen practice in relation to Quality Area 1 – Educational programs and practice. The event aims to highlight the important role of the educational leader in deepening shared pedagogical action and supporting transformative change.
This month we hear from Gabby Millgate, the nature pedagogy leader at Woden Valley Child Care Centre (WVCCC) an early childhood service based in Canberra, established in 1992.
Gabby shares her insights into establishing an in-nature pedagogy in the early childhood setting.
Tell us about the role of Nature Pedagogy Leader at your service.
The Nature Pedagogy Leader develops the art of teaching through nature by creating natural environments with the children. The children learn holistically across the curriculum while experiencing care for the land, plants, animals and people.
The parent committee’s support for our former director’s vision has seen nature pedagogy smoothly embedded into the service. Our most recent director and subsequent committees have also continued to champion this program and practice.
As Nature Pedagogy Leader I am one of four leaders on the centre’s leadership team. It’s a full time role as we provide inclusive opportunities for all children to engage in nature, play based learning. Ongoing consultations and collaborations with each team at the service aims to embed nature pedagogy and sustainable practice within their programs. This approach underlies our success. I value my time supporting other educators with their developmental objectives for the children and can see how many more opportunities can be discovered when we have a shared vision.
How does nature pedagogy support children’s mathematical and scientific learning?
As the children discover patterns within flowers and plants they develop spatial understandings. When planting seasonal crops or collecting groups of objects and counting, they develop mathematical concepts. Scientific understanding builds as they actively engage in learning about life cycles, become water wise, or develop an understanding of sustainability and its impact on individuals.
At our service, professional development for educators has helped to build their knowledge about how the Ngoonawal people care for their Country and the sustainability pathway. This informs our learning and teaching. We’ve found that an early childhood curriculum and program can all be experienced and taught within the natural environment. Learning and playing in nature supports children to value the natural environment.
Case study: Transforming a bare backyard into The Narragunnawali Garden
When I assumed the role of nature pedagogy leader in 2017, WVCCC was transitioning to a nature play focused centre. A new space – The Narragunnawali Garden – had just been created by reclaiming some land outside the fence line where there had been a chook house, chickens, garden beds and compost bays.
I was given the freedom to create gardens for and with the children. Together, the children and I transformed a bare backyard into a lush edible garden with a riverbed and chickens.
One of my first job was to organise the composting systems. I revived an abandoned worm farm and a compost turner that had stopped turning. Although I was not a composting expert, just like the children engaging in research and trial and error, I soon became one. I also began a ‘Garden of the Future’ project and by January 2018 there were sunflowers, beans and cosmos (a flower) growing in the space outside the front of the service.
Recognising the value and importance of connecting with the community and finding free resources for our projects allowed us to demonstrate our promise to ‘look after the land’, by embedding sustainable practices. For example:
Farmers donated manure bursting with earth worms
A connection was made with a local hardware store who donated resources
Jerusalem artichokes were sourced from the local Facebook Canberra Homesteaders group
I collected wheelie bins full of coffee grounds from a local café.
These connections and relationships brought fresh tried and tested knowledge into our centre. It also allowed the children to learn more about the role different people and organisations have in sustainability.
Key learning: Better ways to engage to support a nature pedagogy
All journeys come with ebbs and flows and an initial challenge was encouraging enthusiasm for our Garden of the Future and the Narragunnawali Garden.
Our Pedagogical Leader recognised my vision and helped me create communication pathways with educators and team leaders to improve engagement with the nature pedagogy.
I used reflective tools and consultation methods, and enhanced my documentation to include evidence about how nature pedagogy could be integrated into early learning settings.
What seemed like a bumpy start became a truly inclusive program boosting the quality of the children’s access to nature.
Nature pedagogy continues to inspire and educate us all
Over the past five years we have learnt a lot about children’s capacity to connect and contribute to their world.
We encourage them to understand their role in caring for the plants we are growing, while still being able to touch, pick and eat what they grow.
When we see children explaining to their peers that we need to leave ‘some’ [flowers] for the bees or ‘some’ [seed pods] for the birds, they are enacting their learning and knowledge in a truly inspiring way.
Throughout the pandemic we have been reminded how valuable connection to community is to children, families, and educators’ sense of wellbeing. In a previous post How have COVID-19 restrictions shaped your service’s community engagement? we spoke about why connection is important, and how the COVID-19 pandemic barriers to community engagement can be meaningfully addressed. It is equally as important to consider how your program and quality practices can be extended to reach children and families who are not attending your service or are having minimal contact with you, so they feel connected and supported.
When considering how to extend your program to enrolled children and their families who are not currently attending, start by reflecting on Quality Area 6 and what the unique relationships with families look like within your service. This will support you and your team in deciding which outreach ideas would be the most effective. It is also important to note that connection efforts do not need to only be directed to family members. By reaching out directly to children, you are able to enhance their feelings of belonging and their social wellbeing.
Adapting your current strategies
Your service will already have diverse support systems in place for your children, and connections with families to support them in their parenting role (NQS Element 6.1.3). Together with your team, reflect on the most suitable ways to adapt and build on your existing connection strategies.
Some areas to reflect on when brainstorming and choosing strategies to connect with families could include:
Families are receiving increased amounts of digital correspondence and communication from schools, government organisations, workplaces, etc. How do you consider this if attempting to connect in this way?
How does your mindset and language focus on the current needs of your families? Keeping in mind children’s and families’ wellbeing and their evolving needs for safety, security, and connection during COVID-19 can help to ensure your connection efforts are truly supportive.
How do you ensure your connection efforts are respectful, inclusive, and based on real understanding of the diverse family structures and/or cultures across your service?
How frequently do you and your team reflect on and review the ways you connect? Things are changing frequently due to COVID-19 – consider if it would be beneficial to review practices more regularly than usual to ensure they still work for your service, your families, and children.
If families have opted out of using digital platforms or other means you use to connect, how do you ensure they still feel part of your community?
As explored in the exceeding guidance for Standard 6.1, how does your approach to building supportive relationships and connections align with your service philosophy and the values of your families?
Consider your current levels of staffing and your continuing operational requirements. Could smaller gestures to help families feel connected potentially be more appropriate during this time? How could you make these meaningful?
Family engagement and feedback
Feedback is an important part of connecting with your families and ensuring your policies, procedures, practices, and overarching program meet their diverse needs. When continuing to gather meaningful input during the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be helpful to consider the following:
Consider what strategies successfully encouraged collaboration in the past and how you found out what works best for families when asking for feedback. How could you adapt these methods or work with children and families to come up with new, creative strategies?
How can you find out if your requests possibly require more time and energy than families can commit to right now?
How can you ensure your families understand the language you use when asking for their input? For example, how do you empower your families with information and opportunities to build their understanding of the educational program at your service before asking for their feedback?
Aligning with Elements 1.3.1 and 6.1.1, what parts of your program are your families passionate about and how can you ensure they have the opportunity to contribute feedback in genuine, authentic and meaningful ways on a range of policies, procedures and practices (e.g. COVID-19 routines, transitions, spaces)?
It is equally as important to consider whether families could be fatigued with requests for feedback and whether these appeals may be transactional as opposed to building relationships and supporting families at this time. Whether families are attending the service, or have limited access due to restrictions, it can be helpful to use your professional judgement and what you already know about your families in order to trial options, build on connections, and take actions.
The bigger picture
“Improving the wellbeing of families is an important contributing factor in improving children’s overall wellbeing”
Guide to the NQF, p.264.
When you connect, it is important to share that you are an advocate for the health and wellbeing of your families and highlight that this may look different for each individual child/family. You and your team have wonderful opportunities to provide warmth, reassurance, and enhance the wellbeing of both those who are seeking support for their family during this time by attending your service, as well as for families who have chosen to keep their children at home.
While COVID-19 restrictions have presented challenges, they have also encouraged the exploration of opportunities to build trust and support for your families. Your tailored approaches will draw on your knowledge of each family in order to connect thoughtfully and meaningfully, whether that is in person or through other means. While you may not receive an immediate response, or any response at all, to your connection attempts this does not mean your efforts to keep in touch have not been appreciated. While it is fulfilling to have certainty that your message has touched who you intended it to, the aim of connecting with families is to provide support and enhance their wellbeing. It is important to remember there will be diversity in preferences in ways to connect and consider the possibility that a response from families may not be something they can commit to or prioritise at this time.
Reflecting with your team on the new strategies for connection that have been developed and considering how they can go beyond the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic can also support quality improvement into the future. As service leaders and educators, we view responsive, reciprocal supportive and ongoing relationships as crucial to our program. These reflections on relationships and connections can also strengthen your, and your team’s, dedicated commitment to understanding and building on meaningful, regular engagement with families to support children’s learning and wellbeing.
One of the lessons the COVID-19 pandemic has taught is how important community and connection are to a sense of wellbeing. With parts of the country in extended periods of lockdown, many service teams are reflecting on how community engagement can be maintained during this time. This includes how service teams can continue to support children’s sense of belonging by helping them to experience connection and engagement with the local community.
Why connection is important
Before reflecting on strategies for engagement, you could start by revisiting WHY connecting with community is important. Does your service philosophy give you some clues about the values you hold? Do the principles, practices, and outcomes of the Approved Learning Frameworks remind you of the reasons you and your team strive to build meaningful connections? How does connecting with the broader community support the outcomes you are seeking?
Identifying your community
The Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) results give communities a snapshot of children’s development and can support you to understand where developmental vulnerability exists within your community. The AEDC website provides an opportunity for service teams to reflect on a community profile and offers strategies so the data can be used to understand who your community is.
You and your team can then build on the information by considering what is in your local area (emergency services, library, schools/education and care services, local businesses). In speaking to children, families, educators and other team members, you can also explore their current connections (people, businesses, clubs, organisations, interests) and consider how you might build on them.
These can be great starting points for you and all those involved with your service as you support children to feel part of their local community. But how do you maintain these connections when you are unable to explore your community in person or have community members visit you?
What the National Quality Framework says
Standard 6.2 of the National Quality Standard highlights the significance of collaborative partnerships that enhance children’s inclusion, learning and wellbeing. Specifically, Element 6.2.3 focuses on the importance of service teams making community connections for the service as a whole, and to further support children’s sense of belonging by helping them to build and experience connections and be engaged with their local community.
So how can you and your team continually enhance your approaches so that COVID-19 restrictions do not limit your efforts to build connections and relationships with the world beyond the front gate?
During these uncertain times it is useful to think about creative ways to continue to maintain the relationships that you and your team have worked to build. During COVID-19 restrictions, methods of engagement are often based around virtual spaces, however finding new ways to connect can support not only children, but the educators, the families and the wider community as well.
Reinventing quality practices and experiences that were once accomplished with ease, is not a simple task. However, through collaboration with your teams you will find there are many ways to continue to meet the requirements of Standard 6.2.3.
Some practice examples could be:
If you have a connection with an aged care facility or senior centre, there may be opportunities to:
play online games
send video messages
plant seedlings in personalised pots and do a contactless drop off
engage in a virtual music session with the facility
share in a virtual morning tea.
Creating videos and audio messages are a great alternative for children when seeking other ways to connect.
If you usually go on a weekly visit to the library, there may be opportunities to stay connected to the library:
through their online initiatives
by sending a weekly message to your Librarian about a book you and the children enjoyed
by reconnecting to past experiences by encouraging children to think and talk about all the places you would pass by or things you would usually see on your way
by recreating a library space with children and provide the experiences that occur when at the library.
If you usually participate in excursions to the zoo, museums, or science centres, there may be opportunities to:
engage with their online resources. Many of these and other venues are now live streaming and creating amazing content, allowing them to continue to surprise, delight, teach and connect with the wider community.
explore these as part of your program and encourage learning with planned and spontaneous activities.
If you engage with the local schools to support school transitions,there may be opportunities to arrange:
a virtual tour of the school to help familiarise children with their new school environment
virtual tours at your early childhood service to orientate new families when in-person visits are not possible.
If you have a community library,there may be opportunities to:
reflect on turning it into a community pantry with supermarket supplies,
think about how you, your team and children can make resources accessible to families and the community when they may not be able to enter the service
display artworks, or community resources outdoors or on the fence for the community to engage with
create care packages or creative arts packages that your local community can collect and use at home.
Technology and media have increased access to other communities and organisations beyond your local neighbourhood. However, it is important to note that fatigue can set in with devices, so also look for solutions that allow you and your team to build and maintain your connections with community in “low-tech” ways. Drawing pictures, writing cards and notes, taking thoughtful actions, planning for future connections, and even reminiscing about people and experiences, can connect you to your community. These strategies allow you, your team and the children, the opportunity to work on communication without time restraints, and allows those you are connecting with to do the same.
The bigger picture
Reflect on ways children can develop empathy, respect and kindness. With the children, you could consider who might need to hear positive messages of care and concern during this challenging time. Encourage your learning community to look out for each other and those around them by doing simple things that make each other’s day easier or happier. Promote kindness in communication with families and the community, instilling a culture of hope and resilience. Every point of connection makes a difference.
The possibilities of who can become part of your community during this time have shifted and you and your team have an opportunity to push boundaries and find innovative ways to build and maintain relationships with the community. While the ideas discussed are relevant to a nation in lockdown, they are useful in reminding you to look at the bigger picture of connectedness. Whether it is through in-person visits, virtual communication or even letter writing. When you develop respectful and responsive links with the immediate or wider community, it will further enrich your quality practices, improving outcomes for children and families.
Digital devices are of great use when documenting a child’s learning. They are particularly useful for capturing photos and videos of children to include in daily or weekly communications with families.
Documenting the program and the child’s progress within the program can make a child’s learning visible to their family. It creates valuable opportunities for starting meaningful discussions with families about their child’s progress and involvement in the program and routine.
National Regulation 76 and Element 1.3.3 of the National Quality Standard outline the requirement to provide families information about their child’s participation in the educational program. In addition, Quality Area 6 of the National Quality Standard focuses on building supportive and respectful relationships with families. These relationships are based on active communication, consultation and collaboration, which in turn contribute to children’s inclusion, learning and wellbeing.
With all aspects of documenting children’s learning there are opportunities and challenges. We often hear that educators feel overwhelmed by the amount of documentation and are not sure about the best ways to document meaningful learning experiences, rather than just capturing what has happened during the day. It may be timely to review practices at your service to mitigate the challenges and maximise the opportunities.
A digital portal, emails, social media and online newsletters are commonly used to share children’s photos or videos with families. Some services will often set a target for the number of digital items to be sent to families each day and educators will be expected to meet this.
Is this reflective of the digital age in which we live, where we have come to expect a constant stream of information? On the one hand, sharing each day with families what you capture provides them with the reassurance that their child is settled and happily engaged at the service. On the other hand, the images or videos that are shared may not be a true reflection about the child’s learning, play and time at the service.
To meet the challenge of providing a large number photos or videos – and particularly ones that are ‘picture perfect’ – an educator may end up choosing ‘clickable’ moments showing what has transpired, rather than the child in the context of their learning and development. As a consequence, other aspects of quality may also fall by the wayside, such as ensuring the images or videos serve as a springboard for meaningful conversations with families about their child’s learning and progress, and planning to extend children’s thinking and learning.
Another possible effect is that the dignity and rights of children may be impacted (Element 5.1.2) when numerous photos or videos are taken. The children’s voice may also be absent if they do not have the opportunity to consent to having their photo or video taken.
For families, multiple content each day can result in saturation. Consider at what point will the child’s family stop paying attention to what the child is learning and doing, and the images or video simply become a passing distraction.
For educators, there is a possibility that churning out photos and videos of each child may become a drain on their time, detracting from quality educator-child interactions which support children’s learning and development.
An educator’s role is also to model the respectful and moderate use of digital devices within a child’s routine, and their over-use to capture images and videos may send mixed messages to children.
A reset of the expectations around digital documentation for families is recommended. Involve all stakeholders – the service team, children, families and the community – in a reflection on what is needed, what is wanted and what is realistic for your service community and context.
Questions to explore
You can use the following questions as conversation starters at your next team or family meeting:
What parts of the program can be documented with a photo or video?
How does what we document contribute to the program and practice and the outcomes of the approved learning frameworks?
How can we ensure that we are respecting the rights of children and involve them in decision-making on documentation? For example, can we invite them to take the photos and videos of their play and experiences, or can we invite them to choose which ones we take?
How often should we document the children’s program and progress? Are photos and videos needed every day or is there an opportunity for ‘camera-free’ days?
What are the ways in which our families want to receive photos and videos of their child’s involvement in the program?
How do we ensure that we are meeting children’s individual needs while capturing their play and learning in the program?
How can we provide children with an opportunity to view and revisit their photos and videos?
How does our digital documentation of the program link to any paper-based documentation?
Quality, not quantity, is the old adage, and it rings true when it comes to documenting a child’s program and progress for families. Meaningful photos and videos that make learning visible are of far greater value than an overabundance of daily content.
As long as expectations are established at the outset, families will appreciate the quality and meaning of your rich documentation and the story that it tells about their child.
This month we hear from Nominated Supervisors, Ona Buckley and Daniel Betts, Preschool Supervisor, Michelle Williams and Early Childhood Teacher, Whitney Williams from Guliyali Preschool.
Recently awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA, the NSW Central Coast based service shares learnings from their longstanding partnership with residents of a local retirement village, part of their Ageless Play Program.
Partnerships are embedded in every aspect of our practice at Guliyali Preschool. Engaging meaningfully with our community promotes understanding and provides a genuine opportunity for relationship-building and collaboration. We have developed strong 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.
At Guliyali Preschool, our community engagement programs are meaningful, authentic and mutually beneficial. Our longest running community partnership project has been with the Living Choice Deepwater Court retirement village residents who engage in our Ageless Play Program that has been running consistently for six years.
Our relationship with the Deep Water Court retirement village sprouted from a conversation with a new family over 10 years ago. The family had recently moved into our local area away from their support network. The mother mentioned to an educator that her child was finding the move challenging as he missed the interactions with his elderly neighbours and grandparents. To support this family the educator made contact with the local retirement village and organised a visit. To begin with, the visits were only once a term, however as the relationships grew the partnership organically grew into monthly and now weekly visits. Each year we reflect on the partnership and the feedback from our families and children overwhelmingly supports us continuing these beautiful weekly connections.
‘We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.’
George Bernard Shaw
Our Ageless Play community members, many of them retired school teachers, have unique strengths that we draw on to create programs that are inspiring and rewarding for everyone involved. The project has mutual benefits for the children in our service, the residents in the village and for our wider community. Through this program children learn the importance of providing friendship and companionship to others, regardless of whether they are significantly older or younger than themselves. The program enables our children to develop positive attitudes towards the elderly and to feel comfortable around those with disabilities and impairments. The retirement village coordinator reports that these visits help the residents break up their everyday routine, reduce feelings of isolation associated with ageing, and allows participants to rekindle relationships with the broader community.
Our programs evolve to meet the needs of all stakeholders. Our Ageless Play program seeks to bring together various generations through a range of play opportunities, supporting communities and nurturing relationships. All key stakeholders are empowered throughout the delivery of the program as their voices are respected and heard. Children and residents of the village contribute to decision making within the group by making decisions on what activities to participate in. Educators benefit from the residents’ expertise and residents gain an increase in self-esteem and emotional and social wellbeing, reconnecting them with their community. Our Ageless Play partnership evolved and endured despite the visitation and communication challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was strengthened during the pandemic, and we were able to break down the restriction barriers by using technology to send video messages as well as traditional communication methods such as letter writing to maintain our relationships with the residents.
Here are some strategies that we think could help services who are thinking about how to build their community engagement and partnerships:
1. Build local knowledge
Become familiar with your local community and the available resources and organisations with whom you can share experiences with. Take the time to visit places in the community that are easily accessible or invite members from local community groups into your service to share their knowledge and skills. Engage in authentic and respectful community celebrations that will build children’s understanding of their community and their respect for diversity.
2. Get involved!
Be a part of everything – become informed of community agencies in your area and reach out to local organisations that may also be looking to build a community partnership. Seeking the support and advice of community agencies such as libraries, Senior Citizen Associations, Rotary Clubs and Lions Clubs may assist in providing links that can be nurtured and developed into long lasting relationships.
3. Think broadly
Consult with stakeholders. Many families, educators, teachers and/or staff have links to community groups that would be happy to form community connections with children’s education and care services. There are a myriad of ways and opportunities for children to feel a sense of belonging in, contributing to, and influencing their world.
4. Critically reflect
Spend time reflecting on your sense of community and think about how it has been informed. Reflecting on what community means to you and the service can enrich decision making, increase awareness of influences and bias and provide goals for continuous community improvement projects.
What has helped guide and support your community partnerships?
Living our values
Our service philosophy and vision remind us daily of our role in the community, it inspires us and provides direction and purpose. Visual representations of our philosophy around our preschool outline the purpose and principles under which we operate. It’s a tool to assist with the navigation towards our continuous improvement.
Communicate widely and effectively
Effective means of communication aids in shared decision making for children. As educators, we must be givers of information but also receivers. Communication is integral in building relationships and engaging with others to create connected communities. We recognise that this comes in many forms: verbal, non-verbal, online, newsletters, informal and formal meetings and social media platforms. We are mindful of first languages and take a ‘not a one size fits all approach’ when communicating with our community.
Recognise the experts within
Learn about your colleagues’ hidden areas of expertise, your families’ special skills and community resources that might benefit your program. Reach out to other children’s education and care services in your community. Acknowledging and recognising these ‘hidden experts’ identifies opportunities to initiate and establish community connections and collaborations.
Interested in finding out more?
The Ageless Play Program is just one of many community-based partnerships and exceptional practices recognised in the awarding of the Excellent rating to Guliyali Preschool. Read more about their practices on the ACECQA Excellent Rating page.
Read more about Guliyali Preschool, which is situated within the grounds of Woy Woy Public School. Guliyali Preschool invites interested children’s education and care services to connect and share practice.
Looking to get involved with Ageless Play? Learn more about intergenerational programs here.
This month we hear from Laura Stone and Linda Harrison from ABC Kids Early Education about using podcasts to build and support children’s learning and understanding. ABC Kids Early Education is a source for ABC Kids and ABC Kids Listen digital content aligned to six key areas: creativity and expression, family, community and culture, language and literacy, STEM and sustainability and nature.
When considering the diverse learning styles of young children, listening to podcasts can offer a fascinating new dimension to educator and teacher planning and practice. Children’s developing capacity to focus attention on each of their senses is a technique used in early childhood mindfulness practice. There is now an array of quality podcasts available for young children that encourage ‘purposeful listening’, helping young minds and bodies to learn to listen with intent – thereby resulting in a natural calmness. Most quality children’s podcasts are great co-listening experiences and can be just as soothing and engaging for adult co-listeners as they are for children.
Listening to podcasts can help children develop important skills for ‘efferent’ listening – listening for factual information or ideas. For example, in ABC Kids Listen’s Noisy by Nature, children can hear many of the interesting sounds made by Australian animals and insects, while learning fun facts to help develop their understandings and respect for biodiversity in different natural environments along the way. Just as reading a great storybook or having an in depth ‘picture talk’ will tease out additional understandings from children’s real-life experiences, so to can beautiful podcasts.
In Noisy by Nature, presenter Dr Ann Jones talks to children as if they are old friends – she asks questions, waits for a response, atmosphere builds in a layered soundscape of wind, waves and distant bird calls. We hear something loud or melodic or just plain silly ring out above the rest! What is that wonderfully weird sound of nature? Noisy by Nature is a transportive experience for little listeners.
An amazing podcast can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. A child’s gaze when listening to a cleverly crafted podcast is quite a special thing to behold. Just like hearing a story from a loved grown-up, you can see the imagining behind their eyes. As adults, we could liken this experience to the emotional journey we go on when reading a real page turner! No pictures, just an evocative narrative to take you to some place new in your mind. You can see yourself there with the characters, with the landscape, in the moment. Great podcasts are exciting!
What is joint media engagement?
According to the ECA Statement on young children and digital technologies, joint media engagement involves children, peers and/ or adults participating in digital activities together such as co-playing games and apps, co-viewing programs or co-listening to digital content together.
Listening to well-chosen appropriate audio content together provides children with the opportunity to ask questions and put forward ideas, which helps build language development through collaborative learning. These shared digital play experiences can also help educators scaffold children’s development of important dispositions for learning such as curiosity, interest, enthusiasm and imagination (Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (EYLF), Learning Outcome 4.1).
Using the ABC Kids Noisy by Nature podcasts as provocations for learning
After listening to Your babbling birds, children explore bird habitats and create a nest for a Kookaburra using natural & upcycled materials.
Noisy by Natureepisodes can be used as provocations to help educators and teachers intentionally engage children in learning. Sparking wonder in Australian animals or animal groups (marsupials, nocturnal animals, insects, amphibians, mammals), these audio resources can be used at any stage of an ongoing inquiry-based investigation. The podcasts allow children to be absorbed and fascinated by natures’ phenomenons, which provides the perfect springboard for meaningful play-based project work.
Aligning with the National Quality Standard (NQS) Element 1.2.2 ‘Responsive teaching and scaffolding’, podcasts can support the co-construction of knowledge about our sometimes weird and always wonderful world. The interesting facts about insects, animals and their natural habitats offer opportunities for educators to link programming to Learning Outcome 2.1 ‘Children become socially responsible and show respect for the environment’ in the EYLF. Thought-provoking follow-up learning experiences can focus on environmentally responsible practices and conservation to foster an appreciation of the earth and animals that inhabit it for future generations.
ABC Kids Early Education has designed a new free online resource with inspiring ideas for ways educators can use Noisy by Nature audio content to engage children in further explorations through hands-on, play-based learning.
These nature-based podcasts can support programming and planning across program areas including:
Respect for diversity
How can podcasts provoke follow-up outdoor education?
After listening, follow-up learning experiences in outdoor spaces can open-up inquiry and investigations into beach, bush or neighbourhood environments. Real life experiences in nature provide opportunities for children to connect with the landscape and their community, as well as explore nature and scientific concepts. According to the EYLF, including the exploration of nature in early childhood outdoor education programs “fosters an appreciation of the natural environment, develops environmental awareness and provides a platform for ongoing environmental education” (EYLF Principle: Learning environments).
The Noisy by Nature Excursion Early Education Resources could become a useful planning tool for outdoor education experiences in your local community. These free resources suggest ways children can make connections in their learning while out and about – linking to the EYLF and NQS in the following programming areas:
‘Before you go…’
‘While you are there…’ and
‘When you get back…’.
Children as digital audio content creators
Educators and teachers can further support children’s developing digital literacy skills by encouraging them to make their own recordings of different sounds in nature, using a handheld device. This learning experience can help young children become familiar with how the different functions of digital technologies work, through exploratory play in a digital context. These child-created podcasts can be shared with families to support collaborative partnerships.
Edwards, S. (2016) New concepts of play and the problem of technology, digital media and popular-culture integration with play-based learning in early childhood education. Technology, pedagogy and education, Vol 25(4), pp.513-532.
This month we hear from the National Nutrition Network – Early Childhood Education and Care (‘the Network’). This group of academics, researchers and implementers promote best practice nutrition and healthy eating in the early years throughout Australia. The Network provides practical resources based on research that support children’s education and care services to promote healthy eating. ACECQA would like to thank Amy Wakem, Lara Hernandez, Shabnam Kashef and Caryn Maslen for their contribution to our learning community.
What’s all the fuss about fussy eaters?
Fussy eating is a phase that many children go through. Up to 50% of all 0-3-year-old children refuse to eat new and different foods at least half the time . For some children, fussy eating tendencies are short-lived, but for others, they can last for much longer.
In a supportive eating environment, children can tell when they are hungry, when they are full and they can self-regulate their eating behaviours. It is their caregiver’s role to provide nutritious food, decide how often food is offered (through routine meal and snack times), and provide a relaxed child-friendly mealtime environment. This should include using appropriately sized utensils for children, as well as sitting and eating with the children. A child’s role is to choose whether to eat what has been provided and how much.
It can take up to 10 or more exposures to a new food before a child may feel comfortable with it . Mouthing a food (moving it around in the mouth but not swallowing) may be misinterpreted as a rejection of that food, however, this can be part of the acceptance process. Infants and young children learn how to self-feed and explore food using all of their senses, including touch, smell and taste. This is an important part of the development process.
To create a child-friendly mealtime, avoid pressuring children to eat everything on their plate, and try not to make a big deal if they refuse a certain food. Forcing or bribing a child to eat can make them forget their own hunger and fullness cues. Educators who recognise how a child is eating by nodding and smiling rather than providing lots of praise or commenting on what has or has not been eaten are encouraging a child to respond to their own cues.
Remember, too, that persistence is key. Keep offering a variety of foods, include food-based experiences (for example, cooking activities, designing a vegetable patch and growing and picking vegetables), and seek support from others when you need it.
Encouraging children to try new foods
There are many different ways that educators and service leaders can encourage children to try new foods.
You can encourage children to become familiar with new foods by:
Creating a children’s garden space where they plant, grow and harvest different foods. It doesn’t have to be big, growing herbs is a good place to start!
Reading books about different foods helps introduce children to food from around the world and increase their language of food.
Offering a variety of nutritious food to children regularly which considers the individual dietary, health or cultural needs of each child (National Regulations 78 and 79).
Providing regular cooking experiences where children can explore texture, colour and smell, for example, grating, cutting and peeling carrots or apples.
Take a whole-of-service approach and involve everyone in your service community by:
Role modelling healthy eating, helping to create relaxed mealtime environments and encouraging children to try new foods.
Planning menus with children and the service cook/chef that provide opportunities for children to try a variety of foods in a variety of meals and ways.
Providing a range of resources that support children’s changing interest in fruit, vegetables and different foods.
Respecting different food preferences by involving families in the decision making process when planning healthy eating activities and changing seasonal menus (Standard 6.1, Element 6.1.2). Ask families to share recipes of their child’s favourite home or cultural foods and include these on the menu.
Regularly communicate with families and your community about how foods are introduced to children and the healthy eating activities happening at the service. Services should be displaying the weekly menu for families to review, including what the child has been given to eat each day (National Regulation 80). You can also create a visual display or share information through your communication channels such as your newsletter or Facebook page.
Incorporating discussions about food and healthy eating habits into the daily program to encourage each child to make their own food choices. (NQS Standard 2.1).
Consider these reflective questions at your next staff meeting
How could you incorporate activities that involve new foods into your everyday program?
How do your current practices encourage children to try new foods in a supportive and positive way at mealtimes?
What information can you share with families about fussy eating, trying new foods and how you plan healthy eating activities?
How do you share information about children’s mealtimes with families? Does your service display the menu, and how is this information presented to ensure it is accessible and informative (National Regulation 80. Is the menu engaging and interactive?
How does your service plan for children’s food preferences and requirements, including cultural or specific dietary needs? (NQS Standard 2.1)
Fussy eating is a part of children’s development, and support for families, educators and teachers is available. Seek out more information and activity ideas to introduce new foods, starting with the resource list below.
For tools and resources with a vegetable focus go to VegKit, which provides tools and resources to support approved providers, cooks, teachers and educators as they seek to increase children’s vegetable intake.
For other helpful advice on understanding fussy eating in children and healthy eating in general go to Start Them Right, a guide for parents on how and what to feed children from birth to five years. The Growing Good Habits website has information on fussy eaters to share with your families too.
 Nekitsing C, Blundell-Birtill P, Cockroft JE, Hetherington MM. Systematic review and meta-analysis of strategies to increase vegetable consumption in preschool children aged 2–5 years. Appetite. 2018 Aug 1;127:138-54. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29702128/
This month we hear from Singleton Heights Pre-School Inc. Centre Director, Neisha Dean, and gain insight into the service’s collaborative partnerships improving outcomes for children.
Recently awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA, Singleton Heights Pre-School is a not-for-profit community preschool based in the NSW Upper Hunter Valley. Many enrolled families in the community are engaged with mining and the Australian Defence Force, however, they also have a high proportion of families who qualify for the low income subsidy relief. One exemplary practice recognised in the preschool’s Excellent award rating is their collaborative partnerships with professional and community organisations. These ongoing partnerships, forged through respectful and reciprocal relationships, have supported the preschool to continuously improve service access, environments, amenities and resources that improve outcomes for children.
Can you tell us about some of your collaborative partnerships?
Cooinda Local Aged Care Facility
Our relationship with Cooinda commenced in late 2019, following a suggestion from one of our families who had a relationship with the facility. A highly successful first visit promoted positive responses from children and residents, alike. From there, the relationship has gone from strength to strength and has been extended by families outside of service interactions as well as residents now visiting the preschool. The partnership has also endured despite the visitation and communication challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. During 2020, interactions have been sustained through the use of Zoom and iPad technology and has involved the sharing of laminated art-books (to assist with cleaning between use), joint singing and dancing sessions and shared group times and play experiences.
The relationship has supported children to learn to interact with people who experience visual, cognitive, mobility, speech and hearing impairment. The children have developed problem-solving, language, social skills and practice tolerance, understanding, respect and empathy as they pass pieces of games, puzzles and craft to their elderly companions Calming sensory play introduced by the children, such as moulding play dough, has now been embedded in activities at Cooinda residents. Despite initial hesitancy, the use of Zoom has also led to a change in attitude regarding the use of technology and the engagement of the residents with it.
We have a ten-year partnership with a retired woodworker who has contributed to the replacement and creation of new resources and furniture throughout the service in both a volunteer and paid capacity. The partnership has supported the community member to share his skills and high-quality work, while developing relationships which are beneficial for the social and emotional wellbeing of all involved. Children have a heightened knowledge, understanding and engagement with the woodwork and resources and are being deliberate in their play as they source tools, and in the creations they make.
Glencore Ravensworth Open Cut Mine (GROCM)
In 2015, the service was approached by local mining company and employer of some enrolled families, GROCM, to enter into a pilot community sustainability partnership. The service has been provided with a greenhouse, and receives planting materials from the mine. Children care for seedlings which are then sold back to the company for regeneration planting, with profits from the sale of the seedlings going to the service. Children have also assisted the company to plant the trees they initially grew, at one of their local properties, and children are provided with regular updates about the rehabilitation program.
Children’s involvement in the seed planting and initial growth of the trees has supported their ability to understand plant lifecycles and sustainability practices. It also actively engages children in the rehabilitation of local land, which will provide benefits to the local community in future years.
This project was part of the Pre-School winning first place in the NSW Keep Australia Beautiful awards, in the “School’s Environmental Achievement Award – Population Category E (over 20 000) section, an achievement we are very proud of.
The partnership has also led to collaborations to acquire funding to finance upgrades to service environments and equipment. One upgrade involved materials for the construction of outdoor wooden tables and chairs, which further engaged the partnership with the local woodworker. The tables are custom designed in height and support children from across classrooms to share meals and learning together.
How have funding partnerships supported outcomes for children?
How have funding partnerships supported outcomes for children?
Over the past four years, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of children attending the service who identify as Aboriginal, families who qualify for low income subsidy relief, and families who have no other support networks in the local area. In response to family need and growing enrolments in 2019, which reflected 118 waitlisted children, the service successfully gained NSW Government ‘Start Strong Capital Works Program’ funding to build a fourth classroom to support an additional 40 enrolments, with 20 extra children each day. Operational since September of 2019, 45% of children in this new classroom identify as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage.
Our not-for-profit service has also successfully received Government and community support funding to upgrade soft fall, provide additional shade covering, install new playground equipment, complete new flooring and fencing projects, refurbish a bathroom, and construct a new verandah. We were also able to install a third water tank and pump and create drought-tolerant gardens, introduce a physical Acknowledgement of Country display, purchase furniture for the classrooms and construct a woodwork shed. Our financial commitment to acquiring funding and grants has resulted in the continuous improvement of service practices, environments and resources to provide children with improved access to high quality learning environments and resources.
Recognising community support opportunities
When looking for grant opportunities you can often find some to support current or new projects, or initiatives at services. While not all grants will have eligibility criteria that apply to all services, there are many different types. Before applying for any grant we think there are some key considerations to think about.
Align a grant with goals and priorities
We needed to be clear of our service priorities and goals, as outlined in our Quality Improvement Plan, Business Plan, and through our practices and procedures in relation to maintenance. Sometimes a new and exciting opportunity will arise. However, important considerations are the current service priorities and the eligibility criteria of the funding grant.
Consult and engage with all stakeholders
During any grant application process, it is important to consult with Educators and staff, management, families and children to ensure all stakeholders feel knowledgeable, involved and heard. When all voices are engaged, it promotes thorough reflection on the diverse possibilities of a project.
The consultation and engagementprocess includes many conversations, but can also involve surveys, brainstorming sessions, site meetings, the sharing and discussion of draft plans and seeking creative input from individuals in the form of visual or written project ideas. To support effective communication, plans need to be organised and clear. Communicating with enthusiasm and positivity will support stakeholders to feel more comfortable during periods of change.
Forge genuine partnerships
Our philosophy and everyday practice reflect our genuine commitment to creating partnerships with organisations in our local community. We may benefit from receiving a grant toward a project or initiative at the service, however, it’s important that the relationship is mutually beneficial. We achieve this by promoting an organisation’s support not only within the service, but throughout our local community. We attend events and presentations organised by the organisation supplying the funding and invite them to celebrations within the preschool.
Interested in finding out more?
Collaborative partnerships are just one of many exceptional practices recognised in the awarding of the Excellent rating to Singleton Heights Pre-School Inc. Read more about their practices on the ACECQA Excellent Rating page. You can also contact Neisha Dean via email firstname.lastname@example.org