Celebrating diversity at Larapinta Preschool

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Harmony Day on 21 March was an opportunity to celebrate Australia’s diversity.

This month, we hear from Jenny Ashenden, Teacher in Charge, at Larapinta Preschool in the Northern Territory about their daily practice and programs that encourage respect, curiosity, and develop children’s knowledge, particularly in regards to its local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

At Larapinta we use a parent’s eye to understand where children have come from and a teacher’s eye to plan for where they are going to as learners. This means that age, gender, position in family, developmental levels, prior experiences, strengths, needs, cultural backgrounds and family expectations are used to inform our pedagogy, planning and practice.

We strive to create a sense of belonging for the families and children that attend Larapinta Preschool. There is an emphasis on developing and nurturing partnerships with families, local community services and children. Each year we revisit and update the Larapinta Preschool Philosophy to ensure we have a clear understanding of how we can act in a respectful manner towards all cultures.

At our preschool we believe that relationships and partnerships form the foundation for learning and inform our daily practice and long term planning. As we are based in the Northern Territory, we have a particular focus on Indigenous communities but we celebrate and embrace all cultures of our children, families and staff.

Learning at Larapinta

Community partnerships

Working alongside organisations in our community helps develop our understanding about Indigenous perspectives in our local context. Some examples of these partnerships include:

  • partnering with the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Health Service through the Preschool Readiness Program
  • provision of a playgroup organised and run by Indigenous staff members – initially established for Indigenous families but extended to welcome all local families
  • attending a Central Australian Early Childhood Educators’ Association meeting, organised by one of our preschool staff members – learning about the world view of traditional owners of the land around Alice Springs via a cultural explanation of how local landmarks and sites of significance were created.

We also make use of the expertise of staff. Last year we celebrated NAIDOC week by organising an excursion to the Alice Springs Desert Park where children and educators worked together to cook kangaroo tail and damper the traditional way, in the hot ashes of a campfire.

Partnerships with families and children

We strongly believe families are the very first teachers and we work in partnership with them. Simple strategies include greeting family members in their home language, having daily conversations, communicating via email and having a suggestion box for feedback.

A ‘My Place’ poster is on display for families to share events, interests and questions from home. Children are encouraged to share their stories in class.

Larapinta - My Place photo

Parent meetings allow us to learn about the backgrounds and cultures of families in detail. A parent shared her childhood memory of a lantern walk, a German tradition celebrating St Martin, and we organised a version that was adopted by the Larapinta Community the following year.

Just a small selection of examples of how we do this when working with and supporting our children and families are:

  • staff build relationships that can be nurtured over time as families return with younger siblings
  • educators exhibit pictorial and photographic displays so children and families can see themselves reflected in the program and learning environment
  • our end of year performance celebrates and reflects our similarities, differences and diversity and children are encouraged to wear traditional clothing.

Resources

The Harmony Day website has a number of resources and activities to assist educators to embed respect and celebration of cultural diversity into practice, policies and programs. These include lesson ideas, lesson plans and activities.

Let us know on the ACECQA Facebook page if you have any other ideas or activities to share with educators.

Networking – opportunities for sharing practice and creating professional learning communities


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

One of the things that inspires me in the national workshops I’ve been facilitating is how much educators enjoy getting together and engaging in professional conversations about the work they do. Most educators enjoy sharing practice ideas and working together to critically reflect on the situations they come across each day.

What if you had these opportunities more regularly, building local learning communities where you come together as professionals and talk about what you do and reflect on issues and trends together? Professional learning communities can connect people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to interact, enabling them to explore new possibilities, solve challenging problems, and create new, mutually beneficial partnerships. These communities stimulate learning by serving as a vehicle for authentic communication, mentoring, coaching, and self-reflection.

Opportunities to network in this way can come from conference attendance, workshops and professional development opportunities. You could also join an online community, such as the ACECQA and Early Childhood Australia Facebook pages and blogs or establish your own sharing platform. KidsMatter offer some useful thoughts about keeping safe within an online community. There is a range of learning and networking communities already established, some examples are listed below.

Under National Quality Standard Quality Area 7, Standard 7.1, leaders in the service are encouraged to develop professional learning communities. This is also reflected in the Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care principle of ongoing learning.

A professional learning community within a service has a shared vision for service operation in which everyone makes a contribution and is encouraged to collectively reflect on, with the view of improving, practice. A professional learning community in the wider sense enables sharing multiple perspectives from a range of services, providing a vehicle on which to engage in critical reflection on and about practice.

KidsMatter, in their Being collaborative learning communities article, share nine essentials for leading a collaborative learning community. While this article focuses on individual services, many of the principles can be used to establish networking opportunities within your wider early education community. You could do this by asking:

  • What are the benefits of a professional learning community?
  • What does a professional learning community look/feel/sound like in our community?
  • How can we build our collaborative learning community?
  • How might we involve all services within our community?

There is a range of established networks, including the following:

Gowrie NSW Networking Hub
Gowrie Victoria
Community Early Learning Australia
PSC ACT
Child Australia NT
Workforce Council QLD
Gowrie Tasmania
Child Australia WA

Further reading and resources
Child Care Staff: Learning and growing through professional development

Useful email subscriptions for early childhood services could include:

ECA Web Watch
Australian Early Development Census
Australian Policy Online
Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth

Giving children a voice in their community

Michelle Gujer, Manager of Docklands Children’s Program and Georgie Meyer, Melbourne Museum’s Education and Community Program Manager, share a rewarding project showcasing children’s sense of agency and partnerships with their community.

Gowrie

Michelle Gujer:

The Melbourne Museum is redeveloping its children’s gallery and as part of the project decided to consult with educators, early childhood specialists, designers and health professionals to make the space as unique and innovative as possible. The initial plan was to include children at the testing stage of the project, but we helped the Museum team see the value in including children’s thoughts at the planning stage.

How were children’s voices heard?

The children’s ideas and opinions were captured at every stage of the redevelopment and it’s a real credit to the Melbourne Museum’s commitment to their educational program.

After meeting with our Leaders Group and brainstorming ideas, the Museum team organised workshops and gave each child a design board to create their own unique museum. Educators scribed the children’s thoughts as they talked though ideas.

The Museum team then set up mirrors, cardboard boxes, rope, streamers, lights and animal noises and watched how children of different age groups engaged with different materials and tactile/sensory experiences. The younger children jumped right in to this. At first they were throwing cardboard boxes in their excitement but then settled into making fantastic dens with the boxes and pieces of fabric.

This showed both the Museum team and educators that you don’t always have to be just two steps away. You always have to be mindful and watching, but there’s value in giving children the opportunity to show you what they are thinking in their own way, without prompts and questions. Activities like this are a beautiful way of showing children’s expertise, especially at the pre-verbal stage.

It all starts with a conversation

My advice to Educational Leaders looking to make connections with the community is to start a conversation because you never know where it’s going to take you. We received an initial invitation from a Melbourne Museum through a mutual colleague which kicked this amazing opportunity into motion but the really important thing is there was willingness on both side. We could have provided feedback via email on the initial consultation and left it at that but instead invited the Melbourne Museum team to visit and engage with our Leadership Group. It’s about valuing everybody. Everybody has knowledge and ideas; especially children.

Georgie Meyer:

What Melbourne Museum discovered

Working with Gowrie Docklands has given museum staff a rich understanding of, and respect for, the opinions of young children. Our workshop sessions demonstrated that pre verbal children have a lot to say, and Gowrie staff showed us how to listen.

Our new Pauline Gandel Children’s Gallery is specifically for children aged six weeks to five years.  Through our time spent with the Gowrie children, we’ve seen that this is a very broad and diverse age range and each age and stage of development has particular needs and interests. We’ve also learnt that children are drawn to experiences that offer a balance between the familiar and unfamiliar. For example, they recognise and love a mirror, but even more so if it’s placed on the ground and can be stepped on.

Children are curious about nature, animals, (friendly) monsters, hiding places and surprises. They move, crawl, climb, dance and jump as a way of learning, not just a way of ‘letting off steam’. And the exploration of music and light appeals to all age groups, particularly when children can immerse themselves in the experience.

Listening to this feedback, we have incorporated many of the children’s ideas into the new Children’s Gallery. The space will have activities relevant to each age group, including tactile, hands-on experiences for younger children and narrative, games and social play for older children.

Familiar animal specimens from our collection will be on display, including birds, butterflies, a zebra and a leopard, which will lead children into an immersive multimedia experience. Children will enter this ‘Camouflage Disco’ full of lights, patterns, movements and sounds that will surprise and delight with a crawling crab, tiger stripes, a swimming fish, and giraffe spots.

The garden will be completely renovated allowing for nature play, exploration and outdoor movement. Rocks and minerals representing those in the Museum Collection will form a rock garden and crystal cave. An accessible sandpit will be home to a life-size dinosaur skeleton, the long-necked Mamenchisaurus, inviting children to excavate fossils. And the Victorian Aboriginal creation story of Tiddalik, the thirsty frog, will feature in a series of sculptures that end with a fountain offering water play.

We plan to continue our consultation and evaluation sessions with young children throughout 2016. We also hope our youngest co-creators will attend the launch of the new gallery later this year so we can thank them for their generosity, advice and ideas.

Settling into a new year

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

The beginning of the year is a great time to strengthen partnerships with families, sharing
information about children’s current knowledge, interests, abilities and preferences. As children and their families begin their time at your service, or return after a break, it is vital to build their sense of belonging as part of this partnership and settling process.

The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and Framework for School Age Care (FSAC) emphasise that ‘partnerships are based on the foundations of understanding each other’s expectations and attitudes, and building on the strength of each other’s knowledge’ (EYLF p 12 and FSAC p 10). Working in partnership with families and sharing information:

  • supports a shared vision for children’s learning and development
  • enables educators to plan effectively for children’s next steps and
  • empowers families to participate in decision-making in relevant and meaningful ways.

The key focus of Quality Area 6: Collaborative partnerships with families and communities is to engage families in the decisions that shape the program for their child and to share information about their child’s engagement and learning. Encouraging a family’s sense of belonging and inclusion at your service strengthens their understanding of the service philosophy in addition to how and why service policies and procedures operate. This is also a time to clarify everyone’s expectations by valuing each party’s expertise and building trusting relationships.

Collaborative partnerships between families and educators are created through initial contact that is respectful and shows genuine interest in developing shared outcomes for children. Settling into a new service is aided by responsive educators who create a sense of belonging by supporting children to develop friendships and by an environment that is engaging and reflective of each child’s culture and identity.

For babies and toddlers, this may be their first experience in an education and care service, so it is important to understand and recognise families’ perspectives. Initially, the focus is likely to be on routines, building confidence that their child is receiving individualised care and their learning and development is being supported. For preschool children, it may mean a change of rooms or new expectations in an older group, or a completely new education and care environment, so it is important to reflect on how families and children are supported through the orientation process.

For school age children this could mean transitioning to after school hours care in addition to settling in at school. It is a time to reflect on supporting children’s wellbeing while still respecting their growing autonomy and agency. This could be a time for older children to support new children to settle into the service. This is a time to draw on children’s expertise and involve them in service decisions and planning.

Think about what might work best for and your families to support that vital partnership. Also, reflect on how you can capture the valuable information that families have on their children. Is it using conversations, emails, forms, interviews or some other way or a combination of
these? It may even change depending on the needs of each child and family.

Other reading and resources

Collaborative partnerships with families
Engaging families in the early childhood development story
Recognising and supporting babies’ and toddlers belonging, being and becoming
My Time, Our Place
Educators Guide to the Framework for School Age Care

A smooth transition from pre-school to school

Hilda Booler 2

Quality early childhood education and care services play an important role in supporting children and families in the transition to school. Lei Ding, Educational Leader at Hilda Booler Kindergarten in Sydney, writes about her service’s approach to supporting the transition.

Nurturing children’s abilities to succeed in school is a strong focus of our program at Hilda Booler Kindergarten. We work closely with children, aged three to five, to develop a play-based program that fosters social, creative, language, cognitive and physical skills. By supporting these areas of children’s development and focusing on building strong relationships, we’re able to develop their confidence as they transition to the school environment.

Relationships with families

Keeping families informed and discussing issues that relate to each child is also an integral part of our transition to school program. Communicating with families about their child’s skills, strengths and interests can support them during the transition. It’s about helping families decide when their child is best placed to begin school and reassuring them that the responsive, positive relationships they’ve built while at preschool will help them along the way.

Building a strong foundation for success

At Hilda Booler, children are supported to work on their learning journals. These help educators identify children’s skills and abilities and identify areas we believe children can build on. We then embed these into learning and play and take a holistic view of the child, considering, for example children’s skills related to language and literacy, numeracy, fine motor and self-help.

Scaffolding learning

Children are involved in the entire life cycle of the vegetable garden at our service, from planting seeds to harvesting the vegetables. Outcome 4 of the Early Years Learning Framework acknowledges children as confident and involved learners that develop a range of skills. Dispositions such as creativity, cooperation, persistence and imagination can assist children in the transition to school.

We created a visual arts story-board to support children’s understanding of the growing cycle. Using visual prompts educators encouraged children to organise, record and communicate their ideas and found the exploration of complex concepts, thinking, and hypothesising helped develop problem solving and research skills.

Making connections with local schools

Hilda Booler opens its doors to local primary schools in the area including Glebe Public, Forest Lodge Public and St James Catholic Primary. We seek every opportunity to celebrate with the schools for things like Book Week and school concerts and recently visited St James as part of our transition to school program. These visits give children opportunities to connect with the ‘big’ school, make ‘big’ friends, get to know the school environment/facilities, and classroom tasks.

We all make transitions in our lives. Sometimes we feel confident about these changes and sometimes we are anxious about how we may be viewed by others and how we will fit in. Children are the same. Helping them to become familiar with the school environment and expectations will make the transition less stressful and fearful.

Resources

A journey of embedding culturally inclusive practice

BECC art displayed at Boopa Werem, sent with Belco‘I expected to come back from Yarrabah with loads of paperwork and ideas about programming. But that didn’t really happen. What we came back with was a deeply spiritual and emotional understanding that has been infinitely more useful.’ 

Allison Sullings, Senior Manager Children’s Programs at Belconnen Community Service believes educators can enrich their program by drawing on community knowledge and forming respectful relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners, groups or co-operatives.

The year 2012 was a big year for the sector and the journey Lauren Kapper, our team at Belconnen Early Childhood Centre and I embarked on to develop a more culturally diverse and inclusive curriculum was profound, encompassing our organisational values: curiosity, courage, integrity and individuality.

During a cultural awareness workshop, one of our educators talked to the facilitator about drawing on the knowledge and expertise of our community to enrich our program. He wasn’t from Canberra originally and suggested we contact a preschool that his children used to attend in Cairns.

We struck up a special friendship with Boopa Werem Kindergarten and Preschool in Cairns that extended to the educators, children, families and community. The children shared stories and photos via post and email, and had a ball getting to know each other. My colleague Carol and I were lucky enough to spend four days at Boopa Werem, furthering our understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being.

While there we met Aunty Maureen, an assistant educator at the service, who drove us to Yarrabah State School pre-prep for a day. Yarrabah is a remote Aboriginal community less than an hour out of Cairns.

The children were so welcoming and excited to see us. We took a tour of the service which was really well resourced and learnt about their outdoor space. After spending the day at the pre-prep we had fish and chips by the beach with Aunty Maureen where she spoke about her experiences growing up, being part of the Stolen Generation. It was something I’ll never forget.

I expected to come back with loads of paperwork and ideas about programming and things we could implement and teach the children. But that didn’t really happen. What we came back with was a deeply spiritual and emotional understanding that has been infinitely more useful.

When I reflect, developing this understanding was central to our cultural competence journey and I encourage other educators to engage with their indigenous community. Understanding this passion will help you to share it with your colleagues and children. Furthering your own understanding brings a richness and authenticity to the programs you develop.

How did we embed it in our practice? Our goal was to make our new-found understanding something that we would do and value every day.

Acknowledgment of Country

One thing that our educators often speak about in the preschool room is the Acknowledgment of Country, including what it means, why people say it, who says it and the importance that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people place around the environment, the land and the care for country.

“We wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on today. 

We wish to acknowledge and respect their continuing culture, and the contribution they make to the life of this city, and this region.

We would also like to acknowledge and welcome other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may be attending today.”

The children in the preschool room not only learn the wording but are developing an understanding of its meaning. They also learn important concepts such as what a custodian is, what tradition is, and what Ngunnawal means.

Respectful relationships

As educators we understand how important it is to build relationships in the community and keep them strong.

We met Tyronne Bell, an advocate for the recognition of Aboriginal culture and language, and founder of Thunderstone Aboriginal Cultural & Land Management Services, on a local bush walk. He now visits three long day care centres in our organisation each month, sharing artefacts and stories about hunting and gathering, and leading activities like basket weaving and painting. It’s quite interactive as he invites the children to touch and experience each object, to talk about it and to share their thoughts.

For National Tree Week, we invited Adam Shipp, an indigenous restoration officer with Greening Australia, to build a bush tucker garden with the children. The children learnt about the different medicinal use of native plants and which ones you can eat – they loved it.

Last year we organised a National Sorry Day ceremony in the local park with the children, children’s families and community members. Tyronne’s mother, Aunty Ruth, and his sister attended. Aunty Ruth gave the Welcome to Country, followed by the children’s Acknowledgment of Country. It was a special day, with damper, stories and songs. Aunty Ruth spoke about her experience being part of the Stolen Generation and was gracious that our centre had made a commitment to respect that time in Australia’s history. The day was a real highlight for me; to see how far we’d come on our journey and the community recognising and celebrating our country’s history and cultural identity.

Lauren Kapper (now Director at Belconnen Early Childhood Centre), the team and I have created lasting, positive, respectful relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the community. Drawing on their knowledge and expertise has enriched our learning program and furthered our understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being. We’d like to encourage educators to attend events in their community and to know that there are so many people out there to meet and learn from.

Benefits of higher educator to child ratios

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Linda2

1 January 2016 marks the next national consistency milestone for educator to child ratios. While changes to ratios have been planned since the introduction of the National Quality Framework in 2012, the coming months are an important time for educators and providers to check if they are affected, and prepare for any changes.

This month, ACECQA’s We Hear You blog hears from Linda Davison, Coordinator at Clarendon Children’s Centre Co-operative in Melbourne on the benefits of higher ratios for children and educators. For more information on the 1 January 2016 ratio changes in your state and territory, visit ACECQA’s ratio page.

I have worked for Clarendon Children’s Centre Co-operative for almost 28 years. Originally a St Vincent de Paul property dating back to 1923, the building has been a community managed and Commonwealth funded child care centre since 1988.

Our partnerships in the local community have developed over the years and we are well-known for providing high quality early education and care in South Melbourne. The sense of community and belonging in the centre is extremely strong with many friendships formed between children, and families, that endure long after the children have left our care.

The centre has three playrooms catering for up to 40 children, aged from birth to five years, at any one time. We have always had a policy of operating at a higher educator to child ratio than required by regulations and our children benefit from having extra people on the team. Educators have increased capacity to focus on children’s learning, to break away from repetitive routine and to be active in sustained conversations. Disruption is also minimised for children when educators go on leave.

For educators, the tangible benefits of higher ratios are very clear, including more one-to-one and small-group time with children, reduced stress, more flexibility and more opportunities for professional development.

A less tangible benefit is the sense of recognition and respect it conveys for the professionalism of our educators. They are our greatest resource and most valuable asset. Improved ratios mean their working day is more balanced and they have increased opportunities to pursue their own professional learning and development.

We are committed to ongoing learning with close to 90 per cent of educators holding a diploma qualification or higher. Nearly all team members are actively engaged in further education, training and professional development. The result of this is a more stable educator team and greater continuity for our children.

We currently work above the ratio requirements so we won’t be affected by the upcoming ratio compliance timeframe of 1 January 2016. However, I believe providers will see the benefit in the long run with reduced turnover, higher educator engagement and flexibility to deal with ups and downs of centre life.