The value of outdoor learning

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

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

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

Valuing learning in the outdoors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping children’s food safe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Is food cooked or reheated to safe temperatures?

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

It is important to consider the following:

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

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

To ensure the safety of cooked and reheated food:

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

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

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

Exceeding the National Quality Standard with Be You: Part 2

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

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

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

Case study

Exceeding NQS Theme 1: Practice is embedded in service operations

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

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

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

Case study

Exceeding NQS Theme 2: Practice is informed by critical reflection

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

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

Case study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case study

Bringing it all together

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

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

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

Smiling children with smiling staff member

Register to learn more

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

Exceeding the National Quality Standard with Be You: Part 1

Children and educator playing indoors with fabric

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

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

Exceeding National Quality Standard themes and Be You

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

What are the Exceeding NQS themes?

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

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

1: Practice is embedded in service operations

2: Practice is informed by critical reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Register to learn more

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

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

Early Career Project Officer initiative

After being accepted into the role of an Early Career Project Officer, one of the things that has stood out to me is that ACECQA’s vision of ‘the best start in life for every Australian child’ has also turned out to be the ‘best start’ to my own fulfilling career.

Reflecting on my time with ACECQA, I have found that four aspects of both the organisation and projects that I’ve worked on have had the most influential impact. On my professional development, my identity and my future career and growth as an education and care professional.

Leaping into the unknown

At the beginning of 2019, I was happily working part time at a long day care centre, while also completing my fourth year in my Bachelor of Education (Birth to Five Years) degree, full-time. One day an email from one of my university lecturers landed in my inbox. It was the advertisement from ACECQA for a role as an early career project officer. An opportunity that I decided to take a chance on. Taking a huge leap into the unknown, I decided to apply. I was successful in my application and thrilled to be asked to join the team. But suddenly, I was faced with juggling full-time work and study. Some of my colleagues joked that I was, ‘moving to the dark side’.

All my life I have regularly set professional goals for myself, and frequently reflect on them to ensure that they were suitable for me as I developed my own professional identity. While this wasn’t part of my plan, and I wasn’t sure what to expect when I took this leap into the unknown, I’m certainly glad I did.

I never envisioned myself being a ‘city office worker’, wearing corporate clothing, catching peak hour trains, and attending multiple meetings within a day. Yet, here I am, having completed a contract with ACECQA, and absolutely loving every second of city and work life.

ACECQA as the sector’s bright light

The more I immersed myself into the role of an early career project officer, the more I found ACECQA to be a bright light guiding our sector. Through the development of a wealth of free resources, extensive research and implementation of programs to support services to continually improve, ACECQA aims to share with each teacher, educator and service the practical ways they can improve the early learning experiences for every Australian child.

The comprehensive work produced by ACECQA’s Board and Governance, Business Services, Policy and Strategic Programs, Educational Leadership and Strategy, Communications and Consistency Teams all strive to guide the sector to improve outcomes for all Australian children and families.

I am now even more committed to, and will continue to be, an advocate of the role ACECQA plays. I want all teachers and educators to realise that they are supported, the information or clarification you need is just a phone call or click away.

Extraordinary professionals influencing my professional identity

I have been lucky enough to witness first-hand how the teams at ACECQA work collaboratively together to deliver the six objectives of the National Quality Framework (NQF).

Working alongside so many highly intelligent, knowledgeable, experienced and kind professionals has been incredibly formative to the development of my own professional identity. While I have gained a comprehensive understanding of the responsibilities of those working in the sector, I have also had my eyes opened to the many varied roles that people hold within our sector.

Links in the chain

As I now approach the completion of my Bachelor of Education, I feel that I have just completed an ‘intensive summer school’ paid internship style role. I have been given the opportunity to develop workshops, interactive educational resources and training packages for the Educational Leadership and Sector Support, and Regulatory Authority Support teams.

These experiences have been inextricably linked to the content taught at university, I have been able to add a deeper level of knowledge to my assignments and collaborative tutorial discussions. As well as giving me the confidence to advocate for quality early learning and my sector within the long day care service I work and my wider community.

I now have an invaluable amount of ‘behind the scenes’ information regarding the implementation of the NQF and embedding the NQS in curriculum decision-making practices.

Linking this all together, I have become a strong advocate for ACECQA. I see ACECQA as empowering the sector to embrace the National Quality Framework in providing an understanding of why quality education and care for children is important and how I, as an educator, can make that happen.

I would encourage all pre-service teachers to also take a leap into the unknown and to follow ACECQA’s motto to find the ‘best start’ to their own fulfilling career within our early learning sector.

Playing your part in child protection

ChildProtection_wehearyou

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

Child abuse and neglect is preventable. If we all work together as a community we can create an Australia where all children can grow up safe and well. What role can you play in supporting children and their families? ~ Richard Cooke, CEO, NAPCAN

According to the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Child Protection Australia 2016– 17 report, the number of children receiving child protection services continues to rise. Around 168,000 children received child protection services in 2016-2017 which equates to one in every 32 children. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were seven times more likely to receive child protection services than non-Indigenous children. The report also highlights that the majority of children in the child protection system are repeat clients.

The National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) invites us all to get involved with National Child Protection Week this week and play a part in creating safe and nurturing environments for all Australian children. Held annually, and commencing on Father’s Day each September, National Child Protection Week (Sunday 2 – Saturday 8 September this year) reminds us that we all have a role in protecting children from harm. By building stronger communities, we can create safer environments for our children.

The National Quality Framework (NQF) recognises the importance of creating safe environments for every child. From the National Law and Regulations to the National Quality Standard (NQS), creating and maintaining safe and nurturing environments for all children is recognised as quality practice, guiding us as we play our part in protecting children from harm.

Creating safe and nurturing environments

Creating safe environments within education and care settings is sometimes complex and challenging. Many of us are confident in our ability to create and design learning spaces with children that nurture the development of the individual child and fulfil their curiosity. We strive to ensure children are supervised as they play and relax in a variety of settings, from our homes to school settings. However, it is sometimes harder to build our capacity to respond confidently and to challenge our thinking about how we support the ongoing health, safety and wellbeing of every child.

Quality Area 2 – Children’s health and safety, reinforces each child’s right to experience quality education and care in an environment that provides for their ongoing health and safety.  Element 2.2.3 requires that management, educators and staff be aware of their roles and responsibilities to identify and respond to every child at risk of abuse or neglect.

Under Section 162A of the Education and Care National Law, the approved provider has the responsibility of ensuring that each nominated supervisor and each person in day-to-day charge of the service has successfully completed child protection training, if required in their state or territory.

The approved provider also has the responsibility of ensuring that the nominated supervisors and staff members at the service are advised of the existence and application of the current child protection law and that they understand any obligations they may have under that law (Education and Care Services National Regulations, r 84).

Are you a mandatory reporter?

Across Australia, state and territory legislation prescribes occupations that are mandated to report a child at risk of abuse or neglect. Those who frequently deal with children in the course of their work, such as education and care professionals, are usually mandatory reporters.

For more information on the legal provisions and your role as a mandatory reporter, head to: https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/mandatory-reporting-child-abuse-and-neglect.

What does mandatory reporting mean?

Mandatory reporting is a strategy that acknowledges the prevalence, seriousness and often hidden nature of child abuse and neglect. It enables the detection of cases that otherwise may not come to the attention of agencies. The laws help to create a culture that is more child-centred and build a community that will not tolerate serious abuse and neglect of children.

Research has shown that mandated reporters make a substantial contribution to child protection and family welfare.

Child Safe Organisations Project

As part of the Child Safe Organisations Project and commissioned by the Commonwealth Department of Social Services, Australia’s National Children’s Commissioner, Megan Mitchell, is leading the development of National Principles for Child Safe Organisations. The National Principles are intended to apply to all organisations, including education and care services across Australia. They are due to be endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments in mid-to late 2018.

The National Principles reflect ten Child Safe Standards recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, with a broader scope that goes beyond sexual abuse to cover other forms of potential harm. The National Principles aim to drive the implementation of a child safe culture across all sectors, providing services to children and young people to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and young people across Australia.

Organisations should be safe and welcoming for all children and young people. The National Principles highlight ways in which organisations should consider the needs of children from diverse backgrounds and circumstances. The principles emphasise the importance of culturally safe environments and practices for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people.

The National Principles collectively show that a child safe organisation is one that creates a culture, adopts strategies and takes action to promote child wellbeing and prevent harm to children and young people. This may begin with the development of your service philosophy and policies and procedures, which underpin and lead to, the creation of ongoing quality practices. These practices, informed by critical reflection and meaningful engagement with families and community members, allow educators and staff to proactively identify and respond confidently to issues related to the safety and protection of children attending the service.

A child safe organisation consciously and systematically:

  • creates an environment where children’s safety and wellbeing is the centre of thought, values and actions
  • emphasises genuine engagement with, and valuing of, children
  • creates conditions that reduce the likelihood of harm to children and young people
  • creates conditions that increase the likelihood of identifying any harm
  • responds to any concerns, disclosures, allegations or suspicions of harm.

Let’s all be a part of National Child Protection Week

NCPW_2018To get involved with National Child Protection Week, you can:

  • Check out the NAPCAN website for events in your area or plan an event at your service. Some examples of events you could consider for your service include:
    – a display made collaboratively by children and educators
    – a shared meal at your service
    – attending a local forum supporting child safety, or
    – joining in with a local family to support services fundraiser.
  • Encourage your families and staff to attend an event being held in your local community.
  • Make your influence positive; start a conversation today with your colleagues and families about listening to and valuing the voice of children and young people. What might this look like within your service?

Reflective questions

  • How do you inform families and community members about the service’s role and responsibility in protecting children?
  • How do new employees become informed about child protective measures that your service has in place?
  • How are the Exceeding NQS themes reflected in your practices for Quality Area 2?
  • Does your philosophy reflect your service’s child safe practices?
  • Is your service a child safe organisation?

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Reporting requirements about children. Guidance on the different reporting requirements under the National Law and Regulations.

NAPCAN – free downloadable resources to share with families, staff and children.

Australian Institute of Family Studies website – provides information on Children’s Commissioners and Guardians in each state and territory.

Australian Human Rights CommissionBuilding Belonging is a comprehensive toolkit of resources for promoting child safety and inclusion.

Australian Human Rights Commission – Child Safe Organisations: Tools and resources.

Australian Institute of Family Studies – Child Protection Legislation Resource Sheet 2018

Connection to Country: Respect, responsibility and the creator spirit of Bunjil

Bubup Wilam means ‘Children’s Place’ in the Woi Wurrung language. Bubup Wilam for Early Learning is an Aboriginal Child and Family Centre in Melbourne‘s north that provides Aboriginal children, families and the community with access to an integrated range of services and programs, including early years education and health and wellbeing services.

This month on We Hear You, Bubup Wilam’s educator, Shannon McLeod, talks to us about their Connection to Country Program and the importance of Bunjil, the creator spirit for the Wurundjeri people.

At Bubup Wilam for Early Learning (Aboriginal Child and Family Centre) we acknowledge Country every day. Our children know the Wurundjeri people are the first owners of the land on which our service operates – Narrm (Melbourne). Through our weekly Connection to Country program, the children are learning about their responsibilities as Aboriginal children to take care of Country. They proudly tell us, ‘We’ve got to clean up the land, Aunty’. We teach the children that Bunjil (often represented as an eagle) is the creator spirit for the Wurundjeri people – he created the people, animals and plants and he is watching how we respect the land.

As a group, we have explored different artistic representations of Bunjil that feature in our urban and natural landscapes across Victoria, from the gigantic representations of Bunjil at the Docklands and the You Yangs, to the visually stunning kinetic installation at the Melbourne Museum.

After looking at photos of these artworks, and later a trip to the museum, clay was provided for the children to create their own representations of Bunjil. One child created a whole Bunjil family, others created nests, others made scaled-down versions of the Bunjils shown to them in remarkable detail.

As their teacher, I was so touched by the work the children had created and wanted to show respect for these sculptures to showcase them to the other children, educators and parents in our community and I explored ways to do so with my colleagues. We decided on a glass cabinet to display the art pieces. This has been a beautiful talking point for all members of our community at Bubup Wilam for Early Learning.

A 3D puzzle of an eagle was found and now rests on top of the display case – it is not unusual to hear children reflecting to their parents as they leave for the day that ‘Bunjil is watching us’.

Bunjil clay sculpture by one of the children at Bubup Wilam for Early Learning

Detail of the tail of the Bunjil at the base of the You Yangs on Wathaurong Country

Should a Paleolithic diet be offered at early childhood education and care services?

Supporting Nutrition for Australian Childcare (SNAC) was developed by researchers at the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University. The website provides guidance and resources about nutrition and healthy eating environments for children’s education and care services, as well as an online community focused on supporting practice. Dr Ruth Wallace and Angela Genoni from SNAC talk to We Hear You about the key elements of a Paleolithic diet and how the diet might impact on children’s growth, development and health.

The idea of offering children Paleo foods – more lean meat and fish and less discretionary foods – may sound like a healthy way to go, but is it? Before you go down that road, let’s stop to consider whether such a diet will give the children you nurture and care for enough energy to grow, play and learn. There is a lot more you should understand about the Paleo way of eating before you offer this at your early childhood education and care (ECEC) service.

What does it mean to be Paleo?

The main principle of following a Paleo diet is to eat the foods our ancestors ate thousands of years ago during the Paleolithic Age. These foods include lean meats, fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Foods that became staples when farming began around 10,000 years ago are not typically included in a paleo diet. For example, grains such as wheat and barley (used to bake bread), pasta and rice, beans and other legumes, dairy products, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, and more recently highly processed foods such as chips, cakes, cookies, processed meats and ready meals (Cordain, 2011).

So can Paleo foods provide enough fuel for children?

Some research has shown that adults following a strict Paleo diet have reported losing weight, lowered blood pressure and other benefits from ‘going paleo’ (Masharani, et al., 2015), since this way of eating typically cuts out added sugars, salt and discretionary foods. While eating more vegetables and fruit is a positive, there is no research showing the diet is beneficial over the longer term (Mellberg, et al., 2014; Genoni, et al., 2016).

Children are a different story as their bodies and brains are growing and developing rapidly. They need a wide range of healthy foods from all five core food groups to ensure a sufficient intake of energy and nutrients to fuel this period of rapid growth and development, and to ensure they remain fit and healthy (NHMRC, 2013). Providing children with foods only from the Paleo diet actually removes two whole core food groups (dairy and cereals/grains), and even some vegetables that are recommended as part of a balanced diet. Most health professionals would not recommend the Paleo diet for young children.

What else should you know?

Eating the Paleo way takes a lot of planning: Since the diet relies heavily on nuts, and many ECEC services are nut-free, children may not consume sufficient energy without the inclusion of nuts at mealtime. It is also likely to blow the food budget as protein sources such as meat and fish are more expensive than vegetables and grains that are the bulk of a healthy balanced diet.

Children will need to find sufficient fuel from other foods: Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains readily provide sufficient energy and B vitamins to allow children to grow and be active. If foods such as rice and wholegrain bread are not provided, children will have to use other key macronutrients for fuel such as protein and fat, which may result in stunted growth, failure to thrive and other nutrient deficiencies (Brown, 2008; Desrosiers, et al., 2018).

Too much meat may be harmful to children’s health: Following the Paleo diet focuses heavily on meat, so children could be eating more unhealthy saturated fat than is recommended (NHMRC, 2013).

Future harms: Teaching children to avoid whole food groups may also lead to disordered eating in later life (Hart, et al., 2014).

The verdict?

Avoiding discretionary foods is a positive aspect of the Paleo diet, but existing guidelines already stipulate that discretionary foods should be limited in early childhood education and care and should not feature on the daily menu. More importantly, there is no research evidence to suggest following a Paleo diet is safe for the health of young children.

To ensure children optimise their growth and development, and have the energy to play and enjoy life, here are some simple, yet healthy tips to follow:

  1. Offer a wide variety of foods daily from all five core food groups, including lots of different colours and textures.
  2. Choose nutritious whole foods that have been minimally processed.
  3. Limit discretionary foods, which are energy dense and nutrient poor, and which displace other nutritious foods important for children’s growth and development.
  4. Allow children to self-serve at mealtimes from a wide range of healthy foods – this will support social and emotional development, and help children recognise their own hunger cues.
  5. Be a good role model. Sit with children at mealtimes, share the same healthy food, and offer them gentle encouragement to try foods they are unsure about.

As early years educators, yours is an important role in teaching children about healthy food choices that will enable them to be active and engaged learners, and for long-term health benefits later in life. If you should receive any special dietary requests that are not supported by a medical certificate, do not comply with Element 2.1.3 (food and drinks provided should be in accordance with the Australian Dietary Guidelines), or you are simply not sure about, seek further advice from your service director, or visit the SNAC website.

References

Brown, J. (2008) Nutrition Through the Life Cycle (3rd ed.), Thomson Higher Education, Belmont, USA.

Cordain, L. (2011) The Paleo Diet, John Wiley & Sons, New Jersey.

Desrosiers, T., et al. (2018) ’Low carbohydrate diets may increase risk of neural tube defects’, Birth Defects Research, DOI: 10.1002/bdr2.1198

Genoni, A., et al. (2016) ’Cardiovascular, Metabolic Effects and Dietary Composition of Ad-Libitum Paleolithic vs. Australian Guide to Healthy Eating Diets: A 4-Week Randomised Trial’, Nutrients, vol. 8, no. 5, p. E314.

Hart, L., et al. (2014) ’Parenting to avoid body dissatisfaction and unhealthy eating patterns in preschool children: A Delphi consensus study’, Body Image, vol. 11, pp.  418-425.

Masharani, U., et al. (2015) ’Metabolic and physiologic effects from consuming a hunter-gatherer (Paleolithic)-type diet in type 2 diabetes’, European Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 69, no. 8, pp. 944-948.

Mellberg, C., et al. (2014) ’Long-term effects of a Palaeolithic-type diet in obese postmenopausal women: a 2-year randomized trial’, European Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 68, no. 3, pp. 350-357.

National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines, NHMRC, Canberra.

Where the research takes us

Almost 10 years on from the original agreement to introduce the National Quality Framework (NQF) to children’s education and care in Australia, the sector has seen substantial progress and quality outcomes for children. But how can the NQF continue to help improve quality as well as the public knowledge and access to information about that very quality?

ACECQA’s General Manager, Strategy, Communications and Consistency, Michael Petrie, discusses this question and where recent research needs to take us.

The recently released Lifting Our Game report by Susan Pascoe AM and Professor Deborah Brennan is a timely reminder of the importance of early childhood education and care (ECEC), the positive advances we have made since the introduction of the National Quality Framework (NQF), as well as the areas where we still need to work on to improve outcomes for children.

Almost 10 years on from the original agreement to introduce the NQF, the system is now well and truly in place:

  • Almost every eligible service has had at least one assessment and rating visit.
  • As evidenced by the data, the sector is taking the quality agenda seriously and we continue to see the majority of quality rating improvements at reassessment.
  • There has been a growth in the qualification level of educators across the country.
  • The first iteration of legislative and regulatory reforms has just been implemented.

While progress has definitely been made, there are still some big questions to be answered as to whether the NQF has, and will continue to, deliver ongoing outcomes for Australian children.

In this regard, ACECQA’s research and evaluation strategy and NQF Evaluation Framework, approved by the COAG Education Council in 2017, provide governments and researchers with a pathway for the types of medium and long-term strategic questions that need to be answered against the five objectives of the NQF.

It is important to note that the evaluation framework is not focused on assessing the benefits of early childhood education, but rather the system, both policy and regulatory aspects, which underpins the delivery of ECEC in this country.

For example, an objective of the NQF is to improve the educational and developmental outcomes for children attending ECEC.

Over the next few years, governments and researchers will be in a position to link NQF service rating data against a child’s results in the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) and NAPLAN. That is, for children who attended a service under the NQF, we will soon be able to see and evaluate whether attending a high quality service has had a corresponding impact on the education and developmental outcomes of children as they progress through the education system. Just as importantly, it will allow us to see the impact of ECEC on families and children, particularly those in vulnerable circumstances or from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Another objective of the NQF has been to improve public knowledge and access to information about the quality of ECEC services. Research continues to be undertaken in this area, which ACECQA reported in its inaugural Annual Performance Report. (I outlined a number of the challenges in my previous article about raising the profile of ECEC.) Understanding quality continues to be an area of concern and, as highlighted in the Lifting Our Game report, it is one that governments and the sector need to collectively focus on, and invest in, if they expect to see greater engagement from parents and families.

As a national organisation jointly funded by all nine governments to deliver specific functions, ACECQA is in a unique position within the federated model of governance and administration that oversees ECEC in this country. We are able to identify issues and track trends, provide insights and advice to support further efficiencies, and reduce regulatory burden across the sector.

Our recent submission to the Australian Senate Inquiry into The effect of red tape on childcare highlights the work that has been undertaken by all governments to drive efficiency and reduce red tape across the NQF while protecting children’s safety, health and wellbeing and supporting quality practice. The Lifting Our Game report identifies a number of areas where further research and analysis can assist, and ACECQA will work with its government partners to ensure the system continues to evolve and improve.

Overall, evaluating the NQF should not be seen as confronting, or viewed as an attack on the national system or how things are done. Rather it is an opportunity to assess what has worked well and what needs to change.

At the end of the day, the NQF was designed as a dynamic system to meet the changing needs of children and to continuously improve outcomes for them and their families.

Shared learning across the globe: An international sister school exchange program

Female educator and young children from Kensington Community Children’s Co-operative on a nature walk

In 2015, Kensington Community Children’s Co-operative (KCCC) in Victoria launched its sister school and staff hosting program with Frederiksberg in Copenhagen, Denmark. The program, which has provided opportunities for educators and support staff to work overseas to exchange ideas, programs and practices, has also had positive and lasting effects on children’s learning and relationships with families. 

This month on We Hear You, KCCC General Manager, Sigi Hyett, takes us through the development of the program and its influence on the service three years on.

It isn’t every day you connect and collaborate with peers across the globe. Since 2015 Kensington Community Children’s Co-operative (KCCC) has had the opportunity to connect with a number of early childhood education and care services in Denmark as part of a multidisciplinary approach to collaboration and shared learning. Our international sister school exchange and staff hosting program reflects two ideas central to our service philosophy – continuous improvement and collaboration. As a community co-operative we place a high value on quality outcomes for children, which are linked to family and community engagement and relationships, and endeavour to create a professional learning community that is informed by shared knowledge. These values have helped us strengthen programs and practices, and resulted in improved outcomes for children and educators.

Thoughts and ideas

During 2014, one of our KCCC board members and a parent at our school, Malene Platt, shared her story of the challenges her family faced as they transitioned from a Danish early childhood education and care setting to an Australian one. She spoke to me about the differences between the approaches to programs and practice, and the challenge this posed for her two young children. As a young Danish migrant to this country, Malene’s experience resonated with me, as did the experience of her young children. It took me back to my first day of kindergarten as a three-year-old girl settling into a new country and its language and customs, while continuing to speak and practice those of my birth country. Having the opportunity to go to school in two countries and learn two languages and differences in customs and traditions enriched my learning and development as a child – and continues to do so now as an early childhood professional.

It also started us thinking about the possibility of creating an exchange or host program similar to those in other sectors and professions as a way of bridging cultures and learning from one another through exploring different early learning settings and approaches. We began to consider the opportunities for educators to learn from each other and how this could benefit all staff and children, their families, the community, and the broader early childhood sector. As our conversations progressed, we realised a sister school that included an exchange program or host placement that enabled educators and support staff to live and teach in another country would provide benefits to KCCC.  This idea was reignited from my thoughts back in 2012 about building connections and sharing learning between educators across the kindergarten and long day care sector. These ideas seemed particularly relevant at a time of change in the sector; kindergarten teachers were about to be included in the National Quality Framework and the assessment and rating process, as well as moving to 15 contact hours per week.

Research and development

Over the course of the year, our informal discussions quickly became more structured; we moved to professional conversations that reflected on the programs, curriculum, practice and procedures across the two countries. This fuelled our enthusiasm and research about Scandinavian early learning and standards and helped us consider what could be adapted to benefit our own program. When an opportunity to visit Denmark in early 2015 came about, I visited four early learning services with the aim of linking with services that demonstrated cultural diversity and lead best practice in Early Years Curriculum. This visit facilitated relationship building, collaboration, learning and teaching, where practice, ideas and initiatives were shared.

International sister school exchange and staff host program

In early 2015, KCCC launched the sister school program, partnering with Frederiksberg in Copenhagen. Our services were aligned in many ways, including service structure, setting, programs, goals, culture and policy. Both of our services also have a community board with high parent involvement, which are central to the collaborative partnerships that underpin our respective service philosophies. We also considered Frederiksberg an exciting and inspiring service for our sister school due to their development of forest kindergarten programs, as well as their innovation in the city centre.

The children enjoying the dialogic reading room

Each of our services has hosted educators for between three to eight weeks, with families from our services providing accommodation to host staff. These staff host placements have enabled the educators to not only learn about programs and practices, but also to immerse themselves in everyday life and culture, which fosters intercultural understanding.

The aims and objectives of this partnership included:

  • sharing pedagogy, program and curriculum ideas and resources
  • increasing intercultural understanding and supporting a whole service improvement
  • communication through ICT
  • the establishment of a staff exchange/host program to support building educator capacity.

Benefits and results

Now that we are at the beginning of the fourth year of the exchange program, we can see and track the benefits for both the children and educators at KCCC and Frederiksberg. Some of the specific programs and learnings that we have included at our service as a result of the sister school and staff exchange/host include:

  • the investigation of different models for staffing and grouping of children
  • introduction of multi-age groups and shared yard
  • sharing information about the integrated shared yard space and educators’ areas of engagement with children
  • the purchase of a Danish pram (where seats are at a high level and children are seated facing each other) to support interactions on excursions between children and educators
  • investigation and implementation of project-based dialogic reading program to support early literacy
  • implementation of regular small group excursions in the local community across all age groups
  • professional learning opportunities and critical discussions that support reflective practice
  • roster review to enable the implementation of an excursion/outdoor educator to lead the project excursion groups
  • establishment of small, project-based regular excursions that support the same group of children with the same educators and at the same location for a period of time that supports strong relationships, persistence, conflict resolution and strong community connections.

~o~

Along with the many benefits that KCCC continues to see every day, the sister school and staff exchange program has created a greater global awareness and understanding of communities for the staff, children and families. Through the sharing of ideas, cultural knowledge, pedagogy, curriculum, language and experience, each service has been enriched and its capability improved. Both of our services are celebrating the benefits and valuing the diversity, critical thinking and shared learning that continue to exceed our expectations.

The KCCC team hosting educators from Frederiksberg