Using digital touch technologies to support children’s learning

1519 Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQAACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, explores education in a digital world.

Digital touch technologies such as tablets and smartphones have become an integral part of our daily lives. As educators we are sometimes concerned about children’s use of technology and the effects it may have. Educators need to be mindful that technology is a tool and the implications for children will depend on how we use it.

Although excessive or inappropriate use of digital touch technologies can have a negative impact, they also offer many opportunities for extending learning and development. When used effectively and appropriately, children’s learning and development can be enhanced by it.

Outcome 4 of the Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care is that children are confident and involved learners, including that they resource their own learning by connecting with people, places, technologies and natural materials. Outcome 5 of the frameworks promotes support for children to become effective communicators. This includes guiding children to express ideas and make meaning using a range of media, and supporting them to use information and communication technologies to access information, investigate ideas and represent their thinking.

When providing opportunities for children to interact with digital touch technologies there are many points to consider, such as time spent using technology, privacy, appropriateness of content and how the use of technology may be incorporated into the educational program. Given this, it is important that educators are not only familiar with the use of technologies, but also critical in how they support children to use them.

Using digital touch technologies in your program is optional, and you need to think about the best way to use these technologies to support each child’s educational program. Although many educators are more familiar with traditional pedagogical practices it is important to remember that introducing touch technologies does not mean replacing our current pedagogy, rather using them as a tool to support our current work with children.

Digital touch technologies can be used with a range of other teaching strategies. For example, if an educator is promoting children’s understanding of sustainable practices, they might sing a relevant song, read a story which links to an area of sustainability, and then use the camera application (app) with children to identify and capture images of sustainable practice or issues in the community. The educator might further engage children’s learning with technology by using the images to create a digital story with the children, using voice recording apps to capture children’s voices and ideas. There are many possibilities which can be explored and many digital touch technology apps to choose from.

Understanding how different apps operate helps educators to choose which ones best support different areas of pedagogy.  In 2012 Dr Kristy Goodwin and Dr Kate Highfield sorted apps into three broad categories based on the actions the user can take, and the amount of cognitive investment required by children to use them. The categories are Instructive, Manipulable and Constructive.

Instructive apps align with rote learning approaches and require a low level of cognitive investment. They operate on a drill and skill principle, requiring children to achieve a specific goal, and they usually offers extrinsic rewards. Many of these apps promote repetition learning of basic skills and knowledge, and there is limited opportunity for creativity. The majority of marketed educational apps are Instructive apps.

Manipulable apps provide guided learning through structure, yet there are possibilities for children to make choices, use problem solving skills and explore their options. They allow children to manipulate and experiment by testing the success of their ideas. Goodwin refers to these as cause and effect type apps.

Constructive apps are designed for creative expression. They are open-ended and allow children to use different literacies, for example music, images, video, audio and drawing tools, to explore their ideas and create their own work. These apps require a high cognitive investment by the child and there is usually no reward other than the finished product.

Educators need to remain critically reflective and consider the value of the apps being used to support learning and development. Although Instructive apps can be helpful to memorise concepts and skills they are comparable to worksheets so educators should balance their use, and consider what apps might better support their current pedagogical practices with children.

There are many resources to support educators’ work using digital touch technologies with children, including:

  • Every Chance to Learn. In these YouTube videos, Dr Kristy Goodwin explains Instructive, Manipulable and Constructive apps and provides real app examples.

Supporting indoor and outdoor play

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

Play based experiences are a vital vehicle for children’s learning and development. Research shows the inherent relationship between sensory learning and children’s enhanced cognitive, social and physical development. This is because children gain understanding about the world by seeing, touching, tasting, smelling, moving and hearing the things they are learning about.

The National Quality Framework encourages educators to consider how the physical environment, and the way that indoor and outdoor spaces are designed, will support children’s learning. Quality Area 3 of the National Quality Standard identifies that a service’s physical environment should be safe, suitable, appropriately resourced and well maintained. It also needs to be organised to support the participation of all children and implementation of the learning program. Recognition of the learning potential of environments is noted in the learning outcomes of the Early Years Learning Framework, which encourages educators to ‘create learning environments that encourage children to explore, solve problems, create and construct’ (p.15).

It is important that we don’t underestimate the value of the learning promoted by being outside. Outdoor environments offer challenges and countless opportunities for healthy active play, while also learning to assess and take appropriate risks. Educators can enhance the choice and quality of learning experiences by supporting flexible use and interaction
between indoor and outdoor spaces. Children can learn about and respect the interdependence between people and nature by using their senses to explore natural environments.

Supporting indoor and outdoor play

When designing and planning the learning environment, consideration needs to be given to children’s individual interests, skills and capabilities. The design of the play environment helps to promote independence, decision making, interaction, relationship building and testing theories.

Engaging in sustained shared conversations by respectfully engaging with children allows educators to extend and support children’s thinking and learning. The image below from the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework shows the balance between guided play and learning, adult led learning and child-directed play and learning.

Cultural Competence

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

Interacting with various cultures enriches our everyday lives. Building cultural competence in educators and children promotes equity, respect and valuing of different cultures. But as the Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care show, cultural competence is much more than an awareness of cultural differences. It is the ability to understand, communicate and effectively interact with people across cultures and includes:

  • being aware of your own world view
  • developing positive attitudes towards cultural differences
  • gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views.

The frameworks also promote respect for diversity and equity. Strategies include:

  • reflecting on our personal biases
  • challenging discriminatory viewpoints
  • using resources that are culturally relevant
  • adapting curriculum to children’s ideas, interests and culture
  • drawing on the expertise of families and those belonging to a cultural group
  • inviting guests from a range of cultures to visit your service
  • using the reflective questions in the learning frameworks (EYLF pp.13, FSAC pp.11), such as ‘Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is
    disadvantaged?’.

Cultural competence also includes delivering a curriculum that respects the cultural identity, language and values of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Significant value lies in spending time with your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

Suggested ‘first steps’ are:

  • Make contact with the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners and Corporations/ Co-operatives in your area
  • Find out if your jurisdiction has an Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, such as the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc
  • Contact your State/Territory Education Department for referral to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander liaison workers
  • Look up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander training or support providers in your area, for example NGROO Education Inc in NSW and the Indigenous Professional Support Units (IPSUs) and/or the Professional Support Coordinator across each state and territory.

Further reading and resources

Cultural Competence: Language Program Development
Children’s Services Central. Engaging with Aboriginal Communities: Where do we start?
Kidsmatter. Cultural diversity: Suggestions for families and educators
Cultural competence fact sheets for School Age Care.  My Time Our Place (for OSHC services)

Health and wellbeing

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

Strong sense of wellbeing

We now know through research that brain development in the early years can significantly impact on a person’s long term mental and physical health. A strong wellbeing in the early years lays the foundation for improved outcomes in later life.

The importance of supporting children’s wellbeing is recognised in the National Quality Standard, Quality Area 2: Children’s Health and Safety. It is also outlined in Outcome 3 of the Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing.

“Wellbeing includes good physical health, feelings of happiness, satisfaction and successful social functioning. It influences the way children interact in their environments. A strong sense of wellbeing provides children with confidence and optimism which maximise their
learning potential.”*

Relationships, experiences and environment

Responsive relationships, engaging experiences and a safe and healthy environment all play a role in supporting children’s healthy mental and physical wellbeing.

“To support children’s learning, it is essential that educators attend to children’s wellbeing by providing warm, trusting relationships, predictable and safe environments, affirmation and respect for all aspects of their physical, emotional, social, cognitive, linguistic, creative and spiritual being.”**

This involves educators considering healthy development holistically and working towards improving skills such as physical development, cognitive skills, self-expression, social skills, resilience and self sufficiency skills.

Mental health

Mental wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing to children’s overall health. It is important that educators are familiar with and promote positive mental health and wellbeing in children.

Mental health and wellbeing refers to a person’s psychological, social and emotional wellbeing and is affected by the context of each individual’s circumstances. Mental health difficulties relate to “…a range of challenges that people may experience in their thoughts, feelings or behaviour.”*** Mental health difficulties are not the same as mental illness or neurological disorder.

 

*Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’, Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing, pp. 30 and Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘My Time, Our Place – Framework for School Age Care in Australia’, Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing, pp. 29.

**Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’, Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing, pp. 30 and Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘My Time, Our Place – Framework for School Age Care in Australia’, Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing, pp.29.

***Hunter Institute of Mental Health. (2014) ‘Connections; A resource for early childhood educators about children’s wellbeing’, Key Concepts, pp. 13. The Department of Education and the Hunter Institute of Mental Health have developed ‘Connections; A resource for early childhood educators about children’s wellbeing.’ This guide promotes understanding in children’s mental health and wellbeing, and includes reflective questions, case studies and fact sheets.

A copy of Connections is being distributed to education and care services throughout Australia. Electronic copies are also available from the Department of Education website.

Further reading and resources

Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. How Brains are Built: The Core Story of Brain Development
Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. Executive Function.
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. InBrief: Executive Function: Skills for Life and Learning
Early Childhood Australia. Professional Learning Program. E-Learning video. Getting to know the NQS. Episode 3 Quality Area #2

 

 

Responsive, respectful relationships

14NOV13JH-137National Children’s Week begins this Saturday (October 18-26) and celebrations are happening across the country. To mark this event, National Education Leader Rhonda Livingstone, explores the topic of responsive and respectful relationships with children.

With Children’s Week comes the opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge children’s rights. Provision of quality education and care promotes children’s rights in the critical years of their development and leads to positive outcomes. These principles are woven throughout the National Quality Framework.

During the development of the National Quality Standard, much research was undertaken to identify the key drivers for quality in education and care. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Report Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education And Care[1] identified that attention needs to be given to both ‘structural’ and ‘process’ quality to ensure quality outcomes for children attending services.

Generally, structural quality refers to the foundation for optimal conditions including physical environment, health and safety, educator-to-child ratios and qualifications. These are most often found in Quality Areas 2: Health and Safety, 3: Physical Environment and 4: Staffing Arrangements in the National Quality Standard, and are often easier to measure than the process elements.

Process quality relates to the experiences children have and include social interactions and involvement in the program or quantifiable inputs to quality. These are most often found in Quality Areas 1: Educational Program and Practice and 5 Relationships with Children.

Quality Areas 6: Collaborative Partnerships with Families and Communities and 7: Leadership and Service Management include aspects of both process and structural quality.

Research shows that process quality had a “direct impact on child outcomes, whereas structural indicators of quality had an indirect impact through process quality”[2]. 

What this means, for example, is that while higher educator qualifications are found to be strongly associated with better child outcomes, it is not the qualification as such that has an impact on child outcomes[3]. It is the ability of the educators to use the skills gained through qualifications to create high quality environments, stimulate interactions with and between children, scaffold children’s learning and build trusting, respectful relationships with children and families.

What is it about respectful and responsive relationships with children that are so important for meeting child outcomes including their learning, development and well-being?

The Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care identify secure, respectful and reciprocal relationships with children as one of the key principles underpinning practice. Respectful relationships are a cornerstone to supporting children’s learning and development, and play a significant role in a child’s sense of belonging and how they interact with the world around them.

The Guide to the National Quality Standard (page 119) reminds us that supportive relationships with educators and staff members allow children to:

  • develop confidence in their ability to express themselves
  • work through differences
  • learn new things and take calculated risks.

Educators can build nurturing relationships that support children to feel valued as competent and capable individuals by:

  • actively engaging in their learning
  • sharing decision-making with them
  • using their everyday interactions during play, routines and ongoing projects to stimulate their thinking and to enrich their learning
  • providing opportunities for children to express their thoughts and feelings
  • supporting children as they begin to empathise with others, to appreciate their connectedness and interdependence as learners and to value collaboration and teamwork.

Relationships are built over time. Anne Stonehouse identifies the importance of consistent staffing arrangements in establishing positive relationships as well as giving regard to settling in and transition times. She provides a range of practices that promote relationships, including:

  • showing warmth and being welcoming: demonstrating to children that you are happy to see them, sharing a laugh with them
  • respecting each child’s uniqueness and communicating that respect to the child
  • actively looking for each child’s strengths and sharing your appreciation of those with the child, the child’s family and colleagues
  • showing children that you know them well, for example by helping them to identify their feelings and offering needed help and support to deal with feelings
  • creating and taking full advantage of one-on-one times, even brief ones, with each child
  • trying hard to understand children’s communication – verbal and non-verbal – and responding respectfully and authentically to encourage children to ask questions and share their thoughts
  • keeping promises
  • looking behind their behaviour to try to figure out what it means.[4]

Positive and responsive one-on-one interactions and relationships are essential for children in promoting their current wellbeing, their future development, ability to thrive, and provide a secure base for exploration. These relationships support children to feel connected and become confident communicators and learners.

Resources

References

[1] OECD (2006) Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education and Care

[2] NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (2002) cited in Ishimine, K.,Tayler, C. and Bennett J, Quality and Early Childhood Education and Care: A Policy Initiative for the 21st Century, International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy Copyright 2010 by Korea Institute of Child Care and Education
2010, Vol. 4, No.2, 67-80

[3] OECD (2012) Starting Strong III: A Quality Toolbox For Early Childhood Education and Care

[4] Stonehouse, A (2012) Relationships with children,  NQS PLP e-Newsletter No.36

Celebrate learning during National Literacy and Numeracy Week

Girl playing with counters

National Literacy and Numeracy Week is an opportunity for providers, educators and families to celebrate learning with their students and children. ACECQA spoke with two educators to see how they promote a culture of problem solving, understanding and learning in their educational programs and the opportunities for teaching these skills to young children in a way that is fun and engaging.

Shirleyanne Creighton from South Grafton Multipurpose Out of School Hours Care in NSW finds that asking children what activities they want to do most is a great method of incorporating literacy and numeracy into the program.

“We build a list of high-demand activities and then as a team work together to determine how we can underpin those activities with literacy and numeracy elements,” Shirleyanne said.

“Simple ideas, like using a baking class that introduces children to metrics and measurements or initiating a pen pal partnership that links with another OSHC,
are exciting ways for children to engage with numbers and text.

“Literacy and numeracy skills are the cornerstones of education and should form the basis of most activities we set out for our students.

“Educators and providers need to let children lead the way. By weaving literacy
and numeracy into their favourite activities, we can make the most of their natural intrigue and teach these skill sets creatively.

“The whole process can be seamless. Our children are learning and they don’t even notice,” Shirleyanne said.

In South Australia, Lee Munn and her team at Lobethal Kindergarten have also come up with interesting ways of teaching literacy and numeracy through experience.

“Every term, one week is selected as the ‘Outdoor Kindy Week’ where all sessions are conducted in the outdoor learning environment,” Lee said.

“Activities that are focused on thinking, planning and constructing functional items from simple materials such as pipes or bamboo help children to understand angles, weights and measurements.

“Imagination and story appreciation is also encouraged by using the ground as
a canvas, allowing students to compose and illustrate their ideas,” Lee said.

Lobethal Kindergarten also publishes a daily blog, which allows parents and families to read about the centre’s activities and enables them to comment and contribute to the curriculum.

“We encourage children to connect with nature by getting them outdoors and challenging them to take risks and move outside their comfort zones,” Lee said.

“A child’s imagination and curiosity can actually teach us all a thing or two – we are constantly in awe of children’s abilities to extend their thinking and learning. They amaze us with their competencies, skills and desire to explore and discover.”

Visit www.literacyandnumeracy.gov.au/ for details of the week’s activities, useful resources and innovative ideas to celebrate learning.

What does it mean to be culturally competent?

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Photos_headshot1_editedThis week on We Hear You, Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQA’s National Education Leader, writes about cultural competence. 

Cultural competence is about our will and actions to build understanding between people, to be respectful and open to different cultural perspectives, strengthen cultural security and work towards equality in opportunity. Relationship building is fundamental to cultural competence and is based on the foundations of understanding each other’s expectations and attitudes, and subsequently building on the strength of each other’s knowledge, using a wide range of community members and resources to build on their understandings.[1]

We have known for a long time about the importance of respecting diversity and embedding a range of cultures in early childhood education and care programs.  However the term, cultural competence, is relatively new to many working in the education and care sector, having been introduced in the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia and the Framework for School Age Care.

Over the past two or three decades we have endeavoured to challenge and address injustice, racism, exclusion and inequity through legislation, awareness raising, rights education and an anti-bias curriculum. Cultural competence reinforces and builds on this work.

So what does cultural competence mean and why is it so important for children to have their culture and cultural backgrounds acknowledged, respected and valued?

Underlying cultural competence are the principles of trust, respect for diversity, equity, fairness, and social justice… Culture is the fundamental building block of identity and the development of a strong cultural identity is essential to children’s healthy sense of who they are and where they belong.[2]

It is more than being respectful of the cultures represented in the service or even the community. It is much more than awareness of cultural differences, more than knowledge of the customs and values of those different to our own.

Cultural competence is the ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures. Cultural competence encompasses:

  • being aware of one’s own world view
  • developing positive attitudes towards cultural differences
  • gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views
  • developing skills for communication and interaction across cultures.[3]

Supporting this view, the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) identifies that cultural proficiency “requires more than becoming culturally aware or practising tolerance”. Rather, it is the ability to “identify and challenge one’s own cultural assumptions, values and beliefs, and to make a commitment to communicating at the cultural interface”.[4]

Links with the Learning Frameworks

Cultural competence is a key practice in the learning frameworks, and the notion of cultural competence is embedded throughout. For example, principles within the learning frameworks relevant to cultural competence include fostering secure, respectful and reciprocal relationships, partnerships, high expectations and equity and respect for diversity.

Issues of respecting and valuing diversity and culture are embedded in the Being, Belonging, Becoming themes of the Early Years Learning Framework. This framework acknowledges there are many ways of living, being and of knowing. Children are born belonging to a culture, which is not only influenced by traditional practices, heritage and ancestral knowledge, but also by the experiences, values and beliefs of individual families and communities. Respecting diversity means, within the curriculum, valuing and reflecting the practices, values and beliefs of families.

There are links to cultural competence in Learning Outcome 2 – Children are connected with and contribute to their world, including:

  • children develop a sense of belonging to groups and communities and  an understanding of the reciprocal rights and responsibilities necessary for active community participation
  • children respond to diversity with respect
  • children become aware of fairness
  • children become socially responsible and show respect for the environment.

It is also important to remember that a guiding principle of the Education and Care Services National Law is that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued.

What does cultural competence look like in practice?

Educators who are culturally competent respect multiple cultural ways of knowing, seeing and living, celebrate the benefits of diversity and have an ability to understand and honour differences. Educators also seek to promote children’s cultural competence.

In practical terms, it is a never ending journey involving critical reflection, of learning to understand how people perceive the world and participating in different systems of shared knowledge.

Cultural competence is not static, and our level of cultural competence changes in response to new situations, experiences and relationships. The three elements of cultural competence are:

  • attitudes
  • skills
  • knowledge

These are important at three levels:

  1. individual level – the knowledge, skills, values, attitudes and behaviours of individuals
  2. service level – management and operational frameworks and practices, expectations, including policies, procedures, vision statements and the voices of children, families and community
  3. the broader system level – how services relate to and respect the rest of the community, agencies, Elders, local community protocols.

While there is no checklist to tick off to identify culturally competent educators, we can start to build a picture of the attitudes, skills and knowledge required. For example, educators who respect diversity and are culturally competent:

  • have an understanding of, and honour, the histories, cultures, languages, traditions, child rearing practices
  • value children’s different capacities and abilities
  • respect differences in families’ home lives
  • recognise that diversity contributes to the richness of our society and provides a valid evidence base about ways of knowing
  • demonstrate an ongoing commitment to developing their own cultural competence in a two-way process with families and communities
  • promote greater understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being
  • teach, role-model and encourage cultural competence in children, recognising that this is crucial to ensuring children have a sense of strong cultural identity and belonging
  • engage in ongoing reflection relating to their cultural competence and how they build children’s cultural competence.

Ongoing reflection essential for the learning journey

A learning journey of cultural competence occurs when ongoing reflection and environmental feedback involves and supports educators to move along their culturally competent learning journey. The following diagram from the Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework (p26) is a useful tool to share with teams, to discuss and to identify how individuals are progressing on their learning journey.

diagram

There are also many reflective questions in the Guide and Learning Frameworks to provoke discussion and reflection. For example:

  • Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is disadvantaged?
  • What does cultural competence mean in your practice, for children, family, community and educators?
  • What do you know about the language/s that the children bring with them?

And the case study[5] of a project undertaken by educators to develop processes that value and use the expertise of Aboriginal people in local communities may offer some suggestions for starting similar projects.

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[1]Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework p21 Educators’ Guide to the Framework for School Age Care, p57

[2]Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework p23

[3]Framework for School Age Care in Australia p15 Early Years Learning Framework p16

[4]SNAICC 2012 Consultation Overview on Cultural Competence in Early Childhood Education and Care Services

[5] Early Years Learning Framework in Action p 27

Today is the first day of Reconciliation Week. What is reconciliation?

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According to the Reconciliation Australia websiteReconciliation is about building better relationships between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for the benefit of all Australians. To create positive change we need more people talking about the issues and coming up with innovative ideas and actions that make a difference.

National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is celebrated across Australia each year between 27 May and 3 June. The dates commemorate two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey — the 1967 referendum (27 May) and the High Court Mabo decision (3 June).  Additional information and resources can be found on the SNAICC website.

One of the guiding principles of the National Quality Framework is that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued. This aligns with element 1.1.2 of the National Quality Standard which requires that each child’s current knowledge, ideas, culture and interests are the foundation of the program. Building cultural competence is a key practice of the national approved learning frameworks and the concept is unpacked in the Educators Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework, which can be accessed from: http://www.workforce.org.au/media/359962/cultural%20competence%20in%20early%20childhood.pdf

The IPSP online library has some useful resources to assist. The ABC Indigenous website is also a valuable source of resources including a downloadable Indigenous language map that can be used with both children and adults.

Embracing natural spaces and communicating with families

This week on We Hear You, Natalie Cowley from KU Lance Children’s Centre at Millers Point in inner city Sydney tells us about how her service has made plans for continuous quality improvement after its assessment. Natalie has been working at KU Lance for a year and a half and has been teaching in early childhood for almost eight years.

At Lance we have achieved a beautiful, calm and natural environment, using only natural materials and no plastic materials in any of the spaces. Our reasoning behind this is we believe children deserve to have beautiful things to engage with and to develop a respect for the world around them.

When I first started at Lance with Donna, the centre was very different. This was not the focus, as Donna and I had previously worked together at another centre where we incorporated the ELYF and used natural materials. Knowing what kind of positive effect this has on children and their development, we focused our time and energy on changing the focus of Lance.

Within a year, we had changed the environment to be more nature focused, plastic free and over all a beautiful place to be. Interactions with children and the quality of care & education greatly improved and become the focus. Many of the staff did struggle with this change, most being able to learn from it and finding a new philosophy. Our practices improved with these changes, which allowed for strength in particular NQF quality areas (1, 2, 3 and 5).

Our assessment visit was early to mid last year and we received a rating of exceeding standards overall. There were a few areas that we were recommended to further improve in as we received a meeting standard in two areas as opposed to an exceeding. From this we further developed our natural spaces, both indoor and outdoor. Focusing on children and family involvement in the program and room set up, ie asking for suggestions or parents to help bring things in or get involved in classroom experiences such as cooking etc.

An area we needed to spend more time on was parent and community involvement. A lot of the families in the centre are quite busy and work long hours and often do not have time to come and contribute to the program, be involved in centre happenings or have time to read the program, journals and documentation. I thought of ways in which I could improve this and get more parent and community involvement. Donna (our director) suggested that we email families the daily diary. We began doing this a couple of months after the assessment and the response was overwhelming. Families loved receiving the daily diary while at work and would respond via email or mention at pick up how great it was to get an insight into their day while they were at work. From this great response, I came up with the idea to start a centre blog. Updating every 2nd day with learning stories, photos and centre happenings. This has also had a great response, with the parents looking at it often and commenting on posts with ideas/suggestions or positive feedback. The quality of our family interactions improved greatly from these changes, being able to communicate through social media has allowed for a lot more family involvement and from families that may not of shown much interest (due to time restraints) previously.

Natalie Cowley
Natalie Cowley

I have been working for KU Lance for a year and a half now and have been teaching all up for almost 8 years. Our director Donna has been at Lance for over two years and teaching for over 20 years. Since our quality assessment, we feel our service has come far in providing an exceeding standard of care for all the children and families attending our service.

Images of KU Lance Children’s Centre’s natural spaces:

KU Lance outdoor space

KU Lance indoor space KU Children's Centre

A ‘green’ thumbs up to sustainable programs

This article is from the Queensland Department of Education, Training and Employment and first appeared in Childcare Queensland’s Early Edition – Summer 2012.

The National Quality Standard (NQS) encourages educators to reflect on sustainability and what it means in early childhood settings. Standard 3.3 of the NQS invites services to take an active role in promoting sustainable practices in the immediate service environment and beyond, as well as fostering children’s respect and care for the environment.

The Standard aims to support children to develop positive attitudes and values by engaging in learning experiences that link people, plants, animals and the land and by watching adults around them model sustainable practices.

Many long day care services include environmental practices in their everyday programs – by planting vegetable patches, recycling paper and turning off lights when leaving the room, for example. This is a great starting point and opportunities to build a sustainable program are endless.

Early childhood services are at varying stages in the journey to sustainable education and practice. The following suggestions are designed to get you thinking about ways in which your service can build on Standard 3.3.

Sustainability in early childhood

The way in which services approach environmental sustainability will vary depending on the context, the children, the families, and the community in which the service is delivered. Services should encourage children and families to investigate the environment in which they live; rather than to impose a particular set of values or practices.

Learning about sustainability starts with everyday practice. Babies and toddlers can begin by watching adults model these behaviours. They may learn through song or rhyme as adults verbalise what they are doing. Children over three can begin to reason why practices are needed and to understand the impact that their actions have on the planet.

Getting started

It’s important to take a holistic look at sustainability across your service. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Conduct a self-assessment or audit of the sustainable activities already taking place in your service. Celebrate these achievements, share them with families and acknowledge staff contributions.
  • Make sustainability a key component of the service’s philosophy and quality improvement planning process, and seek commitment from children, educators and families.
  • Give children a sense of ownership. Ask them for ideas and get their participation.
  • Appoint a sustainability officer to champion and motivate the service to ‘go green’.
  • Commit to actions that are realistic and that people are motivated about. Consider experience, knowledge, budget and resource constraints.
  • Involve other people, groups and organisations in the building of the program. Consider ways to show them the results of their contributions and acknowledge their support.

Where to make changes

During an assessment and rating visit, authorised officers will be looking for evidence that sustainable practices are embedded in service operations.

Assessors may want to observe how children are supported to appreciate the natural environment and to take responsibility for caring for it – be it water, waste, energy, fauna or flora. You can do this by introducing smaller and more manageable activities in to every day practice and helping children to understand why.

Early childhood teacher, Karen Reid from Chiselhurst Community Preschool and Kindergarten in Toowoomba has kindly shared her ideas for addressing Standard 3.3:

  • Model ‘green housekeeping’ practices in the service, such as minimising waste, and reducing water and energy consumption. Replace appliances with more energy efficient ones, purchase recycled products where possible and build a compost bin. Engage children in the process so they learn why these changes are occurring.
  • Find ways to save money and energy by de-lamping lights where natural light is sufficient. Children can be responsible for turning off lights and fans when going outside.
  • Encourage parents to pack low waste lunches, using washable sandwich bags or plastic containers. After every meal, children can sort rubbish into general waste, recyclables and scrap bins.
  • Talk about rain and tap water and place stickers or timers at taps to encourage reduced water usage. Collect water in buckets when it rains.
  • Allow children to choose what seasonal fruit, vegetables or herbs they’d like to grow and seek ideas from families for the design of the outdoor environment. Water plants during the cool parts of the day to maximise absorption.
  • Observe and monitor biodiversity by keeping a log of all creatures big and small in the grounds. Work with children to research native wildlife.
  • Looking after animals can be fun, consider sponsoring animals at zoos and sanctuaries.
  • Build sustainability into policies and procedures, and use this to communicate with and educate the wider community.

Create critical thinkers

Turning off the lights at the end of the day is one thing, but do children understand why they’re being asked to do so? During the assessment and rating visit, authorised officers will want to know how children are being supported to develop an understanding and respect for the environment.

Build strategies in to your program that will encourage critical thinking. Prompting children to question where uneaten food scraps go may be one way to do this. Discussing the concept of drought by examining photographs and drawing signs about water conservation can provoke curiosity and creativity in older children.

Early childhood is a critical time for environmental education. Children are more likely to adopt good behaviours if they understand why and how to be sustainable.

Lessons that can last a lifetime

Children can learn a range of valuable experiences through adopting environmentally responsible practices. Respectful attitudes learnt in these early years can last a lifetime.

There are many useful resources available to support early childhood educators to embed sustainable practices, including the Early Childhood Australia website (www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au).

For additional information on Standard 3.3 of the NQS, refer to the Guide to the National Quality Standard available from the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority website (www.acecqa.gov.au).