Building Belonging: A toolkit for early childhood educators on cultural diversity and responding to racial prejudice

Megan Mitchell, Australia’s first National Children’s Commissioner, talks to We Hear You about the launch of a new comprehensive toolkit by the Australian Human Rights Commission to help encourage respect for cultural diversity and tackle racial prejudice in early childhood settings.

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“I don’t play with black kids cos my dad told me so.”

“I don’t want my colour skin because no-one likes it and it’s yucky.”

Do these sound like things children in your service have said to you?

These are examples of comments from children that early childhood educators provided to the Australian Human Rights Commission, in a survey on the challenges to educating about cultural diversity and addressing prejudice.

Last year, the Australian Human Rights Commission conducted a survey with over 400 early childhood educators across Australia to capture their views and experiences of cultural diversity and racial prejudice in their early childhood services.

Many educators reported hearing comments like those above. What’s more, educators told us that they commonly encountered prejudicial attitudes or behaviours from parents and other educators, as well as from children.

43% of educators said they had heard a child say something negative about another person’s racial, cultural or ethnic background and 49% told us they had heard a parent say something negative on the same grounds.

“[A parent said] ‘I’m not racist, but how can someone from another country teach my children and we cannot understand what they are saying’.” (Survey respondent)

 “A parent was disgusted that we had to show respect to Aboriginal culture, even though we celebrate other cultures in the centre.” (Survey respondent)

Many educators indicated they felt unsure how to effectively respond to these challenges.

“I think the main difficulty is that many people feel uncomfortable addressing prejudice. So if a child makes a comment, educators aren’t confident in talking about the issue and instead give an answer about how it’s not nice to say those things or we’re all friends in preschool.” (Survey respondent)

In response to this, the Australian Human Rights Commission, with the support of a reference group made up of early childhood educators and other specialists, has developed its very first early childhood resource.

Building Belonging’ is a comprehensive toolkit which includes an eBook, song with actions, educator guide, posters and lesson plans. The resources aim to provide educators with simple and practical ideas on how to handle challenging or confronting questions about racial differences, while also offering children stimulating activities and games to engage them with ideas around cultural diversity.

It is important that children in Australia today grow up with an appreciation and respect for the diversity of cultures, races and ethnicities that surround them.

As National Children’s Commissioner, I seek to promote and advocate for the rights of all children and young people in Australia. This includes making sure children and young people know about their rights and how to claim them.

Children are never too young to start learning about their rights and responsibilities. Children who grow up knowing that they, and everyone around them, have rights will carry the messages of respect and dignity that accompany this knowledge into adulthood.

Through engaging with these resources, educators have an opportunity to shape positive practices and provide all children with an early sense of their value, agency and belonging.

I hope you find these resources useful in assisting children in your services to develop empathy and respect for others. I’d love to hear what you and the children in your services think of the resources. You can get in touch with me via email or social media:

Email: kids@humanrights.gov.au

Facebook: MeganM4Kids

Twitter: @MeganM4Kids

Information about the ‘Building Belonging’ toolkit and links to the free resources are available on the Australian Human Rights Commission website.

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Exploring and connecting with nature

Educators at Goodstart Red Hill had long admired forest kindergartens from afar, never really considering how that might look in an Australian setting. Then they realised they had an amazing and diverse environment right on their doorstep. Skye Devereaux, Early Childhood Teacher and Educational Leader, writes this month on how Goodstart Red Hill developed their Nature Space program.

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The Educational Leadership team at Red Hill had a goal to provide all our children with regular opportunities to connect with nature and develop a sense of wonder, curiosity and respect for the environment around them. We wanted children to develop a love for nature and the world in which they live, in the hope that they have a strong connection with the environment they grow up in and, maybe one day, will figure out how to fix the environmental issues they inherit.

The planning process was extensive, spanning many months from when the idea was born in late 2013. We identified a nearby wild space with access to Ithaca Creek, which our service backs on to, and a wonderful enclosed forest space. Excursion plans were completed, along with a variety of risk and benefit assessments for the different activities we imagined would take place. We consulted with the Goodstart Health and Safety Team, seeking advice and guidance. The Red Hill educational team participated in training with Nikki Buchan, an educational consultant, on bush schools and the benefits of wild nature play. An event was then held to inform parents about the Nature Space program where we invited feedback and answered questions.

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After this preparation we began taking small, mixed age, focus groups of children to the wild space, observing how they engaged in the space and the supports they (and we) needed.

We hosted a weekend Clean Up Australia Day event with our families, introducing them to the wild space. Fifty people from our learning community attended and our risk and benefit assessments were displayed through the wild space.

At the end of February 2014, we began taking whole class groups out to the wild space. Each class, from toddler through to kindergarten, ventured out for one morning each week between 10am and 11.30am. We packed our little red wagon with first aid essentials, water bottles and baskets for collecting, and let the natural environment seize our imaginations and guide our play.

Since beginning our nature play program, the children at Red Hill are noticeably more confident and resilient learners, with an adventurous, enquiry based approach to learning. Through their play in the wild space they have become proficient at self-risk assessment, and approach risky play with careful consideration and minimal, respectful support from their peers and teachers.

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The children have learned to slow down and spend time to look, watch and wonder. The Nature Space program allows time for the children to imagine and create using only what the environment provides. A log becomes a baby, crushed bark some snow and a bouncing log becomes a rocket, a horse or a broomstick.

Children willingly collaborate and support one another in the challenges presented with determined perseverance and confidence in their eventual success, if not this week then perhaps the next. The older children, now with several years of play experience in the space, share their stories and pass down skills to the younger children and so each new year group learns about the Magical Forest, Sunshine Hill and The Giant’s Chair, each named by children who have now passed through the dense trees and leafy carpet for a final time. They are creating new, oral histories but at the same time are curious about the original occupants of the space, wondering what came before.

In the two and a half years since the program launched, the way we inhabit the space has changed somewhat. As the environment and our knowledge of it have developed, so too has our play. While our time was initially focussed on the creek and Sunshine Hill, now we play almost exclusively in the forest.

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Make believe play has emerged as the prevailing form during the visits, with games and ideas carrying over weeks and even months.

Mindfulness has become a focus of the groups’ visits with children engaged in before and after practices of being, reflecting on their presence in time and space.

Our hope continues to be that these children will grow up with fond childhood memories of their time spent in this space with us, and leave us having developed a strong connection to and understanding of the world around them.

Sustainability in children’s education and care

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Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQAThis month ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, promotes sustainability and looks at why it’s important for children to explore values and develop an appreciation of the environment.

Living sustainably means living within the capacity of the natural environment to support life and ensuring our current lifestyle has minimal impact on generations to come. Sustainable practices relate not only to the natural environment, but also our society and culture, including aspects such as consumerism and community well-being.

As the need for greater sustainability becomes more apparent globally, so does the importance of embedding sustainability in children’s programs. Through hands-on experiences and relevant educator pedagogies, children can explore and learn about their local contexts and environmental issues. They can develop the creativity and critical thinking skills necessary to make informed decisions for change, improving the quality of their lives, and those of future generations.

Practicing sustainability empowers children to construct knowledge, explore values and develop an appreciation of the environment and its relationship to their worlds. This lays the foundations for an environmentally responsible adulthood.

Sue Elliott, Senior Lecturer from the University of New England, NSW, says ‘early childhood education for sustainability is a transformative and empowering process actively engaged in by children, families and educators who share an ecocentric worldview’ (Elliott, 2014, p.15).  An ecocentric worldview is one that embraces all the Earth’s life forms and physical elements, not just humans.

When there is an alignment of philosophies, ethics and beliefs in a service, sustainability becomes the norm and has a positive impact on children’s learning and the wider community.

The Early Years Learning Framework, the Framework for School Age Care and the National Quality Standard promote embedding sustainability in all daily routines and practices. Services often find elements relating to sustainability under Quality Area 3 challenging to meet.

Holistic approach

Educators typically focus on sustainable practices and activities for children in the outdoor environment. However, it is important to embed sustainability more broadly in all aspects of service operations. A holistic approach to sustainability is essential, acknowledging the natural, social, political and economic dimensions as defined by UNESCO (2010).

Sue Elliott (2014, p. 52) offers the following questions to get started on a journey of change:

  • What practical first step or action priority could we engage in that best reflects the interests and/or strengths of this community?
  • How will we decide on the most relevant and achievable action?
  • Which stakeholders in our service may have an interest in this action priority?

Other questions for reflection include:

  • What strategies do we use to foster children’s capacity to value and respect the broader environment and appreciate the interdependence between people, plants, animals and the land?
  • How are children involved in the environmentally sustainable practices already existing at the service and in the community?
  • What connections have we made within the local indigenous community that support a deeper connection to the land?
  • How will we maintain the inspiration and momentum for the journey of change?

Starting point

Nadine McCrea (2015, p. 64), Associate Professor at University of New England, suggests the following sustainable practices as starting points.

  • create edible gardens for sharing and/or cooking produce
  • implement an energy saving policy including heating, cooling, lights, appliances
  • practise green cleaning
  • be active citizens for sustainability in local community projects
  • collect natural materials for play ethically, only taking a few and using respectfully
  • install a solar hot water system
  • reuse and repurposing materials for play
  • create a second-hand children’s book or clothing exchange for families
  • use forest-friendly paper products
  • avoid disposable, single use items
  • investigate local indigenous environmental knowledge
  • implement a sustainable purchasing policy including local products and minimised packaging

What other possibilities might be relevant to your education and care service?

Network

Educators might consider joining a sustainable education network for ideas to engage in sustainable practices. Current networks include:

The Early Childhood Environmental Education Network has developed the Eco Smart for Early Childhood – a sustainability filter for Quality Improvement Plans along with a version designed specifically for family day care educators. Other useful resources include:

References and resources

Davis, J. (Ed.) (2015). Young children and the environment: Early education for sustainability (2nd edn.), Port Melbourne, Victoria: Cambridge University Press.

Elliott, S. (2014). Sustainability and the Early Years Learning Framework. Mt Victoria, NSW: Pademelon Press.

McCrea, N. (2015). Leading and management: Early childhood settings – Inspiring people, places and practices. Port Melbourne, Victoria: Cambridge University Press.

NSW ECEEN (2012). ECO SMART for Early Childhood – A sustainability filter for Quality Improvement Plans. Sydney, NSW: OEH ET & NSW ECEEN.

NSW ECEEN (2015). ECO SMART for Early Childhood – A sustainability filter for Quality Improvement Plans Family Day Care revision. Sydney, NSW: OEH ET & NSW ECEEN.

UNESCO (2010) Four dimensions of sustainable development. Retrieved 25 September, 2014, from http://www.unesco.org/education/tlsf/mods/theme_a/popups/mod04t01s03.html

Young, T. & Elliott, S. (2014) Ways of thinking, acting and relating about sustainability. Deakin West, ACT: Early Childhood Australia.

A smooth transition from pre-school to school

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

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

Relationships with families

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

Building a strong foundation for success

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

Scaffolding learning

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

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

Making connections with local schools

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

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

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Embracing the assessment and rating process

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Being assessed and rated can understandably be a nervous time for educators. ACECQA caught up with Vashti Hicks, an Authorised Officer with the Queensland Department of Education and Training, to discuss her role and how services can prepare and embrace the assessment and ratings process.

Tell us a little about your background

 I have been in the early childhood sector for 16 years. I started as an assistant in a privately owned service but soon discovered that I wanted to focus on teaching. I then completed my diploma before taking on a group leader role.

Following this, I had the opportunity to take on the role as a service Director, which I undertook for five years. I was lucky to stay at this service for 11 years and felt supported in my growth in the sector. After a short break, I took on a position with the department focusing on monitoring and licensing, I have been here for five years and am looking forward to many more.

How do you think the National Quality Standard (NQS) has improved quality education and care?

With the changes to the National Law and National Regulations and the development of the NQS, approved providers, educators and families have come together to ensure wonderful outcomes for children.

Services can think outside the box and engage their educators and children in new and exciting ways, which they may not have looked at in the past as early education programs tended to be structured and ‘one size fits all’.

Additionally, with the law and regulations looking at operational requirements, it’s positive to see a framework that has raised the benchmark and for services to focus on continuous improvement.

Can you describe some of the innovative ways you have seen services approach the Quality Areas or Standards?

Services are embracing being able to change their indoor and outdoor environments to feel more natural and homely. Many are sourcing design ideas from collaboration websites such as Pinterest and finding inspiration for using natural materials that allow children to explore living and non-living things.

I’m delighted when I visit services where the outdoor space has become equally as dynamic and important in terms of learning by using things like wooden materials, gardens and mud pits.

We have definitely seen an increase in services and families building stronger relationships, including families participating more in the program, giving feedback and services using families’ skills and incorporating these into programs. One service that I visited had moved away from displaying children’s artwork on the walls to photos of children’s families that created a homely learning environment.

What preparation do you do before a visit?

I try to develop a relationship with my services to ensure that they are ready for the assessment and rating process. Prior to visiting I read through their Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) and identify strengths and improvements that they have highlighted and discuss these.

If I have additional time, I call the service and speak to the nominated supervisor and ask if there is anything I need to know for the visit such as: allergies, staff that may be away or any other major changes that have occurred. Asking these questions makes me aware of how the service operates daily.

I encourage services to make contact with their assessment authority before their visit as developing this relationship is an important step in ensuring the assessment and rating is as stress-free as possible.

If you could offer services a word of advice, what would it be? 

I would recommend services to:

  • embrace the process (see it as an opportunity to show your service off to the world)
  • breathe, discuss and reflect
  • ensure you’re prepared (knowledge is power, use the National Quality Framework Resource Kit)
  • highlight your service’s strengths.

Benefits of higher educator to child ratios

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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