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

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).

Communicating with families

In Issue 15 of the ACECQA Newsletter, we called out for ideas and suggestions on electronic communication with families. We had a great response, including a post on the ACECQA Facebook page from Joanna O’Brien of Platinum Pre School in Randwick, NSW.

While these methods may not be for everyone, it was clear that Platinum had embraced electronic communication and social media in a big way. We asked Joanna to write a guest blog to hear first hand what has worked for Platinum, and whether any of these tools might help other services communicate with parents.

In this post Joanna writes about the reasons her service embraced electronic communication, benefits to the parent community and professional development for staff.

Since opening our doors in mid 2010 at Platinum Pre School in Sydney’s East we’ve spent a considerable amount of time experimenting and developing techniques that would allow our love of early education to fit with the changing lifestyles of the families in our community.

To give a brief overview of our pre school, we are located at the heart of the Sydney suburb of Randwick. Due to the relatively high socio-economic nature of our community, most of our families consist of two parents working full-time, many of whom have little to no family support in the area. As our Directors were previously primary school teachers they knew that we would have to take a unique and well targeted approach when communicating with these very busy people.

So, from the outset we identified that social media and other technology based communication services would allow us to clearly and effectively communicate with our time-poor families in an efficient and interactive way. It is an important balance for us; our parents need to be integrally involved in their child’s education, however we also need to ensure that time spent on communication is streamlined ensuring that our students’ contact time with their teachers isn’t compromised. To manage this, earlier this year we introduced Online Portfolios for our students, which allow parents to log on to a secure portfolio dedicated to their child’s development at preschool. In the portfolios parents can view photos, videos and audio posts related to the daily educational programmes that their child experiences. Our teachers can quickly and easily post observations, learning stories or simply photos directly to any child’s portfolio via their group’s iPad.

Our Online Portfolios combined with our use of FacebookInstagramYouTubeTwitter, our Blog and eNewsletter Weekly Email mean that we make our voice heard! And the response has been nothing but positive. We’ve found that using these technologies, particularly social media, has brought our busy parent community much closer together. We see more discussions between parents at drop-off and pick-up about things that are going on at the pre school and within our community, we have built professional relationships with local and international people and organisations, and we are able to keep our finger on the pulse by following industry leaders in early education.

We currently lecture our practices at two universities and we also take part in conferences held by Electroboard and TAFE. We are passionate about developing the holistic child and to do this we find it imperative to be co-educators with our children’s families and parents.

To see examples of how we currently use technology check out our website www.platinumpreschool.com and we’d love to ‘connect’ with anyone else out there who is interested in the new world of early education. 

Joanna O’Brien is co-director at Platinum Pre School, Randwick NSW. Joanna is a trained primary school teacher with over 15 years’ experience in face-to-face education and education management.

Communicating with families

Recently on the ACECQA Facebook page we asked how services communicate with families, and what works best.

Communicating with families can develop strong partnerships and help families to feel connected to their children’s experience in education and care. Having open and two-way communication forms an important part of NQS QA6 – Collaborative partnerships with families.

The daily interaction that occurs when families drop off and pick up children is often supported with daybooks, noticeboards and newsletters. Increasingly more and more services are beginning to introduce a range of electronic communication platforms to share and discuss information with parents.

But every service is different and unique, and the discussion on our Facebook page captured some great methods for family communication:

“Day book, newsletter, mainly face to face. I find that the most effective and makes the connection more personal.”

“We use all sorts of communication styles. From emails, newsletters, day books, display board, online survey tools, face to face discussions, phone calls and texting.”

“One of the ways my centre communicates with our lovely families is through a daily blog where they can check out what their children have been up to, can comment on activities we have done or provide suggestions. We provide upcoming events on there, recipes of the children’s favourite food that they are enjoying, anything that we think the parents might find interesting and could possibly try at home as well. We generally get great responses from the families and it’s easy as they can access the blog at work.”

Has your service recently introduced a form of electronic communication for families? If so, we would love for you to share your experience by writing a guest post for the ACECQA blog. If you are interested please send outline of your blog post idea to news@acecqa.gov.au and we will be in touch shortly.

If you would like ideas or want to share how your service communicates with families, please join the discussion on our Facebook page.