Food for thought

DBOOSH_32 copyACECQAPhotos_headshot1_edited‘s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, explores the physical implications of nutritious food and why healthy eating practices are such an important component of the National Quality Framework. 

We are all familiar with the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and likely remember being told that “carrots help you see in the dark”. But what are the physical implications of the intake of nutritious food and why is their consumption so highly promoted in the National Quality Framework (NQF)?

When receiving nutrients, studies have shown the body prioritises survival first, followed by growth, then brain development. Being well-nourished can have a significant impact on children’s long term health including physical and motor development, brain development, immunity and metabolic programming.

Due to the rapid pace of brain development, nutrition can affect a child’s learning capacity, analytical and social skills, and their ability to adapt to different environments and people. Research also shows that good nutrition protects the body against disease and determines the body’s metabolic programming of glucose, protein, lipids and hormones.

Longitudinal studies have shown that responding early to cases of insufficient nutrition significantly improves long term health and productivity.

The National Quality Standard (NQS) acknowledges the importance of nutrition for children. For example, Standard 2.2 of the National Quality Standard aims to ensure food and drinks provided by services are nutritious and appropriate for each child. To make informed decisions about what is nutritious and appropriate for children, services are encouraged to refer to guidelines and advice from recognised authorities such as the Department of Health and Ageing’s publication, Get up and Grow: Healthy Eating and Physical Activity for Early Childhood and the Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia.

Services are also encouraged to ensure that food is consistent with advice provided by families about their child’s dietary requirements, likes, dislikes and cultural or other requirements families have regarding their child’s nutrition.

To meet approved learning framework outcomes, services should provide many opportunities for children to experience a range of healthy foods and to learn about food choices from educators and other children (Early Years Learning Framework, page 30; Framework for School Age Care, page 30).

The Education and Care Services National Regulations require that:

  • the food or beverages offered are nutritious and adequate in quantity, and are chosen having regard to the dietary requirements of each child including their growth and development needs and any specific cultural, religious or health requirements (Regulation 79) (this does not apply to food supplied for the child by child’s parents)
  • if the service provides food and drinks (other than water), a weekly menu which accurately describes the food and drinks must be displayed at the service at a place accessible to parents (Regulation 80)
  • the approved provider must ensure policies and procedures are in place in relation to health and safety, including nutrition, food and drinks, and dietary requirements (Regulation 168).

The NQF recognises the professionalism of the education and care sector. Providers and educators are encouraged to use their professional judgement to make informed decisions when developing policies and procedures for their service, children and families.

Collaborative relationships with families play an important role and will help in promoting understanding of healthy eating for children.

Nutrition Australia – Children and the Guide to the National Quality Standard pp. 60- 63 are also useful resources for educators and parents.

ACECQA spoke with a NSW service to see how they promote healthy eating practices, nutritional value and physical play.

Double Bay OSHC in Sydney encourages children to adopt healthy eating practices on a daily basis. Team Leader, Karim Moulay, said by displaying posters and signs around the kitchen and service, staff and children are reminded of the nutritional value of the food they prepare and eat.

“One of our signs in particular reminds us not to add extra salt or sugar to our food,” Karim said. “And we often refer to our nutritional poster board which illustrates the high sugar content in the foods most children want to eat compared to a healthy replacement.”

“Ensuring the safety of children during food-based activities is also a focus for educators.

“We teach children the safe way to pass a knife, the correct chopping boards to use for meat and vegetables, the importance of tying hair back off their face and shoulders, and to wash their hands throughout the food preparation process to stop cross-contamination.”

In addition, all food-based activities contribute to their overarching health and nutrition curriculum, and learning outcomes.

“Even in our cooking classes our children are learning lifelong skills such as teamwork, cooperation, volume and quantities, cleaning, sanitising and cooking,” Karim said.

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

Updating your Quality Improvement Plan

In Issue 1 of the ACECQA Newsletter for 2013 we asked ‘What are you doing to ensure your Quality Improvement Plan remains a living document?’ 

Share what you and your service are doing to build on 2012 and keep your QIP up to date by commenting on this post.

Want to read more about keeping QIPs up to date? Check out this post from Gaye Stewart on how she and her team supported the process at a local level. 

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.

Our Journey to date – The Assessment Process

This month on the blog, director Julie Dowling of Discovery Early Learning Centre, Lauderdale, Tasmania, writes a personal account of the assessment process.

Julie talks about how she led her staff and families to develop the Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) and how the educators became comfortable with the assessment process.

Our assessment went for three days, which included the centre based long day care centre and the outside school hours care programs which are facilitated on site at the school next door.

Our Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) is viewed and acted upon as a living document. It is freely available on all computers and is updated on a regular basis. We also have a whiteboard in the staff room that was used to document processes and change, this became the template for the QIP. There is no such thing as a silly question and educators were encouraged and supported to ask ‘why?’. As not everyone in our centre was computer literate the use of the whiteboard created an inclusive process for all educators. All stakeholders were involved in the development of the services self-assessment and its QIP including the children, families, community, school community and educators.

The QIP was completed in April so by the time the assessment visit occurred in June; some of the areas of the QIP had indeed changed. We had implemented plans, some were still progressing and other areas were added. Progress notes were added to the QIP as evidence of our continuous improvement journey, but also as a reminder of the distance we had travelled in supporting better outcomes for children.

The assessment day began with a tour of the service where the educators and children were introduced to the Authorised Officers. This provided the opportunity to talk about our processes, our people and our curriculum. The educators began to relax into the process as they were advised to ‘do what they normally do’ and to be confident in their practice. It was also important for them to understand that this is a continual improvement process and it was important to reflect on everyday practice with a goal of improving practice.

The officers visited each of our program areas, including before school care and two outside school hours care sessions. During the visit the educators were involved in non contact curriculum planning and the assessors asked whether they could sit with them as they did this. Although the educators were confident in their abilities, the actual thought of having an assessor ask them questions was initially ‘a state of panic’. As the centre director, I stayed with the educator. After some initial trepidation the educator articulated the planning process and spoke about the context of the room’s curriculum and planning cycle. This was a positive experience and enabled the educator to celebrate what was happening each and every day for children and families within the education and care environment.

As the officers walked through the service they spoke to the educators, viewed practice in the indoor and outdoor environments, viewed displays in the centre and room routines. As the director of the service the officers spent a lot of of time talking to me about Quality Area 6 and 7, and also asked questions about things that may not have been visible in the rooms at the time. They took lots of notes, which we unanimously decided was a good thing to ensure a transparent and robust process.

The officers chatted amicably to the educators and to the children and I must say the whole process was very unobtrusive. The visit was authentic and the experience was a positive one for the centre’s team.

The centre supports and is committed to continuous improvement and ongoing learning and this is what we strive to do each day. The assessment process has helped us build on our strengths and reflect on things we can learn more about. It was a great team building experience. Critical reflection played a major role in the process and we were able to show the officers our reflections which demonstrated our journey and the reasons behind any changes made to everyday practice.

By the second day of the visit the educators were very relaxed about the whole process. The unknown was now the known. The only thing that the team found difficult was the wait for the draft report and the final rating but we understand why it has to be this way to ensure a credible system has been implemented. We now know the visit isn’t scary and our doubts and apprehension have been put to rest. We wait in anticipation for our rating and are committed to this journey of continual improvement and growth as a service.

About the author – Julie Dowling is the Director of a 76 place long day care centre, 20 place After Kinder Care and  60 place outside school hours care in Lauderdale, Tasmania. Julie has worked in the sector for 18 years, firstly in Family Day Care and then in Outside School Care and centre based care.  Julie has a degree in Early Childhood education and care.

Quality Improvement Plans – Supporting the process at a local level

This month’s feature post is by Gaye Stewart. Gaye is the Senior Consultant Planning and Review at Glen Eira City Council. Gaye’s article shares the process Glen Eira used to develop Quality Improvement Plans with their services.

The City of Glen Eira (VIC) is located 10 kilometres south east of Melbourne’s CBD. While we have no direct role in the management of many local services, as a planner of the physical environment, facilities and services Council seeks to promote partnership, improve the health and safety of children and build community connectedness.

Our local government area has 52 early years education and care services, 46 of these run funded kindergarten programs. As a local Council we manage three long day care services and a Family Day Care scheme with 38 carers.   Our Family Day Care Scheme has recently gone through the Assessment process.

In Glen Eira early years education and care services have a variety of management structures; community management, school, cluster management and private providers.  At the beginning of 2011 we began convening monthly network meetings [Kindergarten and Early Years Alliance] for service leaders.  The focus of these meetings is professional conversations where we hope that early years education and care services will be able to share practice, challenges and ideas for the National Quality Framework and network to support each other.

At a recent meeting we shared the process undertaken with our managed services to develop Quality Improvement Plans (QIP). The idea was to use our story to begin a professional conversation.

We started the process in Glen Eira’s services by printing out the summary table of quality areas, standards and elements [on page 10 of the Guide to the National Quality Standard].  We made it A3 size so it was really easy to read and we put it up on the wall in the staff rooms. The idea was for staff to start talking, making notes and ticking the areas and elements they felt they did well now. Writing a note beside ones they didn’t really understand or wanted to talk further about lead discussion in staff meetings.

After reflecting, having some informal conversations with parents and reviewing annual survey results in detail, the team leaders from each service came together to collate and discuss elements for their QIP. The important first step was focussing on our strengths.

The QIP template provided by ACECQA was projected up on to a screen and we worked through each quality area.   As staff talked about the things we did well, there was a need to jump between quality areas because some examples of good practice applied in different quality areas.  This is where we found that converting the QIP template to excel was useful. Each quality area was made a different tab. Having it in excel made it easier to navigate around the different quality areas as we worked.

Sharing our approach resulted in a productive professional conversation. Some useful tips for services in the development and ongoing interaction with their QIP were collated from the discussion.   Below are tips that were shared at the meeting:

  • If possible work with others to identify your strengths and improvements.
  • Be kind to yourself.  Tick off the things you feel confident about. (the summary table can be useful to do this)
  • Make an A3 copy of the summary table of quality areas, standards and elements on page 10 of the Guide to the National Quality Standard, and stick it up on the wall in the staff room. It’s a good reminder and discussion point.
  • Remember your QIP does not have to have actions in every quality area.
  • Identify quality areas and elements that you need to work on and plan in stages. Be realistic about what can be achieved, timelines and resources you need.
  • Use the Assessment and rating instrument to help you to define your improvement goal and success measure.
  • Once you have completed your QIP remember to update it regularly.  It should be a living document. Write down progress notes and date them.
  • Keep everyone engaged with the plan. One centre has a copy in the staff room and in the foyer for parents to access.
  • Have the plan on the agenda of every staff meeting
  • Every 6 months or so do a ‘save as’ of your plan and update it. For instance; if your first plan is saved at QIP 2012 towards the end of the year you might save it as QIP 2012-Oct. When you do the ‘save as’ process update it with new actions and identify emerging issues.
  • Implement an annual satisfaction survey that details quality elements. This can help you to measure success and identify areas for improvement.

Note: We are happy to provide the Excel format of the QIP to others. It was useful for us and while it has some limitations in terms of formatting, once you work them out it’s easy to insert text.   Each sheet is protected so you can only add text to the cells that change.  You can easily take protected off by going into the review tab and clicking protect sheet off. It is not password protected. Please send an email to mail@gleneira.vic.gov.au with QIP Excel file in the subject line to request the file.

About the author – Gaye Stewart is the Senior Consultant Planning and Review at Glen Eira City Council. Gaye has worked in and around early years services for more than twenty years. Over the past 10 she has consulted across a broad service area with a focus on evaluation.  Gaye has a Masters in Evaluation, a Bachelor of Education, Graduate Diploma in Special Education and a Diploma of Teaching in Early Childhood Education.