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

Regulation in children’s education and care services

Recent media commentary about regulation in the children’s education and care sector posed the idea that regulations are different to ‘common sense’.

There are a number of factors to consider in this issue.

The NQF has consolidated regulation under both the previous state-based licensing and national accreditation systems.  This particularly helps providers with services in more than one jurisdiction, which includes a number of small providers with two or three services as well as the much larger providers.

Another factor is that the NQF is new, and that the introduction of any new system requires an adjustment period. We acknowledge the work of educators and providers to support the NQF in this foundation period has been significant. As new processes settle in to place, we expect day to day administration will become more routine.

A level of administration and paperwork is an essential part of any well-run enterprise. This is even more so for education and care services where parents and the community want to have confidence children are safe and secure at all times.

Naturally people who work in the children’s education and care sector are expected to take a common sense approach to looking after children in their care.

That’s in line with the expectations of families, the community and governments.  It’s in line with professional conduct.

It’s also in line with the new regulations as quoted in recent reports.

For instance, regulation 81 is about children receiving adequate sleep. It has been cited as an example of over-regulation when indeed, it does seem to be just common sense.  However, from the perspective of educators and administrators, the sector knows that sleep times can be highly contentious.  Families, especially parents of toddlers and pre-schoolers, can have very strong views about the way their children receive adequate rest.

Regulations help to set the common sense down in black and white, and are helpful to services when setting policies, and helpful to parents seeking reassurance.  They help ensure a consistent approach to the education and care of children.

In the case of this example, many jurisdictions already had regulations that covered children’s sleep and rest before the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care came into effect in 2012.

The regulations do not mandate the number of hours that children must rest, nor do they tell services how to go about ensuring children get that rest.  They do, however, set an expectation that little children will get adequate rest according to their needs.

If a parent wants to check whether their service is operating in the right way, or if there is a debate between staff about how to do something, they can find the answer in the regulations. They can – and often do – also contact the regulatory authority in their state or territory or ACECQA.

It is clear from the enquiries ACECQA receives that educators are keen to do the right thing by their children and families. Often ACECQA receives enquiries from educators or providers seeking clarification when an unusual situation arises in their service – we then refer to the law and regulations to give consistent advice.

When things go wrong, people expect something to be done about it and regulations provide the grounds for taking action and applying penalties.

ACECQA’s role is to ensure the Framework is now implemented consistently across the states and territories. National consistency is about fairness and efficiency rather than rigid uniformity. The NQF accepts that services can reach the same standards of quality in different ways.

We want to know what we can do to improve its implementation. That’s why it was always planned that ACECQA would conduct research to consider the regulatory burden of the National Quality Framework.

We begin that research this year, speaking to many educators and providers about how the new regulations have affected their operations.  You can read about the research in this week’s newsletter.