From soaring towers to inclusive playscapes: Exploring the journey of children’s participation

How can we give children more opportunities to contribute meaningfully? To their services? To their community? To their cities and world? Bridget Isichei, an early childhood educator and former director of UnitingCare Jack and Jill Preschool Grafton and area manager for Goodstart Early Learning, writes this month about the journey of children’s participation in an exciting council playground project.

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A collaborative design by the children at Goodstart Early Learning Grafton

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child tells us that children have the right to have their voices heard and their opinions considered.

For most of my own career, enacting this meant asking children to contribute to the design of their play-space or encouraging them to develop their own behaviour guidelines (in line with National Quality Standard Element 1.1.6). More recently, I have been engaged in a project that has changed my thinking about this. I now realise we can do more and dream of a world where children are given the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to community discussion, and mould the cities and towns that they live in from the day they are born.

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A contribution from the children at Westlawn Preschool Grafton

The project started during my time as the Director of UnitingCare Jack and Jill, when a group of preschool children wrote to the Clarence Valley Council to express their opinion that their town had insufficient playgrounds, and asking if they could design a better one. To our delight, the council agreed at the perfect time since they had budgeted for a new playground the following year. Within just a few months the council saw the value of consulting young children and invited three other early education and care services to become involved. As the director of the preschool that originally approached the council, I was given a place on their committee.

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“You can sit on if you have no friends and someone will come to play with you.” – UnitingCare Jack and Jill Preschool Grafton

Some of my strategies and key learnings from the project were:

At first educators held large groups and expected every child to contribute:

We reflected and decided that although children have the right to participate, they don’t have to. We set up a learning space in each service where children could visit and record ideas if they were interested in the project.

We expected all educators, park designers and council members to know why children have the right to participate:

We spent time explaining the benefits of children’s participation and voice to all stakeholders.

We asked children to contribute ideas without giving them the tools, knowledge and resources they needed:

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A contribution from the children at Westlawn Preschool Grafton

Educators decided to hold small group times for interested children to increase their knowledge about playground design, recycling and inclusion. The designated learning area was set up with books and information about the project so the children could revisit the area and build skills over time. Continuous learning, high expectations and intentional teaching were therefore critical elements in making the project successful.

Children came up with too many ideas to use:

Children were encouraged to reflect on and refine their ideas. Children were given the opportunity to consult with each other and park design professionals to find out if their ideas were practical. By revisiting these ideas regularly, children were able to develop their thinking.

The design for the new park now includes signs written by the children, has equipment that is inclusive of all children, recycling bins, a very tall tower, sand and water play and children’s art. The park will have a special seat that ‘you can sit on if you have no friends and someone will come to play with you’. When a child suggested this, I knew that this inclusive idea was very important, but something an adult would be unlikely to think of.

Children have unique perspectives, and the world is a lesser place when we don’t listen to them.

References

UN General Assembly. (1989) Convention on the Rights of the Child, 20 November 1989, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1577, p. 3.

Helping families understand quality

This month on We Hear You, Jessica Annerley, Chief Executive Officer of Bruce Ridge Early Childhood Centre and Preschool talks about helping families understand the National Quality Standard, and building support for quality education and care.

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Our service was rated Working Towards National Quality Standard (NQS) between 2013–2016. Conversations with families at the time were focused on why we achieved this rating, why we felt it was an appropriate rating at the time of the assessment, and what we were doing to improve our practices.

Our educators recognised the importance of including families in our quality improvement journey, helping them understand the quality areas, and what we were doing to support their child’s learning, development and wellbeing.

We used the information in the assessment and rating report as the basis of our Quality Improvement Plan (QIP). We then shared this in a formal process with families, along with our philosophy and policies, and asked our families what they felt we were doing well and what we could improve in relation to the NQS. After integrating this feedback into our programs and practice, the hard but rewarding work paid off in October 2016 when we celebrated the outcome of our reassessment with the families from our service. We are all thrilled to have achieved the Exceeding NQS rating, and look forward to our ongoing journey to achieve excellence.

exceeding-300-rgbIt was great timing with the release of the new NQS logos. So far the Exceeding logo, which is displayed on our website and signature blocks, has been a useful conversation starter, helping new families understand a little more about quality education and care.

Having achieved Exceeding NQS in all seven quality areas, our conversations with families are less about the areas we are doing well in and more about the areas that support our philosophy and that we feel passionate about as a community. Unique aspects of our service, such as our relationships with the community, the professional learning and development our educators are committed to and our ‘Bush School’ program, are often topics we discuss with families. We also outline how they directly link to the NQS and support children’s learning on a daily basis.

The assessment and rating process is another opportunity for us to talk to families about the NQS. It helps families recognise the value of what we do, and helps refocus the importance of our profession and the way it contributes to the outcomes and benefits for children both in the early years and later in life. We believe it’s a step towards improving what is a largely undervalued and underpaid sector at present.

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Families are often surprised to hear that prior to the National Quality Framework there was no national law, regulation or mandatory curriculum framework. This leads to conversations around professionalising our sector and mandatory qualifications for educators. It provides an avenue for us to talk to families about the importance of early childhood education and care – that is, not just child care.

Educators are often a family’s first experience of education for their child, and we play an important role in helping them understand the sometimes confusing terminology, complexity and importance of the NQS.

Looking for resources to help you talk to families about individual quality areas and the NQS? Check out the Guide to the NQS – the summary paragraph before each quality area might be particularly useful.

Sustainability in children’s education and care

Sustainability

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.

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.

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.

Reviewing your Quality Improvement Plan

Photos_headshot1_editedThis week on We Hear You, Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQA’s National Education Leader, tells us about reviewing your Quality Improvement Plan.

Service providers have described how developing and implementing a QIP has been useful in identifying their strengths and where their efforts should be focused. While many services reflect on and review their plans regularly, if you have not already done so, it may be timely to review your plan, as you are required to update your QIP annually. 

The Progress Notes column in the QIP template is there to make the document dynamic and allow for evolution as goals are achieved and new priorities are identified. Remember, you don’t need to use the ACECQA QIP template. You can use any format that suits your service, however, it should address the areas identified in the template as a minimum.

You should use the National Quality Standard (NQS) and the relevant regulatory standards to reassess your service and determine where goals have been achieved and where improvements are required.

If you haven’t already used them, the reflective questions in the Guide to the National Quality Standard are a great starting point for the review and are useful discussion prompts for staff and parent meetings.

Reviewing your QIP does not need to be time consuming; sharing around the tasks then discussing, as a group, is a time efficient strategy. The insights and perceptions of others will enrich this process. As the improvements you are seeking to make are mainly to benefit children, it is particularly important to include their voices in these processes. 

The best plans are developed and reviewed collaboratively, involving, wherever possible, children, families, educators, staff members, management and other interested parties, such as those who assist children with additional needs.

It is important to remember that it is not about the length of your plan, but rather the quality. Identify the key priorities for your service and ensure the strategies and goals are achievable. Consider identifying short, medium and longer-term priorities. There is no minimum or maximum number of pages required when completing your QIP. 

While it is important to reflect on practice, policies and procedures against the seven quality areas of the NQS, there is also no expectation that all 18 standards and 58 elements will be addressed in the QIP.

If your service is doing particularly well in one quality area you may choose to include statements about how this will be maintained and focus energy on other areas for improvement.

The purpose of the QIP is to guide quality improvements to the service. Now that you have revised the plan, it is important to keep the momentum going by reviewing progress and updating the plan regularly. The Guide to Developing a Quality Improvement Plan, on the ACECQA website is a useful resource to assist in the planning and documenting stages. 

This article first appeared in Early Edition — Childcare Queensland’s magazine. 

Jindi Woraback’s QIP encourages children to contribute

This week on We Hear You, Michelle Walker, Director of Jindi Woraback Children’s Centre, tells us about their Quality Improvement Plan and how they incorporate into their daily program. 

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ACECQA is a girl with a blue face, red and pink hair, pink arms and a green body and legs. She likes to eat fruit, ride her bike, read books and draw.

This is ‘ACECQA child’, the newest addition to Jindi Woraback Children’s Centre (Jindi Woraback) in Victoria.

During the process of reflection whilst developing our Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), we decided to develop a visual QIP that would involve the children, educators and families.

After our assessment and rating visit, we wanted to ensure we were continuously working on our QIP.

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Proudly we received Exceeding in all seven quality areas, which meant we needed a plan of ‘where to next?’

Our visual QIP was placed in a common area, which became a meeting place of ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming’ where children, educators and families could share their stories.

ACECQA child was developed to encourage the children to contribute to the QIP at anytime and for the children and their families to drive its development.

We see children as the directors of the service and our children determine what we do and as educators one of our roles is to facilitate this.

I thought ‘ACECQA’ sounded like a child’s name, so we began by talking with our children about ACECQA being lost and that if they shared with each other what we like doing at Jindi Woraback then maybe she will come and join us.

The children decided what ACECQA looked like and what she liked doing. We then built ACECQA child, which was introduced during group time.

Now ACECQA lives in the room with the children, moves from activity to activity, joins in our Friday Kinder Sports program and has her own portfolio for children to contribute their observations of what ACECQA likes to do while at Jindi Woraback.

She is a vessel for the children to be able to have their say as they tell us what they want.

ACECQA child has been a way to introduce ACECQA to the children and families and make their QIP fun and interactive as well as reduce paperwork.

The children drive the QIP and rather than the educators going away to make notes we involve the children.

No one is telling us to do mountains of paperwork so we try to think of ways to reduce the paperwork.

Now ACECQA is discussed everyday, so rather than just turning up when we have our assessment and rating, the educators, children and families are comfortable because they are working with it all the time, and we can all just enjoy the process.

Zac takes ACECQA out to play outside.
Zac takes ACECQA out to play outside.