Beyond the Fence – extending children’s experiences outdoors

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Kylie Keane headshot

Beyond The Fence™ is a program offered at Forrest Out Of School Hours Care (FOOSHC) in Canberra where children play outdoors, build cubbies, climb trees, excavate the creek, have mud  and water fights and relax outdoors. Kylie Keane, Educational Leader at FOOSHC, shares her story. 

More than 100 children have ventured Beyond The Fence™ which takes place in a small, yet spacious nature strip adjacent to Forrest Primary School. These children all continue to amaze each and every one of the dedicated group of educators who work with them.

The program started in 2014 and is roughly based on the concepts of Nature Kindergartens and Forest Schools in the United Kingdom. It acknowledges the Playwork Principles and advocates for what the principles suggest play should be:

Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons. See more on the Playwork Principles fact sheet

While the ideas of reconnecting children with nature are still prevalent, the underpinning philosophy of Beyond The Fence™ is children experiencing I did it moments; the first time they manage to light a fire, climb into a tree, or saw through a piece of wood. The program allows for risk taking and exploration, promotes an attachment to nature and the land, facilitates play and problem solving and develops survival, resilience and self-regulation skills.

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We are often asked how a program like this is possible. What about the regulations? How do you manage the risks? In the beginning we took advice and guidance from a number of industry experts, and all the educators underwent training with the educational leader before facilitating the experiences.

There is nothing in the regulations that prohibits children from enjoying these types of experiences or us as educators facilitating them. It is about striking the right balance and weighing up the risks versus the benefits. Many Benefit Risk Assessments were penned before the pilot program, however it was the children’s contributions along the way that made these documents so valuable. The team of educators view children as capable, competent and active participants in all aspects of the program, and as such, the relationships that have formed are one of the most rewarding aspects of this amazing journey.

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Family information sessions also contribute to the success of the program. We share not only the who, what, where and how but also the why with families and in turn they are our biggest advocates.

Beyond The Fence™ helped two children work through what had been a relationship fraught with bullying; to the point where one of the families was going to move their child to another school. The program gave them a reason to stay and saw the two boys graduate to high school as mates.

Beyond The Fence™ provides so many children, and educators alike, a place to play, take risks, explore the land and their identity, and to simply be.

How we document – Albury Out of School Hours

Educator Will Nichols , Tilly Mitchener and other Children votingV2This month, Cathy Northam, Director of Albury Out of School Hours (OOSH) writes about her team’s innovative approach to documentation, reminding us there are many ways to approach this responsibility.

My colleagues and I had a light bulb moment when we sat down to review the documentation policy for our service. We felt the diverse and transient nature of out of school hours care required a different approach to the documentation framework used in long day care.

We asked ourselves: What does documentation in OOSH look like? Is what we record relevant and how can we improve it?

Once we stopped to think about the ‘how’ and ‘why’, we were able to identify a method of documentation that works for our children and their families.

At Albury OOSH we have a strong focus on respecting children’s rights, particularly a child’s right to have an opinion and be heard, and a child’s right to privacy. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child underpins our work and we consult with both children and families on documentation requirements.

Children at Albury OOSH can choose how to document their time here and if they don’t want to participate in projects, they are free to tell us. We do this by formal discussions, conference and democratic voting. These processes allow the children’s voices to be heard.

So, how do we meet our NQF requirements and honour our children’s rights? This is a question that we continue to think hard about as we change, refine and develop new ways of encouraging children’s growth while ensuring we document our own journey and show the meaningful collaboration, documentation and reflective practice.

Our approach

Taking a holistic view of each child and what they bring to OOSH is fundamental in how we support them. Our current documentation process consists of the following practices:

  • Use of a staff-only diary that documents significant events for individual children each day. This usually relates to social and emotional development. Each Friday we discuss the entries of three or four children and work on consistent strategies for the team and individual child. We also focus on opportunities for “teachable moments” as outlined in My Time Our Place. We’ve found this helps us in communicating with families around how to support their child.
  • Once or twice a term we document a learning story (as described in the My Time Our Place Educators’ Guide). These are written in collaboration with the child and are a significant piece of documentation. We try to select and reflect something that has made educators and parents go ‘wow’. One example is the invention and self-umpiring of group games that the children run themselves. Another example is the ‘Welcome to OOSH’ Video Project. Read more about our video project below.
  • Our weekly reflective diary documents the children’s experiences from the week in text and photo form, linking to the Outcomes in My Time Our Place. An example is documenting the children in Year 5 supporting and playing with our new Kindergarten children. This may be the only thing we reflect for the week, but over a term we cover all the outcomes and most of the children.
  • Each year we have two celebrations that our children help organise – winter solstice and an end of year performance. The children plan and direct these events with our support. We document these events in a variety of ways, using art work, invitations, notices and video.

We also have art work, messages, projects and other historical works of the children displayed at our service. When they walk into Albury OOSH, children and families can see their changing lives reflected in our space.

If there is one last idea that may help other educators, it’s to reflect deeply on how and why you do things and note the children’s ideas and interests. Every service is unique. Remember to listen to the children’s opinions on what they feel is acceptable and how you can best document their time. If you can do this, then you will aid the success of your documentation plan.

Case Study: Welcome to OOSH video project

Cathy shares a learning story that captures the children’s creativity and develops their connection to Albury OOSH. 

The biggest project for the children has been the development of an orientation video to introduce new children to the service. We felt the children who start with us mid-year often receive less of an orientation experience than those who start at the beginning of the year.

Our Year 4 girls expressed a keen interest in drama and acting activities and were keen to get involved. They drafted a script and story board for how they saw the video working. They asked the other children what they thought was the most important thing to know ‘child to child’ about coming to OOSH.

The video covered everything that the girls scripted and a lot more. Overall, we recorded more than an hour of footage.

The children were very excited to see themselves in the video. They made small changes to make it more appealing to the target audience and everyone was amazed with the product.

The project supported the children’s interest in drama and video production, and linked to Outcome 4 in the Framework for School Age Care (page 32). Children were able to freely follow their interests, investigate their own ideas, take control and make their own choices. They demonstrated leadership and direction, and persevered with the task until they were satisfied with the finished product.

Celebrate learning during National Literacy and Numeracy Week

Girl playing with counters

National Literacy and Numeracy Week is an opportunity for providers, educators and families to celebrate learning with their students and children. ACECQA spoke with two educators to see how they promote a culture of problem solving, understanding and learning in their educational programs and the opportunities for teaching these skills to young children in a way that is fun and engaging.

Shirleyanne Creighton from South Grafton Multipurpose Out of School Hours Care in NSW finds that asking children what activities they want to do most is a great method of incorporating literacy and numeracy into the program.

“We build a list of high-demand activities and then as a team work together to determine how we can underpin those activities with literacy and numeracy elements,” Shirleyanne said.

“Simple ideas, like using a baking class that introduces children to metrics and measurements or initiating a pen pal partnership that links with another OSHC,
are exciting ways for children to engage with numbers and text.

“Literacy and numeracy skills are the cornerstones of education and should form the basis of most activities we set out for our students.

“Educators and providers need to let children lead the way. By weaving literacy
and numeracy into their favourite activities, we can make the most of their natural intrigue and teach these skill sets creatively.

“The whole process can be seamless. Our children are learning and they don’t even notice,” Shirleyanne said.

In South Australia, Lee Munn and her team at Lobethal Kindergarten have also come up with interesting ways of teaching literacy and numeracy through experience.

“Every term, one week is selected as the ‘Outdoor Kindy Week’ where all sessions are conducted in the outdoor learning environment,” Lee said.

“Activities that are focused on thinking, planning and constructing functional items from simple materials such as pipes or bamboo help children to understand angles, weights and measurements.

“Imagination and story appreciation is also encouraged by using the ground as
a canvas, allowing students to compose and illustrate their ideas,” Lee said.

Lobethal Kindergarten also publishes a daily blog, which allows parents and families to read about the centre’s activities and enables them to comment and contribute to the curriculum.

“We encourage children to connect with nature by getting them outdoors and challenging them to take risks and move outside their comfort zones,” Lee said.

“A child’s imagination and curiosity can actually teach us all a thing or two – we are constantly in awe of children’s abilities to extend their thinking and learning. They amaze us with their competencies, skills and desire to explore and discover.”

Visit www.literacyandnumeracy.gov.au/ for details of the week’s activities, useful resources and innovative ideas to celebrate learning.

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.

Play matters: UN

This weeks blog post is from Robyn Monro Miller who recently attended meetings in Geneva in her capacity as International Vice President of International Play Association (IPA). Network of Community Activities has a long and proud history of support for the UNCRC and enshrined in our constitution is a commitment to advocacy on Article 31 and Article 12.

Article 31

1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

In February 2011 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, announced its decision to draft and adopt a General Comment on Article 31.  Article 31 is historically one of the least understood areas of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)  and contains a number of themes that draw in the interests of people from across the spectrum who may work in widely diverse settings. This is why the development of a General Comment on this article is so significant.

The General Comment will be issued to every government of the world, which has signed up to the Convention, which includes Australia.  The General Comment provides further guidance to world governments on implementation of Article 31 and highlights the important role of play and access to cultural life and arts in children’s healthy development.

The International Play Association received funding from the Bernard Van Leer Foundation for the development of the draft General Comment with a cross sectoral team of experts from across the world. As a working document of the UN, the draft was required to remain confidential and was not released for public consultation.

At the end of September, International Play Association representatives and the expert panel assembled met in Geneva to finalise the document ready for presentation to the UN committee. The Article 31 ‘Working Group’ consisted of 15 people from 12 countries who met with the UN Committee’s focal group chaired by Awich Pollar (Uganda).

This was the final stage in a long process that involved a core team, the expert working group and child consultation processes across the world.

The child’s voice was included in the document with special consultations held in selected locations across the world.  These locations included Brazil, Italy, Scotland, and Kenya. Children in post conflict situations and conflict situations in Lebanon and Sierra-Leone were also engaged in consultation as well as children in refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border.

The final draft of the document was given to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in early October with formal adoption likely at the January 2013 meeting of the Committee. The draft cannot be released until the UN officially adopts it. However it has been identified as a comprehensive one that is inclusive of the issues and challenges associated with play and important considerations for implementation.

Once released, the children’s services sector will be in a position to use the General Comment to inform our work with children and highlight the valuable role of play and access to culture and the arts in the healthy development of all children. It will be an opportunity for Governments across Australia to take shared responsibility for reflecting on how their own planning and processes support Article 31.

As educators working in children’s services we have an important role in supporting children’s opportunities to engage in play and a responsibility to advocate on its benefits to families and the community.

Representatives from Brazil, Turkey and Mexico who will be leading Article 31 projects in their home countries with Robyn Monro Miller (2nd from right) and International President Theresa Casey from Scotland (right) outside the UN.

About the Author

Robyn Monro Miller attended meetings in Geneva in her capacity as International Vice President of IPA. 

Robyn is the Executive Officer of Network of Community Activities in NSW, Australia. Network is an organisation with a long and proud history of advocacy for children and has embedded in its constitutional objectives the requirement to promote and support Articles 31 and 12 in the UNCRC. 

Robyn has represented the Out of School Hours Care (OSHC) at a State and National level for the past 20 years as a member of the National Out of School Hours Services Association (NOSHSA). Most recently she was on the steering committee for the development of the first Australian school age care framework “My Time, Our Place.”

For more information please email Robyn Monro Miller through play@netoosh.org.au

This article may be reproduced with written permission, please email play@netoosh.org.au.

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.