Celebrating diversity at Larapinta Preschool

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Harmony Day on 21 March was an opportunity to celebrate Australia’s diversity.

This month, we hear from Jenny Ashenden, Teacher in Charge, at Larapinta Preschool in the Northern Territory about their daily practice and programs that encourage respect, curiosity, and develop children’s knowledge, particularly in regards to its local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

At Larapinta we use a parent’s eye to understand where children have come from and a teacher’s eye to plan for where they are going to as learners. This means that age, gender, position in family, developmental levels, prior experiences, strengths, needs, cultural backgrounds and family expectations are used to inform our pedagogy, planning and practice.

We strive to create a sense of belonging for the families and children that attend Larapinta Preschool. There is an emphasis on developing and nurturing partnerships with families, local community services and children. Each year we revisit and update the Larapinta Preschool Philosophy to ensure we have a clear understanding of how we can act in a respectful manner towards all cultures.

At our preschool we believe that relationships and partnerships form the foundation for learning and inform our daily practice and long term planning. As we are based in the Northern Territory, we have a particular focus on Indigenous communities but we celebrate and embrace all cultures of our children, families and staff.

Learning at Larapinta

Community partnerships

Working alongside organisations in our community helps develop our understanding about Indigenous perspectives in our local context. Some examples of these partnerships include:

  • partnering with the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Health Service through the Preschool Readiness Program
  • provision of a playgroup organised and run by Indigenous staff members – initially established for Indigenous families but extended to welcome all local families
  • attending a Central Australian Early Childhood Educators’ Association meeting, organised by one of our preschool staff members – learning about the world view of traditional owners of the land around Alice Springs via a cultural explanation of how local landmarks and sites of significance were created.

We also make use of the expertise of staff. Last year we celebrated NAIDOC week by organising an excursion to the Alice Springs Desert Park where children and educators worked together to cook kangaroo tail and damper the traditional way, in the hot ashes of a campfire.

Partnerships with families and children

We strongly believe families are the very first teachers and we work in partnership with them. Simple strategies include greeting family members in their home language, having daily conversations, communicating via email and having a suggestion box for feedback.

A ‘My Place’ poster is on display for families to share events, interests and questions from home. Children are encouraged to share their stories in class.

Larapinta - My Place photo

Parent meetings allow us to learn about the backgrounds and cultures of families in detail. A parent shared her childhood memory of a lantern walk, a German tradition celebrating St Martin, and we organised a version that was adopted by the Larapinta Community the following year.

Just a small selection of examples of how we do this when working with and supporting our children and families are:

  • staff build relationships that can be nurtured over time as families return with younger siblings
  • educators exhibit pictorial and photographic displays so children and families can see themselves reflected in the program and learning environment
  • our end of year performance celebrates and reflects our similarities, differences and diversity and children are encouraged to wear traditional clothing.

Resources

The Harmony Day website has a number of resources and activities to assist educators to embed respect and celebration of cultural diversity into practice, policies and programs. These include lesson ideas, lesson plans and activities.

Let us know on the ACECQA Facebook page if you have any other ideas or activities to share with educators.

Giving children a voice in their community

Michelle Gujer, Manager of Docklands Children’s Program and Georgie Meyer, Melbourne Museum’s Education and Community Program Manager, share a rewarding project showcasing children’s sense of agency and partnerships with their community.

Gowrie

Michelle Gujer:

The Melbourne Museum is redeveloping its children’s gallery and as part of the project decided to consult with educators, early childhood specialists, designers and health professionals to make the space as unique and innovative as possible. The initial plan was to include children at the testing stage of the project, but we helped the Museum team see the value in including children’s thoughts at the planning stage.

How were children’s voices heard?

The children’s ideas and opinions were captured at every stage of the redevelopment and it’s a real credit to the Melbourne Museum’s commitment to their educational program.

After meeting with our Leaders Group and brainstorming ideas, the Museum team organised workshops and gave each child a design board to create their own unique museum. Educators scribed the children’s thoughts as they talked though ideas.

The Museum team then set up mirrors, cardboard boxes, rope, streamers, lights and animal noises and watched how children of different age groups engaged with different materials and tactile/sensory experiences. The younger children jumped right in to this. At first they were throwing cardboard boxes in their excitement but then settled into making fantastic dens with the boxes and pieces of fabric.

This showed both the Museum team and educators that you don’t always have to be just two steps away. You always have to be mindful and watching, but there’s value in giving children the opportunity to show you what they are thinking in their own way, without prompts and questions. Activities like this are a beautiful way of showing children’s expertise, especially at the pre-verbal stage.

It all starts with a conversation

My advice to Educational Leaders looking to make connections with the community is to start a conversation because you never know where it’s going to take you. We received an initial invitation from a Melbourne Museum through a mutual colleague which kicked this amazing opportunity into motion but the really important thing is there was willingness on both side. We could have provided feedback via email on the initial consultation and left it at that but instead invited the Melbourne Museum team to visit and engage with our Leadership Group. It’s about valuing everybody. Everybody has knowledge and ideas; especially children.

Georgie Meyer:

What Melbourne Museum discovered

Working with Gowrie Docklands has given museum staff a rich understanding of, and respect for, the opinions of young children. Our workshop sessions demonstrated that pre verbal children have a lot to say, and Gowrie staff showed us how to listen.

Our new Pauline Gandel Children’s Gallery is specifically for children aged six weeks to five years.  Through our time spent with the Gowrie children, we’ve seen that this is a very broad and diverse age range and each age and stage of development has particular needs and interests. We’ve also learnt that children are drawn to experiences that offer a balance between the familiar and unfamiliar. For example, they recognise and love a mirror, but even more so if it’s placed on the ground and can be stepped on.

Children are curious about nature, animals, (friendly) monsters, hiding places and surprises. They move, crawl, climb, dance and jump as a way of learning, not just a way of ‘letting off steam’. And the exploration of music and light appeals to all age groups, particularly when children can immerse themselves in the experience.

Listening to this feedback, we have incorporated many of the children’s ideas into the new Children’s Gallery. The space will have activities relevant to each age group, including tactile, hands-on experiences for younger children and narrative, games and social play for older children.

Familiar animal specimens from our collection will be on display, including birds, butterflies, a zebra and a leopard, which will lead children into an immersive multimedia experience. Children will enter this ‘Camouflage Disco’ full of lights, patterns, movements and sounds that will surprise and delight with a crawling crab, tiger stripes, a swimming fish, and giraffe spots.

The garden will be completely renovated allowing for nature play, exploration and outdoor movement. Rocks and minerals representing those in the Museum Collection will form a rock garden and crystal cave. An accessible sandpit will be home to a life-size dinosaur skeleton, the long-necked Mamenchisaurus, inviting children to excavate fossils. And the Victorian Aboriginal creation story of Tiddalik, the thirsty frog, will feature in a series of sculptures that end with a fountain offering water play.

We plan to continue our consultation and evaluation sessions with young children throughout 2016. We also hope our youngest co-creators will attend the launch of the new gallery later this year so we can thank them for their generosity, advice and ideas.

Establishing healthy lifestyle habits

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Amanda Lockeridge, State Program Manager for Munch & Move at NSW Health, writes about the importance of healthy eating and physical activity for young children. 

One in four Australian children are overweight or obese. Causes of obesity in children include unhealthy food choices and lack of physical activity.

We know that good nutrition and physical activity for young children are vital to support healthy growth and development, to prevent illness and to provide the energy children need to power through their day. It is also important to lay the foundation for a healthy and active lifestyle from a young age.

As many children spend significant amounts of time in early childhood education and care services, these services provide an ideal setting to promote and foster appropriate healthy eating and physical activity habits early in life.

So how do we support children to learn about the importance of healthy eating and physical activity?

“We can make endless plans, but the true magic of teaching and learning comes from spontaneous, genuine and thoughtful interactions, provisions and relationships with the children,” said Jennifer Wood, Early Childhood Training and Resource Centre (ECTARC) Munch & Move Trainer.

“Promoting a play-based, child-centred environment encourages children to create, explore, practice and interact with materials, equipment, peers and adults.”

The National Quality Framework acknowledges the importance of children’s nutritional and physical health needs and that learning about healthy lifestyles should underpin services’ everyday routines and experiences.  This is supported through Quality Area 2 – Children’s health and safety, Standard 2.2 – Healthy eating and physical activity are embedded in the program for children, and the Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care, Learning Outcome 3 -Children have a strong sense of wellbeing.

Ideas on implementing Quality Area 2

Element 2.2.1 – Healthy eating is promoted and food and drinks provided by the service are nutritious and appropriate for each child. 

  • Have a nutrition policy (for food provided by the service and/or the family in the lunchbox). Involve children, families and other agencies (such as Munch and Move) in developing the policy.
  • If the service provides food, display a weekly menu.
  • If families provide the food, make available some suggestions about healthy food options.
  • Food and drinks provided by the service should be consistent with the recommended guidelines for education and care services in Australia, e.g. the Get Up & Grow Guidelines and/or the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
  • Discuss healthy eating and fruit and vegetables with the children at mealtimes, offering a range of foods from different cultures.
  • Involve children in activities that focus on nutrition throughout the educational program. Some activities include setting up the lunch area as a restaurant, creating a vegetable garden, implementing cooking experiences, creating a healthy lunch book that includes recipes, sharing food photos and children’s conversations, using photos to encourage the drinking of water and promotion of fruit and vegetables.

Element 2.2.2 – Physical activity is promoted through planned and spontaneous experiences and is appropriate for each child.

  • Maintain a balance between spontaneous and planned physical activity, and passive and active experiences.
  • Encourage each child to participate in physical activities according to their interests, skills, abilities and their level of comfort.
  • Talk to children about how their bodies work and the importance of physical activity for health and wellbeing.
  • Encourage and participate in children’s physical activity.

There are other important links that can be made with:

  • Standard 3.2 – encourage and support children to participate in new or unfamiliar physical experiences and encourage children to use a range of equipment and resources to engage in energetic experiences.
  • Element 5.1.1 – provide children with relaxed, unhurried mealtimes during which educators sit and talk with children and role model healthy eating practices.
  • Element 6.2.2 – communicate with families about healthy eating, by providing information through newsletter snippets, fact sheets, photos, emails and face to face discussions.
  • Element 7.3.5 – develop a physical activity policy.

Lisa Booth, Director at Wallaroo Children’s Centre in NSW, recognises the importance of encouraging healthy eating and physical activity.

“We encourage and support children by providing nutritious meals and a water station that the children can access,” Lisa said.

“Physical activity and healthy eating are embedded in all areas of the curriculum. Educators understand the importance of promoting children’s health and well-being through both planned and spontaneous experiences.

“By using learning experiences such as music and movement, dramatic and creative play, outdoor activities and group games, the educators intentionally provide children with play-based experiences to support their learning.”

Resources

There are a number of resources that support educators and services to promote and encourage healthy eating and physical activity through relevant learning experiences, resources and interactions.

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).

Tackling the NQS – how our management team met the challenge

This month we have a guest post by Anna Johnston, Practice Manager Early Childhood for UnitingCare Children’s Services (UCCS).

UCCS is the approved provider for 52 services in NSW and the ACT, including long day care, preschool, out of school hours care, occasional care and an integrated service. 

Anna discusses the ways the management team worked with services to help them adapt to the new National Quality Standard.

Tackling the NQS – how our management team met the challenge

The management team of UnitingCare Children’s Services (UCCS) has worked together to ensure our services have emerged confident and prepared for assessment and rating with the National Quality System (NQS).

UCCS is the approved provider for 52 services in NSW and the ACT, including long day care, preschool, out of school hours care, occasional care and an integrated service. Services are managed directly by Central Office or by local management committees linked to Uniting Church congregations.

UnitingCare Children’s Services was previously a stand-alone organisation that was linked to the Uniting Church in NSW/ACT. Following a re-structure in 2010 a new management team was assembled, under the leadership of Trish Brown and UCCS became a service group of UnitingCare Children and Young People and Families. At the beginning of 2011 we comprised a team led by the Director , Trish, with two Operations Managers, one training and resource officer, two Practice Managers, and administration and inclusion support officers.

The team faced many challenges but fortunately we are committed, experienced and enthusiastic people and we all agreed on an approach to support UCCS through this transition phase, both at organisational and regulatory level. A multi-pronged approach was needed to many tackle the many heads of the beast in 2011 :

  • Director met with every management committee about the new requirements and the role of UCCS as the Approved Provider.
  • Policy and Quality Practice Manager began reviewing all current policies, assessing compliance with the National Law and Regulation and where required developed new policies, procedures and forms with appropriate consultation.
  • Management team delivered the National Quality Framework training package developed by Community Child Care Co-op in 22 convenient locations.
  • Operations Managers visited services to identify their needs.
  • The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and My Time Our Place were in use at our services, the engagement and understandings varied greatly. Again our management team encouraged and supported services to incorporate the practices, principles and learning outcomes into their programs.
  • Our fortnightly newsletter, UCCS express, contained regular updates regarding training and policy development.
  • The Training Officer developed a training calendar, in addition to the NQF training package. In 2011 UCCS delivered our own training to our staff in Introduction to EYLF, EYLF documentation, Philosophy and Transition to School
  • Mock assessment visits were conducted to 15 preschools to assist in developing the QIP.
  • Combined directors and co-ordinators meetings were held three times a year, including practical sessions around the QIP or EYLF which leaders could take back and use in staff meetings to share understandings.

By December 2011 we were exhausted but confident our services were informed about the changes coming in 2012.

For 2012, our training calendar reflects the gaps identified in service Quality Improvement Plans – principally documentation and links in Quality Area 1, community connections, staff inductions, sustainability and health safety and supervision.

We continue to support individual services as they work through their QIP’s and we are currently piloting ways to support services as they begin to undergo the “real thing”, – assessment and rating.

We look back to where the management team and the services and educators and even the sector was at the beginning of 2011 and feel great pride that we have grown and become so informed and confident.