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.

Brain development in the early years

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

There has been much discussion recently about the critical periods for brain development. Strong evidence exists that experiences in the early years of life have long-term consequences. This is because development occurs at its most rapid pace during early childhood.

Early brain development research has shown that experiences in this time play a pivotal role in sculpting intellectual capacity, personality and behaviour.

In April, UNICEF hosted a meeting where 16 scientists across the fields of neuroscience, biology, epigenetics, psychiatry, nutrition, chemistry and child development met to discuss and debate the influence of experiences in the early years on brain development.

A key message delivered at this meeting is that development of the brain lies not only in genes but also in the experience and opportunities offered in the child’s environment.

According to Dr Suzana Herculano-Houze*, genes determine the parts of the brain that are formed, their size and main routes of connectivity; this mostly occurs during embryonic development.

Once the child is born the brain is still in the process of gaining neurons and synapses with endless possibilities of how these neurons and synapses will form, and what the brain will strengthen and retain. This will depend on the environment it must adapt to.

Studies indicate that the development of synapses occur at an incredible rate during the early years of life. Factors such as health, nutrition and environment in these years all impact on an individual’s future ability to learn, adapt to change and show resilience. A positive, nurturing and stimulating environment for children can have a profound impact on their long-term mental and physical health.

The findings of this meeting reiterate the importance of creating opportunities for optimal experiences in early childhood, as well as the vital role of early intervention in addressing children’s needs and reducing risk that may have lifelong implications.

Further reading and resources
Acting Early, Changing Lives: How prevention and early action saves money and improves wellbeing
Engaging families in the Early Childhood Development Story
A practice guide for working with families from pre-birth to eight years

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.

One, two what can we do? Exploring literacy and numeracy with young children

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With National Literacy and Numeracy Week (25-31 August) just around the corner, Rhonda Livingstone provides some insights into how we embed literacy and numeracy into early childhood education.

National Literacy and Numeracy week (August 25-31) offers an opportunity to consider the rich diversity of experiences and opportunities our early childhood and school age care environments offer to extend children’s thinking, understanding and learning about literacy and numeracy.  As part of this, we need to consider the links with the national learning frameworks and ask ourselves: How do we embed literacy and numeracy into education and practice in a way that is relevant and meaningful for children?

Building on real life experiences, as well as being creative in providing opportunities for children to expand their knowledge and skill in understanding and using literacy and numeracy concepts, is important to engage children and prompt their learning and understanding.

When discussing literacy and numeracy, what often comes to mind is the ability to read, write and solve mathematical problems. This view is potentially limiting and as educators we need to encompass the variety of ways that we communicate through non-verbal, spoken, print, visual and multimodal literacies as well as considering how mathematical thinking is used in everyday life. Technology now plays a big part in many children’s lives and has the potential to offer a wide array of numeracy and literacy experiences.

Both national learning frameworks acknowledge these important concepts, particularly Learning Outcome 5 – Children are confident communicators. The Early Years Learning Framework (p. 38) describes literacy as ‘the capacity, confidence and disposition to use language in all of its forms. Literacy incorporates a range of modes of communication including music, movement, dance, storytelling, visual arts, media and drama, as well as talking, listening, viewing, reading and writing. Contemporary texts include electronic and print based media. In an increasingly technological world, the ability to critically analyse texts is a key component of literacy’.

In addition, the Framework for School Age Care (p. 37) acknowledges that ‘In play and leisure children use their literacy and numeracy skills and understandings in practical ways. Children practice their skills and understandings and use a range of tools and media to express themselves, connect with others and extend themselves’.

Educators have provided us with examples of experiences and practices in this area. Here are a few relatively simple, but literacy and numeracy rich, examples:

  • at an outside school hours care service for children with additional needs, a teenager proudly displayed the sushi shop and cash takings he had made from paper
  • at a long day care service, an educator took a group of children into the local community to interview people about how they use numbers in their work
  • another outside school hours care educator worked with children on developing and writing the rules of a game, keeping score and keeping track, ensuring everyone had the same number of turns
  • young children attending a long day care centre wrote the book for orientation into the service
  • another service encouraged children and adults to use wooden blocks to describe and represent quantities and patterns.

There are many resources to help educators promote and extend children’s thinking and learning in this area.

Resources

Early Literacy and Numeracy Self-Guided Learning Package- Community Child Care Victoria under IPSP program

Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework

Educators’ Guide to the Framework for School Age Care

Zimmer Twins is an online resource allowing children to create animated movies, save their work and share it. It is a great way to engage children in literacy and allow them to explore story telling through technology.

Toddlers as mathematicians? by Shiree Lee Early Childhood Australia Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Improving Mathematics Learning Outcomes for Young Aboriginal Children by Marina Papic and Judy McKay-Tempest, Gowrie Australia

Let’s Read Resources

ECA NQS Professional Learning Program – Play-based approaches to literacy and numeracy

Finding a balanced approach to early language and literacy learning and development and You can’t put forks in the toilet from Reflections Gowrie Australia Winter 2014 Issue 55

Self-authored e-books: Expanding young children’s literacy experiences and skills from Early Childhood Australia explores using self-authored e-books as a vehicle for helping early childhood professionals to engage young children in new literacy and language experiences.

Books, bytes and brains: The implications of new knowledge for children’s early literacy learning Liza Hopkins reviews contemporary literacies and infant brain development to re-examine the foundations of literacy learning in the early years.

Playing with maths: Facilitating the learning in play-based learning from the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood highlights the role of play in young children’s mathematics learning and examines the teacher’s role in facilitating and extending this.

Documentation

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

Planning, documenting and evaluating children’s learning has long been the topic of debate and discussion, certainly in the 30 years I have been involved in education and care.

The evidence of the value of documentation is clear, however a question that is often asked is, ‘How do we document, and how much is enough?’ One of the strengths of the National Quality Framework is how it emphasises the importance of documentation in promoting and extending children’s thinking, learning and development. It does not however, go into precise detail on how it should be done.

While templates may be helpful in organising information, the risk is that templates can also be limiting or sometimes cause unnecessary administrative burden. It is important to remember there are no mandated templates or programs for documenting, and for very good reason.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to documentation and educators are encouraged to explore a range of styles and methods to determine what works best for their children, families, service and community.

There are many ways to document children’s learning and the cycle of observing, planning, reflecting and evaluating. Some examples I have seen include reflective journals, photographs, videos, children’s work, observations, portfolios, narratives and learning stories to name a few.

It is important to review and reflect on why and what we are documenting. The Early Years Learning Framework (p. 17) and Framework for School Age Care (p. 16) identify the reasons we assess/evaluate children’s learning, development and participation. It is important to remember that it is not the amount of documentation or how colourfully it is presented, but rather how it is used to support children’s engagement, learning and development.

There are numerous resources available that explore the role of documentation and provide further insights and ideas on a diversity of ways to document. Enjoy your documentation journey and don’t forget to look back on your documentation to identify and celebrate the achievement and successes of your children, your families and your team.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – Guidelines for documenting children’s learning

ACECQA – Forum panel discussion video – Incorporating cultural competence in everyday practice

Why improving qualifications is so important

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The National Quality Framework (NQF) sets out minimum qualification requirements for educators working in children’s education and care services. One of ACECQA’s key roles is to determine approved qualifications for educators and to assess applications for equivalence from individual educators. Following the recent publication of our online qualifications checker, this post looks at why improving qualifications across the sector is such an important element of the National Quality Framework.

Educator qualifications and educator-to-child ratios are key dimensions of quality in early childhood education and care.

Evidence on drivers of quality in early education and care shows that higher qualified educators have a greater understanding of child development, health and safety issues and lead activities that inspire and engage children, which improves learning and development outcomes.

According to the OECD (2012) Starting Strong III: Early Childhood Education and Care, positive social interactions between a child and educator, and a safe and engaging environment are crucial to learning outcomes. Educators with higher qualifications and standards of training are better able to engage children, and use strategies to extend and support learning, which will provide improved learning environments and sensitive care.

Professor of Early Childhood Education at the Australian Catholic University and Director of Early Learning and Research at Goodstart Early Learning Professor Deborah Harcourt supports additional research that demonstrates a correlation between staff qualifications and children’s pre-reading progress and social development.[1]

“All the evidence tells us that children who attend high quality learning programs, characterised by qualified and engaged educators, achieve better outcomes in terms of their cognitive, social and behavioural learning and development by the time they transition to primary school,” she said.

Implementation of the new early childhood educator qualification requirements, which came into effect through the National Quality Framework (NQF), was a major milestone in quality reform and while challenging for some services, has established a new benchmark for quality.

Children now have access to more highly qualified educators in early childhood education and care services and more children will have access to early childhood teachers.

As a minimum, all educators who count towards ratio requirements in long day care centres and pre-schools must have, or be studying towards, an approved certificate III qualification. In addition, at least fifty per cent of educators in these services must have, or be studying towards an approved early childhood diploma or degree qualification.

ACECQA National Education Leader Rhonda Livingstone said the importance of qualifications and further professional development for educators was recognized during the development of the National Quality Standard.

“Drawing on my experience as an educator and director of early childhood services, I know that not one day in the life of an early childhood service is the same and I recognise it’s necessary to have a strong body of knowledge to inform curriculum decision making and our work with children and families,” she said.

“While having qualifications is not the only contributor to the effective delivery of programs, it provides educators with a strong foundation from which to make curriculum decisions and support children and families.”

Other key factors also influence quality education and care, including the ability of the educator to structure an environment that promotes engagement for children; understanding of curriculum; and knowledge of how children learn and develop.[2] This is an important reminder for providers to consider the knowledge, skills, attributes and commitment to quality improvement as well as qualifications when employing educators.

Early Childhood Australia CEO Samantha Page said while there were some educators resistant to the new qualification requirements, those who have pursued formal recognition of their skills and knowledge, such as through recognition of prior learning, felt more confident now that they held a qualification that acknowledged their experience as educators.

“We can’t rely on luck on whether an educator is skilled or not and you can’t base it on the length of time someone has been teaching. Someone may have 30 years experience but may not be doing a good job, compared to someone with five years experience,” she said.

“Children are going into care earlier and earlier and for longer periods – we can’t afford to do nothing.

“The qualification requirements improve the quality of service delivered to children and provide a professional identity for educators.”

Improving the effectiveness of early childhood education and care will take time and for some services may be challenging. It requires a range of initiatives including increasing the number of qualified educators and continuing professional development opportunities, but in time the sector can achieve better outcomes for children by improving overall quality.

Resources

  • Visit the ACECQA website and try the new online qualifications checker to see if you hold a recognised qualification under the NQF.
  • Watch these videos to hear from experienced educators who have gained their first formal qualification in early childhood education.
  • Read more about qualification requirements on ACECQA’s website.

[1] National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care.

[2] Australian Council for Educational Research, Early Childhood Education, Pathways to quality and equity for all children, Australian Education Review, Volume 50, 2006.

This article was originally published in Australian Childcare Alliance’s magazine Belonging Volume 3 Number 2 2014.

What does it mean to be culturally competent?

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Photos_headshot1_editedThis week on We Hear You, Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQA’s National Education Leader, writes about cultural competence. 

Cultural competence is about our will and actions to build understanding between people, to be respectful and open to different cultural perspectives, strengthen cultural security and work towards equality in opportunity. Relationship building is fundamental to cultural competence and is based on the foundations of understanding each other’s expectations and attitudes, and subsequently building on the strength of each other’s knowledge, using a wide range of community members and resources to build on their understandings.[1]

We have known for a long time about the importance of respecting diversity and embedding a range of cultures in early childhood education and care programs.  However the term, cultural competence, is relatively new to many working in the education and care sector, having been introduced in the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia and the Framework for School Age Care.

Over the past two or three decades we have endeavoured to challenge and address injustice, racism, exclusion and inequity through legislation, awareness raising, rights education and an anti-bias curriculum. Cultural competence reinforces and builds on this work.

So what does cultural competence mean and why is it so important for children to have their culture and cultural backgrounds acknowledged, respected and valued?

Underlying cultural competence are the principles of trust, respect for diversity, equity, fairness, and social justice… Culture is the fundamental building block of identity and the development of a strong cultural identity is essential to children’s healthy sense of who they are and where they belong.[2]

It is more than being respectful of the cultures represented in the service or even the community. It is much more than awareness of cultural differences, more than knowledge of the customs and values of those different to our own.

Cultural competence is the ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures. Cultural competence encompasses:

  • being aware of one’s own world view
  • developing positive attitudes towards cultural differences
  • gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views
  • developing skills for communication and interaction across cultures.[3]

Supporting this view, the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) identifies that cultural proficiency “requires more than becoming culturally aware or practising tolerance”. Rather, it is the ability to “identify and challenge one’s own cultural assumptions, values and beliefs, and to make a commitment to communicating at the cultural interface”.[4]

Links with the Learning Frameworks

Cultural competence is a key practice in the learning frameworks, and the notion of cultural competence is embedded throughout. For example, principles within the learning frameworks relevant to cultural competence include fostering secure, respectful and reciprocal relationships, partnerships, high expectations and equity and respect for diversity.

Issues of respecting and valuing diversity and culture are embedded in the Being, Belonging, Becoming themes of the Early Years Learning Framework. This framework acknowledges there are many ways of living, being and of knowing. Children are born belonging to a culture, which is not only influenced by traditional practices, heritage and ancestral knowledge, but also by the experiences, values and beliefs of individual families and communities. Respecting diversity means, within the curriculum, valuing and reflecting the practices, values and beliefs of families.

There are links to cultural competence in Learning Outcome 2 – Children are connected with and contribute to their world, including:

  • children develop a sense of belonging to groups and communities and  an understanding of the reciprocal rights and responsibilities necessary for active community participation
  • children respond to diversity with respect
  • children become aware of fairness
  • children become socially responsible and show respect for the environment.

It is also important to remember that a guiding principle of the Education and Care Services National Law is that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued.

What does cultural competence look like in practice?

Educators who are culturally competent respect multiple cultural ways of knowing, seeing and living, celebrate the benefits of diversity and have an ability to understand and honour differences. Educators also seek to promote children’s cultural competence.

In practical terms, it is a never ending journey involving critical reflection, of learning to understand how people perceive the world and participating in different systems of shared knowledge.

Cultural competence is not static, and our level of cultural competence changes in response to new situations, experiences and relationships. The three elements of cultural competence are:

  • attitudes
  • skills
  • knowledge

These are important at three levels:

  1. individual level – the knowledge, skills, values, attitudes and behaviours of individuals
  2. service level – management and operational frameworks and practices, expectations, including policies, procedures, vision statements and the voices of children, families and community
  3. the broader system level – how services relate to and respect the rest of the community, agencies, Elders, local community protocols.

While there is no checklist to tick off to identify culturally competent educators, we can start to build a picture of the attitudes, skills and knowledge required. For example, educators who respect diversity and are culturally competent:

  • have an understanding of, and honour, the histories, cultures, languages, traditions, child rearing practices
  • value children’s different capacities and abilities
  • respect differences in families’ home lives
  • recognise that diversity contributes to the richness of our society and provides a valid evidence base about ways of knowing
  • demonstrate an ongoing commitment to developing their own cultural competence in a two-way process with families and communities
  • promote greater understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being
  • teach, role-model and encourage cultural competence in children, recognising that this is crucial to ensuring children have a sense of strong cultural identity and belonging
  • engage in ongoing reflection relating to their cultural competence and how they build children’s cultural competence.

Ongoing reflection essential for the learning journey

A learning journey of cultural competence occurs when ongoing reflection and environmental feedback involves and supports educators to move along their culturally competent learning journey. The following diagram from the Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework (p26) is a useful tool to share with teams, to discuss and to identify how individuals are progressing on their learning journey.

diagram

There are also many reflective questions in the Guide and Learning Frameworks to provoke discussion and reflection. For example:

  • Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is disadvantaged?
  • What does cultural competence mean in your practice, for children, family, community and educators?
  • What do you know about the language/s that the children bring with them?

And the case study[5] of a project undertaken by educators to develop processes that value and use the expertise of Aboriginal people in local communities may offer some suggestions for starting similar projects.

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[1]Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework p21 Educators’ Guide to the Framework for School Age Care, p57

[2]Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework p23

[3]Framework for School Age Care in Australia p15 Early Years Learning Framework p16

[4]SNAICC 2012 Consultation Overview on Cultural Competence in Early Childhood Education and Care Services

[5] Early Years Learning Framework in Action p 27