Agency in practice

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

The Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care define children’s agency as ‘being able to make choices and decisions, to influence events and to have an impact on one’s world’ (EYLF p45 and FSAC p41). So what does agency mean for children who attend early childhood services?

Children’s agency is based on the idea that all children:

  • are capable of making choices and decisions
  • can initiate and lead their own learning
  • have a right to participate in decisions that affect them.

In promoting agency, educators enable children with real choices and support them to make decisions about how they participate. Children’s participation is encouraged by shared understandings and collaboration between adults and children.

For educators to support agency they must be aware of the capabilities and interests of the children they work with. Children are competent, capable learners when they are fully engaged and supported to participate in meaningful learning experiences that follow their interests. These experiences can be planned or spontaneous.

Educators can design open-ended learning environments with children, setting up activities of interest together and sharing the outcomes from these activities. This can be as simple as providing a range of materials for children to use as they choose.

For toddlers, as they move towards independence, educators can support agency by offering them real choices in activities and routines. For example, toddlers can participate in preparing and serving morning tea to themselves and others.

Under the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child, children have a right to be active participants in all matters affecting their lives. Children with agency develop strong dispositions for learning. They are more:

  • confident in making decisions about their learning
  • able to work successfully with other children in a variety of situations
  • able to persist when there are challenges
  • able to communicate their ideas with adults and their peers.

In some jurisdictions the educator to child ratios are changing and these improved ratios have the potential to provide greater opportunities for educators to give more individual attention to children and support their agency and educational outcomes. Information about ratio changes coming into effect in 2016 is available here.

Children actively explore and make sense of their world from birth. By ‘viewing children as active participants and decision makers opens up possibilities … to move beyond pre-conceived expectations about what children can do and learn’ (EYLF p9, FSAC p7).

Reflecting on your practice, how do educators at your service:

  • encourage children’s agency through meaningful interactions?
  • include children’s perspectives?
  • work with children as co-constructors of curriculum?

 

The young and the old – seeing the world through each other’s eyes

Partnerships

This month, Julie Occhiuto, early childhood educator at UNSW Tigger’s Honeypot, shares her experience of an innovative program bringing together young children and residents from a local aged care service.

Everyone has a story and this one of mine begins with an inherent love of both young children and the elderly in our communities. As a child I had a special bond with both my grandparents and I spent many school holidays with them exploring my grandfather Jack’s shed and helping my grandma Bonnie bake apple pie. They both gave me the time and guidance that my parents could not always give. As a teacher with over 23 years’ experience I feel that the strong bond I had with my grandparents has supported me to be the teacher I am today.

I have worked at Tigger’s Honeypot, an early childhood education and care service in Randwick with Early Years @ UNSW Australia for the past 11 years. Early Years and the University of NSW (UNSW) both place a high value on staff professional development and a commitment to being leaders in education. Being a university-based service, over the years we have found that many of our families have travelled from overseas or interstate to work or study at UNSW. Many of these families have shared with us stories of missing extended family members, in particular grandparents, who were helping and supporting them in raising their children.

In 2008, with support from the University I initiated the TIME (Tigger’s Intergenerational Milford Enrichment) program which involves children from Tigger’s Honeypot visiting residents at Milford House Aged Care in Randwick on a fortnightly basis. Residents also visit the children, regularly travelling in their bus to spend time in our garden and interacting and playing with the children.

During these exchanged visits, children and residents participate in a shared activity such as clay work which helps create a common ground for children, teachers, residents and their families to engage in conversation, interactions, share stories and build reciprocal and genuine friendships.

The TIME program embraces the notion that we can challenge biases and stereotypes, promotes inclusiveness and advances our pursuit of social justice and equity within our extended communities. Over the years the TIME program has evolved in its own unique way resulting in a partnership that has enormous benefits.

Though an aged care facility is specifically designed for older adults and early learning centres are designed for young children, there are numerous benefits when children and the elderly engage in each other’s environments. By utilising each other’s facilities, sharing resources in novel ways and just by spending time together, both the children and the elderly have a valuable opportunity to experience and discuss things they would not otherwise have.

Children have displayed many different responses to the diversity they have observed during our visits. Often there is a sense of curiosity when they see or notice things for the first time. On one visit a few years ago children met a new resident (who I will refer to as Robert) who had just one eye. At the time I observed children avoiding any interaction with Robert, preferring to talk to the more familiar residents. As a facilitator of the program I initiated a conversation with Robert and discovered that he was a scientist and had travelled the world. Upon hearing this conversation children slowly but surely flocked to Robert’s side as he shared stories of his work and travels with many humorous twists.

During reflection time back at Tigger’s Honeypot, many children explained their feelings of being somewhat scared by ‘the man with one eye’ but how they liked him now and thought he told funny jokes and stories. This particular conversation led to discussions about our bodies and the differences we all have which soon carried over into the children’s play as they constructed a hospital and made eye patches in the craft area. Robert soon became a favourite friend of the children and they would often offer him tokens of their friendship such as personalised drawings.

I have received a great deal of encouragement for the TIME program. Last year I was awarded Early Childhood Teacher of the Year at The Australian Family Early Education and Care awards. This allowed me to fulfil a dream and bucket list wish of visiting The Grace Living Centre in Jenks, Oklahoma.

The Grace Living Centre is a school and aged care centre in the one facility. Children and residents come together many times every day to participate in shared activities such as the ‘Book buddies’ program, Zumba classes and arts and crafts.  A highlight of the program for me was the numerous cats and dogs walking around, freely intermingling with the children and residents and adding another layer to this highly interactive environment.

I believe that each and every educator has a passion that they can share with children through their teaching practices. Our partnership with Milford House has become integral to who we are as a service, what we stand for and how we effect the changes we would like to see in the world, and for that I am very proud. The success of the program could not have happened without the support of our children, families, centre Director – Sylvia Turner, educators, particularly Maria Koufou, residents, their families and staff at Thompson Health care, especially Suzanne Hobart and Shirley Sheikh.

I would love to inspire other early childhood services to reach out to their local community and support their children in becoming active citizens within their communities through engagement with our elders in aged care (and elsewhere). We need to recognise our elders as having a wealth of knowledge and experience that is relevant to our lives today. My long term goal is to establish an intergenerational facility similar to the Grace Living Centre right here in Sydney, pets included.

Want to know more about the TIME program? Watch UNSW Tigger’s Honeypot video: From Tigger’s to Milford House, with Love

UNSW Tigger’s Honeypot 

Email: tiggers@unsw.edu.au

Website: www.earlyyears.unsw.edu.au

Milford House Aged Care Randwick

Email: donmilford@thc.net.au

Website: http://thompsonhealthcare.com.au

The journey towards critical reflection

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

Educators reflect on their actions every day. Reflection is the thinking educators do as they are working with a child, while also observing the environment and planning what they will do next.

Donald Schon, internationally recognised author of The Reflective Practitioner , believes we engage in two types of reflection – reflection in action and reflection on action. Educators reflect while practicing, in action, making decisions about extending children’s learning, about the routines they are engaged in and the What next? for their program. Thinking on our feet and making decisions is part of an educator’s daily practice.

Our daily reflections in action deepen when we become more purposeful in our engagement – Schon’s reflection on action. An educator may think about something that has happened; think about why it happened; and what they might do differently next time. Reflecting on action takes time; it’s purposeful and can be an internal process or shared within teams.

Critical reflection takes Schon’s model a step further. Critical reflection involves exploring multiple perspectives, making clear the links between theory and practice, and making purposeful changes to practice to improve children’s outcomes. Over time, with practice, critical reflection becomes a continuous process where educators embed talking about theory in practice and practicing theory in their work. Sonya Shoptaugh, an expert on early childhood education and creativity, believes that;

To enter into a style of teaching which is based on questioning what we’re doing and why, on listening to children, on thinking about how theory is translated into practice and how practice informs theory, is to enter into a way of working where professional development takes place day after day.

The Early Years Learning Framework (p. 13) and Framework for School Age Care (pp. 11-12) have a set of reflective questions to guide educators and identify ‘ongoing learning and reflective practice’ as a key principle underpinning practice. Both frameworks explain that ‘critical reflection involves closely examining all aspects of events and experiences from different perspectives’.

Here are some resources to support educators as they further develop their critical reflection skills.

Further reading and resources

Belonging, Being and Becoming, The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia
My Time Our Place, Framework for School Age Care in Australia
Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework
National Quality Standard, reflecting on practice
Critical Reflection, Paper by Melinda Miller, Lecturer at Queensland University of Technology
National Quality Standard, Professional Learning Program: Self-assessment, reflective practice and quality improvement processes

References
Curtis, D. and Carter, M. (2008). Learning together with young children: A curriculum framework for reflective teachers. St Paul, MN: Redleaf Press

 

 

 

 

Using digital touch technologies to support children’s learning

1519 Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQAACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, explores education in a digital world.

Digital touch technologies such as tablets and smartphones have become an integral part of our daily lives. As educators we are sometimes concerned about children’s use of technology and the effects it may have. Educators need to be mindful that technology is a tool and the implications for children will depend on how we use it.

Although excessive or inappropriate use of digital touch technologies can have a negative impact, they also offer many opportunities for extending learning and development. When used effectively and appropriately, children’s learning and development can be enhanced by it.

Outcome 4 of the Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care is that children are confident and involved learners, including that they resource their own learning by connecting with people, places, technologies and natural materials. Outcome 5 of the frameworks promotes support for children to become effective communicators. This includes guiding children to express ideas and make meaning using a range of media, and supporting them to use information and communication technologies to access information, investigate ideas and represent their thinking.

When providing opportunities for children to interact with digital touch technologies there are many points to consider, such as time spent using technology, privacy, appropriateness of content and how the use of technology may be incorporated into the educational program. Given this, it is important that educators are not only familiar with the use of technologies, but also critical in how they support children to use them.

Using digital touch technologies in your program is optional, and you need to think about the best way to use these technologies to support each child’s educational program. Although many educators are more familiar with traditional pedagogical practices it is important to remember that introducing touch technologies does not mean replacing our current pedagogy, rather using them as a tool to support our current work with children.

Digital touch technologies can be used with a range of other teaching strategies. For example, if an educator is promoting children’s understanding of sustainable practices, they might sing a relevant song, read a story which links to an area of sustainability, and then use the camera application (app) with children to identify and capture images of sustainable practice or issues in the community. The educator might further engage children’s learning with technology by using the images to create a digital story with the children, using voice recording apps to capture children’s voices and ideas. There are many possibilities which can be explored and many digital touch technology apps to choose from.

Understanding how different apps operate helps educators to choose which ones best support different areas of pedagogy.  In 2012 Dr Kristy Goodwin and Dr Kate Highfield sorted apps into three broad categories based on the actions the user can take, and the amount of cognitive investment required by children to use them. The categories are Instructive, Manipulable and Constructive.

Instructive apps align with rote learning approaches and require a low level of cognitive investment. They operate on a drill and skill principle, requiring children to achieve a specific goal, and they usually offers extrinsic rewards. Many of these apps promote repetition learning of basic skills and knowledge, and there is limited opportunity for creativity. The majority of marketed educational apps are Instructive apps.

Manipulable apps provide guided learning through structure, yet there are possibilities for children to make choices, use problem solving skills and explore their options. They allow children to manipulate and experiment by testing the success of their ideas. Goodwin refers to these as cause and effect type apps.

Constructive apps are designed for creative expression. They are open-ended and allow children to use different literacies, for example music, images, video, audio and drawing tools, to explore their ideas and create their own work. These apps require a high cognitive investment by the child and there is usually no reward other than the finished product.

Educators need to remain critically reflective and consider the value of the apps being used to support learning and development. Although Instructive apps can be helpful to memorise concepts and skills they are comparable to worksheets so educators should balance their use, and consider what apps might better support their current pedagogical practices with children.

There are many resources to support educators’ work using digital touch technologies with children, including:

  • Every Chance to Learn. In these YouTube videos, Dr Kristy Goodwin explains Instructive, Manipulable and Constructive apps and provides real app examples.

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.

Using the AEDC to support transition

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


A positive transition to school is one of the most important journeys a child will make. In fact, research has shown that children’s initial social and academic successes at school can be crucial to their future progress.*

Strong social abilities such as self-regulation, self-help skills, and being a confident learner maximise children’s opportunities for a successful transition to the school environment. Positive and collaborative relationships with children, families, educators, teachers and relevant community representatives are also crucial. This includes appropriate information sharing and relationship building.

Early childhood educators are well placed to contribute to a child’s success at school by supporting all areas of their learning and development and focusing on building strong, responsive relationships.

A new resource which can support educators is the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC).

This is a data snapshot that measures children’s development in their first year of school. The data is collected against five domains and measures whether children are developmentally ‘on track’, ‘at risk’ or ‘vulnerable’ in terms of meeting developmental milestones.

The Early Years Learning Framework outcomes and National Quality Standard align closely with the AEDC domains. This means that when educators are effectively implementing the National Quality Framework, they are also supporting children to meet the AEDC domains.

The AEDC acts as a common language between early childhood services, schools, families and other professionals. Educators can use it to discuss how children are progressing against the domains, where additional support is needed and to plan collectively to meet these needs.

Early Childhood Australia and the Queensland Government Department of Education and Training have developed a suite of free AEDC resources to support the use of AEDC data.

*Fabian, H & Dunlop, A-W. (2006). Outcomes of Good Practice in Transition Process for Children Entering Primary School. Paper commissioned for the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2007, Strong Foundations: Early Childhood Care and Education. UNESCO

 

 

 

Reconciliation, what is it?

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

Reconciliation is about improving relationships between Australian Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians. Educators have the potential to make a significant difference in reconciliation through their work with children, families and the community.

Working towards reconciliation involves commitment to continued learning about Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and our shared histories. It is inspiring and reassuring to see educators across Australia committing to ongoing learning, critical reflection and building cultural competence in themselves and in children.

Upcoming events

As an educator, it is important to strengthen knowledge and form mutually supportive and respectful relationships with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members. National Reconciliation Week (NRW) and National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week present great opportunities to learn more and get involved in the local community.

National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is celebrated nationwide from 27 May to 3 June. During NRW we have the opportunity to unite and reflect on our shared histories and the differences we can make towards reconciliation. For information and to get involved, visit the Reconciliation Australia website.

NAIDOC week celebrations will be held across Australia on 5 July to 12 July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The theme for NAIDOC week in 2015 is ‘We all Stand on Sacred Ground: Learn, Respect and Celebrate’. Visit the NAIDOC website for more information.