Taking an active role in the environment and promoting a sustainable future

sustainabilitynewslettercoverIn recognition of World Environment Day this month, we hear from ACECQA’s National Education Leader Rhonda Livingstone about sustainability and how it can be incorporated into services’ programs and practices.

Standard 3.3 of the National Quality Standard aims to encourage children to increase their understanding about their responsibility to care for the environment, day to day, and for long-term sustainability.

Supporting children to appreciate and care for the environment is not a new concept. A respected educator, Anne Stonehouse wrote, back in 2006:

One of the most significant responsibilities that [early childhood] professionals have is to support children to retain the sense of awe and wonder that they are born with, to add to that a desire to nurture and protect what is beautiful, and to encourage them to appreciate that there are many possibilities for honouring life and wonders that the world holds.”[1]

Standard 3.3 recognises that children develop understandings of themselves and their world through active, hands-on investigation. A supportive active learning environment encourages children’s engagement with the environment and provides authentic, meaningful experiences to be embedded in every day practice.

Traditionally, many educators have embedded sustainable practices in services. Examples include recycling boxes, leaves and paper for collage; emptying water troughs into garden areas; using wood tailings for carpentry; and separating food scraps and packaging.  It is important to build on these practices and think about other clean, green and environmentally friendly practices to share with children. Children and families should be encouraged to contribute ideas and suggestions and there are often community organisations such as local councils that can provide suggestions and advice. The Little Green Steps is an example of a collaborative project between early childhood services, councils and community organisations to embed sustainable practices and change behaviours.

The Guide to the National Quality Standard includes examples of sustainable practices, but it is important to remember these are only examples and services are encouraged to consider the wide range of ways to promote sustainability within childhood learning. Services can bring to children’s attention the importance of recycling, energy efficiency and water conservation through a variety of creative ways. While solar panels, water tanks, worm farms, vegetable patches may help, it is important to consider the setting, the children, the families, the educators and the community when choosing and implementing sustainable resources and practices. What will children learn from the experience, how will it contribute to their knowledge and understanding, and is it meaningful for the service?

So where to start?
Undertaking an open, honest assessment of your service against the elements in Standard 3.3 is a good starting point to identify the strengths of your service and areas for improvement. Then it is important to review your Quality Improvement Plan to identify the priorities for attention.

The questions on page 100 of the Guide to the National Quality Standard will also help prompt discussion and guide reflection around this standard. Learning Outcome 2 in the Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care also provides insights about helping children to be socially responsible and show respect for the environment.

There are a number of resources to provide information on embedded sustainability practices, examples include Early Childhood Australia’s webpage on sustainability resources and the Inclusion and Professional Support Program’s Online Library.

Examples of practices services use include engaging children in:

  • observing and caring for various animals, such as fish, reptiles and insects
  • implementing water conservation mechanisms such as timers, stickers visible on taps, putting out buckets to collect rain water
  • taking responsibility for turning off lights and fans before going outdoors
  • caring for worm farms and using the jars of “worm juice” collected by children as fertiliser to use at home
  • sorting and recycling waste after meals and encouraging the use of reusable containers to store snacks and meals
  • creating garden patches, allowing children to participate in growing fruit, flowers or vegetables.

For infant and toddler groups, implementing sustainable practices could involve making considered decisions about the nappies to use and looking at options that are environmentally friendly or have minimal environmental impact. Consideration could also be given to choosing environmentally friendly cleaning products and procedures. ACECQA recently spoke with educators who undertake gardening with their infants and toddlers, watering plants, picking strawberries, with educators and children modelling sustainable practice for younger children.

In order to be empowering, sustainability programs should be positively focused and affirmative. They should emphasise the child’s ability to make a difference. These programs enable children to learn and appreciate their environment in an engaging, fun and exciting manner.

What will assessors look for in assessing National Quality Standard 3.3?
Assessors will be looking for a range of opportunities offered by the service to support children develop an appreciation of nature, respect for the natural environment, understanding of the interdependence between people, plants, animals and the land.

Assessors will also be looking to see if sustainability is embedded in the service’s educational program and in the routine and practices of children. For example, while setting up a nature table or recycling system are positive starts, these activities should not exist in isolation, but be built upon, coordinated and consistently undertaken to become an embedded practice.

Before your rating and assessment visit, think about what you would like the authorised officer to observe, discuss and see that will demonstrate how the National Quality Standard is met. This is your opportunity to showcase how management, educators, children and families are working collaboratively to embed sustainable practices that are meaningful and relevant.

Examples of initiatives that a service may want to involve parents, families and the wider community in to promote sustainability include:

  • celebrating national and local environmental initiatives, such as Clean Up Australia Day, World Environment Day, National Tree Day and Earth Hour
  • getting involved with local bush and land care groups
  • consider a visit to local permaculture gardens, nature walks, wildlife parks and/or farms
  • implementing water saving devices, such as shower heads and hose nozzles, or having these as prizes for raffles or lucky door prizes
  • involving parents and/or visitors who have expertise in environmental education to talk to children
  • making energy-saving tips available to families.

The possibilities are endless, and the potential limitless.

 

[1]Anne Stonehouse, ‘NSW Curriculum Framework for Children’s Services’ http://www.community.nsw.gov.au/docswr/_assets/main/documents/childcare_framework.pdf

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Our Assessment and Rating Journey

This Justeene-McKnight-picweek on We Hear You, Justeene McKnight, Nominated Supervisor Education and Care Services at Campbelltown City Council, tells us about Amarina Early Learning Centre’s recent assessment and rating journey. 

Before the assessment and rating visit

On receipt of our letter requesting the submission of the Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), we were nervous. However, as we thought about the process and the standards, we realised we didn’t need to be.

The more knowledge and information we gained about the process, the more we realised that we were already achieving many of the elements in each of the seven quality areas and we would just need to demonstrate this to the assessor.

We had been working hard to ensure many of our practices were embedded in our daily program and we needed to reflect this in our QIP. We held regular discussions during team meetings by making the assessment and rating process a static agenda item.

We used journals to assist us to reflect on how we believed we met each National Quality Standard within our service as a team. We discussed information such as what would an assessor be able to see, feel and hear within our service. Areas that we felt needed improvement were then included within the Quality Improvement Plan.

Families also had regular opportunities to share ideas and feedback through our monthly surveys and discussions at our flexible parent meeting. Each child regularly had the opportunity, both individually and in group discussions, to express their opinions, ideas and views about the service, how it made them feel and about the relationships that they had developed at the centre.

The children’s ideas and opinions were then included in the QIP as part of our strengths and areas for improvements. We also placed the plan in the foyer so families could track our ongoing improvement and provide feedback on any areas they would like us to focus on.

The visit

As soon as the assessor arrived, she made all the educators feel at ease. It was obvious through our conversations with the assessor that she knew our service philosophy and had spent some time researching to fully understand our beliefs and practices.

This allowed us to feel that the assessor, and the assessment process, was focused on ensuring our service had the opportunity to be unique and respond to our individual children, family and community needs. The assessor spent time discussing our current community needs and what strategies we utilise to support not only the children within our service, but the families and the surrounding community also.

She looked at our environment indoors and outdoors and asked questions as to why certain things were the way they were. For example, we discussed how we had created a kitchen in the 0-3 year room out of a recycled TV unit, as part of our sustainability management plan.

This opportunity to discuss our environment allowed the assessor to understand our practices, as well as the vision and philosophy of the service and organisation. She spent time interacting with the children and held several discussions with staff.

During the visit, we felt that we had the opportunity to showcase our service and point out what we feel we do well, what we would like to spend time working on and how we implemented our philosophy for the best interest of all stakeholders.

At the end of the visit, we had adequate time with the assessor to go through the report and a further opportunity to show or demonstrate any other information or evidence to support our assessment visit.

Post visit

When we received the draft report, we found it very useful to reflect on the assessment and rating process, as well as our practices within the service. The assessor provided feedback that we were able to incorporate into our QIP to ensure that we can continue to improve our practices and our service delivery.

Regular consultation with children has now become embedded into the practice at Amarina Early Learning Centre. This provides them the opportunity to have their voices heard and integrate their ideas and opinions into the philosophy and every day practices at the service.

The report also validated that the service’s philosophy was evident within our everyday practice and that what we had hoped to be evident to the assessor had been observed.

The Excellent rating application

Once our final assessment and rating report was received confirming our rating of Exceeding, we began gathering evidence to apply for the Excellent rating. It provided an unbelievable opportunity to reflect on our position within the community, as well as our practices within the service.

The application process was thorough and required us to gather examples of how we demonstrated excellence in three separate criteria, and that we had a clear vision for what we wanted to achieve within the service, the community and within the education and care services sector in the future.

As a team, we spent our time ensuring the application was the best it could be and included supportive attachments. The day that we were notified of our Excellent rating was rewarding – not only for the organisation and the staff members, but also for the families and the community. It validated that their contributions to our service were valued and noticed not only by the service and the organisation, but also by ACECQA.

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Today is the first day of Reconciliation Week. What is reconciliation?

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According to the Reconciliation Australia websiteReconciliation is about building better relationships between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for the benefit of all Australians. To create positive change we need more people talking about the issues and coming up with innovative ideas and actions that make a difference.

National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is celebrated across Australia each year between 27 May and 3 June. The dates commemorate two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey — the 1967 referendum (27 May) and the High Court Mabo decision (3 June).  Additional information and resources can be found on the SNAICC website.

One of the guiding principles of the National Quality Framework is that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued. This aligns with element 1.1.2 of the National Quality Standard which requires that each child’s current knowledge, ideas, culture and interests are the foundation of the program. Building cultural competence is a key practice of the national approved learning frameworks and the concept is unpacked in the Educators Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework, which can be accessed from: http://www.workforce.org.au/media/359962/cultural%20competence%20in%20early%20childhood.pdf

The IPSP online library has some useful resources to assist. The ABC Indigenous website is also a valuable source of resources including a downloadable Indigenous language map that can be used with both children and adults.

ACECQA helps unlock the door on documentation

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Our National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, looks at documenting learning, provides some pointers for educators and helps bust some of the surrounding myths.

The issue of planning, documenting and evaluating children’s learning and the best ways of recording this cycle has been the subject of much debate and discussion during the more than two decades that I have been involved in children’s education and care.

We know from research and experience that documented plans, records of children’s assessments and evaluations can be effective strategies to promote and extend children’s thinking, learning and development.

One of the strengths of the approved learning frameworks[1], the National Quality Standard and related regulatory standards, is that while acknowledging the important role of documentation, they are not prescriptive about how it is done.

There are no mandated recipes or templates for documentation and for very good reason. Recognising the uniqueness of each service, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and educators are empowered to explore a range of styles and methods to determine what works best for their children, families, services and community.

This approach recognises the professionalism of the sector and allows educators to focus their energies on documentation that supports quality outcomes for children.

I recently visited a colleague delivering a kindergarten program in regional Victoria, and saw first-hand the professionalism, dedication and commitment to the children and their families. We spoke for many hours about the kindergarten program, the policies, the environment and the nature garden, the support for children and families provided by her team of dedicated and caring educators and committee members, among many other things.

We also discussed the challenges of balancing the need to document with our key focus of interacting and engaging with children and extending their learning. We agreed on a number of things relating to documentation that included:

  • Documentation is an important part of our work with children and families, not just because it is a requirement
  • Children’s voices and ideas should be captured in planning, documentation and evaluation
  • Even experienced educators need to try different methods to find what is realistic, achievable and relevant for the children, families, educators, the setting and establish some benchmarks that are regularly reviewed
  • We need to be selective in what we choose to document, because it is not possible to capture all of the rich experiences and learnings that occur every day
  • We need to share our documentation efforts and experiences, and continue to learn, grow and develop
  • We need to constantly review and remind ourselves why we are documenting and for whom
  • We need to be clear about what the standards, learning frameworks and, if relevant, the funding agreements are asking us to do, as there are a number of myths emerging.

We also agreed that being open, honest and critically reflective in our self-assessment process and work helps to identify strengths in this area as well as identifying areas that need focus. This helps in identifying and informing families, other educators and professionals and authorised officers, how your documentation meets requirements and promotes each child’s learning and development.

My colleague’s service has just been assessed and rated and I was not surprised to learn they had received an overall rating of Exceeding National Quality Standard. The team are highly reflective educators and the authorised officer would have no doubt observed this in the assessment process.

So let’s revisit why we need to document, look at how services are going with this quality area, unpack some of the myths, explore the place of templates and programs, think about what the authorised officers might be looking for in an assessment visit and consider what resources are available to assist.

Why do we need to document?

Gathering and analysing information about what children know, can do and understand is part of the ongoing cycle that includes planning, documenting and evaluating children’s learning. It helps educators (in partnership with children, families and other professionals) to:

  • Plan effectively for children’s current and future learning
  • Communicate about children’s learning and progress
  • Determine the extent to which all children are progressing in their learning outcomes and if not, what might be impeding their progress
  • Identify children who may need additional support in order to achieve particular learning outcomes, providing that support or assisting families to access specialist help
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of learning opportunities, environments, and experiences offered, and the approaches taken to enable children’s learning
  • Reflect on pedagogy that will suit this context and these children.[2]

How are services performing against Quality Area 1 – Educational Program and practice?

The sector is to be congratulated for embracing the National Quality Framework (NQF) and the dedication and commitment shown to promoting positive outcomes for children and families.

While recent NQF Snapshot data shows most assessed and rated services are either Meeting or Exceeding the NQS in Quality Area 1 about 30 per cent are Working Towards NQS in this quality area.

This is recognised as the area where services require most support and ACECQA’s recent regulatory burden research has shown that documenting learning, although extremely valuable, is seen as one of the more time consuming aspects of the NQF.

Unpacking the myths

There are a number of myths circulating about the expectations for documentation, and the best way to do this is to number plans and records or to colour code them. For example, it is a myth that you need to write a report on every child, every day.

Another is that links must be drawn to the quality areas in plans and documentation, and the best way to do this is to number plans and research or to colour code them.

There are a number of websites (including ACECQA and Early Childhood Australia) and newsletter articles (for example Rattler editions 108 and 109) that de-bunk or bust these myths that you may want to review.

Do I need a template or a program to follow?

There are no mandated templates or programs for documenting children’s learning or educational experiences.

While templates and programs may be a helpful way to organise information, there is a risk that they can be limiting and as Wendy Shepherd, Director of Mia Mia Child and Family Centre at Macquarie University suggests in a recent article in the Autumn 2014 edition of Rattler magazine, there are no shortcuts and the complex process of documentation should not be reduced to a simple ‘fill-in-box’.

The reality is that mandating a certain way of documenting, for example the number of observations you must take of each child, would limit your ability to be creative in documenting the richness in the program and children’s learning.

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.

The key thing to remember is that it is not the amount of documentation you have, or how immaculately or colourfully the information is presented, it is how the documentation is used to do all those things mentioned previously, such as planning effectively for children’s current and future learning and communicating about the children’s learning and progress.

What is the authorised officer looking for when they are assessing and rating?

The authorised officer will observe, discuss and sight supporting documentation to identify examples and evidence that your service is meeting the requirements. So it is important to be prepared by thinking about how you would talk about your documentation and what you particularly would like to show and discuss to demonstrate how you are meeting the requirements.

The Guide to the National Quality Standard provides examples, however, it is important to remember that the examples provided are not a checklist, but rather ‘paint a picture’ of what is expected at the Meeting National Quality Standard level.

Are there resources and examples of documentation available?

Many educators have generously shared their thoughts and ideas about documentation. For example, the Early Childhood Australia Professional Learning Program includes a number of newsletters that explore documentation and provide examples.

Another example can be found in the previously mentioned edition of Rattler where teachers from Mia Mia share examples of their documentation.

In addition, the Inclusion and Professional Support Program (IPSP) online library also includes resources, and the Professional Support Co-ordinator in each state and territory provide professional development and support in this area. Your peak organisation is also likely to have resources and professional development available to assist you.

As well as the learning frameworks the Early Years Learning Framework in Action and relevant Educator’s Guides are useful resources.

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. 

For more information on documentation please visit:

This article was originally published in the Early Learning Association Australia’s Preschool Matters magazine.

[1]The Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care and in Victoria, the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework

[2] Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care (p.17)

The changing face of family day care

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This week is National Family Day Care Week. To recognise the work family day care educators and providers do for children across Australia, Family Day Care Australia has prepared this blog on their experience of the different ways family day care meets the needs of families, including a service that is helping children with autism.

Family day care has always prided itself on offering unique learning environments and experiences, but the sector has come a long way since the initial pilot program was launched in Australia 43 years ago.

Then, the much smaller sector was unregulated, and thought of as a cheaper and less formal form of child care run by ‘day care mums’ or ‘backyard babysitters’.

Now, family day care has cemented itself as a high-quality form of early childhood education and care provided by qualified, professional educators.

With more than 142,400 children enrolled across Australia, family day care now accounts for 13 per cent* of the entire early childhood sector.

Numbers have jumped 15 per cent in 12 months, making family day care the fastest growing form of child care in the country.

It is the very nature of family day care – being run by individual educators in their homes to the meet the needs of individual children – that contributes to this increasing popularity.

Family Day Care Australia’s Sector Support team has noticed a growing number of new, innovative services popping up – particularly specialising in the areas of multiculturalism and sustainability.

Whether it is through Indigenous programs, remote locations or a holistic, back to nature approach, family day care services are offering a unique form of early childhood education and care.

It is this personal touch that allows family day care services to meet the extremely diverse needs of modern Australian families.

One ground-breaking example of a family day care service that is targeted to a specific need in the community opened last month in Harrington Park, Sydney.

Registered with Camden Family Day Care, educator Dennys Martinez has developed a unique family day care service that is very close to his heart.

Autism Family First Family Day Care is Australia’s first ever family day care service run specifically for children with autism.

The idea was born out of the Martinez family’s own personal experience with autism as Dennys and his wife Maria’s two children, Maya, 7, and Eric, 5, were both diagnosed with the disorder.

As a result, the family travelled to the United States to learn about different therapies to help with their children’s development and discovered the home-based, child-centred “Son-Rise” program, developed by parents for parents with a focus on sensory integration and relationship-based play.

Dennys returned to Australia with a desire to empower other parents with skills and knowledge to support their children who have autism in the long term.

“I ran some workshops but had lot of parents saying to me ‘I don’t know where to take my kids’ as there were only three autism specific early learning and care centres in NSW,” he said.

Dennys said he discovered a real need for autism specific care and found family day care to be the ideal environment.

“The numbers are small, it is in a familiar, home-based setting and the ages go up to 12. But the fact that it is about assisting children in their own way is what is most important because no one child is the same,” he said.

“All children need to find a place where they are understood and can be nurtured and not be left behind so I created this care to allow children on the spectrum to grow and gain the skills they need in life.”

There are structured activities such as martial arts, yoga, music and art, with help from volunteer therapists.

Children and their families have a transition period to adjust to regularly attending family day care and Dennys has even developed a children’s book called ‘Jack & Skye Go to Family Day Care’ to help children with autism understand the process and reduce their anxiety.

The service also offers a lot of support for families. The website has a forum for parents to login and share ideas, tips, events and different therapies or research.

“The parents are all very grateful because I understand what they are going through and they can leave their child with me knowing it is a place they will be assisted and well cared for,” Dennys said.

Dennys hopes other educators will be inspired to develop family day care services that are targeted to meet specific needs within the community.

“This model can be replicated and I would love for other areas and states to embrace a similar model – not necessarily for autism, but it could be for any other special needs.”

Find out more about National Family Day Care Week.

(*Source: The Department of Education (formerly known as DEEWR) Child Care and Early Learning Summary March 2013).

 

Reviewing your Quality Improvement Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jindi Woraback’s QIP encourages children to contribute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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