Health and wellbeing

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

Strong sense of wellbeing

We now know through research that brain development in the early years can significantly impact on a person’s long term mental and physical health. A strong wellbeing in the early years lays the foundation for improved outcomes in later life.

The importance of supporting children’s wellbeing is recognised in the National Quality Standard, Quality Area 2: Children’s Health and Safety. It is also outlined in Outcome 3 of the Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing.

“Wellbeing includes good physical health, feelings of happiness, satisfaction and successful social functioning. It influences the way children interact in their environments. A strong sense of wellbeing provides children with confidence and optimism which maximise their
learning potential.”*

Relationships, experiences and environment

Responsive relationships, engaging experiences and a safe and healthy environment all play a role in supporting children’s healthy mental and physical wellbeing.

“To support children’s learning, it is essential that educators attend to children’s wellbeing by providing warm, trusting relationships, predictable and safe environments, affirmation and respect for all aspects of their physical, emotional, social, cognitive, linguistic, creative and spiritual being.”**

This involves educators considering healthy development holistically and working towards improving skills such as physical development, cognitive skills, self-expression, social skills, resilience and self sufficiency skills.

Mental health

Mental wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing to children’s overall health. It is important that educators are familiar with and promote positive mental health and wellbeing in children.

Mental health and wellbeing refers to a person’s psychological, social and emotional wellbeing and is affected by the context of each individual’s circumstances. Mental health difficulties relate to “…a range of challenges that people may experience in their thoughts, feelings or behaviour.”*** Mental health difficulties are not the same as mental illness or neurological disorder.

 

*Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’, Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing, pp. 30 and Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘My Time, Our Place – Framework for School Age Care in Australia’, Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing, pp. 29.

**Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’, Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing, pp. 30 and Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘My Time, Our Place – Framework for School Age Care in Australia’, Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing, pp.29.

***Hunter Institute of Mental Health. (2014) ‘Connections; A resource for early childhood educators about children’s wellbeing’, Key Concepts, pp. 13. The Department of Education and the Hunter Institute of Mental Health have developed ‘Connections; A resource for early childhood educators about children’s wellbeing.’ This guide promotes understanding in children’s mental health and wellbeing, and includes reflective questions, case studies and fact sheets.

A copy of Connections is being distributed to education and care services throughout Australia. Electronic copies are also available from the Department of Education website.

Further reading and resources

Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. How Brains are Built: The Core Story of Brain Development
Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. Executive Function.
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. InBrief: Executive Function: Skills for Life and Learning
Early Childhood Australia. Professional Learning Program. E-Learning video. Getting to know the NQS. Episode 3 Quality Area #2

 

 

Collaborative partnerships with families and communities


600x372Hero

Photos_headshot1_editedThis month ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone looks at genuine partnerships with families and communities that foster respect for diversity and contribute to positive learning outcomes for children.

There is a traditional African proverb that suggests “It takes a village to raise a child”. Modern research supports that what children need is for families, educators and communities to collectively support their healthy development and well being.

Recognising this, the approved learning frameworks[1] identify as a learning outcome that children should have opportunities to connect with and contribute to their world. Children’s sense of identity develops through connections in their family, community, culture and environment.

The National Quality Standard (NQS) goes beyond simply requiring parent involvement, instead encouraging respectful, supportive, collaborative relationships with families and communities. Quality Area 6 – Collaborative Partnerships with families and communities focuses on educators, families and communities uniting around a shared vision for children and working together to achieve goals.

This Quality Area promotes respectful supportive relationships with families (NQS Standard 6.1), support for families in their parenting role and their values and beliefs about child rearing (NQS Standard 6.2) and collaboration with other organisations and service providers to enhance children’s learning and wellbeing (NQS Standard 6.3).

Secure, respectful and reciprocal relationships

When educators establish respectful and caring relationships with children and families, they are able to work together to construct curriculum and learning experiences relevant to children in their local context. These experiences gradually expand children’s knowledge and understanding of the world.[2]

Collaborative relationships are built in an environment of mutual respect, trust and honesty, established through effective communication and strengthening each other to feel capable and empowered.

The Connections resource developed by the Hunter Institute of Mental Health offers practical strategies for communication with families including dealing with sensitive issues.

Partnerships

The approved learning frameworks identify that learning outcomes are most likely to be achieved when educators work in partnership with families and communities.

In genuine partnerships, families and early childhood educators:

  • value each other’s knowledge of each child
  • value each other’s contributions to and roles in each child’s life
  • trust each other
  • communicate freely and respectfully with each other
  • share insights and perspectives about each child
  • engage in shared decision-making. [3]

In respectful partnerships, educators also support parents in their parenting role. They may for example source and share information from reputable sources with parents. For example, in response to a parent enquiry, educators and parents may discuss safe sleeping at home, drawing on and referring to reputable sources of information such as the SIDS and Kids resources.

High expectations and equity

The learning frameworks note that educators who are committed to equity believe in all children’s capacities to succeed, regardless of diverse circumstances and abilities.[4] Collaborative relationships and the use of critical reflection allow educators to implement programs that provide equal opportunities for all children to achieve learning outcomes.

As part of Quality Area 1: Educational Program and Practice each child’s current knowledge, ideas, culture, abilities and interests are the foundation of the program.

The NQS requires educators to adapt their curriculum to support each individual child including cultural factors which contribute to who they are, how they learn and how they respond. The experiences, interactions and routines each child engages in need to be relevant to them, respectful of their background and recognise and build on their current interests and abilities.

Respect for diversity

The approved learning frameworks stress the value of demonstrating respect for diversity and promoting cultural competence within education and care services.

To support individual children, educators need to learn about each child’s background and respect and honour family histories, cultures, languages, traditions, child rearing practices and lifestyle choices.

While feedback from families is important educators also need to be mindful and respectful of individual contexts and diversity. We need to reflect and consider a range of ways to appropriately, respectfully and realistically involve families, many of whom are balancing family, work and other responsibilities.

Community involvement, such as drawing on the expertise of those belonging to a cultural group or inviting culturally relevant guests to the service may also build a respect for diversity and cultural competence.

Ongoing learning and reflective practice

The development of genuine, respectful partnership relationships requires educators to seek information or strategies from families or professionals to enhance their pedagogy and curriculum.

Thinking that there is only one right way and not reflecting on practice can mean that opportunities are lost for children’s learning or that they can be disadvantaged by it. Critical reflection involves thinking about all aspects of experiences and considering different perspectives. For example it is important for educators to seek to understand the perspective of the parent as well as reflect on their own pedagogy, feelings, values and beliefs when addressing parental concerns to ensure fair, equitable and respectful outcomes.

The Connections resource shares further insight into considering different perspectives.

With end of year approaching, it’s a good time for educators to consider how end-of-year and new-year celebrations offer opportunities to engage in genuine partnership relationships with families and communities that foster respect for diversity and contribute to positive learning outcomes for children.

Resources

Child Australia. Welcoming Conversations with Culturally and Linguistically diverse families An Educators Guide. Offers practical advice for collaboration with culturally and linguistically diverse families.

Community Child Care. Self-Guided Learning Package, Discussing Sensitive Issues- A Proactive Approach to Communicating with Families. This resource is a practical learning guide to assist educators in communicating effectively with parents.

Connections. A resource for educators to support children’s mental health and wellbeing

Early Childhood Australia. Talking about practice e-learning video: Partnerships with Families

Family Worker Training and Development Programme. Diversity in Practice Resource Kit. A resource kit for early childhood services working with children and families from migrant and refugee backgrounds in the Nepean area

Guide to the National Quality Standard. Standard 6.1. Pages 142- 152

Kidsmatter: Families. KidsMatter provides families with a range of information sheets to help them support children’s mental health and wellbeing, and to recognise if and when professional help is needed.

Linking Together for Aboriginal Children provides educators with advice, information and tips on how to effectively collaborate with the Aboriginal community in their area.

NAPCAN Brochures. Brochures to support parents in their role and prevent child abuse.

Raising Children Network. This website is a useful to share with parents to support them in their parenting role.

SIDS and Kids Website. This website provides useful information on safe sleeping.

Case Study: Bundaberg Baptist Family Day Care

ACECQA spoke with Service Support Manger, Judy Collins at the Bundaberg Baptist Family Day Care Service about the programs and activities in place to engage families and include them in children’s learning.

“We help parents to take an active role in their children’s education, development and overall wellbeing,” Judy said.

“The Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY), funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, is just one example of how we empower parents to participate in their children’s learning. Tutors from our service, (HIPPY Bundaberg) visit families in their home environment and role-play learning activities that the parents then deliver to their children.

“It’s about developing a love of learning and prepares the children for their smooth transition to school. It also acknowledges that the parent is the child’s first teacher. The program has been really successful and we’re looking forward to continuing on in 2015,” Judy said.

Bundaberg Baptist Family Day Care Service also unites with other organisations in the community to support families and enhance children’s wellbeing, especially in the lead up to Christmas.

“With Christmas around the corner we’re working with the local newspaper and Bundaberg Baptist Church for the provision of Christmas hampers for those families who have experienced a difficult year. We are fortunate to have the support of the local newspaper, who organise the ‘Adopt-A-Family Christmas Appeal,” said Judy.

Kids in Cars is another program that helps families at this time of year.

“Short term, free loans of baby capsules, car seats and boosters are available as part of our service; including safety demonstrations and information sessions. Lots of families need assistance with car restraints and in the lead up to Christmas we’re experiencing an increase in the number of families using this service,”

Judy believes a child’s sense of identity develops through connections in the family, community, culture and environment.

“We support the broader community and empower families because we know this leads to better outcomes for children,” she said.

References 

[1] Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’ and My Time, Our Place – Framework for School Age Care in Australia’

[2] Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’, Early childhood Pedagogy, pp. 11.

[3] Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’, Principles, pp. 12 and Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2011) ‘My Time, Our Place – Framework for School Age Care in Australia’, Principles, pp. 10.

[4] Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009) ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’, Principles, pp. 12 and Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2011) ‘My Time, Our Place – Framework for School Age Care in Australia’, Principles, pp. 11.

One giant leap together

One giant leap togehter

Photos_headshot1_editedACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, explores how early childhood education and care services can support children to make a positive transition to school.

The beginning of a new experience is generally an exciting time for anyone but with it also comes a level of apprehension as you take your first steps into the unfamiliar. Starting school is a big step for children and helping them transition to school is an important part of their journey of life-long learning.

The KidsMatter publication – Transition to Primary School: A Review of the literature –identifies the importance of supporting children to have a positive start to their school life and promoting children’s health and wellbeing. It recognises that the transition to school ‘involves negotiating and adjusting to a number of changes including the physical environment, learning expectations, rules and routines, social status and identity, and relationships for children and families’. [1]

Knowing what to expect in the school environment helps children to make a smooth transition and preparing children for this begins well before their first day of school. Success is more likely when key stakeholders, including children, families, educators, teachers and relevant community representatives work and plan this transition collaboratively. Researchers have also identified that children’s initial social and academic successes at school can be crucial to their future progress.[2]

The Early Years Learning Framework and the National Quality Standard (NQS) recognise the importance of transitions and embedding continuity of learning as a key principle. This is acknowledged in element 6.3.2 of the NQS which requires that continuity of learning and transitions for each child are supported by sharing relevant information and clarifying responsibilities. The notion of supporting children in their transitions is woven throughout the NQS. For example, recognising the importance of supporting children to feel secure, confident and included (5.1.3), building relationships and engaging with the local community (6.3.4) and families (6.2.1), and linking with community and support agencies (6.3.1), to name a few.

The Early Years Learning Framework (p. 16) reminds us of the importance of ensuring children have an active role in preparing for the transition and building on children’s prior and current experiences to ‘help them to feel secure, confident and connected to familiar people, places, events… understand the traditions, routines and practices of the settings to which they are moving and to feel comfortable with the process of change’.

It is widely acknowledged that effective transitions require collaboration between early childhood programs, schools, families and other relevant professionals. Increasingly, we are moving away from the notion of school readiness, instead working collaboratively to ensure the transition to school is smooth and children have every opportunity to settle into their new environments and succeed. Many researchers acknowledge that children’s adjustment to school is not simply about a child’s specific skill set, but is shaped by the relationships and interconnections formed between key stakeholders (such as teachers, educators, families and health professionals)[3].

ACECQA recently heard from principals from two schools in regional Queensland (Charleville State School and Newtown State School) who are working collaboratively to build partnerships and networks with families, health services, early childhood services, schools and the broader community as part of the Great Start, Great Futures[4] project. The project draws on data from sources such as the Australian Early Development Index (AEDI), brain research and ecological, educational and developmental theories. It has reframed the idea of school readiness to ensure schools are ready, welcoming and engaging and children are ready for sustained school success.

So how can early childhood education and care services help support children’s positive transition to school?

Building respectful, positive and collaborative relationships with families, schools and community services is a good place to start. The Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s Transition: A Positive Start to School Resource Kit reminds us that all children are different and effective transition-to-school programs recognise and respect these differences. It also emphasises the importance of involving and listening to children ‘because:

  • it acknowledges their right to be listened to and for their views and experiences to be taken seriously
  • it can make a difference to our understanding of children’s priorities, interests and concerns
  • it can make a difference to our understanding of how children feel about themselves
  • listening is a vital part of establishing respectful relationships with the children we work with and is central to the learning process
  • involving children in transition planning can trigger early childhood educators and Prep teachers to think about how routines and activities can be improved’.[5]

Parents and early childhood professionals can work together to prepare children to understand the change in environment, including providing clarity around what they might expect to see and do, what they will learn about, routines, practices and structures of the school setting. Together, parents and educators can provide consistent messages in preparing children for their transition and reduce anxiety.

Partnerships between the education and care service, community child health services and the school are equally important in supporting children’s continuity of learning, security and healthy development. When information is shared with new educators and other professionals about each child’s current development, knowledge, skills and understandings, continuity for children is enhanced.

The service’s philosophy, policies and procedures should also guide approaches and practices that promote positive transitions and support children to build on their previous experiences to embrace the changes and challenges of the new school environment.

Available resources

There are a number of resources to assist in developing policies and practices that support effective transitions.

For example, Community Child Care Co-operative NSW has developed a Transition to School Example Policy which you may find helpful.

The Transition: A Positive Start to School Resource Kit (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development Victoria) is relevant for long day care, family day care, occasional care, playgroups, OSHC, early childhood intervention services, kindergartens and schools.

Ready Together-Transition to School Program, produced by Communities for Children (Inala to Ipswich) and the Crèche and Kindergarten Association (C&K), includes resources which provide support, tips and suggestions to support families and early childhood professionals in preparing children for school.

The new NSW transition to School Statement is a practical tool designed to make it easier for information to be shared between families, early childhood services and schools. Use of the statement is optional and is completed by the child’s early childhood educator in cooperation with the family, before being communicated to the intended school.

Other resources include:

  • International Journal of Transitions in Childhood –

https://extranet.education.unimelb.edu.au/LED/tec/journal_index.shtml

Case Study 1: Macedon Kindergarten, Macedon VIC

ACECQA spoke with Macedon Kindergarten’s education leader, Julie Priest, Macedon Primary School principal, David Twite, and local mum Katie Toll about the programs and activities in place to support children and families during transition.  

“Macedon Kindergarten’s participation in a local child services network has helped us establish really strong links with the schools in the community. The schools frequently drop off information about their programs and special events, which we display in our foyer and hand out to families. While it may seem like a small action, these materials are the stepping stones that begin the transition process,” Julie said.

Earlier this year, Macedon Primary started a new initiative with Macedon Kindergarten where the preschool/kinder group was invited to the school to participate in storytelling and book reading in the Library.

“These days provide an opportunity for the children to familiarise themselves with the surroundings of what could potentially be their new school the next year,” Julie said.

Macedon Primary School principal, David Twite said the sessions were a great success, with investigations underway for future events.

“As the weather warms up, we hope to extend more invitations to Macedon Kinder to participate in some outside activities,” David said.

“We are fortunate to have an environmental reserve opposite our school and it would be great to organise another event where families and children can be exposed to our natural environment and surroundings in a fun and engaging way.”

Macedon Primary also visits the kindergarten as part of a mentoring program.

“During their visits, teachers and their ‘buddies’ [year 5 and 6 students] read to the children and participate in classroom activities. This provides another opportunity for the children to meet potential teachers, peers and form relationships,” Julie said.

“We also use a ‘transition display’ as part of our program to visually illustrate the schools each child will attend. By using photos of the school, teachers, principals, and children, we are able to create a scene that the children can connect with.”

Another important component of Macedon Kindergarten’s program is the development of transition statements. The statements are completed by the educators and families to ensure useful information is captured and passed on to the teacher and principal of the desired school.

“Each child is unique, therefore is it vital our statements directly reflect their learning abilities and personalities. We have received a great deal of positive feedback from families who appreciate the effort we go to, to ensure their child is supported throughout the process,” Julie said.

Macedon Primary is also committed to supporting children and families through the transition process.

“Once we receive the statements, our teachers meet with the educators at Macedon Kinder and discuss in length each child’s learning development, friendship groups and readiness for school and any additional support required,” David said.

Katie Toll, local resident and mother of two, experienced the transition to school with her eldest son last year as he progressed from Macedon Kindergarten to Macedon Primary School.

“The children regularly attended events and activities organised by the kindy and the school,” Katie said. “A great example was Orientation Day, where the children were invited to attend Macedon Primary for a couple of hours in the morning to familiarise themselves with the school, teachers and their new surroundings.

“Macedon Primary School’s information sessions provided us with an opportunity to meet the teachers face-to-face, form a relationship and learn about the prep program first hand.”

Katie believes the smooth transition experienced by her son was due to the close relationships shared within the community.

“I also found the program really valuable because the support networks and relationships I developed with other families in the kindy were able to continue through to the next year,” she said.

Case Study 2: John Mewburn Child Care Centre, Malabar NSW

John Mewburn Child Care Centre was one of several early education services involved in the 2013 New South Wales Transition to School Statement Trial. The two-month trial was implemented by the NSW Department of Education and Communities and aimed to improve the transition process from early education to primary school. Rose Todd, Manager of Education and Care at Gowrie NSW, and Carla Patulny, early childhood teacher (3-5 years), spoke to ACECQA about John Mewburn’s involvement in the trial and the strong relationship that grew between the service and the school.

“The trial was conducted with a local primary school in November and December last year [2013], and involved a small group of children and their families, the early childhood educators, local kindergarten teacher and principal,” Rose said.

The primary purpose of the trial was to learn how services and schools can better support children in the transition process.

“We wanted to create a smooth, stress-free transition for children and their families as they entered primary school,” Rose said. “We wanted to ensure they were entering a warm, welcoming environment where the kindergarten teachers and principal were aware of each child’s background, personality and learning development.

“To achieve this, Transition to School Statements were developed by the early childhood educators and their families. The statements provided an opportunity for the educators and families to pass on their knowledge, outline the level of support required for each child and highlight any feelings or concerns they may have about the transition process.”

Early childhood teacher, Carla Patulny, said the centre worked in partnership with families to develop transition statements that were a true representation of each child’s learning capability and needs.

“We worked collaboratively with the families, organising face-to-face meetings to develop statements,” Carla said. “Families involved in the trial said they found this process extremely valuable because they could see how their child’s learning and development tracked against the five key learning outcomes.”

John Mewburn centre also worked closely with local primary schools to ensure a smooth transition process.

“Once the statements were finalised and with the school, teachers would make regular visits to the centre to discuss each child’s needs and learning development,” Carla said. “These meetings helped the teachers familiarise themselves with each child and provided an opportunity to make special arrangements, if required.

“For children who were identified as having higher needs, we [John Mewburn centre and the primary school] also worked with the families to organise special visitations and help the transition process.”

The trial provided the foundations for a strong relationship between the educators at John Mewburn and the principal at the primary school.

“I believe the trial has helped improve communication between the service and school, and created a positive change for all involved,” Rose said. “To this day, John Mewburn regularly visits the primary school for their special events and this is due to the strong connection between the service and the school.”

 References

[1] Hirst, M., Jervis, N., Visagie, K., Sojo, V. & Cavanagh, S. (2011) Transition to primary school: A review of the literature. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, page 5.

[2] 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

[3] Hirst, M., Jervis, N., Visagie, K., Sojo, V. & Cavanagh, S. (2011) A review of the literature. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, page 12

[4] Great Start, Great Futures (2014), Queensland Government http://www.prezi.com/zkl1yxdegox2/

[5] Transition: A Positive Start to School Resource Kit, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development Victoria. http://www.education.vic.gov.au/childhood/professionals/learning/Pages/transkit.aspx

Responsive, respectful relationships

14NOV13JH-137National Children’s Week begins this Saturday (October 18-26) and celebrations are happening across the country. To mark this event, National Education Leader Rhonda Livingstone, explores the topic of responsive and respectful relationships with children.

With Children’s Week comes the opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge children’s rights. Provision of quality education and care promotes children’s rights in the critical years of their development and leads to positive outcomes. These principles are woven throughout the National Quality Framework.

During the development of the National Quality Standard, much research was undertaken to identify the key drivers for quality in education and care. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Report Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education And Care[1] identified that attention needs to be given to both ‘structural’ and ‘process’ quality to ensure quality outcomes for children attending services.

Generally, structural quality refers to the foundation for optimal conditions including physical environment, health and safety, educator-to-child ratios and qualifications. These are most often found in Quality Areas 2: Health and Safety, 3: Physical Environment and 4: Staffing Arrangements in the National Quality Standard, and are often easier to measure than the process elements.

Process quality relates to the experiences children have and include social interactions and involvement in the program or quantifiable inputs to quality. These are most often found in Quality Areas 1: Educational Program and Practice and 5 Relationships with Children.

Quality Areas 6: Collaborative Partnerships with Families and Communities and 7: Leadership and Service Management include aspects of both process and structural quality.

Research shows that process quality had a “direct impact on child outcomes, whereas structural indicators of quality had an indirect impact through process quality”[2]. 

What this means, for example, is that while higher educator qualifications are found to be strongly associated with better child outcomes, it is not the qualification as such that has an impact on child outcomes[3]. It is the ability of the educators to use the skills gained through qualifications to create high quality environments, stimulate interactions with and between children, scaffold children’s learning and build trusting, respectful relationships with children and families.

What is it about respectful and responsive relationships with children that are so important for meeting child outcomes including their learning, development and well-being?

The Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care identify secure, respectful and reciprocal relationships with children as one of the key principles underpinning practice. Respectful relationships are a cornerstone to supporting children’s learning and development, and play a significant role in a child’s sense of belonging and how they interact with the world around them.

The Guide to the National Quality Standard (page 119) reminds us that supportive relationships with educators and staff members allow children to:

  • develop confidence in their ability to express themselves
  • work through differences
  • learn new things and take calculated risks.

Educators can build nurturing relationships that support children to feel valued as competent and capable individuals by:

  • actively engaging in their learning
  • sharing decision-making with them
  • using their everyday interactions during play, routines and ongoing projects to stimulate their thinking and to enrich their learning
  • providing opportunities for children to express their thoughts and feelings
  • supporting children as they begin to empathise with others, to appreciate their connectedness and interdependence as learners and to value collaboration and teamwork.

Relationships are built over time. Anne Stonehouse identifies the importance of consistent staffing arrangements in establishing positive relationships as well as giving regard to settling in and transition times. She provides a range of practices that promote relationships, including:

  • showing warmth and being welcoming: demonstrating to children that you are happy to see them, sharing a laugh with them
  • respecting each child’s uniqueness and communicating that respect to the child
  • actively looking for each child’s strengths and sharing your appreciation of those with the child, the child’s family and colleagues
  • showing children that you know them well, for example by helping them to identify their feelings and offering needed help and support to deal with feelings
  • creating and taking full advantage of one-on-one times, even brief ones, with each child
  • trying hard to understand children’s communication – verbal and non-verbal – and responding respectfully and authentically to encourage children to ask questions and share their thoughts
  • keeping promises
  • looking behind their behaviour to try to figure out what it means.[4]

Positive and responsive one-on-one interactions and relationships are essential for children in promoting their current wellbeing, their future development, ability to thrive, and provide a secure base for exploration. These relationships support children to feel connected and become confident communicators and learners.

Resources

References

[1] OECD (2006) Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education and Care

[2] NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (2002) cited in Ishimine, K.,Tayler, C. and Bennett J, Quality and Early Childhood Education and Care: A Policy Initiative for the 21st Century, International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy Copyright 2010 by Korea Institute of Child Care and Education
2010, Vol. 4, No.2, 67-80

[3] OECD (2012) Starting Strong III: A Quality Toolbox For Early Childhood Education and Care

[4] Stonehouse, A (2012) Relationships with children,  NQS PLP e-Newsletter No.36

The role of the Educational Leader


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

The educational leader has an influential role in inspiring, motivating, affirming and also challenging or extending the practice and pedagogy of educators. It is a joint endeavour involving inquiry and reflection, which can significantly impact on the important work educators do with children and families.

With the introduction of the role, a number of myths have emerged. One of these is that the educational leader must complete all of the programming for all educators. This is a very narrow and prescriptive view of this important role.

The National Quality Standard (NQS) primarily deals with the role of the educational leader through Quality Area 7 – leadership and management. But neither the NQS nor the regulatory standards are prescriptive about the qualifications, experience, skills or role description for the person chosen to be the educational leader. There is a very good reason for this. The flexibility of these provisions allows approved providers to choose the best person in the service to take on this role.

When designating an educational leader, consideration needs to be given to whether the person is:

  • suitably qualified and experienced
  • willing to make time for the role and eager to learn more
  • approachable and well respected
  • knowledgeable about theories, pedagogy and the relevant learning frameworks
  • skilled at supporting educators of varying abilities and learning styles
  • knowledgeable about the NQS and related regulatory standards

The most effective educational leader views their role as collegial. They seek to play an integral role in mentoring, guiding and supporting educators. Some roles of the educational leader include:

  • promoting understanding of the approved learning framework
  • keeping up to date with current research/resources and sharing these
  • exploring opportunities for professional development
  • helping educators to understand and implement policies and procedures
  • encouraging educators to reflect on their practice
  • discussing ways to demonstrate the service is meeting the standards.

If you have been chosen as the educational leader in your service, congratulations on being selected for this important role and enjoy this journey of learning and growing with your team.

Further reading and resources 
Early Childhood Australia Newsletter 33: The educational leader

Early Childhood Australia E-learning video, Talking About Practice (TAPS): The role of the educational leader
IPSP online library: The distributive leadership model by Ros Cornish
IPSP online library: Pedagogical Leadership: Exploring New Terrain and Provocations by Anthony Semann and Rod Soper in Reflections issue 47
Laurie Kelly (Mindworks) video: Leadership in education and care
Discussions about the educational leader role

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