‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 3

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

Earlier in this series, we asked you to consider: Who or what is included in your service community? As this can be a challenging question, part three of the series explores six key questions to help you to identify your community members and create effective connection and collaboration.

1. What is our purpose?

Communities usually have a shared purpose. Taking time to clarify your own purpose is a vital, first step when identifying your community. A clear purpose gives you direction and enables you to effectively identify potential community members. Ideally, for a children’s education and care service, your primary purpose is promoting positive educational and developmental outcomes for children. Placing children at the centre of your community will ensure they are the focus of your efforts.

2. Who is in my organisation community?

Some community members are automatically part of your community as they are part of your organisation. The approved provider, educators and other service staff such as co-ordinators, cooks and office staff are all important members of your community. Individually and collectively, they help you to achieve your purpose. A sense of community within your organisation creates a positive organisational culture and can nurture a professional learning community. These both have significant benefits to the service, staff, families and children.

3. Who is in each child’s primary ‘people’ community?

Each child has their own unique ‘people’ community. Family and non-family carers, such as foster parents or guardians, are central to each child’s ‘people’ community and are, therefore, important members of your education and care service community. In some communities, extended family will also be a significant part of the community, as will carers who regularly drop off and collect children from the service. Families and carers will, ideally, also share your primary purpose of positive educational and developmental outcomes for children.

Other children attending the service will also be important members of each child’s ‘people’ community. Daily interactions and relationships with peers give children important social-emotional experiences that shape their development, wellbeing and learning.

4. Who else is in each child’s ‘people’ community?

Other people and organisations are members of your child’s community and share your primary purpose, so are a part of your service community. These could be oriented to:

  • Child education: e.g. education professions engaged with the child or service, such as Inclusion Support professionals; or education services that a child might attend or be planning to attend, such as other services or schools. For outside school hours care (OSHC) services, the school is an important part of your service community and vice versa. The school’s broader community beyond the school gates is, therefore, also a part of the OSHC community.
  • Child health: e.g. medical, child and family health, or allied health professions engaged with the child or service, e.g. speech pathologists, paediatricians.
  • Family support: e.g. parenting groups, playgroups, toy libraries.

Cultural and faith-based groups can also be significant parts of a child or their family’s community and, therefore, part of your community.

5. Where is our community?

Enabling children to connect and engage with the place of your community can promote positive educational and developmental outcomes for children. Some services will have very strong connections to the land or location of their service neighbourhood through shared culture, history and/or experience. For other services, and for those where staff and/or families are not local (for example, a workplace service in a city building), an understanding and connection to place may need to be developed.

To gain knowledge and understanding of your place, start by mapping your local community using paper or digital maps. Exploring and having experiences in your community will provide greater insight. Features that could be a meaningful part of your community may include:

  • Geography: e.g. beaches, mountains, rivers, lakes, gullies, paddocks, floodplains, bushland, caves, forests, trees.
  • Transport: e.g. streets, railway lines and stations, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, bridges, car parks, bus stops, footpaths, lifts, escalators.
  • Urbanscape: e.g. shops, shopping centres, offices, signs, recycling stations, fences, houses.
  • Community resources: e.g. the post office, parks, library, fire station, police station, hospital, health centres, sporting fields, schools and education and care services, council buildings, community gardens, halls, monuments.
  • Culture or faith: e.g. local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land council, churches, synagogues, mosques or temples.

Engagement with community places also enables social connections to the people of these places – for example, librarians, train station staff, pedestrian crossing volunteers, postman or the park ranger. These people have the potential to become a part of your ‘people’ community.

 6. Who could potentially be a part of our community?

Other people or organisations could share or support your purpose of promoting positive educational and developmental outcomes for children, but they may not have been identified in questions 1-5. Potential community members will be unique to your context, but could:

  • Support children: e.g. a local business that could donate recycled resources for construction play.
  • Support families: e.g. counselling or legal aid organisations.
  • Support staff: e.g. a wellbeing organisation.
  • Support the service: e.g. a professional development organisation.
  • Support your community: e.g. community gardens.
  • Promote your purpose: e.g. media organisations such as a local newspaper.

You may not be currently engaged with these potential community members, however, identifying them is the first step to connecting, collaborating and achieving your purpose.

Clarifying your purpose and identifying who and what comprises your community will enrich your understanding of your community. Your service is unique because of its community. I encourage you to talk with members of your community about your community and discover more about who and where you are. Such conversations are an example of valuable community interactions. Communities are not static and multiple, dynamic interactions, relationships and contexts shape your community and each child at its centre.

Reflective questions and activity for you and your team or service

At a staff, parent or community meeting, provide attendees with large pieces of paper and coloured pens and ask them to “draw the service community”. The drawing could be in any form – a list, a map, an illustration, a diagram… Encourage creativity.

Compare and discuss the similarities and differences. Is there collective agreement? As a group, brainstorm if there are individuals, groups, organisations or places not currently in your community that you would like to engage in your community?

~o~

To support you to develop relationships and collaborate with community members, to promote positive outcomes for children, parts four and five of this blog series will outline some key strategies.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – Belonging, being and becoming for educators

KidsMatter – Creating an organisational culture of your dreams

Victorian Department of Education and Training – ‘Ecological model of child learning and development’, Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework

 

Read the complete series:

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 1

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 2

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 3

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 4

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 5

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 2

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

In part two of our series exploring community in education and care, we identify why community is important to children’s educational and developmental outcomes.

Children experience and observe a ‘hub’ of relationships in an early childhood setting. Each type contributes to creating a sense of community because each facilitates feelings of belonging, connectedness and inclusion. (KidsMatter, 2012, p.11)

Why is community important to quality outcomes for children?

Community is essential to quality outcomes of children. A community provides an important relationship environment; promotes belonging, a sense of identity and learning; supports active participation in the world and continuity of learning; and connects children and families to supportive relationship and resource networks.

Positive relationships support children’s development, wellbeing and learning

Young children develop in an environment of relationships, with a child’s community providing a vital relationship context for their learning and development. This is particularly important during the early years when the foundations of brain architecture are being built. From birth, positive, responsive, consistent and secure relationships with others provide a supportive, growth-promoting environment for children’s development, wellbeing and learning. Children’s academic, social-emotional and mental health outcomes are built on this foundation.

A child’s relationship environment begins in the family, but then extends to adults and peers outside of the family who have important roles in their life. Educators and other education and care staff are a significant part of many children’s relationship environment.  Communities that foster positive interactions and relationships between children, peers and adults strengthen children’s outcomes.

A positive sense of community supports children’s belonging and learning

When children have a sense of belonging and feel safe, secure and supported, they have the confidence to play, explore and learn. A service that is strongly connected to the people and place of its community is welcoming, inclusive, connected to the culture and context of children’s families, while nurturing respectful and reciprocal relationships with children’s families. Connection to community creates a responsive, safe and stable education and care environment which, in turn, promotes children’s belonging and learning.

Positive relationships and a positive sense of community promote children’s sense of identity

Children’s understanding of their self is developed through relationships and in the context of their families and communities. ‘Relationships engage children in the human community in ways that help them define who they are, what they can become, and how and why they are important to other people’ (Center on the Developing Child, 2004, p. 1). Identity is a strong foundation for children’s social and emotional development as well as their sense of agency.

Participation in a community supports children to contribute to their world

Having everyday experiences and participating with the people and places of a community enables children to observe, engage, understand and actively contribute to their expanding world. This supports children to live interdependently with others, be decision-makers and have influence. The ability to participate in different communities – a central element of citizenship – helps young children to respond to diversity and become socially responsible.

Community connection and collaboration supports continuity of children’s learning

Transitions between education and care services, or between services and school, can be challenging for children and families. If transitions are not well-prepared or if continuity of learning is disrupted, the benefits of early years education can be diminished and children’s later life outcomes, such as resilience or perception of themselves as a learner, may be affected.  Children from disadvantaged backgrounds or with additional needs are at particular risk. To support continuity of children’s learning, connection and collaboration between education and care community members is essential.

Connection and collaboration with families supports children’s development, wellbeing and learning

Families are children’s first and most influential teachers (Early Years Learning Framework, 2009, p. 12; Framework for School Age Care, 2011, p. 5). Reciprocal and respectful relationships between families and educators strengthens the connection between children’s education and caregivers and promotes positive child outcomes. Through these relationships, educators can gain understanding and build on the strengths, resources, aspirations and priorities of children and families to ensure education and care programs, practices and policies are meaningful, inclusive and child-centred. Family-service collaboration also enables knowledge and resources to be shared and built upon. Positive relationships between a family and a service also provide a powerful role model for children.

Community connection and collaboration supports families

When families are well-supported, they are better equipped to nurture their child’s development, wellbeing and learning. A service that is connected and collaborates with support organisations can be instrumental in facilitating targeted support for families. Child health, child education, family and community organisations support families and children.

Reflective questions

  • How do you know children and families have a sense of belonging at your service?
  • How do your service practices and policies support positive relationships between:
    • educators and children?
    • educators and families?
    • children?
    • the service, families and local schools?
    • the service, families and community/support organisations?
  • What opportunities do children have to engage in their community beyond the service gates?

~o~

In the next instalment of our five-part series, we help you to identify your community.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – Relationships with children

Center on the Developing Child (2004) Young children develop in an environment of relationships: Working paper 1, pp. 1-8.

KidsMatter (2012) Literature review: Creating a sense of community, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

KidsMatter – Webinar – Protective factors that support transition

 

Read the complete series:

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 1

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 2

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 3

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 4

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 5

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 1

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

‘Community’ is an everyday word in children’s education and care services, with the concept embedded in National Quality Framework legislation and National Quality Standard (NQS) practice guidance, resources and professional development. Collaborative partnerships with families and communities is the focus of NQS Quality Area 6. But what is community? Why is a sense of community so important to positive developmental and educational outcomes for children? Why should services be connecting and collaborating with their community? In this five-part series, I explore community and its important role in delivering quality outcomes for children, while helping you identify who and what is in your community and giving you some key strategies to engage and collaborate with your community.

In this first instalment, I explore the ‘sense of community’ and the way it is connected to place, people and shared purpose.

What is community?

The word ‘community’ can mean different things to different people and/or groups of people, depending on our perspective and the unique context of our own community. For example, an education and care service community in a remote part of Australia will be quite different to the service community in a high-rise commercial building located in a CBD. This may be different again to a family day care community in the country and an outside school hours care community in suburbia.

Even within one service, the children, educators, families and approved provider may have different viewpoints on ‘community’. For some, community might mean the educators and families connected together by children in a room or year group. For others, community might mean ‘the neighbourhood’ – the whole service extending to the local streets, park, library, train station and shops. In a remote region, community might encompass different, individual, kinship communities and extend hundreds of kilometres. One person’s community, or their understanding of what community means to them, may be quite different from another person’s.

People can also belong to multiple communities. They could simultaneously belong to a children’s education and care service community, a hobby-based community, a cultural or faith-based community or even a virtual community connected online or through social media.

What is a ‘sense of community’?

Having a ‘sense of community’ is generally thought to be when members of a community experience four, positive feelings:

  • Belonging: Feeling you are part of the community, are accepted, safe, and identify with the community.
  • Influence: Feeling you ‘matter’ and can make a difference to the community and the community can have influence on you and its members.
  • Integration and fulfilment of needs: Feeling your needs can be met by the community.
  • Shared emotional connection: Feeling attachment or bonding between community members through shared experience, place or history.

Connecting to place and to people

Community has many dimensions, but is often thought of as meaningful connection to a place, or to people, or to both. Community members focusing on place might define their community by its location, having strong connection to the physical or geographical context. A people-based community is primarily driven by relationships.

Ideally, an education and care service community involves meaningful connection to place and people. Community members are valued and, through strong, positive relationships and shared decision making, they feel a sense of belonging and connection to the place and people. Both dimensions make positive contributions to feeling a sense of community.

Communities share a purpose

A community is usually driven by a shared purpose – the tangible reason for connecting and working together. Ideally, in children’s education and care, this shared purpose is promoting positive educational and developmental outcomes for children. Individual community members, such as educators and families, will already have this singular purpose; but, when a community works together on a shared purpose, greater outcomes can often be achieved.

Strengthening relationships between community members will strengthen outcomes. Therefore, if educators, service staff, families, community organisations, schools, neighbourhoods, councils and other community resources connect and collaborate, positive educational and developmental outcomes for children can be achieved.

Reflective questions for you and your team or service

  • What are my personal understandings of the word ‘community’?
  • Do members of my team or service have similar or different understandings of community?
  • What does ‘a sense of community’ feel like to me?
  • Ask each staff member to identify what they believe the purpose of the education and care service to be.

~o~

In the next instalment of our series, we explore why community is important to children’s educational and developmental outcomes.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – Building partnerships with families

KidsMatter – Video 1.3: A sense of community

 

Read the complete series:

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 1

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 2

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 3

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 4

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 5

Developing Narragunnawali Reconciliation Action Plans and Exceeding the National Quality Standard

Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) are formal statements of commitment to reconciliation that provide a framework for actively valuing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and contributions. But how can your service’s RAP also allow you to effectively engage with the National Quality Standard (NQS) and the three Exceeding NQS themes? Reconciliation Australia talks to We Hear You about a number of approaches and strategies.

One of the six guiding principles of the National Quality Framework (NQF) is that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued within and across children’s education and care environments. New guidance on determining the Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS) rating provides scope for this principle to be holistically embedded and meaningfully informed by critical reflection and family and/or community engagement.

Reconciliation Australia’s Narragunnawali: Reconciliation in Schools and Early Learning program was developed precisely to support educational environments to foster a higher level of knowledge and pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and contributions. The Narragunnawali online platform is free to access and has a range of features – including an extensive suite of professional learning and curriculum resources – to support the development, implementation and management of Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs).

Narragunnawali RAPs provide early learning and outside school hours care services, as well as primary and secondary school communities, with a practical framework for action and for driving positive, whole-scale change. There are 39 RAP Actions that you can choose to commit to, each with accompanying information and resources to guide learning, planning and implementation processes. How your service engages with each of the RAP Actions may also be a way to demonstrate Exceeding NQS practice and the Exceeding NQS themes.

Theme 1: Practice is embedded in service operations

Institutional integrity represents one of the five integral and interrelated dimensions of reconciliation in Australia. As such, the Narragunnawali RAP framework provides a holistic and whole-scale framework for fostering relationships, respect and opportunities not only in the school classroom but also education and care services and with the community.

Enacting institutional integrity by committing to reconciliation initiatives within teaching, learning and curricula, as part of the wider ethos within the service gates as well as across community links beyond the service gates helps ensure reconciliation is everyone’s business and for everyone’s benefit. In so doing, it provides a practical platform for demonstrating everyday, embedded practice.

Exploring and engaging with the range of Narragunnawali RAP Actions can support your whole-of-service approach to reconciliation, with each Action contributing to the development of strong relationships, respect and opportunities in and around education and care services, schools and with the community.

Reconciliation Australia’s Narragunnawali: Reconciliation in Schools and Early Learning

Theme 2: Practice is informed by critical reflection

Critical reflection is a core and consistent component of developing and implementing a Narragunnawali RAP.

One of the first steps in commencing or refreshing a Narragunnawali RAP involves responding to an internal Reflection Survey. The Reflection Survey is designed to provide a snapshot of the current state of reconciliation within your individual service and, in turn, guide careful and critical thinking around the next most meaningful steps in your service’s reconciliation journey.

Beyond the Reflection Survey, educators can continue to engage in ongoing critical reflection through accessing the suite of Action-aligned professional learning resources available on the Narragunnawali platform. A couple of examples include:

Critical learning and reflection at the professional level are important steps toward informing and inspiring good practice with children. For example, developing an awareness of the importance of critical evaluation among educators and staff can ultimately effect curriculum planning, resourcing and practice in non-tokenistic, culturally safe and contextually responsive ways.

You can browse the full suite of professional learning and curriculum resources on the Narragunnawali platform to stimulate critical reflection and complement your RAP development/implementation process:

Theme 3: Practice is shaped by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community

‘Relationships’ represent one of the three fundamental pillars of the RAP framework and building relationships with community is one of the 14 minimally required RAP Actions necessary for driving change in a whole-scale sense.

Working relationships between children’s education and care services and local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and community members should be built on trust, mutual respect and inclusiveness. Communication, collaboration and consultation are also key to establishing and extending successful transformational relationships rather than short-term ‘transactional’ relationships. For guidance on demonstrating meaningful engagement with families and/or the community, see:

As well as meaningfully engaging with your local community, educators can meaningfully engage with a national community of practice, dedicated to driving reconciliation action, by signing up to Narragunnawali, sharing news stories, and exchanging learnings and inspiration through actively exploring features such as the Narragunnawali Awards page, Webinar program and interactive Who has a RAP? map.

Are you committed to advancing reconciliation in education, all the while Exceeding the National Quality Standard? Head to the Narragunnawali platform to learn more!

~o~

Narragunnawali (pronounced narra-gunna-wally) is a word from the language of the Ngunnawal people, Traditional Owners of the land on which Reconciliation Australia’s Canberra office is located, meaning alive, wellbeing, coming together and peace. We are very grateful to the United Ngunnawal Elders Council for giving us permission to use the word Narragunnawali.

Quality Area 7 – Something in it for everyone

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

When we have good governance we free ourselves to perform the important work that we do with children and with our team.– Leanne Gibbs (Waniganayake et. al., 2017, p. 64)

Good governance is essential in any organisation as it supports effective and ethical management and provides leadership and direction to operations. Governance of Australian children’s education and care services can be complex and multifaceted, particularly given the inherent diversity of the sector. According to the 2016 Early Childhood Education and Care National Workforce Census, the children’s education and care service workforce is diverse in age, qualification level and experience. Numbering nearly 200,000, the workforce is employed in more than 15,700 services with varying provider ownership and management structures. While more than 80% of approved providers only operate one service, nearly a third of approved services are operated by approved providers managing 25 or more services. Varying hours of work – from part-time to full-time and sometimes involving split-shifts – add to the complexity of operations.

Effective governance provides a firm foundation for the organisational landscape and supports the operation of quality services. Standard 7.1 of the National Quality Standard (NQS) focuses on the important issue of governance and articulates three elements that contribute to the standard being achieved. Element 7.1.3 identifies the key influence that clearly defined and understood roles and responsibilities support effective decision-making and operation of a service.

Roles and responsibilities

Typically, you will find role and responsibility statements are part of an organisation’s recruitment, induction and performance appraisal processes. These work best when they clearly define the expectations of the approved provider and are understood by the employee. This ensures an approved provider is clear about how the role is positioned within their organisational structure and the service’s operation; and an employee has a clear understanding of their work role, the responsibilities the position entails and the expectations for their performance. Roles and expectations are transparent and understood, and there is less opportunity for misalignment.

As many children’s education and care service roles have legislated responsibilities, including those required under the National Law and Regulations, clearly defined roles and responsibility statements can provide clarity for compliance responsibilities. Consider: Do role and responsibility statements include the requirements for a nominated supervisor as stated in Regulation 117A, or the responsibilities in ensuring the policies and procedures as required by Regulation 168? Are they followed by staff as required under Regulation 170?

There are also other obligations to be considered, such as child protection laws or workplace health and safety laws and codes of practice. Remember to likewise be mindful of ethical responsibilities like the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Early Childhood Australia’s Code of Ethics, which may also be embedded in role and responsibility statements.

The educational leader role

Educational leaders can also be supported by a clearly defined and understood role and statement of responsibilities. The educational leader role was formally introduced with the 2012 NQS and has been further defined in the 2018 NQS. The broad responsibility of the role is to lead “the development and implementation of the educational program and assessment and planning cycle” (Element 7.2.2). However, defining this significant responsibility and how it might be enacted will provide clarity and transparency for the approved provider, the educational leader and the educators they will lead. This detail may include:

  • identified outcomes for the education program
  • resourcing the role
  • reporting responsibilities
  • mentoring responsibilities
  • professional development opportunities
  • the support that will be provided by the approved provider.

Likewise, the role description for an educator could detail the support to be provided by the educational leader.

Induction process

Induction supports an employee to undertake their role and responsibilities. Taking many forms, induction is generally described as the formal training and socialisation process a new employee undertakes when they join an organisation. Importantly, it is much more than a one-off orientation or checklist. Induction designates the transition from beginning at a service to confident and full, professional engagement and belonging in a community of practice. Consistent with our understanding of transition processes for children, transition into a new workplace also has challenges and opportunities, with relationships at its core.

Induction is often integrated with mentoring: high quality induction/mentoring has been shown to improve attrition, strengthen skills and knowledge, improve job satisfaction and commitment, and support the wellbeing of early career educators. While induction programs are well-established in the Australian school system – representing the transition from graduate to proficient teacher –less is known about children’s education and care sector experiences. Whatever the context, induction is a process of professional development, at its most effective in settings with a positive learning culture and strong professional relationships. Quality induction and mentoring will build confidence and enable professional growth – they are essential supports for an educator undertaking their role and responsibilities at their professional best.

Reflective questions:

  • If you are an approved provider or service leader, have you clearly defined all service roles and responsibilities? How do you know these are understood?
  • If you are an employee, do your service roles and the associated responsibilities match your position description? How could you align these?
  • Do you understand the role and responsibilities of the educational leader in your service? If not, could this be discussed at a team meeting?
  • How is induction conducted at your service? How could mentoring further support induction at your service?
  • How are the three Exceeding NQS themes reflected in your practices for Quality Area 7?

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – The role of the educational leader

AITSL – Graduate to Proficient: Australian Guidelines for teacher induction into the profession

Early Childhood Development Agency – Mentoring Matters: A practical guide to learning-focused relationships

Early Childhood Resource Hub – Talking about practice: The role of the educational leader

Waniganayake, M., Cheeseman, S., Fenech, M., Hadley, F., & Shepherd, W. (2017) Leadership: Contexts and complexities in early childhood education, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne.

We Hear You – New Educator Survival Guide

Connection to Country: Respect, responsibility and the creator spirit of Bunjil

Bubup Wilam means ‘Children’s Place’ in the Woi Wurrung language. Bubup Wilam for Early Learning is an Aboriginal Child and Family Centre in Melbourne‘s north that provides Aboriginal children, families and the community with access to an integrated range of services and programs, including early years education and health and wellbeing services.

This month on We Hear You, Bubup Wilam’s educator, Shannon McLeod, talks to us about their Connection to Country Program and the importance of Bunjil, the creator spirit for the Wurundjeri people.

At Bubup Wilam for Early Learning (Aboriginal Child and Family Centre) we acknowledge Country every day. Our children know the Wurundjeri people are the first owners of the land on which our service operates – Narrm (Melbourne). Through our weekly Connection to Country program, the children are learning about their responsibilities as Aboriginal children to take care of Country. They proudly tell us, ‘We’ve got to clean up the land, Aunty’. We teach the children that Bunjil (often represented as an eagle) is the creator spirit for the Wurundjeri people – he created the people, animals and plants and he is watching how we respect the land.

As a group, we have explored different artistic representations of Bunjil that feature in our urban and natural landscapes across Victoria, from the gigantic representations of Bunjil at the Docklands and the You Yangs, to the visually stunning kinetic installation at the Melbourne Museum.

After looking at photos of these artworks, and later a trip to the museum, clay was provided for the children to create their own representations of Bunjil. One child created a whole Bunjil family, others created nests, others made scaled-down versions of the Bunjils shown to them in remarkable detail.

As their teacher, I was so touched by the work the children had created and wanted to show respect for these sculptures to showcase them to the other children, educators and parents in our community and I explored ways to do so with my colleagues. We decided on a glass cabinet to display the art pieces. This has been a beautiful talking point for all members of our community at Bubup Wilam for Early Learning.

A 3D puzzle of an eagle was found and now rests on top of the display case – it is not unusual to hear children reflecting to their parents as they leave for the day that ‘Bunjil is watching us’.

Bunjil clay sculpture by one of the children at Bubup Wilam for Early Learning
Detail of the tail of the Bunjil at the base of the You Yangs on Wathaurong Country

Should a Paleolithic diet be offered at early childhood education and care services?

Supporting Nutrition for Australian Childcare (SNAC) was developed by researchers at the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University. The website provides guidance and resources about nutrition and healthy eating environments for children’s education and care services, as well as an online community focused on supporting practice. Dr Ruth Wallace and Angela Genoni from SNAC talk to We Hear You about the key elements of a Paleolithic diet and how the diet might impact on children’s growth, development and health.

The idea of offering children Paleo foods – more lean meat and fish and less discretionary foods – may sound like a healthy way to go, but is it? Before you go down that road, let’s stop to consider whether such a diet will give the children you nurture and care for enough energy to grow, play and learn. There is a lot more you should understand about the Paleo way of eating before you offer this at your early childhood education and care (ECEC) service.

What does it mean to be Paleo?

The main principle of following a Paleo diet is to eat the foods our ancestors ate thousands of years ago during the Paleolithic Age. These foods include lean meats, fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Foods that became staples when farming began around 10,000 years ago are not typically included in a paleo diet. For example, grains such as wheat and barley (used to bake bread), pasta and rice, beans and other legumes, dairy products, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, and more recently highly processed foods such as chips, cakes, cookies, processed meats and ready meals (Cordain, 2011).

So can Paleo foods provide enough fuel for children?

Some research has shown that adults following a strict Paleo diet have reported losing weight, lowered blood pressure and other benefits from ‘going paleo’ (Masharani, et al., 2015), since this way of eating typically cuts out added sugars, salt and discretionary foods. While eating more vegetables and fruit is a positive, there is no research showing the diet is beneficial over the longer term (Mellberg, et al., 2014; Genoni, et al., 2016).

Children are a different story as their bodies and brains are growing and developing rapidly. They need a wide range of healthy foods from all five core food groups to ensure a sufficient intake of energy and nutrients to fuel this period of rapid growth and development, and to ensure they remain fit and healthy (NHMRC, 2013). Providing children with foods only from the Paleo diet actually removes two whole core food groups (dairy and cereals/grains), and even some vegetables that are recommended as part of a balanced diet. Most health professionals would not recommend the Paleo diet for young children.

What else should you know?

Eating the Paleo way takes a lot of planning: Since the diet relies heavily on nuts, and many ECEC services are nut-free, children may not consume sufficient energy without the inclusion of nuts at mealtime. It is also likely to blow the food budget as protein sources such as meat and fish are more expensive than vegetables and grains that are the bulk of a healthy balanced diet.

Children will need to find sufficient fuel from other foods: Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains readily provide sufficient energy and B vitamins to allow children to grow and be active. If foods such as rice and wholegrain bread are not provided, children will have to use other key macronutrients for fuel such as protein and fat, which may result in stunted growth, failure to thrive and other nutrient deficiencies (Brown, 2008; Desrosiers, et al., 2018).

Too much meat may be harmful to children’s health: Following the Paleo diet focuses heavily on meat, so children could be eating more unhealthy saturated fat than is recommended (NHMRC, 2013).

Future harms: Teaching children to avoid whole food groups may also lead to disordered eating in later life (Hart, et al., 2014).

The verdict?

Avoiding discretionary foods is a positive aspect of the Paleo diet, but existing guidelines already stipulate that discretionary foods should be limited in early childhood education and care and should not feature on the daily menu. More importantly, there is no research evidence to suggest following a Paleo diet is safe for the health of young children.

To ensure children optimise their growth and development, and have the energy to play and enjoy life, here are some simple, yet healthy tips to follow:

  1. Offer a wide variety of foods daily from all five core food groups, including lots of different colours and textures.
  2. Choose nutritious whole foods that have been minimally processed.
  3. Limit discretionary foods, which are energy dense and nutrient poor, and which displace other nutritious foods important for children’s growth and development.
  4. Allow children to self-serve at mealtimes from a wide range of healthy foods – this will support social and emotional development, and help children recognise their own hunger cues.
  5. Be a good role model. Sit with children at mealtimes, share the same healthy food, and offer them gentle encouragement to try foods they are unsure about.

As early years educators, yours is an important role in teaching children about healthy food choices that will enable them to be active and engaged learners, and for long-term health benefits later in life. If you should receive any special dietary requests that are not supported by a medical certificate, do not comply with Element 2.1.3 (food and drinks provided should be in accordance with the Australian Dietary Guidelines), or you are simply not sure about, seek further advice from your service director, or visit the SNAC website.

References

Brown, J. (2008) Nutrition Through the Life Cycle (3rd ed.), Thomson Higher Education, Belmont, USA.

Cordain, L. (2011) The Paleo Diet, John Wiley & Sons, New Jersey.

Desrosiers, T., et al. (2018) ’Low carbohydrate diets may increase risk of neural tube defects’, Birth Defects Research, DOI: 10.1002/bdr2.1198

Genoni, A., et al. (2016) ’Cardiovascular, Metabolic Effects and Dietary Composition of Ad-Libitum Paleolithic vs. Australian Guide to Healthy Eating Diets: A 4-Week Randomised Trial’, Nutrients, vol. 8, no. 5, p. E314.

Hart, L., et al. (2014) ’Parenting to avoid body dissatisfaction and unhealthy eating patterns in preschool children: A Delphi consensus study’, Body Image, vol. 11, pp.  418-425.

Masharani, U., et al. (2015) ’Metabolic and physiologic effects from consuming a hunter-gatherer (Paleolithic)-type diet in type 2 diabetes’, European Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 69, no. 8, pp. 944-948.

Mellberg, C., et al. (2014) ’Long-term effects of a Palaeolithic-type diet in obese postmenopausal women: a 2-year randomized trial’, European Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 68, no. 3, pp. 350-357.

National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines, NHMRC, Canberra.