Review, reflect and celebrate: A story from the sector on celebrating children’s achievements

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

In early October, I was fortunate to present at and participate in the 2017 Australian Council for Educational Leaders (ACEL) National Conference, and meet with Rosanne Pugh from KU Ourimbah. Rosanne was the well-deserved recipient of the ACEL Leadership Award for 2017. The prestigious award recognises Rosanne as an educational leader who has made a significant contribution to education, educational leadership and improving outcomes for children.

During our catch up, Rosanne shared a wonderful story about how she reflected on the purpose and intent of her service’s end-of-year celebrations, as well as the collaboration with children and families to create a more authentic and meaningful coming together centred on sharing of learning and driven by the children.

Rosanne shares her story with us this month and takes us through the celebrations and ‘ceremony’ at KU Ourimbah.

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As we prepare to celebrate the capacity and competence of our children, now is the time to challenge some of our embedded cultural practices we might take for granted as children embark on their school careers and families together take a moment to reflect upon their children’s rich, early childhood experiences.

At KU Ourimbah ‘Graduation’ has been replaced by ‘Ceremony’. Children are not expected to perform for their parents but rather share their learning with them in ways they have devised for themselves. It is ceremonious because this is an occasion for shared celebration. Children direct the day for their families and we ask families to reserve this day, well in advance, rather than have children exhausted by ‘evening do’s’.  This is after all, about children and families. It is not a marketing exercise or crowd pleaser, this is a child-led event and as such, there is a big difference in how we express our values. In how we place children’s interests at the centre of all that we do. We can of course be pleased, delighted, joyful and nostalgic. We can be moved by the magnificence of our children and how we choose to illuminate this.

Families overwhelmingly have embraced this approach and our event looks like this:

The children invite their parents for a tour. In our space in KU Ourimbah this involves children acting as tour-guides for their families and walking their favourite routes across The Central Coast Campus of The University of Newcastle, together. It is an everyday happening for our children that they walk on campus and having already discussed their personalised map and the places of importance that they want to share with their families, the children take charge, with map at the ready.

Parents, too, are complicit. They have already seen the map and understand through our on-line communications that they are in for a walking treat, with stations where they can pond dip, make natural art, litter pick and to be prepared. As families opt in and out of these activities we know the children are explaining what they have learnt about the surroundings, sharing their ecological citizenship and talking, talking, talking as they walk, revealing what they love about their life in early childhood. A communal family picnic precedes the ceremony held in a familiar lecture theatre.

Each year the ceremony is different. This year, the children choose their favourite memories for our PowerPoint images backed by music from one of our Indigenous families. We are welcomed to Country and the children co-sing. Some of the music is in language and there has been a song written in language for this moment and will be shared for the first time when we are all together.

Our ceremony finishes with an afternoon tea, fruit platters, cold drinks, a cake made by our cook skilled in the art of representing each child artistically through decoration.

We want to celebrate our children and in so doing we are showcasing what is important to them and what they want their families to appreciate and know about. It is a celebration of their voices. If we can do that, we have contributed to a new culture with parents, their children and extended families and friends.

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I hope Rosanne’s story inspires and motivates you to consider a different approach to ‘doing things the way we always have’. The New Year, with a revised National Quality Standard, may be just the place to start thinking about challenging these views and looking to a new approach!

2016 is drawing to a close, let’s celebrate

This time of year is an ideal opportunity to reflect on the year coming to an end and all the opportunities and excitement a New Year brings. This month on We Hear You, we turn our attention to how we recognise and celebrate achievements and plan social occasions, such as Christmas celebrations, activities and events.

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When thinking about authentically including religious, cultural and/or community activities, experiences and events within the learning environment, it is important to consider the diversity within the group of children, families and educators at the service, as well as the communities in which the service is located. Another consideration is the learning opportunities such experiences offer for children. For example, planning open-ended activities and experiences has the potential to support children to be involved learners and further develop their creativity and problem solving skills.

In thinking about and planning for celebrations such as Christmas, educators also need to ensure they are respectful of the cultures, beliefs and values of the children, their families and the educators at the service. Anne Stonehouse’s Celebrations, holidays and special occasions resource sheet has tips to ensure ‘special occasions are celebrated in ways that recognise, respect and strengthen children’s appreciation of diversity and difference’. For many children, families and educators, Christmas is an important celebration in the calendar. However, as Anne notes:

While it is important to acknowledge holidays in a children’s service, there are a number of issues to be aware of. Not everyone celebrates the same holidays. Christmas and Easter, for example, have their origins in Christianity and are not universally observed. Some families may acknowledge the secular aspects of Christmas, and are happy for their child to participate in the celebrations in the service. It is crucial to know families’ views, respect them and avoid either a child participating in something the family objects to, or creating a situation in which a child is singled out or left out.

Extending this thinking to the ways we authentically embed culture in our environments, practices and programs, the Early Years Learning Framework (p. 16) and the Framework for School Age Care (p. 15) describe cultural competence as being ‘much more than awareness of cultural differences. It is the ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures’.

The Cultural Connections Booklet provides a framework to support further reflection around the celebrations that are relevant for the children, families and community of your service. This allows us to have more meaningful, engaging and child focused events and activities that are based on children’s individual identity, culture, capabilities, agency and family traditions, making our practice less tokenistic and more authentic.

Valuing families’ decisions about their child’s learning and wellbeing underpins our principles and practices. When we are active partners working together with the children and families, we can embed different cultural perspective in our services. This fosters a deeper sense of belonging and allows for more meaningful participation; everyone has an opportunity to actively contribute to the process and children feel a sense of connectedness to their learning.

Strategies to embed meaningful cultural competence in your service might include:

  • Developing a resource kit, drawing on resources (such as professional journals) and agencies (such as the relevant Inclusion Support Programme provider) that can assist in building your knowledge and skills.
  • Involving children in the planning and evaluation of celebrations that are important in your service, and to them. This allows for a deeper sense of agency and belonging.
  • Thinking about maximising learning opportunities for children. For example, does encouraging children to practice their observation and drawing skills by drawing a Christmas tree enhance their learning more than just colouring an adult representation?
  • Involving families, educators, other staff and your community in discussions about what celebrations are important to them and how you could include them in your service in respectful and meaningful ways.
  • Reviewing and reflecting on your current policies and philosophy. Do they mirror your service’s beliefs, goals and responsibilities around inclusion and cultural competence?

As an end of year treat, take some time to reflect on how you can celebrate Christmas in meaningful ways. Consider how celebrations can tie into acknowledging progress in your Quality Improvement Plan, sharing children’s learning and valuing each team member’s contributions to the service throughout the year. Drawing on the reflective questions in the approved learning frameworks is a great place start to your critical reflection. For example, as a team reflect on the questions to broaden your approach or lens in relation to the different ways children, families and educators experience Christmas activities and celebrations:

Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is disadvantaged? (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13 / Framework for School Age Care, p. 12)

Other questions you might like to consider:

  • How is cultural competence embedded in your service and reflected in your philosophy? What does it look and feel like?
  • What celebrations are important for the families in your service?

Further reading and resources