Embedding culture in sustainable ways


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

We usually talk about sustainability in relation to the environment but it’s also relevant to the practice of cultural competence and embedding culture in sustainable ways in early childhood services.

The National Quality Framework (NQF) provides the foundation for culturally competent practice in education and care. One of the guiding principles is that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued. Developing collaborative partnerships with local communities also supports Quality Area six of the NQS: Collaborative Partnerships with
Families and Communities.

Implementing sustainable cultural practices involves educators building positive relationships and providing culturally safe environments that foster genuine attitudes of inclusion and equity.

ACECQA spoke with Judith McKay-Tempest, a proud Wiradjuri woman and an Associate Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at Macquarie University. Judith has a passion for making a difference for Aboriginal children in their formative years.

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

Judith has found that many educators are apprehensive about embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into service practice. She feels this stems from ‘fear of doing the wrong thing’ or uncertainty about how to genuinely incorporate cultural experiences in ways that avoid stereotypes or the perception of tokenism.

Judith explained that developing culturally safe environments does not require educators to be experts in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being. Rather it requires educators to respect multiple ways of being and support a positive cultural identity for all families and children. Judith stresses that it is important for all children to engage in this learning, regardless of the presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and children in the service.

Early childhood education and care settings can promote perspectives that support Aboriginal community’s own distinct culture such as understandings of their connection to place. This provides rich opportunities to build a culture of understanding and respect for the environment for all children.

Exploring the context of your service may include:

  • developing an awareness of the traditional custodians of the land and the language/s spoken,
  • working collaboratively with children, families and the local community to develop an ‘Acknowledgment of Country’ that signifies respect for Aboriginal culture, exploring the connectedness to the land and respect for community protocols,
  • caring for and learning from the land,
  • sensory exploration and responsiveness to the natural environment through play
  • exploration of how living things are interconnected and the interdependence between land, people, plants and animals,
  • developing collaborative partnerships and learning about places of cultural significance

Further reading and resources
Perspectives on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural competence
Understanding cultural competence
Cultural connections booklet
Indigenous Culture: It’s everybody’s business

Physical Environment


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

“In order to act as an educator for the child, the environment has to be flexible: it must undergo frequent modification by the children and the teachers in order to remain up-to-date and responsive to their needs to be protagonists in constructing their knowledge.” Lella Gandini (1998)

We have long known about the importance of the environment in supporting children’s learning and development and construction of knowledge. Recognising this, educators from the Reggio Emilia program in Italy refer to the environment as the ‘the third teacher’.

The Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care remind us of the importance of drawing on pedagogical practices to create physical and social learning environments that are welcoming, enriching, responsive to children’s interests and that have a positive impact on children’s learning.

As children approach learning by using their senses, the physical environment has enormous potential to influence a child’s learning and experiences.

Well-designed indoor and outdoor physical environments can capitalise on children’s amazing sense of curiosity, awe and determination while engaging with people and their surroundings promote children’s potential learning in built and natural environments. Play spaces should be interesting, engaging and allow children to extend their thinking, problem-solving skills and learning. Providing children with opportunities to learn how to assess and take appropriate risks is also essential for healthy childhood development. Tim Gill, a playground consultant from the UK who regularly visits Australia offers helpful insights on his website (Rethinking Childhood) about risk-benefit analysis and the importance of supporting children to take appropriate risks.

Educators should also consider how children are supported to engage in their environment, with other children, and how the environment is resourced and organised. Intentionality in how the space is organised and how children are supported in their play can impact on the quality of experiences and relationships developed.

Quality Area 3 of the National Quality Standard identifies that a service’s physical environment should be safe, suitable, appropriately resourced and well maintained. Also it needs to be designed and organised in a way that supports the participation of all children and the effective implementation of the learning program.

It is important to be aware of the National Quality Standard and related regulatory standards. It is also important to source information about relevant safety standards from reputable organisations such as Kidsafe and Standards Australia.

Once you understand the requirements, it is important to consider how the environment will contribute to the effective implementation of the learning program and how it can promote:

  • participation by every child
  • the flow between indoor and outdoor spaces
  • smooth transitions between activities and spaces
  • competence, independent exploration and learning through play
  • engagement with the natural environment
  • positive relationships between children
  • children’s understanding, respect, care and appreciation for the natural
    environment
  • environmental sustainability and assist children to become environmentally responsible
  • flexibility – allowing re-organisation to maintain interest and challenge
  • a welcoming and comfortable ambience.

Involving all stakeholders, including management, educators, families and children, in decisions about the design, organisation and use of the environment is likely to build shared commitment and provide opportunities for a variety of ideas to be considered and included.

Chapter 4, Part 4.3 of the Education and Care Service National Regulations sets out the underpinning regulatory standards for the physical environment.

The Early Years Learning Framework (page 9) and the Framework for School Age Care (page 6)  recognise the learning environment as a key practice and identify environments that are designed to foster children’s learning and development, as a key contributor to curriculum or program.

Margie Carter, Making Your Environment “The Third Teacher” in Exchange July/August 2007

Agency in practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Using the AEDC to support transition

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Reconciliation, what is it?

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

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

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

Upcoming events

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

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

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

Supporting indoor and outdoor play

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

Play based experiences are a vital vehicle for children’s learning and development. Research shows the inherent relationship between sensory learning and children’s enhanced cognitive, social and physical development. This is because children gain understanding about the world by seeing, touching, tasting, smelling, moving and hearing the things they are learning about.

The National Quality Framework encourages educators to consider how the physical environment, and the way that indoor and outdoor spaces are designed, will support children’s learning. Quality Area 3 of the National Quality Standard identifies that a service’s physical environment should be safe, suitable, appropriately resourced and well maintained. It also needs to be organised to support the participation of all children and implementation of the learning program. Recognition of the learning potential of environments is noted in the learning outcomes of the Early Years Learning Framework, which encourages educators to ‘create learning environments that encourage children to explore, solve problems, create and construct’ (p.15).

It is important that we don’t underestimate the value of the learning promoted by being outside. Outdoor environments offer challenges and countless opportunities for healthy active play, while also learning to assess and take appropriate risks. Educators can enhance the choice and quality of learning experiences by supporting flexible use and interaction
between indoor and outdoor spaces. Children can learn about and respect the interdependence between people and nature by using their senses to explore natural environments.

Supporting indoor and outdoor play

When designing and planning the learning environment, consideration needs to be given to children’s individual interests, skills and capabilities. The design of the play environment helps to promote independence, decision making, interaction, relationship building and testing theories.

Engaging in sustained shared conversations by respectfully engaging with children allows educators to extend and support children’s thinking and learning. The image below from the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework shows the balance between guided play and learning, adult led learning and child-directed play and learning.

Cultural Competence

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

Interacting with various cultures enriches our everyday lives. Building cultural competence in educators and children promotes equity, respect and valuing of different cultures. But as the Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care show, cultural competence is much more than an awareness of cultural differences. It is the ability to understand, communicate and effectively interact with people across cultures and includes:

  • being aware of your own world view
  • developing positive attitudes towards cultural differences
  • gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views.

The frameworks also promote respect for diversity and equity. Strategies include:

  • reflecting on our personal biases
  • challenging discriminatory viewpoints
  • using resources that are culturally relevant
  • adapting curriculum to children’s ideas, interests and culture
  • drawing on the expertise of families and those belonging to a cultural group
  • inviting guests from a range of cultures to visit your service
  • using the reflective questions in the learning frameworks (EYLF pp.13, FSAC pp.11), such as ‘Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is
    disadvantaged?’.

Cultural competence also includes delivering a curriculum that respects the cultural identity, language and values of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Significant value lies in spending time with your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

Suggested ‘first steps’ are:

  • Make contact with the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners and Corporations/ Co-operatives in your area
  • Find out if your jurisdiction has an Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, such as the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc
  • Contact your State/Territory Education Department for referral to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander liaison workers
  • Look up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander training or support providers in your area, for example NGROO Education Inc in NSW and the Indigenous Professional Support Units (IPSUs) and/or the Professional Support Coordinator across each state and territory.

Further reading and resources

Cultural Competence: Language Program Development
Children’s Services Central. Engaging with Aboriginal Communities: Where do we start?
Kidsmatter. Cultural diversity: Suggestions for families and educators
Cultural competence fact sheets for School Age Care.  My Time Our Place (for OSHC services)