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

 

 

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

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

Documentation

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

Planning, documenting and evaluating children’s learning has long been the topic of debate and discussion, certainly in the 30 years I have been involved in education and care.

The evidence of the value of documentation is clear, however a question that is often asked is, ‘How do we document, and how much is enough?’ One of the strengths of the National Quality Framework is how it emphasises the importance of documentation in promoting and extending children’s thinking, learning and development. It does not however, go into precise detail on how it should be done.

While templates may be helpful in organising information, the risk is that templates can also be limiting or sometimes cause unnecessary administrative burden. It is important to remember there are no mandated templates or programs for documenting, and for very good reason.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to documentation and educators are encouraged to explore a range of styles and methods to determine what works best for their children, families, service and community.

There are many ways to document children’s learning and the cycle of observing, planning, reflecting and evaluating. Some examples I have seen include reflective journals, photographs, videos, children’s work, observations, portfolios, narratives and learning stories to name a few.

It is important to review and reflect on why and what we are documenting. The Early Years Learning Framework (p. 17) and Framework for School Age Care (p. 16) identify the reasons we assess/evaluate children’s learning, development and participation. It is important to remember that it is not the amount of documentation or how colourfully it is presented, but rather how it is used to support children’s engagement, learning and development.

There are numerous resources available that explore the role of documentation and provide further insights and ideas on a diversity of ways to document. Enjoy your documentation journey and don’t forget to look back on your documentation to identify and celebrate the achievement and successes of your children, your families and your team.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – Guidelines for documenting children’s learning

ACECQA – Forum panel discussion video – Incorporating cultural competence in everyday practice