Singleton Heights Pre-School: Partnerships improving outcomes for children

This month we hear from Singleton Heights Pre-School Inc. Centre Director, Neisha Dean, and gain insight into the service’s collaborative partnerships improving outcomes for children.

Recently awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA, Singleton Heights Pre-School is a not-for-profit community preschool based in the NSW Upper Hunter Valley. Many enrolled families in the community are engaged with mining and the Australian Defence Force, however, they also have a high proportion of families who qualify for the low income subsidy relief. One exemplary practice recognised in the preschool’s Excellent award rating is their collaborative partnerships with professional and community organisations. These ongoing partnerships, forged through respectful and reciprocal relationships, have supported the preschool to continuously improve service access, environments, amenities and resources that improve outcomes for children.

Can you tell us about some of your collaborative partnerships?

Cooinda Local Aged Care Facility

Our relationship with Cooinda commenced in late 2019, following a suggestion from one of our families who had a relationship with the facility. A highly successful first visit promoted positive responses from children and residents, alike. From there, the relationship has gone from strength to strength and has been extended by families outside of service interactions as well as residents now visiting the preschool. The partnership has also endured despite the visitation and communication challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. During 2020, interactions have been sustained through the use of Zoom and iPad technology and has involved the sharing of laminated art-books (to assist with cleaning between use), joint singing and dancing sessions and shared group times and play experiences. 

The relationship has supported children to learn to interact with people who experience visual, cognitive, mobility, speech and hearing impairment. The children have developed problem-solving, language, social skills and practice tolerance, understanding, respect and empathy as they pass pieces of games, puzzles and craft to their elderly companions Calming sensory play introduced by the children, such as moulding play dough, has now been embedded in activities at Cooinda residents. Despite initial hesitancy, the use of Zoom has also led to a change in attitude regarding the use of technology and the engagement of the residents with it. 

Woodwork Partnership

We have a ten-year partnership with a retired woodworker who has contributed to the replacement and creation of new resources and furniture throughout the service in both a volunteer and paid capacity. The partnership has supported the community member to share his skills and high-quality work, while developing relationships which are beneficial for the social and emotional wellbeing of all involved. Children have a heightened knowledge, understanding and engagement with the woodwork and resources and are being deliberate in their play as they source tools, and in the creations they make. 

Glencore Ravensworth Open Cut Mine (GROCM)

In 2015, the service was approached by local mining company and employer of some enrolled families, GROCM, to enter into a pilot community sustainability partnership. The service has been provided with a greenhouse, and receives planting materials from the mine. Children care for seedlings which are then sold back to the company for regeneration planting, with profits from the sale of the seedlings going to the service. Children have also assisted the company to plant the trees they initially grew, at one of their local properties, and children are provided with regular updates about the rehabilitation program. 

Children’s involvement in the seed planting and initial growth of the trees has supported their ability to understand plant lifecycles and sustainability practices. It also actively engages children in the rehabilitation of local land, which will provide benefits to the local community in future years. 

This project was part of the Pre-School winning first place in the NSW Keep Australia Beautiful awards, in the “School’s Environmental Achievement Award – Population Category E (over 20 000) section, an achievement we are very proud of.

The partnership has also led to collaborations to acquire funding to finance upgrades to service environments and equipment. One upgrade involved materials for the construction of outdoor wooden tables and chairs, which further engaged the partnership with the local woodworker. The tables are custom designed in height and support children from across classrooms to share meals and learning together. 

How have funding partnerships supported outcomes for children?

How have funding partnerships supported outcomes for children?

Over the past four years, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of children attending the service who identify as Aboriginal, families who qualify for low income subsidy relief, and families who have no other support networks in the local area. In response to family need and growing enrolments in 2019, which reflected 118 waitlisted children, the service successfully gained NSW Government ‘Start Strong Capital Works Program’ funding to build a fourth classroom to support an additional 40 enrolments, with 20 extra children each day. Operational since September of 2019, 45% of children in this new classroom identify as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage. 

Our not-for-profit service has also successfully received Government and community support funding to upgrade soft fall, provide additional shade covering, install new playground equipment, complete new flooring and fencing projects, refurbish a bathroom, and construct a new verandah. We were also able to install a third water tank and pump and create drought-tolerant gardens, introduce a physical Acknowledgement of Country display, purchase furniture for the classrooms and construct a woodwork shed. Our  financial commitment to acquiring funding and grants has resulted in the continuous improvement of service practices, environments and resources to provide children with improved access to high quality learning environments and resources.

Recognising community support opportunities

When looking for grant opportunities you can often find some to support current or new projects, or initiatives at services. While not all grants will have eligibility criteria that apply to all services, there are many different types. Before applying for any grant we think there are some key considerations to think about.

Align a grant with goals and priorities

We needed to be clear of our service priorities and goals, as outlined in our Quality Improvement Plan, Business Plan, and through our practices and procedures in relation to maintenance. Sometimes a new and exciting opportunity will arise. However, important considerations are the current service priorities and the eligibility criteria of the funding grant.

Consult and engage with all stakeholders 

During any grant application process, it is important to consult with Educators and staff, management, families and children to ensure all stakeholders feel knowledgeable, involved and heard. When all voices are engaged, it promotes thorough reflection on the diverse possibilities of a project. 

The consultation and engagementprocess includes many conversations, but can also involve surveys, brainstorming sessions, site meetings, the sharing and discussion of draft plans and seeking creative input from individuals in the form of visual or written project ideas. To support effective communication, plans need to be organised and clear. Communicating with enthusiasm and positivity will support stakeholders to feel more comfortable during periods of change.

Forge genuine partnerships 

Our philosophy and everyday practice reflect our genuine commitment to creating partnerships with organisations in our local community. We may benefit from receiving a grant toward a project or initiative at the service, however, it’s important that the relationship is mutually beneficial. We achieve this by promoting an organisation’s support not only within the service, but throughout our local community. We attend events and presentations organised by the organisation supplying the funding and invite them to celebrations within the preschool.

Interested in finding out more?

Collaborative partnerships are just one of many exceptional practices recognised in the awarding of the Excellent rating to Singleton Heights Pre-School Inc. Read more about their practices on the ACECQA Excellent Rating page. You can also contact Neisha Dean via email admin@singletonheightspreschool.com.au

Seven metres squared

In addition to promoting physical activity, engaging outdoor learning environments play a significant role in the development of children’s behavioural and social skills.

This month on We Hear You, we explore the importance of outdoor play in a world that is becoming increasingly technological and outline the requirements for outdoor environments in education and care services.

In a world where play is becoming more sedentary and screen-based, how can we maximise play and learning in the outdoor environment? In studies on children’s perspectives in the outdoor environment, the children found the outdoor environment to be a place which offers the opportunity to pretend, socialise, observe and move (Merewether, 2015). Research has also identified that some educators view the outdoor environment only as a place for gross motor activities with inherent risks (Leggett & Newman, 2017).

All centre based education and care services must provide access to unencumbered outdoor space that is at least seven square metres for each child (Regulation 108 (2)). All services, including family day care and outside school hours care, should allow children to explore and experience a natural environment (Regulation 113) that is adequately shaded (Regulation 114).

The rise in the interest in forest schools, beach, river and bush kindergartens have seen educators and children exploring outdoor learning environments, outside the realm of their service fence or family day care backyard. It’s outdoors in which children learn that many environments are fragile. Children become aware of how we can treasure and show respect for these spaces (Robertson, 2011) while also becoming socially responsible and showing respect and care for the environment in which they live and learn.

The learning frameworks reinforce the notion that engaging in play and leisure outdoors allows children to develop their emerging autonomy, independence, resilience, their understanding of the inter-dependence of living things and their sense of agency (adapted from the Early Years Learning Framework, p. 21; and the Framework for School Age Care, p. 20).

Outdoors, children move and play in different ways – there is a lot to see, hear, touch, experience, explore and even taste when playing outdoors.

The outdoor environment provides children with the ability to engage with the natural world and explore nature and concepts through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning. The possibilities for a child to learn about their world is endless while playing outdoors, as are the opportunities for educators to scaffold learning, curiosity and development.

Outdoor play promotes children’s physical and psychological development through physical activities and play experiences that are challenging, extend thinking and offer opportunities to assess and take appropriate risks. It is important for educators to undertake risk benefit analyses to understand when and what risky play can benefit children’s learning, outweighing the risk and minimising any unacceptable or unnecessary risks. Educators can scaffold school age children to consider the foreseeable risk of an activity of their choice, against the benefits of a stimulating play outdoor environment (Guide to the NQF).

In response to the growing body of research which identifies the health risks for children resulting from an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, the Australian Government guidelines on physical activity provide guidance on the amount of physical activity children should be engaging in. At least seven square metres per child is more than a calculation, and providing access to the natural environment is more than being outdoors. Interesting and engaging outdoor space promises endless possibilities and opportunities for children to create their own learnings, test their theories, identify and build their capabilities, use their imaginations to construct and create and work collaboratively with others, while building a respect for and valuing of the natural environment.

A topic for the next team meeting could be to consider strategies to further enhance the learning outcomes in the outdoor environment.

References

Leggett, N. & Newman, L. (2017). ‘Challenging educators’ beliefs about play in the indoor and outdoor environment.’ Australian journal of early childhood, 42 (1), pp. 24-32.

Mereweather, J. (2015). ‘Young children’s perspectives of outdoor learning spaces: What matters?’ Australian journal of early childhood, 40(1), pp. 99-108.

Robertson, J. (2011). ‘Who needs a forest?’ Rattler, 99, pp. 10-13.