More than a worm farm: Supporting children to be environmentally responsible

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

Young children have the greatest stake as citizens in the future. ~ European Panel on Sustainable Development (2010)

Viewing children as agents capable of being active participants and enacting change in their world is integral to the guiding principles of the National Quality Framework and the approved learning frameworks. Children’s rich potential as active agents of change for their environment is integral to 2018 NQS Element 3.2.3 – The service cares for the environment and supports children to become environmentally responsible. Research and NQS assessment and rating data indicate that some services can find aspects of caring for the environment, and supporting children to become environmentally responsible, challenging. This month, I step you through a number of strategies to support this quality practice.

What does ‘environmentally responsible’ mean?

Environmental responsibility builds on the important foundation of children’s care, wonder and appreciation of the environment, and fosters accountability, agency and advocacy. Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child reminds us that:

  • education should prepare children to live responsibly and peacefully in a free society
  • education should teach children to respect the natural environment.

Responsibly is not passive; it requires engagement and the potential for action. Supporting children to become environmentally responsible requires meaningful opportunities for children to engage in authentic experiences and to be active participants and decision-makers. Responsibility is, therefore, more than physical resources, such as a worm farm or a set of recycling bins. While these can be wonderful experiences for children, responsibility engages at a deeper level. For example, decision-making about maintenance of the worm farm or monitoring of the amount or type of paper going into paper recycling to understand its source.

Responsibility engages children in critical thinking, problem solving and action. It might invoke questions such as: What does this mean? What do you think? What could you/we do or change? How could you/we do it? How will you/we know it has changed?

Education FOR the environment

Associate Professor Julie Davis (2015) from Queensland University of Technology describes meaningful environmental education opportunities as more than education ‘IN’ the environment – nature education experiences in the outdoors – or education ‘ABOUT’ the environment – children engaging in the natural sciences, recycling or conservation. Education ‘FOR’ the environment is about understanding human-environment interactions and interdependence and their impact on sustainability. Environmental responsibility focuses on the child and their potential role as citizens and agents of change for sustainability.

It is important to also consider that ‘the environment’ is your service and the interconnected environment which may be beyond your doors or gates. The broader geographical, social and cultural environments in your community are fundamentally connected to your service environment. In a rural community, this may include a local water catchment, while in an urban community this could be your neighbours on other floors of the building. Providing children with experiences that allow them to make connections between these environments will enhance their understanding. For example, exploring where a service’s waste water drains or what native bird habitats are available beyond a service’s garden.

Education for sustainability

Environmental responsibility and educating FOR the environment are central to the concept of sustainability. Sustainability has been described as ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ or ‘enough for all forever’.  However, depending on your personal understanding, experiences, philosophy, values and beliefs, sustainability can be a complicated concept to define. Sustainability will have different meanings to different people.

As the environment and sustainability involve ‘big ideas’ and thinking on a scale beyond one’s usual context, it can pose intellectual and emotional challenges. This can be exacerbated when engaging with children, families and colleagues. If personal knowledge, beliefs and values are still forming, how can we confidently support and educate others?

Recognising that different individuals will have different understandings and perspectives on the environment and sustainability is a useful starting point for critical reflection.

Supporting environmental responsibility

In ‘Inspiring environmentally responsible preschool children through the implementation of the National Quality Framework’ (2017), Krista Pollock, Jane Warren and Peter Anderson from the University of Wollongong have proposed three key ways to support children to be environmentally responsible.

1. Involve children authentically

It is essential that children are considered as capable change agents. ‘Transformative pedagogies’ that value and build on children’s knowledge and experiences, and provide opportunities for them to participate in real life issues that are important and relevant to them, provides empowering opportunities for decision making and problem solving.

Educators who listen to and respect children’s ideas recognise children’s capabilities and help them develop the sense that their ideas and opinions matter. They support children to explore their world, to ask questions, to express ideas and to learn from their mistakes. When children are supported to develop decision-making skills and to make appropriate choices for their own wellbeing, they realise the choices they make may impact on others. When children are given choices and control, they begin to understand the connection between actions and consequences.

2. Collaborate with families

A ‘whole-of-setting’ approach that involves meaningful collaboration with children, families and community enhances the potential for quality practice. Welcoming, respecting and drawing on the voices, priorities and strengths of all community members will ensure practice is relevant and tailored to the service context.

Drawing on sociocultural theory, the researchers suggest encouraging families ‘to reflect on their own early childhood experiences with, and connections to, the natural environment’. Reflecting on personal influences can highlight their potential impact on children’s foundation knowledge and experience. Drawing on home experiences and culturally-valued knowledge can also build communication and connection between home and service practice. This can, in turn, provide insight, perspective, sharing and feedback on environmentally responsible actions.

3. Engage in critical reflection

Reflect on your own understanding of environmental responsibility and sustainability and how this has been informed. Reflection can enrich decision making, increase awareness of influences and bias and provide goals for continuous improvement. Supporting your own, ongoing learning journey through professional development, and accessing resources to foster a deeper understanding of sustainability, are also highly recommended.

A good starting point for reflection is to undertake a sustainability audit to help you assess your service’s current practices and contribute to a Quality Improvement Plan. Cool Australia has a number of resources, which can be found through a search under the keyword ‘audit’

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We hope this month’s blog has given you some starting points for your own learning journey. Please access the many resources on the new ACECQA website and those recommended below. We would also love to hear about your own experiences supporting children to be environmentally responsible. What have been your challenges? What are your successes? How have children been agents of change? I encourage you to leave a comment or share your story below.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Guide to the National Quality Framework

ACECQA – Guide to the NQF reference list – Quality Area 3: Physical Environment

ACECQA – We Hear You – Sustainability blogs

Cool Australia – Educator and student resources

Davis, J. (ed.) (2015) Young Children and the Environment: Early Education for Sustainability (2nd ed.), Cambridge University Press, London.

Early Childhood Australia – Talking about practice: Embedding sustainable practices, NQS PLP eNewsletter (67).

Pollock, K., Warren, J. & Anderson, P. (2017) ‘Inspiring environmentally responsible preschool children through the implementation of the National Quality Framework: Uncovering what lies beneath theory and practice’, AJEC, 42(2), pp. 12-19.

Stories from the sector: Changes to the National Quality Framework

We Hear You in name and nature! We know the children’s education and care sector is always keen to hear from other educators about their practice, how they work on continuous quality improvement and the way they manage change. This month we talk to four educators about how they are responding to the changes to the National Quality Framework (NQF) at their services.

Tracy Cripps and the children from Bees Creek OSHC and Vacation Care
Tracy Cripps and the children from Bees Creek OSHC and Vacation Care
Su Garrett, Explore and Develop Annandale

As the approved provider and director/nominated supervisor at Explore and Develop Annandale in NSW, Su Garrett is passionate about creating an environment where the needs and development of each child is a priority and educators are valued as central to children’s learning. For Su, the changes to the NQF present an opportunity to reflect on programs and refine the specialty areas of her practice.

Information and resources

“The first thing we have done to familiarise ourselves with the NQF changes is to access the resources, information sheets and FAQs available on the ACECQA website and Facebook page. One resource we have found particularly interesting was the comparison between the current and revised NQS. We used this while looking at our Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) and considered how the current goals align with the changes.”

Revised National Quality Standard (NQS)

“Our educational leader has been participating in networking meetings that have focused on the NQF changes, in particular highlighting key wording changes in elements and standards in the revised NQS.

“As a team, we have started to critically reflect on a number of questions and think about whether we really doing and what we should be doing. For example, we have closely looked at the changes to the element relating to critical reflection because the new wording speaks to critical reflection driving the program. We have also thought about how we articulate this and trying to make it more explicit.”

Quality Improvement Plan (QIP)

“It has been a little bit tricky to keep working on the current QIP while also looking at what we might want to focus on as we reflect on how we are meeting the revised standards. We definitely find the revised NQS easier to read and easier for educators to engage with it, for example Quality Area 2 is just health and safety, which is simpler and easier to understand and think through with the concept.”

Practice and reflection

“We have three specialty areas that we are very passionate about: critical reflection (as I have already mentioned), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, and sustainability. We are looking at the NQF changes and thinking about what has changed in relation to sustainability and cultural competence and what this means for our practice.”

Martina Hribar, All Areas Family Day Care

Martina Hribar, one of the managers and the educational leader at All Areas Family Day Care in NSW, is a keen advocate for high quality programs and practice that are respectful and responsive to the unique needs of children and their families. The changes to the NQF have allowed Martina and the other educators at her service a chance to streamline processes and establish collaborative networks.

Support and guidance

“We started our preparations for the NQF changes by linking with ACECQA about the changes to the National Quality Framework. We feel it’s good to reach out for extra support and guidance. We have followed this up with some internal meetings to answer any questions and to give educators a copy of the changes.”

Policies, forms and reports

“One of the first things we did was to head to the ACECQA website and get all the information about regulatory changes and think about what policies, forms and processes needed to be updated. One of the changes we have made is to our educator reports that support officers fill in when they conduct service visits. We have included information that sets out the service expectations, which they sign off once they have read and understood the changes. The report has been updated to reflect the language of the Early Years Learning Framework and concepts such as play-based learning – we find this helps to keep the language more consistent.”

Streamlining processes

“We have also taken this as an opportunity to look at streamlining our processes, including developing a new webpage with both an educator and a parent portal. This means that all educators have access to information – we receive a report that details who has accessed the portal. We find this really helpful as we can follow up with anyone who hasn’t logged in via email.”

Collaborative networks

“Lately, we have established a partnership with Miller TAFE. This is a really exciting collaborative network as they hold discussions to help unpack the Framework for School Age Care, which is relevant for the educators at our service who cater for school age care.”

Lisa Reidy, Uniting Frederick Street Preschool

Uniting Frederick Street Preschool’s director/nominated supervisor, Lisa Reidy, heads a team of educators who are passionate about creating a range of experiences and learning opportunities for children that encourage and foster investigation and imagination. At her service, the changes have opened up a space to discuss and reflect on planning and practice.  

Discussion and exchange

“Uniting is hosting a practice forum in October to discuss the NQF changes. I will be attending this forum along with 60 service directors and coordinators across our NSW and ACT network, where ACECQA Deputy National Education Leader, Perry Campbell, will be speaking. We will then network and think tank each quality area as a way of exchanging ideas about implementing change and continuing to enhance practice across our services. I plan to take these ideas back to my team at our next staff meeting and plan what our next steps will be as a group. Our main focus will be comparing the current and revised NQS and what this means at a service level.”

Tracy Cripps, Bees Creek OSHC and Vacation Care 

Director/nominated supervisor of Bees Creek OSHC and Vacation Care in the Northern Territory, Tracy Cripps, thrives on the philosophy, values and programs of her service where children are encouraged to build relationships and explore and extend interests and hobbies in an outside school hours context. For Tracy, the October 2017 changes have resulted in effective and active participation.

Embedded and effective change

“Our first thought about the key changes to notifications, incidents and complaints was we needed to make them a priority. We knew it was vital to embed them into our service before 1 October and to rethink the traditional method of ‘informing’ educators at team meetings (as it would no longer be the most effective method). I felt our educators need to not only be informed about the changes, but also know how they apply to our practice and where to find them in our guidance and policies.”

Active participation

“After some brainstorming with our educators, we agreed educators would create a before and after table/fact sheet showing the key changes to notifications, incidents and complaints and identify where our policies will be changed specific to our service – for example, our child safe environments policy and OHS Handbook. We wanted this to be a point of reference available in an accessible format to both families and educators. For me, when educators are active participants they are able to connect, retain and apply the information in daily practice.”

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We hope you have found these examples of interest and they have sparked some ideas to support your own service.

What will your first or next step be?

Some starting points might include:

  • discussing the changes at your next team meeting
  • reviewing your service’s Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) and considering what might be relevant for future quality improvement goals
  • unpacking what might need to change in your service as a result of the changes
  • reviewing the new Guide to the National Quality Framework and other information sheets and resources.

For more information on the changes to the NQF, head to the ACECQA website.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – NQS Knowledge game – The Quest for Quality

We Hear You – Leaders as agents of change

We Hear You – Leading through change

Failing services is failing to understand – the emphasis is on continuous quality improvement

we-hear-you-blog-karen-curtisAustralian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) Chief Executive Officer Karen Curtis addresses the importance of continuous quality improvement under the National Quality Framework (NQF).

One of the most important aspects of our system of assessing and rating the quality of education and care services is its emphasis on continuous improvement. This is deeply embedded within the NQF, starting with the requirement for all services to have a Quality Improvement Plan in place.

ACECQA’s latest published Snapshot, based on data as at 30 September 2016, shows that, of the 15,429 services approved to operate under the NQF, 83% have been assessed and rated, with 71% rated at Meeting the National Quality Standard (NQS) or above.

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As you can see from the information above, most jurisdictions have assessed and rated more than 80% of services in their state or territory and the focus for some, particularly those that have assessed and rated more than 90% of services, is increasingly upon reassessing services.

When state and territory regulatory authorities undertake quality assessment, the goal is to drive the quality improvement of services, improve outcomes for children and make meaningful information available to families and communities.

To make the best use of available resources, regulatory authorities take a responsive, risk-based approach, focussing on services in need of quality improvement. This typically results in more frequent assessments of services that do not meet the NQS, as well as potential reassessments of services that have experienced significant changes or adverse events. As at 30 September 2016, a total of 1332 reassessments had taken place. Almost two thirds of these resulted in a higher overall rating being given, with the most common improvement being services moving from Working Towards NQS to Meeting NQS.

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The NQS is made up of a series of standards and elements and it is at the element level where we get a comprehensive picture of quality improvement. To date, 75% of reassessments have resulted in a higher number of elements being assessed as met. On around 100 occasions there has been a very notable improvement in performance, with 21 or more elements on aggregate moving from being assessed as not met to met.

In contrast, just over 10% of reassessments have resulted in a lower number of elements being assessed as met. On seven occasions, there have been marked deteriorations in performance, with 21 or more elements on aggregate moving from being assessed as met to not met.

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More than half of reassessments have resulted in between one to 10 elements on aggregate moving from being assessed as not met to being assessed as met. My previous article, which looked more closely at the nature and diversity of the Working Towards NQS rating, is relevant to this, in particular the high proportion of services that are rated at Working Towards NQS due to not meeting a low number of elements.

When looking at changes in performance at reassessment, it is also informative to examine individual elements to see which are most and least likely to exhibit improved performance. We can do this by looking at the number of times an individual element has changed from:

  • not met to met
  • met to not met, or
  • continued to be assessed as not met.

Of  the 10 elements most likely to exhibit improved performance at reassessment, two each are from standards 5.1, 6.2 and 7.1:

  • Element 5.1.2 (children’s interactions with educators)
  • Element 5.1.3 (support for children to feel secure, confident and included)
  • Element 6.2.1 (recognition of families’ expertise and shared decision making with families)
  • Element 6.2.2 (availability of current information about community services and resources to support families)
  • Element 7.1.2 (comprehensive staff induction)
  • Element 7.1.3 (continuity of educators and co-ordinators)

At the other end of the spectrum, of the 10 elements least likely to exhibit improved performance at reassessment, three are from Standard 2.1, and two each are from standards 2.3 and 7.3:

  • Element 2.1.1 (support for children’s health needs)
  • Element 2.1.3 (effective hygiene practices)
  • Element 2.1.4 (infectious disease control and management of injuries and illnesses)
  • Element 2.3.2 (protection of children from harm and hazard)
  • Element 2.3.3 (incident and emergency planning and management)
  • Element 7.3.1 (storage, maintenance and availability of records and information)
  • Element 7.3.5 (effectively documented policies and procedures)

Unsurprisingly, in the list of the 10 elements most likely to continue to be assessed as not met are five of the most challenging elements of the NQS:

  • Element 1.2.1 (ongoing cycle of planning, documenting and evaluation)
  • Element 1.2.3 (critical reflection)
  • Element 3.3.1 (sustainable practices)
  • Element 3.3.2 (environmental responsibility)
  • Element 7.2.2 (staff evaluation and individual performance development plans)

Also included in the list of the 10 elements most likely to continue to be assessed as not met are two of the elements from Standard 1.1:

  • Element 1.1.3 (program maximised opportunities for children’s learning)
  • Element 1.1.4 (availability of children’s documentation to families)

Reflecting upon these elements and considering why they appear in the respective lists will help prioritise and direct future quality improvement efforts. For example, it may be that efforts to improve performance against some standards need to be more intense, targeted and prolonged.

I also want to highlight that the consistent picture over the last four years is that Quality Area 1: Educational program and practice is the most challenging of the seven quality areas, with Standard 1.2 (focused, active and reflective educators and co-ordinators) and Standard 1.1 (curriculum enhances each child’s learning and development) the most challenging of the 18 standards, and Element 1.2.3 (critical reflection) and Element 1.2.1 (ongoing cycle of planning, documenting and evaluation) the most challenging of the 58 elements. Devoting dedicated time to discussing, reflecting on and prioritising aspects for improvement around the educational program and practice, particularly reviewing the feedback received as part of the assessment and rating process, will provide a solid foundation for continuous quality improvement efforts.

In my final blog post next month, I look forward to sharing with you my reflections on the last five years, a period of momentous change for our sector.

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

Using digital touch technologies to support children’s learning

1519 Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQAACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, explores education in a digital world.

Digital touch technologies such as tablets and smartphones have become an integral part of our daily lives. As educators we are sometimes concerned about children’s use of technology and the effects it may have. Educators need to be mindful that technology is a tool and the implications for children will depend on how we use it.

Although excessive or inappropriate use of digital touch technologies can have a negative impact, they also offer many opportunities for extending learning and development. When used effectively and appropriately, children’s learning and development can be enhanced by it.

Outcome 4 of the Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care is that children are confident and involved learners, including that they resource their own learning by connecting with people, places, technologies and natural materials. Outcome 5 of the frameworks promotes support for children to become effective communicators. This includes guiding children to express ideas and make meaning using a range of media, and supporting them to use information and communication technologies to access information, investigate ideas and represent their thinking.

When providing opportunities for children to interact with digital touch technologies there are many points to consider, such as time spent using technology, privacy, appropriateness of content and how the use of technology may be incorporated into the educational program. Given this, it is important that educators are not only familiar with the use of technologies, but also critical in how they support children to use them.

Using digital touch technologies in your program is optional, and you need to think about the best way to use these technologies to support each child’s educational program. Although many educators are more familiar with traditional pedagogical practices it is important to remember that introducing touch technologies does not mean replacing our current pedagogy, rather using them as a tool to support our current work with children.

Digital touch technologies can be used with a range of other teaching strategies. For example, if an educator is promoting children’s understanding of sustainable practices, they might sing a relevant song, read a story which links to an area of sustainability, and then use the camera application (app) with children to identify and capture images of sustainable practice or issues in the community. The educator might further engage children’s learning with technology by using the images to create a digital story with the children, using voice recording apps to capture children’s voices and ideas. There are many possibilities which can be explored and many digital touch technology apps to choose from.

Understanding how different apps operate helps educators to choose which ones best support different areas of pedagogy.  In 2012 Dr Kristy Goodwin and Dr Kate Highfield sorted apps into three broad categories based on the actions the user can take, and the amount of cognitive investment required by children to use them. The categories are Instructive, Manipulable and Constructive.

Instructive apps align with rote learning approaches and require a low level of cognitive investment. They operate on a drill and skill principle, requiring children to achieve a specific goal, and they usually offers extrinsic rewards. Many of these apps promote repetition learning of basic skills and knowledge, and there is limited opportunity for creativity. The majority of marketed educational apps are Instructive apps.

Manipulable apps provide guided learning through structure, yet there are possibilities for children to make choices, use problem solving skills and explore their options. They allow children to manipulate and experiment by testing the success of their ideas. Goodwin refers to these as cause and effect type apps.

Constructive apps are designed for creative expression. They are open-ended and allow children to use different literacies, for example music, images, video, audio and drawing tools, to explore their ideas and create their own work. These apps require a high cognitive investment by the child and there is usually no reward other than the finished product.

Educators need to remain critically reflective and consider the value of the apps being used to support learning and development. Although Instructive apps can be helpful to memorise concepts and skills they are comparable to worksheets so educators should balance their use, and consider what apps might better support their current pedagogical practices with children.

There are many resources to support educators’ work using digital touch technologies with children, including:

  • Every Chance to Learn. In these YouTube videos, Dr Kristy Goodwin explains Instructive, Manipulable and Constructive apps and provides real app examples.

Our Assessment and Rating Journey

This Justeene-McKnight-picweek on We Hear You, Justeene McKnight, Nominated Supervisor Education and Care Services at Campbelltown City Council, tells us about Amarina Early Learning Centre’s recent assessment and rating journey. 

Before the assessment and rating visit

On receipt of our letter requesting the submission of the Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), we were nervous. However, as we thought about the process and the standards, we realised we didn’t need to be.

The more knowledge and information we gained about the process, the more we realised that we were already achieving many of the elements in each of the seven quality areas and we would just need to demonstrate this to the assessor.

We had been working hard to ensure many of our practices were embedded in our daily program and we needed to reflect this in our QIP. We held regular discussions during team meetings by making the assessment and rating process a static agenda item.

We used journals to assist us to reflect on how we believed we met each National Quality Standard within our service as a team. We discussed information such as what would an assessor be able to see, feel and hear within our service. Areas that we felt needed improvement were then included within the Quality Improvement Plan.

Families also had regular opportunities to share ideas and feedback through our monthly surveys and discussions at our flexible parent meeting. Each child regularly had the opportunity, both individually and in group discussions, to express their opinions, ideas and views about the service, how it made them feel and about the relationships that they had developed at the centre.

The children’s ideas and opinions were then included in the QIP as part of our strengths and areas for improvements. We also placed the plan in the foyer so families could track our ongoing improvement and provide feedback on any areas they would like us to focus on.

The visit

As soon as the assessor arrived, she made all the educators feel at ease. It was obvious through our conversations with the assessor that she knew our service philosophy and had spent some time researching to fully understand our beliefs and practices.

This allowed us to feel that the assessor, and the assessment process, was focused on ensuring our service had the opportunity to be unique and respond to our individual children, family and community needs. The assessor spent time discussing our current community needs and what strategies we utilise to support not only the children within our service, but the families and the surrounding community also.

She looked at our environment indoors and outdoors and asked questions as to why certain things were the way they were. For example, we discussed how we had created a kitchen in the 0-3 year room out of a recycled TV unit, as part of our sustainability management plan.

This opportunity to discuss our environment allowed the assessor to understand our practices, as well as the vision and philosophy of the service and organisation. She spent time interacting with the children and held several discussions with staff.

During the visit, we felt that we had the opportunity to showcase our service and point out what we feel we do well, what we would like to spend time working on and how we implemented our philosophy for the best interest of all stakeholders.

At the end of the visit, we had adequate time with the assessor to go through the report and a further opportunity to show or demonstrate any other information or evidence to support our assessment visit.

Post visit

When we received the draft report, we found it very useful to reflect on the assessment and rating process, as well as our practices within the service. The assessor provided feedback that we were able to incorporate into our QIP to ensure that we can continue to improve our practices and our service delivery.

Regular consultation with children has now become embedded into the practice at Amarina Early Learning Centre. This provides them the opportunity to have their voices heard and integrate their ideas and opinions into the philosophy and every day practices at the service.

The report also validated that the service’s philosophy was evident within our everyday practice and that what we had hoped to be evident to the assessor had been observed.

The Excellent rating application

Once our final assessment and rating report was received confirming our rating of Exceeding, we began gathering evidence to apply for the Excellent rating. It provided an unbelievable opportunity to reflect on our position within the community, as well as our practices within the service.

The application process was thorough and required us to gather examples of how we demonstrated excellence in three separate criteria, and that we had a clear vision for what we wanted to achieve within the service, the community and within the education and care services sector in the future.

As a team, we spent our time ensuring the application was the best it could be and included supportive attachments. The day that we were notified of our Excellent rating was rewarding – not only for the organisation and the staff members, but also for the families and the community. It validated that their contributions to our service were valued and noticed not only by the service and the organisation, but also by ACECQA.

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The changing face of family day care

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This week is National Family Day Care Week. To recognise the work family day care educators and providers do for children across Australia, Family Day Care Australia has prepared this blog on their experience of the different ways family day care meets the needs of families, including a service that is helping children with autism.

Family day care has always prided itself on offering unique learning environments and experiences, but the sector has come a long way since the initial pilot program was launched in Australia 43 years ago.

Then, the much smaller sector was unregulated, and thought of as a cheaper and less formal form of child care run by ‘day care mums’ or ‘backyard babysitters’.

Now, family day care has cemented itself as a high-quality form of early childhood education and care provided by qualified, professional educators.

With more than 142,400 children enrolled across Australia, family day care now accounts for 13 per cent* of the entire early childhood sector.

Numbers have jumped 15 per cent in 12 months, making family day care the fastest growing form of child care in the country.

It is the very nature of family day care – being run by individual educators in their homes to the meet the needs of individual children – that contributes to this increasing popularity.

Family Day Care Australia’s Sector Support team has noticed a growing number of new, innovative services popping up – particularly specialising in the areas of multiculturalism and sustainability.

Whether it is through Indigenous programs, remote locations or a holistic, back to nature approach, family day care services are offering a unique form of early childhood education and care.

It is this personal touch that allows family day care services to meet the extremely diverse needs of modern Australian families.

One ground-breaking example of a family day care service that is targeted to a specific need in the community opened last month in Harrington Park, Sydney.

Registered with Camden Family Day Care, educator Dennys Martinez has developed a unique family day care service that is very close to his heart.

Autism Family First Family Day Care is Australia’s first ever family day care service run specifically for children with autism.

The idea was born out of the Martinez family’s own personal experience with autism as Dennys and his wife Maria’s two children, Maya, 7, and Eric, 5, were both diagnosed with the disorder.

As a result, the family travelled to the United States to learn about different therapies to help with their children’s development and discovered the home-based, child-centred “Son-Rise” program, developed by parents for parents with a focus on sensory integration and relationship-based play.

Dennys returned to Australia with a desire to empower other parents with skills and knowledge to support their children who have autism in the long term.

“I ran some workshops but had lot of parents saying to me ‘I don’t know where to take my kids’ as there were only three autism specific early learning and care centres in NSW,” he said.

Dennys said he discovered a real need for autism specific care and found family day care to be the ideal environment.

“The numbers are small, it is in a familiar, home-based setting and the ages go up to 12. But the fact that it is about assisting children in their own way is what is most important because no one child is the same,” he said.

“All children need to find a place where they are understood and can be nurtured and not be left behind so I created this care to allow children on the spectrum to grow and gain the skills they need in life.”

There are structured activities such as martial arts, yoga, music and art, with help from volunteer therapists.

Children and their families have a transition period to adjust to regularly attending family day care and Dennys has even developed a children’s book called ‘Jack & Skye Go to Family Day Care’ to help children with autism understand the process and reduce their anxiety.

The service also offers a lot of support for families. The website has a forum for parents to login and share ideas, tips, events and different therapies or research.

“The parents are all very grateful because I understand what they are going through and they can leave their child with me knowing it is a place they will be assisted and well cared for,” Dennys said.

Dennys hopes other educators will be inspired to develop family day care services that are targeted to meet specific needs within the community.

“This model can be replicated and I would love for other areas and states to embrace a similar model – not necessarily for autism, but it could be for any other special needs.”

Find out more about National Family Day Care Week.

(*Source: The Department of Education (formerly known as DEEWR) Child Care and Early Learning Summary March 2013).