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Advocacy, Childhood, Pedagogy, Professionalism


This week is photo week at my daughters preschool. Getting the little envelope home and reading the instructions reminded me of the organisation involved during photo week.

I remember how difficult it is to keep everyone “clean” until their photo is taken.

I remember the parents who hung around longer, giving photo taking directions to the photographer.

I remember the children who cried because they didn’t want their photograph taken. 

I remember the projects that were interrupted for the week. 

I remember the challenge of getting everyone in the group photograph (including staff!). 

It sounds as though I don’t have many positive memories of photo week. Well, that’s almost true. After the first few years of the above torture, we secured a photographer who loved being in our service, who understood that the children would rather be playing and accommodated that, who embraced the fact that we were all a little imperfect – with bare feet and dirt on our faces. He took time to show the children how the camera worked, answered their endless questions.

But despite his awesome-ness, it was still an interruption to PLAY! 

No matter how hard he worked to keep it fun, lighthearted and enjoyable (it mostly was!) it was still not part of our normal life (which pretty much equated to playing). Now maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Sometimes something new or different can provide a new experience or insight that transfers over into the children’s play, the exposure to a different way of doing or being, inspiring conversations, wonder and playful unpacking of ideas. 

The point of writing this is not to suggest that we don’t have photo week (after all, as someone who takes >100 photos a day, I am a big believer in documenting life and making memories through a lens) but I think it is something we need to give more thought to. In the words of the amazing Lisa Murphy (coming to Australia for Inspired EC in February by the way!): What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who are you doing it for?  


One year, we were unable to get our beloved photographer out and had to use a different company. We went with a big, well-known company and were largely disappointed. The process was cold, clinical and it showed in the photographs. There was no playfulness with the children and it simply was a production line. If that was the experience we had on a regular basis, I am almost certain we would have ditched the concept altogether!

I mentioned all of the things that I remembered earlier and noted that they were largely negative. I want to end on a positive. 

T was about 5 years old and had been diagnosed with Autism. She was a loving, playful child, but the idea of sitting down to have her photograph taken (by a relative stranger no less) was too much for her. At mum’s request, the photographer tried. But he quickly realised that she was uncomfortable and was not going to “co-operate”. He asked me if it would be okay to let her have a play outside and see if he could catch a candid shot. He spent over half an hour with her, building a rapport with her as she climbed up and down the slide. And just like that, she sat at the top of the slide, gave him a big grin and he captured the perfect memory of her at preschool. It was so fitting. And when her mum saw the photograph, she cried. It was the first photo she had of her smiling directly at the camera. 

As I said before, perhaps if you have a great photographer like we had, you will reflect on the process and decide that while it does interrupt the normal flow of play, the positives (for children, for families and for educators) were worth it. But perhaps, if your photo day/week feels like a production line, a bit like the “other” company we had to use one year, then you might decide that it just isn’t worth it.
The important thing is that we think about it.

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Pedagogy, Professionalism



“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” 


Famous words from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and words that I have been pondering recently.


Last week I had the privilege of listening to the brilliant Peter Gray speak about his research on how children learn. During the talk he shared stories of the Sudbury Valley School and one thing that stood out for me was that they do not use the name “teachers”. For some reason this stuck in mind and I have been thinking about it for the last week. I looked up the Sudbury Valley School and found their explanation for this, when asked the question “do you have teachers?” (which was as Peter had said, however didn’t rely on me remembering it word for word!):

We have adults. They’re called “staff members” and they do sometimes teach, as do many of the kids, but their main purpose is to be here as resources, as people who help make sure the school is running properly, and as role models for what it’s like to be a grownup. Hopefully we’re okay at being grownups.


I can’t get this out of my head and last night I began thinking about the various names in early education and care. 

Children or Kids?


I have been known to refer to children as “kids” and have been chided by others who have stated that they are not, in fact, baby goats and that the term is disrespectful. A quick google search revealed that the slang or informal use of the word kid/kids to describe children may have begun in the 16th Century, which I found quite interesting. There were also various opinions on why the term is offensive, with some suggesting that is sounds hierarchical or reminded them of goats.

Well, I am indeed aware that children are not baby goats and while my use of the word kids is not at all derogatory or suggestive that they may well be goats, I do now find that I am correcting myself whenever I say “kids”. Why? Does it make a difference to the way I feel about them or the way I interact with them or to my role as an advocate for children?

Early Education and Care, Child Care, Day Care, Early Learning, Preschool

There are so many names used for what the service that we provide – is any one better than the others? Is there even a difference?

When I started working at a service it had a very long name which included “Community Preschool and Child Care Centre”. When I questioned the use of both “preschool” and “child care” it was explained that the service had previously been a “preschool” (in NSW – operates school terms, 9am – 3pm for children 3-6years) Over time, the hours had been extended and the starting age lowered, qualifying the service for CCB Subsidy, hence the addition of “child care centre.” The service has since gone on to have a name change which now better reflects the service it provides and is less of a mouthful! But, I often find myself wondering how we came to use so many different terms and whether they suggest to parents that we offer different things. Does a parent read the names and think “hmm, that one only offers day-care, while this one over here offers early learning”?

Would some consistency in naming help families and the community to value more highly, what it is that we do? And if so, how do we achieve that consistency?


Teachers and Educators

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the “teachers” at Sudbury Valley School are known as adults. In early childhood settings we primarily use the terms educators or teachers. Are these one and the same? Is the only distinguishing feature a university degree and a wage difference? Or is there more to it than that?

In my experience as what is known as an “educator” (who at that point in time was referred to as a “child care worker”) who then became a “teacher” – I experienced no real difference in my practice, in my work with children. I also didn’t feel, in either role, that it was my role to “teach” or “impart my wisdom” onto children, but that I was a facilitator – someone to walk alongside them as they made discoveries about the word, someone to listen to their questions and support them to unpack their hypotheses. In fact, I was also the learner – I was learning about the children and how their brains worked!

The Oxford Dictionary defines a teacher as “A person who teaches, especially in a school.” Interestingly, they define an educator as “A person who provides instruction or education; a teacher.”

Does the term teacher suggest a hierarchy? Is that hierarchy warranted? Do we value children as teachers also? Do we value parents or community members as teachers? If we were to not use the term “teacher” does it in any way de-value our professionalism?


Little Flippity-Jibbets Sunshine and Rainbows

Perhaps it’s just me, but the cutesey-fying (not a word… but should be!) of service names has always driven me crazy. I have always felt that it promotes an inferior image of the child – that instead of an image of capable contributors to society, it suggests cute, squishy playthings! But now, as I write this post, I find myself reflecting on whether this is fair. Perhaps this is no different to me using the term “kids”? This is something I need to think more on and would love to hear your thoughts on this.

One thing I do not need to think more on, as I know I absolutely will not change my mind, is the intentional misspelling in service names. E.G. Kute Kids or Krazy Kidz (P.S – These exact names are made up, however the use of the K instead of the C or a Z instead of an S is completely factual!) If we wish to be taken seriously as an education and care service, this is just a huge no-no.

 

So why does any of this matter?

Well, perhaps it does and perhaps it doesn’t. Who does it matter to? Why does it matter? Do the names we use make suggestions about the type of service we provide or our image of the child? Do they make a statement about who we are and what we believe or value?

Lots to think about… what are your thoughts?


Have you got a set of our STEM cards yet?

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Pedagogy, Professionalism

It was a sunny, Winter morning and the children were playing outdoors. A group of children had invented their own game with sticks and soccer balls, while others painted underneath the trees. I stood and surveyed the space for a few moments, then got the feeling that I should be doing something, should be interacting with the children. I spied three children busily “cooking” in the sandpit and thought I would join them, perhaps scaffold their play. Within moments of sitting down and opening my mouth it became crystal clear that my “interaction” was not wanted. The children glared at me and began gathering up their cooking things before moving to another area of the playground.

It hit me instantly. I had no business pushing myself into their play – it was theirs. I started thinking about what I had been saying to my educators for many years, how I had been telling that they needed to be playing with the children, not standing back watching. Was I wrong? How would I backtrack from this?


This story is one that I tell during training sessions and even though I cringe while telling it, I feel that it is an important story to tell. Despite my good intentions to be involved in the children’s play, to be an active educator, rather than standing off to the side inspecting my nail polish or chatting to my colleagues about weekend plans, I had made quite a big error of judgement.
Over the years that have passed I have had a lot of time to reflect on my actions that day. How did it go so wrong? Why did the children react in the way that they did? How could I have done things differently? 


How did it go so wrong?
Perhaps the first thing to note was that I wasn’t looking for a cue or an invitation to join the play, instead I just plopped down beside the children. To put this in perspective: I am sitting in a restaurant with some friends eating lunch.  A colleague spots me and decides to sit in the empty chair at the table. Although I like this person, my friends and I are in the middle of a conversation and the interruption brings a halt to it. This is exactly what I did to these children. While they knew me, and liked me (let’s hope!) and I wasn’t trying to interfere with their play, they were in the middle of something that I wasn’t a part of and I brought a halt to their play.


Why did the children react in the way that they did?


Obviously, the children felt that I had intruded on their play. Thankfully for me, their reaction manifested in a relatively positively way – there was no kicking or screaming, they simply moved their play elsewhere, somewhere that I was not.
Peter Gray speaks of the result of adult interference stating, Attentive adults can ruin games even if they don’t intend to intervene. Children perceive them as potential enforcers of safety, solvers of conflicts, and audiences for whining; and this perception invites the children to act unsafely, to squabble, and to whine. Play requires self-control, and the too-obvious presence of adults can lead children to relinquish their self-control.”
While the children in my instance may not have felt that I was coming to enforce safety or solve perceived conflict, I was still an unwelcome intruder in their play space.


What could I have done differently?


Watch. For as much as I once nagged my educators to play and interact and be involved, this experience showed me that sometimes you really are better to just sit back and watch. Watching doesn’t mean chatting about your plans for dinner with a colleague or glancing at your watch every two minutes to check how long until your lunch break. Watching is about being present. It is about taking time to notice the little things about children’s play – their body language, the way they communicate with their peers, the tone of their voice, the themes in their play. When you take the time to notice the little things, you open yourself up to seeing play in a different way. You also become more aware of the cues that a child or group of children may want or need you to become involved.Listen. Often if a child wants you to be a part of their play or needs something from you, they will ask. When we are present for children, they come to know that even though we are not asking them about their game or directing their play, we are available, should they need us.


How will I know if I am interacting or interfering?


One of the most important things we can do in our work with children is to spend time getting to know the children in our care. When we know our children on a deep level, we begin to understand their body language, their tone of voice and their cues that say “hey, I need you!”

When we interact with children we engage with children, we are playful. When we interfere with children’s play, we tend to take over, to enforce rules and organise the play.
Children deserve opportunities to play. Peter Gray defined children’s play as:
  1. Self-chosen and self-directed; players are always free to quit
  2. Play is an activity in which means are more valued than ends
  3. Play is guided by mental rules
  4. Play is non-literal, imaginative, marked off in some way from reality
  5. Play involves an active, alert, but non-stressed frame of mind.
When we look at those key elements of play, it is easy to see that adults are not a huge part of this process. While we may provide a basic environment, resources and support for play, our well-intentioned attempts to involve ourselves in play could in fact be interfering with the very nature of play.


References:
  • Gray, P. (2009) How to Ruin Children’s Play: Supervise, Praise, Intervene: How to enjoy, not destroy, children’s play, psychologytoday.com (retrieved 7th June, 2017)
  • Gray, P. (2008) The Value of Play I: The Definition of Play Gives Insights psychologytoday.com (retrieved 7th June, 2017)

We originally wrote this article to accompany a workshop that Tash presented at the ECTA Conference. If you would like training on this topic for your team, please get in touch!

If you love the work of Peter Gray as much as we do, join us in Melbourne and Wyong for events this October!  We also stock Peter’s book FREE TO LEARN in our online store!

 

 

 

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Well, it’s that time of year. Christmas is just around the corner and the craft projects are being shared left, right and centre on Pinterest and Facebook and being touted as “art experiences”. Of course, as they usually do, the painted handprints made into Christmas trees and paper plate snowmen have sparked heated debate amongst educators. Yet, once again, I lament that it seems for every educator who is frustrated by these “product based” crafts, there are several others defending it. Why?

I think for some these crafts are cute. They are something that “looks like something”, something that will be fussed over by the families. The most common responses to the challenging of these crafts are that “it’s just a bit of fun” or “the children love them” or “the families expect them.”  Recently though, I have heard a justification for these crafts that made me stop and scratch my head. 

“But it is a process. The children have to follow a process to be able to complete the craft” 

Hmmm… Yes, technically the children are following a process to complete these crafts, but when it comes to creativity – I just don’t think this hits the mark. Mary Ann Kohl (author of  Preschool Art—It’s the Process, not the Product, among other books) says “In children, creativity develops from their experiences with the process, rather than concern for the finished product.” 

The photograph above is what I found on our drawing table today. My 3.5year old has recently become obsessed with cutting and folding and twisting paper. Walking into the room and seeing this today, I was immediately taken back to my early days working in long day care. I remember the constant sighs and frustration of educators and the subsequent comments to the children: “you are wasting the paper!” Why is drawing or painting on paper seen as valuable and cutting or scrunching up paper is not? I could have easily looked at this scene and thought about the “wasted paper”, but her exploration of the properties of the paper, of manipulating it to fold and scrunch, are just as meaningful as if she had drawn on each sheet. The same can be said for sticky tape. How often have you seen a preschooler go nuts with the tape dispenser, taping anything and everything, layering piece over piece. It would be easy to see that as wasteful of materials, but we need to stop and look at the creative process. What is the child exploring? What skills are developing? How are they expressing ideas? 

Coming back to the Christmas craft issue. For me – I am not a fan of pre-determined, adult led craft activities. I would much prefer to provide children with a range of art materials, time and space every single day and if they’re inclined to make something “Christmas-y” then so be it. Sure, add some glitter or ribbon or something “festive”, but otherwise – leave it to the child. And… if you simply MUST do Christmas craft, for whatever reason, just call it what it is. It is craft. It is not art, it is not about process, it is not about creativity or exploration. Sure, it’s all just a “little fun” and it’s “cute” – but don’t children deserve more than that? Aren’t they more capable than following an adult designed activity? 

Embrace the process. It might not always look pretty, it might not always be what we imagine it will be, but you can guarantee it will be authentic. 

Nicole Halton


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Our “Reflections on Practice” digital download on Process vs Product might be just what you need to spark some professional thinking and discussion! Click to find out more
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Yesterday, my children found a bird egg in the backyard. It wasn’t cracked or broken and they worried that it may have fallen from a nest and have a baby bird inside. Lots of conversation about eggs and birds and nests ensued. This is what I love about children – these natural opportunities to learn arise and they just run with them. This is why I work in the Early Childhood Profession – I love the discussions with children, the insights into their thinking, hearing them make sense of their world. 

When I was younger (and even now!) I didn’t have that “maternal” instinct that a lot of my friends had. In high school I had absolutely zero interest in dong the child studies course that so many of my friends chose because “kids are cute!” I don’t see chubby babies in prams and have the overwhelming urge to reach in and gush and goo over them. I didn’t even really choose to study early childhood.

After meeting my now husband in my final year of school, I didn’t quite “apply myself” as I should have and subsequently, my ideas of studying psychology were put on the back burner. It was my Dad who suggested doing a child care course and although I thought he was mad, for whatever reason, I decided to give it a go. 

I arrived on the first day to be greeted by twenty women/young ladies who all seemed to have that maternal/kids are cute vibe. As they talked about always “loving being with kids” I began to wonder if I was in the wrong place. 

On day two or three we began talking briefly about theorists and it was almost like I had been struck by lightning. THIS. This was what fascinated me. I quickly discovered that talking about how children learn, unpacking the intricacies of their play and their connections with others, this was the stuff that drew me in. 

Over the years I have realised that I do in fact love kids, I have formed deep connections with so many children in my care and have even gone on to have three of my own. But I am not (nor will I ever be) that bubbly, gushing “kids are soooo cute” kind of educator, or person. There is nothing wrong with being that person if that’s who you genuinely are, but I think that many educators feel like that’s who they should be. That they need to perfect the sing-song voice and live up to this ideal of what a teacher should be.

Over the years I have realised that it is okay not to think children are cute (or at least… not just cute). Put perfectly on a podcast (ep 0214) I listened to recently, Heather Bernt-Wenig said “see what’s happening behind the cuteness”. This really sums up what working in ECE is all about for me. It’s looking deeper, knowing more, unpacking play and seeing more than just “look how cute they are!”  

​Moments like those at the start of this blog post… that’s what it is all about.

Nicole Halton




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This weekend I managed to sneak a little time to myself to read “Unearthing Why” , the current book for our Inspired EC Book Club. As I read through the chapter entitled “Children as Authors” I found myself nodding in agreement at the words on the page. This particular paragraph jumped out:
“Writing for real purpose draws on our natural inclination and desire to connect, communicate and influence our world. Can you remember a time when you were asked to complete a task in which you could not see relevance? To do so can be infuriating and draining. In contrast, the energy that comes from being set a meaningful and purposeful task is infectious. Why do we assume children are any different? When we engage with children around an area of their interest they are more likely to engage, even if the skills required are difficult to master.”  

​-
Britt.C and McLachlan, J. (2015) Unearthing Why: Stories of thinking and learning with children, New South Wales: Pademelon Press
After some time spent reading I began to put away the washing (ugh!) and when I walked into my 6year old sons room, was delighted to see his calendar on the wall. At the beginning of the year he began to show an interest in the calendar in our kitchen. As he developed his writing skills at school (having just commenced school) he insisted on writing the numbers in the corresponding boxes. After missing some important dates, I suggested that perhaps he could have his own calendar to record the date on. Needless to say – he was thrilled!

I think it is worthwhile mentioning that in the years prior to starting school, he was in a wonderful play based service that spent a lot of time outdoors. He was not interested in writing or drawing and although every now and then I had moments of doubt as to how this would play out when he started Kindergarten, I tried to trust in him, believing that when he was ready and interested, he would write. In the first few weeks of school it became apparent that his pencil grip wasn’t so crash hot and he was finding writing a challenge. But still, I continued to trust. 

And it worked. As he is rapidly learning sounds and words and comprehending sentence structure, his interest in writing has also increased. He now seeks out drawing and writing as tools to make sense of the world, in ways that he has never done before. He watches me write lists and makes lists of his own, he see’s me labelling things and labels things of his own. 

So when I walked into his room I wasn’t totally surprised to see his calendar looking like this. He had diligently added the numbers in, but had also taken time to write in “mum” and “dad” on the days that we will celebrate our birthdays. And then at the bottom I saw “Movies May” and I stopped and wondered…for just a moment. Until I remembered that for the last six months he has been longingly looking forward to the release of the Angry Birds movie in May and the fulfilled promise of a trip to the movies with his grandparents. So there it was, writing for a purpose. His purpose was to record something important to him. In writing our birthdays, his purpose was to remember, 

Anyone that has heard me present our popular “Positive School Transitions” workshop will know I am definitely not a fan of rote learning and writing for the sake of writing. As a writer myself, making meaning through the written word is something I value deeply, yet it needs to be a meaningful process for the child. 

So, how do we facilitate “writing for a purpose”?
  1. Listen to children – find out about what they are truly interested in and encourage them to explore and share that interest through mark making (even if it is not an interest or topic on “our agenda”!)
  2. Provide children with quality writing materials – if we want children to write, we need to give them the right tools. I wouldn’t like to sit down at my desk and have a choice of four blunt lead pencils and a broken orange crayon
  3. Involve children in meaningful writing opportunities – if you need to write a shopping list – let them help, documenting experiences on the program – ask for their input.
  4. Model writing – in our highly technological world a lot of child may not see the adults in their life write by hand too often. Let them see you writing!

Watching children learn to write is an exciting thing – seeing their ideas, interests and questions land on the page, giving voice to these inner workings, well…it’s nothing short of magical!
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In the last few weeks I have been reflecting on security items or comfort items and their presence in early childhood settings. I cannot recall what prompted me to think about this but it has been an interesting process. 

I began with thinking back to my time in a toddler room. Many of the children in my care came with teddies or blankets or even a pair of mums satin pyjamas! They clutched these items like someone thrown overboard would clutch a life preserver, as though if they let go of them, their little world would end. I could see it in their eyes, just how special these items were. Yet, we had a policy that these were kept in children’s bags until rest time, as though it were expected that this would be the only time the child may seek comfort. I can shamefully recall waiting for a child to drop their teddy as they climbed into the sandpit, then sneakily taking it to their bag, where it would be “safe.” In our minds we felt it was the right thing to do – enabling them to play freely, ensuring that the item would not be lost or damaged. But, as I reflect on it now, with the advantage of deeper knowledge, more experience and the arrival of three of my own children, I realise just how misguided this approach was. 

Research shows that the majority of children do have some sort of comfort item and that when left in an unfamiliar environment with it, they explored more, played more and cried less than those without one. So there goes our “theory” that the child would somehow be inhibited by their comfort item and that by hiding them away, we would be freeing them to play. 

As I have been reflecting on this concept, I have been watching my own children and others at shops, playgrounds, preschool drop-off and other “kid places” to see how their relationships with comfort items may be effecting their play or interactions with others. In short… it wasn’t! In fact, for some children, it was enhancing their play, giving them a prop, a way to get involved with other children – an ice-breaker even. So what would have happened if an adult had walked over, scooped up the item and said “it needs to stay in your bag until rest time”? What impact would that have had on the child’s sense of security? 

I have reflected on how I would feel as an adult to come into a completely new environment – one where the people and the place were all unfamiliar. Where the furniture looked different to the furniture at my home and the smell was different too. I would cling onto the little things that made me feel secure and comfortable, until I felt comfortable in that environment. In fact, for some adults, despite reaching a place where they are comfortable in the environment, they continue to surround themselves with photographs of family or little treasures and trinkets that remind them of home. By being able to blend ourselves and our homes/families into our work environment in some way, no matter how small, we gain a sense of belonging. This is something we strive for in early childhood settings, a fundamental part of our Early Years Learning Framework. And yet, so many services go to extremes to do this – creating belonging trees, photo walls and other “belonging” displays. Maybe a family photo doesn’t actually resonate with each child in terms of feeling secure and a sense of belonging? Perhaps we need to allow each child to find their own comfort in a way that is meaningful to them. For some children, this may mean that a teddy bear accompanies them as they dig in the mudpit, or they take a raggedy old blanket with them to paint at the easel. The important thing as that we as educators respect their need to seek comfort and familiarity in an object that is important to them. So, how do we do this? 
  1. Welcome comfort items/toys into your service – Ensure that children and families know that their comfort items are welcome in your service. You may still request that they be appropriately labelled and may need to advise that while you will do your best to “look after” the item, things happen! (such as dirt, paint etc) 
  2. Include them in experiences - If a child has a teddy that they bring to the role play space, ask if they would like a teddy carrier or pram. Always ask a child before touching their comfort item though.
  3. Avoid the phrase “you’re too old for that!” – While this may be well intentioned and you may have concerns about a child’s emotional wellbeing if they still have a comfort item at age 4 or 5, this will do nothing but upset the child. Rest assured that they probably won’t still be carrying their teddy around when they head off to high school and they will part with it when they feel ready. 

I would love to hear your experiences with comfort items in early childhood services! 

Nicole Halton
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For many years as an educator and director I was a firm believer in defending my practice and that of my service. When an assessor challenged our use of glass jars I defended the decision, providing positive examples and research. When a parent questioned the legalities of tree climbing I directed them to our benefit risk assessment, found articles, research and safety information to back us up. When an educator said “we’re not allowed to do that” I found regulations, made phone calls and got out the highlighter!

As a consultant I have often encouraged educators to defend what they do and while I still feel that way, a discussion with Tash (Inspired EC co-founder) this morning had me questioning whether it should always be up to educators to defend what they do. Instead, I would suggest that educators should feel empowered to question their challengers. Instead of having to prove ourselves… let’s turn the tables!

When an assessor challenges your practice and says “you can’t do that” ask to be shown where the in the National Quality Framework it says that you can​​ ​’t.

When another educator says “we’re not allowed to do that” ask them to find the regulation or law that says that.

Why should it be up to us to always defend what we do? If someone is putting an obstacle in the way of us providing opportunities for children (such as excursions) or creating an inspiring environment (by adding a trickle stream, for example) then they need to provide us with the hard facts – not just “Oh, I heard from Jane, who works at xyz service, that the assessor said it wasn’t allowed.”​

Of course there will inevitably be times when someone (assessor, colleague) actually identifies an issue that we have missed and that is great – when they come to us with hard facts, we are able to swiftly make appropriate change to ensure the best outcomes for children.

Don’t dread the visits from the regulatory authority, they are a great opportunity – just be prepared to ask the question “can you show me where that is written in the National Quality Framework?”​​
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Last week I left the office and decided to go for a walk around the lake. I set off and although the flies were enough to drive me crazy, the quiet and the view of the boats was just the relaxation I needed. I had walked quite a distance when I was hit by a smell. It wasn’t a bad smell, nor would I say it was a good smell. But it was a familiar smell. It wasn’t something that I smell every day and I really couldn’t (and still can’t – although it was some type of tree!) put my finger on what it was, but one whiff and I was instantly taken back to my childhood. I felt as though I were 5 years old again. This then evoked memories of my preschool – a breezy, light filled, warm, open place that I loved. That smell bought back images of my teachers, memories of playing on the huge timber fort, the three coloured balloons that told me that was my locker and my hand towel in the bathroom, even the time that one of my friends wet the bed (those old hessian stretcher beds) at rest time!

How is it that this one smell bought back such happy memories?
Technically speaking, it all comes down to the brain. The olfactory bulb in the brain is part of the limbic system, an area often referred to as the “emotional brain” and is closely linked to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning​​​. The reason that smells trigger emotional responses or memories is due to our tendency to link a smell to an event or person or moment when we first smell it. And the reason we tend to be taken back to childhood? This is often the time when we experience a smell for the very first time.

This isn’t the first time a smell has triggered an early childhood memory for me and I am sure it won’t be the last. Whenever I smell a vegemite sandwich I am taken back to preschool! But for some reason, when this happened last week it made me think about what smells will evoke memories for children in care right now. So many services that I visit are sterile environments – often there is an overuse of Glen20. So in 20years when children smell latex gloves or Glen20 or disinfectant… they will be transformed back to childhood. I don’t think I like the sound of that.

In addition to the memory effect, smells also have the ability to impact on our moods and wellbeing. Research shows that smell can affect ​blood sugar levels, concentration and stress levels and our health. Therefore, it is crucial that we give thought to the smells our children experience in our care. Do they have the opportunity to smell trees, fresh cut grass or food cooking away? If we need to use items for cleaning or making unpleasant smells disappear, do we give thought to what we use?

Spend some time “sniffing” in your service and ask yourself… are these the smells that will positively impact on mood, health and children’s memories?

By Nicole Halton​​

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I have officially had enough. The downward push of academics into early education is making me feel frustrated. Frustrated that despite that overwhelming research both here and internationally; a solid national Early Years Learning Framework that supports play based programs and professional development opportunities that encourage educators to implement and advocate for play based learning, we continue to see examples of structured academics and ridiculously high expectations in the early years. 

I appreciate that there are many amazing services and educators out there who are advocates for learning through play, but I am frustrated with those that are choosing to disregard a plethora of research that identifies that structured academics in the early years is not only unnecessary but can also be damaging. I am frustrated with those who are not prepared to stand up for the rights of children to engage in unstructured, free play. I am frustrated with those who are using academics as a marketing ploy, an attempt to lure parents in, rather than sharing research about play based learning and referring to the National Quality Framework. 

Just yesterday I was given a flyer for a brand new service opening up near me. The educator introduced herself and I asked about how many children would be in the service. She quickly answered that there would be 102 and that they would be split into 5 rooms, before redirecting me to the “innovative” reading program where children receive free books, explaining that even my young baby would receive books as part of the program. While receiving books is lovely I was actually gutted to read the promotional flyer which boasted “Guarantee 9 out of 10 children will read at level one or above by the time they start school!” 

Where do I start with everything wrong with that statement? The unnecessary pressure that this puts on the children and the educators is appalling. What happens if in a group of 20 children only five are reading at that level (which to me would be impressive. Impressive and unnecessary!)? Is all other play cancelled in favour of the reading program to ensure that children actually meet the guarantee? If so much time is spent learning to read in these early years, what will these children be doing in their Kindergarten year while other children are learning to read?

In another sad turn I was speaking with a fellow educator who is starting her daughter at Kindergarten at the local public school next year. They attended an orientation session last week and the educator found herself feeling very concerned for her child. The kindergarten teachers said that they expected the children to know several sight words before even beginning school and instructed the parents to go home and use sight word flash cards with their children!  

I just have to wonder – WHY? 
“There are no specific skills that a child needs to have before starting Kindergarten – they are not expected to know how to read or write. The main thing is that both you and your child feel confident about starting school.”
This statement comes directly from the NSW Department of Educations parent brochure Time to Start School. The brochure also strongly advocates for the importance of play in the early years for developing skills as well as crucial social and emotional development. 

So, if the Department of Education and the National Quality Framework advocate for the same thing – why is this downward push still happening? And more importantly how do we stop it?!  It really is up to us as educators and parents to put a stop to it. We all want children to have the best start to life, but by pushing academics into the early years we could in fact be doing the opposite. We could be creating a generation of stressed, over structured, over stimulated children. We need to give childhood back to children.

5 WAYS TO FIGHT THE DOWNWARD PUSH OF ACADEMICS

  1. Get educated. Knowledge is power – read anything and everything that you can get your hands on to support play based learning in the early years​
  2. ​Share what you learn. Share articles, books and information with your colleagues
  3. ​Speak honestly with families. Have a strong philosophy grounded in play based learning, have policies that support this and encourage discussion with families and opportunities for them to spend time in your service seeing the positive impact of play based learning
  4. ​Be heard in the community. Write a blog, send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, invite the community into your play based services. Do whatever it takes to advocate for children’s rights!
  5. ​Create meaningful connections with your local schools. Ensure that families are getting consistent information and speak up to the teachers, principal or department if you have concerns.
​By Nicole Halton








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