THE EARLY CHILDHOOD ARENA is receiving intense political attention in Australia as we attempt to create policies that reflect international understandings about the importance of the early years. Early childhood practitioners are on the receiving end of new curricula, guidelines and standards that influence how they work with children, families, communities and each other. It is a time of change; a time when the early childhood profession is positioned to gain credibility and status. It is a time when new ideas and new ways of thinking are challenging existing practice. Early Childhood Australia has been a voice for children since 1938 and continues to be a voice both for children and for early childhood practitioners. As the longest running major early childhood journal in Australasia, the Australian Journal of Early Childhood (AJEC) plays a significant role in this, creating space for debates about key early childhood issues and offering cutting-edge research in early childhood.
In this issue, we have taken the opportunity offered to us through modern technology to increase the number of articles published. We recognise the importance of hearing the voices of leading academics and practitioners in early childhood around the world and aim to improve their ability to make their ideas and their work available publicly. From now on, we will publish articles in hard copy with an annex of articles online. All are peer reviewed and judged to be high-quality articles. Our bumper edition celebrates both the eminence of early childhood in the Australasian political arena and the knowledge and skills of academics around the world who are contributing to the Australasian early childhood scene.
In this time of rapid change, where numerous curriculum documents are being made available to early childhood professionals, it can be difficult for practitioners to understand and implement each one effectively. Burgess, Robertson and Patterson worked with practitioners to identify the decision-making process that leads them to engage or not engage with such initiatives. They found that a considerable proportion (39 per cent) of their participants initially reacted negatively to these initiatives, particularly when they felt their workload would increase as a consequence of engagement. The more they were exposed to additional initiatives, the less likely they were to engage. The fact that our understandings of high-quality early childhood initiatives are, themselves, contested, creates a challenge for early childhood practitioners. Logan and Sumsion argue that we need to create space for debates on quality. As a profession, we do not all share common understandings, and the measurement tools (such as the Quality Improvement and Accreditation System—QIAS) do not emphasise a number of the less tangible perceptions of quality held by practitioners.
One of the key components of new early childhood standards is qualifications and there is an underpinning rationale arguing that improved qualifications lead to improved quality of service delivery. In my paper I, however, argue that this is somewhat dependent on the content of the training and that it is important that we reflect on what we want early childhood practitioners of the future to do, in order to develop the training that will prepare them for these new roles. Certainly it is clear that early childhood practitioners will need the skills to deliver culturally competent services. Guilfoyle, Saggers, Sims and Hutchins discuss what this means from their research with Indigenous communities. Practitioners also need to work effectively with families. Early childhood practitioners are in an ideal position to offer family/parent support as discussed by Rolfe and Armstrong. In some cases, parent support may reach out from a centre-based program. For example, Aylward, Murphy, Colmer and O’Neill discuss a parent intervention based around attachment theory and the circle of attachment available to families identified as ‘at risk’. Social and emotional wellbeing is also an important component of high-quality early childhood programs. Davis and colleagues discuss their work in determining early childhood professionals’ understanding of social and emotional wellbeing and how this can be promoted. Early childhood programs influence not only social and emotional wellbeing but are also shown to influence children’s eating habits in their home. Tysoe and Wilson show that children attending centres that operate the ‘Start Right Eat Right’ program are likely to eat more healthy foods in their homes than children attending centres not operating the program.
High-quality early childhood services are inclusive, meeting the diverse needs of the children and families in the communities they serve. Wong and Cumming discuss inclusive family day care practice, and highlight the importance of attitudes in successful inclusion. A philosophy of children’s rights, previous positive experience in inclusion, and availability of resources and support create a positive climate where family day care workers feel they can operate an inclusive program. Inclusive practice means that all children have a right to learn and that practitioners offer learning opportunities most suited to each child. This is exemplified in Bialas and Boon’s article where a self-monitoring process was successfully used in an inclusive classroom to help children with disabilities modify their behaviour and improve compliance.
High-quality early childhood programs manage children’s transitions effectively. Transitions can be stressful for children. Rosewarne, Hard, White and Wright remind us of the emotional impact of transitions, where it is common to move from feelings of competency in the familiar environment to feelings of fear and uncertainty in the new environment. Mirkhil shows that children often do not fully understand the implications of transitioning from early childhood services to school. They think of school as a place where they can continue to play with friends and do not take account of the academic nature of school. Early childhood picture books do not necessarily help children with this transition. Dockett, Perry and Whitton argue that the images of teachers found in many picture books position teachers as mainly white Anglo-Celtic females who are the keepers of knowledge. Transitions are complicated when children and families come from culturally and linguistically different backgrounds.
Leadership is an essential element in supporting services to reflect on current practices, to implement new curricula and standards, and to continually improve quality. Certainly there is strong evidence that higher quality services are likely to have more effective leaders. Brownlee, Nailon and Tickle discuss the role of transformational leadership in early childhood and argues that there is a relationship between core epistemological beliefs and beliefs about leadership practices that can be used to develop leadership training in early childhood.
Art education is addressed in two articles in this issue. Gur and Temel look at an art education program offered to gifted children in Turkey and find it particularly effective in enhancing the children’s art skills. They point out that the regular art curriculum is not meeting children’s art learning needs and this is a concern. One way of addressing this could be ArtPlay, a community initiative discussed by Brown, Andersen and Weatherald. This initiative involves children as co-learners and co-artists and is successful in offering a diverse range of ways of learning ‘art’.
One of the key tenets of early childhood pedagogy is learning through play and Mawson investigates children’s different leadership styles in initiating and maintaining play. Play dictators tended to be male, autocratic and less likely to engage in conflict resolution. Play directors tended to be female, democratic and more likely to compromise. In long day care settings where children played together all day, boys were more likely to play in mixed-gender groups than in sessional kindergartens. Participation in mixed-gender groups offered boys opportunities to be exposed to different play styles.
University of New England
Australasian Journal of Early Childhood – Volume 35 No 3 September 2010
Don't forget, Australasian Journal of Early Childhood is tax deductible for early childhood professionals
Vol. 35 No 3 September 2010
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