This is an exciting time to be working in the Australian early childhood field. The Commonwealth and State governments have recognised the importance of the early years and agree that promoting early childhood development is a national priority, essential to the future prosperity and security of Australia.
There is now a broad consensus that the early childhood period creates the foundation for a child's future wellbeing, success, learning, health and behaviour. Each state has developed a long-term action plan for promoting early childhood development, and proposed partnerships between the states and the Commonwealth could bring these visions to fruition.
The recent international review by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has reported that Australia lags behind most other developed countries in terms of its investment in early childhood education and care. This is a time to 'think global and act local'â€”at the national level, at the state level, in your community and in the early childhood settingâ€”to make a difference for young children and their families.
Shared thinkingâ€”a joint vision of the future we need for young children and young familiesâ€”and problem-solvingâ€”building partnerships and taking action to promote positive changeâ€”will help us move toward the future we desire.
Carlina Rinaldi captured the essence of why our approach to promoting thinking and problem-solving is so important when she wrote:
'The search for meaning begins at birth â€¦ and continues throughout life. â€¦ We are asked to be the child's travelling companion in this search for meaning.' (2006)
Research is demonstrating how essential early childhood services are to the thinking, problem-solving and emotional development of young children. A UK study is following the development of over 2500 children and examining effective pre-school and primary education practices. The researchers have found, on average, that pre-school experiencesâ€”including playgroups, kindergartens, childcare centres and family day homesâ€”enhance children's development. However, as we would predict, higher-quality settings provide better outcomes (Sylva et al., 2004).
In its State Strategic Plan, South Australia has included a goal to improve the wellbeing of the state's children, as measured by the Australian Early Development Index. Every community will receive a report on their children, and will be able to track their progress over time. This will provide every community with information about how well their children are doing, and enable them to build partnerships and plan community-based initiatives to improve young children's outcomes.
The South Australian Government has also announced the development of 20 children's centres for early childhood development and parenting across the state. These will provide 'one stop' services for young children and their families, including high-quality integrated early childhood education and care, health information, speech pathology, a community development coordinator and a family support coordinator. Parenting skills and opportunities to learn with children will be included. Partnerships are planned to link other early childhood services with the centres, to support shared learning, problem-solving and continuous improvement across the sector.
It is an important time to explore your state's early childhood development strategy and opportunities to promote early childhood development in your own community.
The areas that are most beneficial to children are related to quality relationships: ones in which adults support children's exploration, ask open-ended questions, support resolving conflicts with other children and promote sustained shared thinking. Helping parents improve children's learning environments at home is also important.
These are ideas that will ring true to all of us. However, there is still great scope for us to improve the quality of our interactions in our own busy lives, at work and at home. In the early childhood settings studied in the UK, open-ended questions and sustained shared thinking were observed in less than five per cent of interactions. We all have important roles to play in making a difference for young children.
Early Childhood and Statewide Services, Department of Education and Children's Services, South Australia
Rinaldi, C. (2006). Creativity, shared meaning, and relationships. In J. R. Lally, P. L.Mangione, & D. Greenwald (Eds.), Concepts for care: 20 essays on infant/toddler development and learning. Sausalito, CA: WestEd.
Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I., & Taggart, B. (2004). The effective provision of pre-school education: The final report. London: DfES Sure Start Publications & The Institute of Education.
Don't forget, Every Child is tax deductible for early childhood professionals
Vol. 13 No. 3 2007
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