Recent visits to early childhood services have reinforced for me the complexity of the work of early childhood professionals, as they assess and respond to the interests and needs of diverse stakeholders. The level of knowledge, skills and capacities required to do this work well is quite astounding. Fortunately, the research that investigates early childhood is correspondingly diverse. The 13 papers in this edition fall broadly into four areas, curriculum (including a focus on literacy learning), inclusion, families and assessment.
The non-prescriptive nature of early childhood curriculum enables educators to follow children’s interests through play-based learning. But there is a tension evident in early childhood between ‘play-based learning’ and ‘intentional teaching’. The first paper, a reproduction of a keynote speech given by Susan Edwards at the 2016 Early Childhood Australia National Conference in Darwin, draws on Edwards’s personal journey grappling with this issue. Edwards argues for ‘the integration of play and teaching as a source for learning in early childhood educational contexts’, and presents a Pedagogical Play-framework to assist teachers to consider how play and intentional teaching can be understood.
Despite the openness of early childhood curricula, some content knowledge is privileged. One area of content knowledge highly visible in the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) is children’s understanding and respect of the environment. Yet there remains some confusion as to how this can be achieved within early childhood services. Pollock, Warren and Anderson’s study demonstrates how a group of educators, informed by the National Quality Standard and the EYLF, assisted children to become environmentally aware, through whole-of-centre collaborative projects. Key messages from the research include a need to engage children and families in authentic collaborations and the importance of critical reflection to support transformative pedagogies. Another important content area of the early childhood curriculum, given growing obesity levels in young children, is ‘healthy eating’. Wallace, Devine and Costello interviewed educators to identify their knowledge and needs in relation to providing and promoting a healthy eating environment. The findings subsequently informed the development of a website to support educators to provide and promote a healthy eating environment.
Literacy learning is likewise a critical component of early childhood curriculum and the focus of three papers in this edition. Children’s access to early literacy experiences is strongly influenced by their parents’ values and beliefs about storybook reading, as well as parents’ capacity to provide appropriate resources. Brown, Westerveld and Gillon compared the home reading practices, and values about storybook reading, of parents from different socioeconomic backgrounds, finding striking similarities between the groups. Also examining literacy learning, Mackenzie and Petriwskyj’s focus is on the ways literacy learning is viewed across early childhood and formal school contexts. They identified that, while both sites tended to privilege print over other modes of communication, there was little congruency in the way literacy was viewed in the two curricula, nor in how teachers understood how to support children’s literature. Further, teachers reported having little understanding of each others’ contexts and, troublingly, few opportunities to contribute to transition programs that might assist children to bridge the gap from their early years’ service to school.
Children’s literature that respectfully and authentically reflects diversity is a powerful way of challenging stereotypes. However, Adam, Barratt-Pugh and Haig’s study suggests that the extent to which children’s services book collections reflect diversity may be limited. Conducting audits of book collections in long day care services, as well as interviews and observations of teachers interacting with children with texts, the researchers found limited cultural representation within the books, and where diversity was represented, it tended to be stereotypical.
Two papers relate to inclusion. Agbenyega and Tamakloe’s study demonstrates the value and challenges of using assistive technology devices to support children’s inclusion. It also highlights educators’ utilisation of assistive technology devices is influenced by their philosophy, and in particular their beliefs about children’s rights to inclusion, and the ability of devices to enhance children’s access to development, enhancing learning opportunities. Brien, Page and Berman provide a timely discussion on the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which has a focus on family choice and control. Brien and colleagues critically reflect on what the terms ‘choice and control’ mean and provide suggestions for how early years professionals can support families to make informed decisions.
Families are the subject of two papers. Rouse and O’Brien’s study examined a preschool teacher’s and parents’ reflections on parent/teacher relationships within a preschool, using a framework of ‘mutuality and reciprocity’. The study identifies several incongruities between what the teacher perceived were respectful relationships and the parents’ experience of those relationships.
Mutual understandings about decision making could support better educator/family relationships. One contentious area that families have to make decisions about is the age at which their child should start school. Merglar and Walker explore the issue of delayed school entry. Using data from the Queensland Department of Education, they identify the number and characteristics of children ‘held back’ from entering school in Queensland. In addition, analysis of forum postings from a parenting website identified a variety of reasons why parents choose to hold their child back.
The final three papers in this edition focus on the assessment of children’s learning and development. Susan Krieg’s is the last paper to be published from the 2016 AJEC Research Symposium. It proffers a theoretical discussion of how the tools of Critical Discourse Analysis can be used to support critical reflection on, and enhance the assessment of, young children’s learning.
Early identification is necessary to support children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to access resources. But identifying children with ASD is difficult. The Social Attention and Communication Surveillance-Revised (SACS-R) is a tool designed to detect developmental challenges in young children. Mozolic-Staunton and Barbaro’s paper establishes a high inter-rater reliability for the tool, across educators and an expert clinician, suggesting that it could provide a useful assessment resource for the early childhood context.
Finally, McFarland and Dealtry’s study used an innovative, child-friendly method to ascertain children’s assessment of their experiences of hearing during group times in an early years’ service. As well as highlighting the importance of educators considering the environmental conditions that might impact upon children’s hearing, the study demonstrates the benefits of authentically engaging children in research on and about them.
Charles Sturt University
Australasian Journal of Early Childhood—Volume 42 Number 1 March 2017.
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