This issue of AJEC presents seven articles that address, from different aspects, actions and factors related to enhancement of quality in early childhood education and care (ECEC) as well as other child-related centres in and beyond Australia. The research and practices introduced in this issue cover multiple areas, including: children’s social–emotional development; playgroups as a platform for supporting parents’ ECEC choices; ECEC professionals’ sense of community; children’s knowledge connections between wellbeing and sustainability; food allergy readiness and anaphylaxis management in ECEC settings; Finnish early childhood teachers’ pedagogical work; and elements related to pedagogy and care in leisure-time centres in Sweden.
White and Walker report the findings from their work that explores early childhood educators’ use of a social–emotional learning resource and its effects on children’s social–emotional development. Two centres (one received intervention and one was the control group) in Melbourne, Australia, participated in the eight-week intervention study. The intervention centre was provided with a booklet and an online resource; it also received a one-hour professional development training session. All the resources enhanced teachers’ evidence-based practices to support children’s social–emotional learning. Teachers were required to make daily records of their intentional teaching practices related to social–emotional learning, and children’s social–emotional learning was measured through a battery of methods. Their results suggest that early childhood educators are able to design a teaching program targeting social–emotional learning using evidence-based practices, and such practices had a significant facilitative effect on children’s social–emotional development. They, therefore, argue that relevant resources should be better utilised to enhance early childhood educators’ practice and to support children’s social–emotional development.
Stratigos and Fenech investigate the possibility of supporting parents’ informed ECEC choices through playgroups. Currently, parents rely on informal recommendations of quality and their personal sense of comfort when choosing an ECEC setting. However, the capacity of parents in Australia to make more informed ECEC decisions can be built by increasing their knowledge of the National Quality Framework and the National Quality Standard (NQS) rating system. The authors suggest that playgroups may serve as a site for raising parents’ awareness of quality ECEC and the NQS ratings among families. They conducted semi-structured interviews with six playgroup coordinators and 30 families from seven playgroups. Their findings suggest that playgroups could be an effective avenue for disseminating information about quality ECEC, and a coordinator’s informal and trusted role within supported playgroups may play an important role in this. However, the role should be better supported through accurate, up-to-date information and resources related to families’ diverse backgrounds and needs.
Wallace, Costello and Devine introduce their exploration of ECEC professionals’ sense of community through their involvement in the ‘Supporting Nutrition for Australian Childcare’ (SNAC) website. SNAC is a web-based nutrition education resource developed to support ECEC professionals in providing healthy eating environments within their centres. The authors conducted a survey, netnographic analysis of conversation threads, and interviews to understand the sense of community of the website users. Measuring the sense of community was considered important for analysing the online portal’s real effects on professional practice. The authors found shared emotional connections among the users, and also noticed a strong connection between some members and the first author. They, therefore, argue that the SNAC website helped establish a sense of community among users who strove to provide a healthy eating environment for children, and that it is a valuable platform to base future interventions on.
Play-based learning experiences are essential for children’s acquisition of knowledge. Morris, Edwards, Cutter-Mackenzie, Rutherford, Williams-Smith and Skouteris report a randomised intervention study to evaluate the impact of teacher-designed learning experiences on preschool-aged children’s knowledge connection between wellbeing concepts and sustainability. The authors used a ‘funds of knowledge’ theoretical framework to situate children’s interest in digital media and popular culture as an avenue for learning these knowledge connections. Twenty-five teachers participated in the study (14 were randomly assigned to the intervention group and 11 to the waitlist control group). All teachers attended professional learning session one, but only the teachers in the intervention attended professional learning session two. Session two was particularly focused on supporting teachers’ design of play-based learning experiences connecting wellbeing and sustainability knowledge. Teachers then implemented their planned play-based learning experiences over a period of eight weeks, with various resources available to support their practice. Results indicate that the intervention group children created more wellbeing and sustainability knowledge connections than the waitlist control group children, and the intervention group children demonstrated an increase in vegetable serves and a decrease in unhealthy food servings after the intervention. The authors argue that it is important to pay more attention to the capacity of teachers to actively build children’s knowledge about wellbeing and sustainability concepts through play-based learning.
Food allergy in young children is increasing in Australia. The awareness of, and familiarity with, relevant policies and guidelines is therefore important. Hammershaimb Jacobsen, Sambell, Vale and Devine report the findings from an online survey—with 53 long day care services in Western Australia—on current situations of food allergy readiness and anaphylaxis management. They found that at least one food allergy case could be identified in 83 per cent of the services; 96 per cent of the services had a food allergy policy and 91 per cent required staff to undertake anaphylaxis training. The respondents showed a high level of self-reported confidence and skills to deal with food allergy cases. However, gaps in risk minimisation knowledge, use of adrenaline autoinjectors and resources still exist. More support is, therefore, needed to help improve the food allergy readiness and anaphylaxis management status in ECEC settings.
The remaining two articles in this issue report on European ECEC practices. Ukkonen-Mikkola and Fonsén investigate Finnish early childhood teachers’ everyday pedagogical work using Layder’s research map against the background of reforms concerning ECEC policies and pedagogical thinking in the Finnish context. Layder’s (1993) research map helped in categorising and clarifying the teachers’ pedagogical work into context, setting, situated activity and self levels. Using this research map, the authors found early childhood teachers’ work to be complex and demanding, and identified a few successes and challenges as well.
Both care and education are important elements for childhood learning settings. Hjalmarsson provides an analysis of leisure-time teachers’ reflections on how pedagogy and care appear in Swedish leisure-time centres’ (LTCs) local documents. The LTCs offer students from preschool to grade six meaningful leisure time, and stimulate their emotional, social, intellectual and physical learning and development. Based on the written reflections of 22 groups of LTC teachers, tasks connected to care aspects were identified as a prominent part of the LTC teachers’ work; however, the author found this notion to be simultaneously challenged by neoliberal tendencies.
In summary, this issue introduces research related to different aspects of ECEC in Australia, Finland and Sweden. From these articles, readers can gain insights into theories and practices that advocate for enhancement of quality in different ECEC contexts.
The Education University of Hong Kong
Layder, D. (1993). New strategies in social research: An introduction and guide. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Australasian Journal of Early Childhood—Volume 43 Number 4 December 2018.
Don’t forget, the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood is tax deductible for early childhood professionals.