Implementing the EYLF: An evolving story

‘Implementing the EYLF, with its focus on “Belonging, Being and Becoming”, is providing us with yet another avenue for exploring and initiating quality relationships with children.’

What’s really important

Annette’s Place is a large, community-based centre in Young, NSW. We’re a multipurpose centre, offering long day care, preschool, after-school care and vacation care to a diverse community. The complexity of our service presents us with many challenges-the most important being how we maintain quality relationships with children and their families while responding to the daily issues of rosters, routines and responsibilities. There’s always a danger that the organisational requirements get in the way of what’s most important.

Our focus on maintaining the wellbeing of children in our care stems from a belief that children’s learning and development is dependent on them feeling safe and having strong connections with the adults who care for them. We began by addressing organizational issues but our work has evolved over time, mainly because the maintenance of wellbeing and relationships is not a simple or straightforward process. What began as a reorganisation of staffing arrangements has grown to encompass:

changing work patterns and providing training to staff to ensure that adults are physically available to children monitoring the wellbeing of the children and their involvement in the environment on a regular basis focusing on the quality of staff interactions with children, ensuring that we are also emotionally available and can support children’s relationships with others.

Improvements

In the beginning, we were simply concerned about how we solved the issue of filling casual positions when staff were away sick. We knew that, on those days, the atmosphere in the centre could be chaotic and the experience for both children and staff was stressful and, at times, overwhelming. The solution was also relatively simple-transfer our hefty casual budget to the employment of additional staff members. In this way we had consistent staff working each day and we improved our ratios at the same time.

The question then arose, if we could provide consistency of staff for children by eliminating the use of casuals, could we manage the roster so that there was predictability of staff for children and families each day? We stopped looking at the roster from a staffing point of view and started looking at it from an attachment point of view. We gradually lengthened the time a staff member was on a particular shift, maintaining consistent staff in each room for a year. The first shift of the day is also consistent. In this way, there is at least one staff member in each room that parents and children can count on seeing first thing in the morning.

The benefits of strong relationships developed over time for children, staff and families are clear to all. This year we have a teacher who has made the decision to start with a group in the nursery and stay with them as they move through the centre. Our teacher in the preschool room is keen to follow her next year. They are excited by the prospect of what they can achieve when their work is underpinned by strong, long-term partnerships with parents and an understanding of the child’s personality, learning style, strengths and interests. (The children will have similar understandings about their teacher!) In this way, our transition process will focus on the maintenance of relationships, rather than the move between rooms.

Delving deeper

As staff had more time with a group of children, they began to see patterns in children’s behaviour. At this time we were using an extensive developmental checklist, as well as recording observations. It was obvious that this work was repetitive and didn’t necessarily add to our understanding of individual children or to the experiences we were programming. We looked for an alternative to the checklist. We researched the work by Prof. Ferre Laevers (Laevers, 1994), trialled it and adapted it to our context.

We now undertake regular wellbeing and involvement screens for our all groups (nursery and preschool). They give us lots of information about both the environment and the way children are responding to it. We use the data as a tool for staff reflection-by asking the questions that help us understand what’s working for both individual children and for groups. As patterns become clear, we can adapt the program and our work to better meet needs.

The process involves collecting more extensive information about children who are exhibiting low levels of involvement or wellbeing. It means that staff develop a deeper understanding of what is happening for individual children and are better equipped to develop effective strategies. Our experience has been that wellbeing and involvement are strong indicators of both the quality of our program and the needs of children within the group.

As we explored the issue of wellbeing, an interest developed in attachment theory and practices that support secure attachment in a care setting. At the same time, a group of early childhood community health professionals were also investigating attachment and the Circle of Security. We worked together to organise for Dr Robyn Dolby to run an in-service day in Young. This experience led to a collaborative project led by Lee Francis, a psychologist, and Katie Harden, a teacher at Annette’s Place.

Shifting focus

While this project continues, it has already had an impact on staff work patterns. Initially our focus was on having staff physically available for children. This has been much more difficult than it sounds! It meant that only one staff member in each room at any one time was assigned the jobs that involved moving around the environment. The rest of the staff are required to sit and stay in a particular spot, so that children know where to find them when they need them. No more floating, wandering or ‘busyness’. It’s taken staff quite some time to feel comfortable with this, but the outcome for children has been significant. The environment is calm and children who are timid or less secure gradually develop the confidence to venture further afield, confident in the knowledge that help is there if they need it.

Linked to this has been the development of the ‘greeting chair’ adjacent to the sign-on sheet. A staff member (often the teacher) sits on the chair and greets each child and family as they arrive. There’s space for the child or family member to sit and chat for a while. The child can sit with their teacher for a chat or a story and then join play when they’re ready, knowing that there will be someone in that spot available for them should they need them.

Progress

Video data of this process has been collected and the psychologist has supported staff in the analysis of the data and in adapting the process. A recent parent survey received positive comments, especially in relation to the development of relationships with staff and in developing a sense of belonging. Follow-up work about the nature and quality of interactions has been undertaken. Staff have attended Marte Meo workshops with the aim of ensuring that we’re not only physically available to children, but also emotionally available to children. When they use the circle, we are able to support them to understand and regulate their emotions and to problem solve socially.

We are on a continuing journey. Implementing the EYLF, with its focus on ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming’, is providing us with yet another avenue for exploring and initiating quality relationships with children.

The more we learn about children, their relationships and how they impact on their mental health, the more we find we need to learn. Working with other professionals has been an important part of the journey.

Wendy Forster
Director of Annette’s Place

References

Laevers F. (1994). (Ed.) Defining and assessing quality in early childhood education. Belgium: Leuven University Press.

Implementing the EYLF: An evolving story by Wendy Forster was featured in Every Child Vol. 16 No. 3—Play and learning. Click here to purchase your copy today!