EYLF and NQS: Political, educational, social and individual influences: What has been our journey?

Collectively, we—as a sector and with our government partners—have laid down all the elements needed for a unified system of early childhood education and care for Australia’s children, and it is now nearly a reality.

At SDN, the Principles, Practices and Outcome statements reflected our current practice and beliefs, and the information shared by families confirmed that they regarded our practice as outstanding. So when we didn’t receive a high-quality rating in Quality Area 1: Educational Program and Practice in the first two trials of the National Quality Standard (NQS) in which we were asked to participate, we were surprised.

As a result, the two important things we learnt and are now doing are: Making overt links between organisational documents and the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and NQS expectations. Making the learning and development of individual children clearer in documentation.

MAKING OVERT LINKS

We need to clearly articulate the links between organisational documents and statements, such as our philosophy statement, the SDN values, the educational beliefs outlined in the SDN Early Childhood Curriculum policy and where these match or correspond to the five Principles of the EYLF. They actually match up well, but we need to be able to clearly and confidently demonstrate this to anyone who asks, and staff have to know that they do link.

IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL CHILDREN’S LEARNING WITHIN THE GROUP CONTEXT

SDN has in recent years adopted a ‘post-modern’ approach to practice which has focused our attention on the learning of groups of children and their sense of belonging. In doing so, we may have lost a focus on the learning journeys of individual children (being and becoming).

We learnt through the NQS trial that we would need to identify individual children’s learning and development more clearly. We have been spending time finding ways to do this that also fit with our educational philosophy and practices.

One of our directors, Denise Alley, notes: ‘We should always be asking, “Why am I doing this particular observation on this particular child at this particular time?” The observation should then relate/reflect back to belonging, becoming and/or being—and referencing the Outcomes and the background behind it.’

Simone Delagarde, Centre Director, Olivia McFarlane, teacher, and Ruth Wilson, Early Childhood Educator at SDN Erskineville, share how individual children’s responses and reactions to a community event can be recorded, and then individual and group Outcomes facilitated, as the EYLF states: ‘Children learn about themselves and construct their own identity within the context of their families and communities’ (DEEWR, p. 20).

The flood disaster in Queensland has been a continuous topic of discussion since it occurred and children aged between three and five years have been exposed to confronting media coverage, leading to honest discussions within the classroom. We came to the sad realisation that many people had lost their homes, cars and most of their belongings; people and animals had died; farms and towns had been destroyed. Some of the children commented below:

My cousin is there but he’s in a safe place.
—Raferty

We’re very lucky to be in Sydney.
—Anoushka

What if it flooded in Marrickville?
—Zoie

These individual reactions were then taken another step … to what their collective actions could contribute to their sense of belonging in a broader community.

The EYLF states that ‘Viewing children as active participants and decision makers opens up possibilities for educators to move beyond pre-conceived expectations about what children can do and learn’ (DEEWR, 2009, p. 9).

Olivia McFarlane, the teacher of these children, continues: ‘This group reflected sympathetically on the impact the floods had had on communities in Queensland and were thoughtful in comparing this to their own lives in Sydney. As educators we felt it important to talk about our social responsibilities and encourage these children into action!’ Olson and Bang (2009) tell us that encouraging children to decide if, and what action they want to take in response to an environmental issue teaches children about the human impact on our surroundings.

‘The group of children decided they wanted to send money to help people affected by the floods and they came up with the idea of an “art sale”’, Olivia explained. ‘They created artworks which expressed their thoughts and feelings about the disaster and sold them to the SDN Erskineville community. One of the teachers at the centre, David, was able to find a kindergarten in Queensland that could be the recipient of our funds due to his family connections there, which added another layer of meaning and sense of belonging to our project.’

‘Through making a connection with the Bellbowrie Kindy, our children made links with another similar group of children in very different circumstances. We are going to continue a relationship with the Bellbowrie as staff and children from both centres have a common passion for the expressive arts.’

Documenting the learning of the individual children in this process was—and is—important, but in some ways it is hard to see this in isolation from the power of the group in scaffolding this experience for each other. The challenge of finding ways to honour both the individuals and the group is the journey we are still on!

Like most working mothers know, trying to cope with the demands of a young family, a career, a social life and studying is tough. The drop-off and pick-up of children at long day care is mostly a rushed exchange between parents and staff, settling in children, dumping bags, signing in or out and jumping back in the car to fight peak-hour traffic. This was my experience until about six months ago when I stopped to really look at the space where my two-year-old daughter spends two days a week and it suddenly hit me—her presence was everywhere. This is her space. It is where she plays and learns with her friends. It is her place. Lucinda belongs here. Just as my daughter’s presence can be seen and felt in our home, it was also at SDN Paddington. I discussed this with the educators. They explained that just as it is important for children to feel that they belong to a family, it is important for them to feel part of a peer group and a community. Belonging is crucial to a child’s development because it gives them a sense of who they are. Filling the room with photos of the children and their families, and displaying their stories, journeys and artworks are just some of the things that help children to feel they belong. It is also about the special relationship they have with their carers and educators. ‘Belonging’ is alive at SDN Paddington.

Ginie Udy
CEO
SDN Children’s Services

References
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) (2009). National Quality Standard for Early Childhood Education and Care and School Age Care. Canberra: DEEWR.
Olson, J.K., & Bang, E. (2009). Avoiding the big scare: Six strategies for teaching environmental issues without teaching fear. Science and Children, 46.9: pp. 52–56.