Planning in the context of the National Quality Standard: Valuing children, promoting learning
‘Where do I begin?’
We are in an exciting era in Australian early childhood history, and many of us will have questions about how to build our own contributions to this process.
Becoming familiar with each of the key documents of the National Quality Standard is a useful place to start. Each person in the sector must think about how the Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Aged Care relate to their practice, and how they might grow in their understanding of possible approaches. Each centre or group of educators will be reading, discussing and workshopping ways to engage with these evolving ideas. For example, it’s important to remember that the Early Years Learning Framework has been designed to provoke discussion and support early childhood educators in thinking about their reasons for making decisions, rather than providing a list of specific ways to proceed or simply transmitting curriculum.
All Australian early childhood educators are working towards a Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) to guide their practice. This will include awareness of the outcomes which are founded on the Principles and Practices described in the Early Years Learning Framework. These sit comfortably within the National Quality Standards, particularly in relation to Quality Areas 1 (Educational Program and Practice) and 5 (Relationships with Children).
As people try to find a way to work effectively with these documents, a range of approaches and strategies are being explored. While investigating ways to improve within each quality area, it is wise to reflect on the conceptual framework rather than succumbing to a template for recording. There is an expectation that educators will respect what children and families have to offer; as ACECQA states, ‘The intent is to ensure that all children’s experiences are recognised and valued’ (2011, p. 34). So, in reflecting on the experiences that have unfolded during a given week, it will be possible to identify key elements within the focus Quality Area as well as Principles and Practices in the Early Years Learning Framework.
Educators’ professional judgements
It can be helpful to turn to other people who are working through these ideas. Two educators described their experiences in Patterson and Fleet (2011):
Louisa described the use of the Early Years Learning Framework in her room: ‘We have an A3 program on display … which is handwritten and added to over the fortnight. Here, close connections are made with the EYLF document, identifying particular outcomes, areas of intentional teaching, and a section which allows us to respond to children’s interests and conversations … All staff contribute to this program planning. A summary [is] recorded by one of the staff and put on display for parents and children. This always has references to the EYLF.’ It is clear that these strategies sit comfortably within Quality Area 1.
Stellina explained the connection between her observations and the Early Years Learning Framework outcomes: ‘I don’t really use the EYLF terms of determining what I observe. I found that I only use it after I have jotted the observation and then I see which outcome it falls under. I found that if I use the EYLF as a determining factor at the start of the observation it forces me to keep thinking in the outcome areas instead of observing the interactions that are taking place. At our centre, each child has an observation folder which allows us to quickly make a note when we observe something interesting. When we plan a follow-up experience based on the observation we link it to the EYLF when we write it up. This is also linked to our daily write-up … ’ Stellina’s approach enables ‘relationships with children [to] be … responsive and respectful [in order to] promote … children’s sense of security and wellbeing’ (p. 123).
Neither of these educators is ‘driven by outcomes’ or ‘teaching to a standard’; that is, they do not allow the outcomes to become the focus of observations or teaching. Rather, they build on relationships, make observations and then look for links to the outcome descriptors, and plan follow-up experiences with an eye on the outcomes.
Pulling it all together
So how do these thoughts help us move forward with planning in the context of the National Quality Standard? Among other things, the standards have reminded us that we may need to revise our recording systems. Educators are being asked to ‘search for appropriate ways to collect rich and meaningful information that depicts children’s learning in context’ (ACECQA, 2011, p. 40). This may require regular discussions to consider the options.
Re-thinking recording approaches
Many people find it effective to wait until the end of the day or week to reflect on events that highlight key aspects of the Early Years Learning Framework rather than pre-planning specific activities to meet perceived requirements. For example, you might look at some of your recording formats and think about the following issues:
Does the format I am using encourage me to respond to children’s questions or areas of interest?
Is there flexibility in programming so that daily events and individual attendance patterns can be reflected?
Using the Early Years Learning Framework
Meaningful references to the Early Years Learning Framework can appear at any point in the planning and recording processes, but such references should be authentic and useful. For example, a web or flow chart on the wall with evolving areas of interest or key play areas could have children’s names added with broad dates as they become engaged in an area. Explanations of how the work relates to an aspect of the Early Years Learning Framework Principles, Practices or Outcomes can be in boxes on the side, added on sticky labels or cut-and-pasted into electronic versions as appropriate.
Am I letting the Early Years Learning Framework serve as a philosophical touchstone? Is it a point of reference for key elements of relevance to children? OR am I unwittingly turning it into a restrictive checklist of requirements?
If my approach to planning is overly prescriptive or too open-ended, how can I work with my colleagues (on-site, by phone, online) to evolve more effective practices?
Considering time and intentional teaching
Some educators may be anxious about a possible tension between developing warm, authentic relationships with children and ‘teaching intentionally’. The key, of course, is the consideration of use of time. Nurturing relationships and building trust takes time. Freeing time for working respectfully is a conscious decision; therefore, it is ‘intentional’. Teaching ‘intentionally’ refers to making thoughtful decisions throughout the day. Working in these ways is both respectful of children and recognises the current socio-political context.
Building on strong foundations
Comments from educators who are working towards their Quality Improvement Plans remind us that we should be thinking about building on our existing practices. It is important not to lose the good practices that are already evident. The National Quality Framework is a catalyst for change which recognises the professional status of the early childhood sector, and offers ongoing possibilities for enriching reflective practice.
Catherine Patterson and Alma Fleet
Institute of Early Childhood
Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) (2011). Guide to the National Quality Standard. Canberra: ACECQA.
Patterson, C., & Fleet, A. (2011). Planning in the context of the EYLF: Powerful, practical and pedagogically sound. Research in practice series. Canberra: Early Childhood Australia.
Every Child magazine – vol. 18 no. 2, 2012.
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