Q&A with Uniting Ella Early Learning Haberfield

We asked Uniting Ella Early Learning Haberfield for some examples of their practices relating to Quality Area 5.

Image: Uniting Ella Early Learning Haberfield

1. As you’d know ‘self-regulation’ is an important standard within QA5 as it supports children to manage their behaviour and gives them some responsibility. Is this the idea behind the serve your own lunch initiative?

Supporting children to self-regulate happens within a respectful, supportive relationship with that child’s key educators. It is through this intimate relationship that educators truly come to know and understand the children. We know what frustrates the child, how they manage those feelings and ways that the child can be supported. We also provide many opportunities throughout the day where children can make decisions about their lives, and the educators take this into consideration when making decisions with, and on behalf, of the child and/or group.

Regarding the lunch initiative, we initially reflected on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, particularly Article 12. We used this lens to evaluate the flow of the day and wondered if our lunch time routine could better embed this article. A structure of our service that supports this way of working with the children, is our focus on small groups. Children sit at tables in smaller groups, spread across the room. This ensures there is space for children and educators to move around, should this be required.

We made modifications - at first the children became lost in the skill of scooping and transporting the food from the tray to their plate or became more interested in the working of the tongs. We talked with the children about taking just a little food and reassured them there would be more if they were still hungry. The children now take a scoop or two of the food, and push the serving platter into the middle of the table, or onto the next person waiting for their meal – including those in the youngest group (up to 2 years old!).

Watch the independent infants video on the lunch initiative.

2. How has COVID-19 impacted your relationships with children and families?

COVID-19 has really highlighted the closeness, appreciation and gratitude families have with the team and the service. Parents contacted us during the early days of the pandemic to check in and ensure we were safe, or if we needed anything and many set up coffee tabs for us.

Most of our families are essential workers and so we continued to operate. While children were absent, we wondered how to keep children connected with each other, to remember their peers when they weren’t present. This was achieved through talking with the children that did attend, sharing of photographs and videos of their time together, sharing Storypark posts with the group and wondering what the children at home were doing at various times of the day. We also emailed families to touch base, to provide ‘Early Learning at Home’ experiences and discussed how we were keeping safe. When children were returning, we prepared the group of the impending arrival of a peer.

3. Could you give some examples of how your educators help build positive relationships between all children? Including those with different backgrounds, ages or abilities?

We support and encourage children to collaborate, learn and help each other. Educators intentionally design and arrange small group experiences e.g:

  • dual easels
  • round table experiences
  • games such as snakes and ladders
  • reading nooks.

We provide many of the same resources and materials to minimise disputes over their use, especially in the nursery and toddler group. Learning is play based and fun. For example, after the preschoolers played snakes and ladders, they designed their own game and included numbers from 1 to 100.

Opportunities are provided for children to work with each other and educators, collaborating on projects and extending interests. The team also organises many turn-taking games such as duck, duck, goose, and take an active role in children’s group games modelling cooperative and helping behaviour. We use Vygotsky’s theory to reflect upon and use the zone of proximity thinking to create experiences that encourage respectful relationships between the ages and encourage the co-construction of learning throughout the ages and rooms.

4. Could you tell us a little about the culture within your service and how it promotes equity and respect among the children, educators and families?

Trust, continuity and predictability is important in developing and maintaining this culture. We support each child to feel secure, confident and included. The team thanks the children when they are helpful and acknowledges that individual children are making a positive contribution to the group and the good for all.

Children and educators are often observed researching together and constructing knowledge together, this promotes the sense of citizenship and agency in the service.

5. When a child starts at your service do you have processes in place so you’re aware of the child’s abilities, challenges and unique needs?

The time that we spend with each individual family and child through the orientation process gives us an insight into the child’s abilities and where they are currently at. We know from the beginning their food preferences, and we can adjust the meals according to their likes and dislikes, gradually introducing them to new food.

We also have a template to follow, especially for the younger children, setting out the flow for their day which supports us in meeting their needs as they arise, as well as predicating when a need may be about to be expressed.

Our orientation process supports the sharing of knowledge and sets the stage for the child and family entering the service. We aim to be friendly, open and honest with families. Children are included, and their ideas and questions are sought. We take time to show the family and child around, discuss where their belongings will be and where information can be accessed. We ensure that lockers are available when they arrive, and all educators are aware of the new people joining our centre. We encourage families to begin with short days, especially for children who are going through their first experience within an early learning setting. Families are also encouraged to call throughout the day, if they need to.

6. What are some of the programs and routines you’ve implemented that allow children the time and resources needed for positive interactions with their peers?

The first step in nurturing relationships is to present in a warm and welcoming manner to all families. In practice we are conscious of our body language when engaging with children. The Marte Meo approach has helped us to support and nurture relationships between children. This approach helps to describe the skills that could be possible for successful relationships and assists us to describe areas of a child’s social interactions that may be hindering (or helping) in the development of relationships.

Our routine allows time for children to engage in an experience and provides large uninterrupted blocks of time to allow relationships to grow.

7. Finally, could you let us know how your service maintains the dignity and rights of every child in your care?

We have prompts around the service as thinking points, such as displays of the Code of Ethics and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In staff meetings, we’ve discussed children’s dignity when on the nappy change bench, on the toilet or being changed. As a result we’ve made a number of changes to our practices, such as waiting for parents to leave the bathroom prior to changing a nappy; when new families are having a tour, we avoid the bathroom and nappy change areas if children are in those areas.

We maintain the dignity and rights of every child by promoting a culture whereby we treat each other respectfully, we’re kind towards each other and we think about what’s fair and what’s not. We are also respectful when sharing the children’s documentation ensuring each child’s strengths and voices are visible.

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