Tips to meet Quality Area 1 – Centring children’s voices within your program and practice

Tailoring educational programs to support children’s unique needs, abilities and interests is key to delivering high-quality, engaging learning experiences.

Three smiling young male children wearing bucket hats and hooded jumpers stand together in a leafy outdoor play area. The 2 children on either end face the child standing between them. A shorter child stands behind the children and looks at the camera over their shoulders. Three smiling young male children wearing bucket hats and hooded jumpers stand together in a leafy outdoor play area. The 2 children on either end face the child standing between them. A shorter child stands behind the children and looks at the camera over their shoulders.
Image: Observations, meaningful interactions with children and engaging with families about their children’s knowledge, abilities, culture and interests are key to maximising opportunities for children’s learning.

Recognising that children are active participants in their own learning journey is a core principle of the National Quality Framework. Principles, practice and outcomes of the Approved Learning Frameworks and elements within Quality Area 1 of the National Quality Standard (NQS) – and key to nurturing competent and engaged learners in the early years and beyond.

A high-quality, effective educational program is tailored to the needs, interests and developmental abilities of children and maximises opportunities for each child’s learning, including during routines and transitions. It should also consider how educators can support children to further extend their learning and develop their sense of agency.

Understanding and implementing these interconnected elements – 1.1.2, 1.1.3, 1.2.1 and 1.2.3 – will help you foster a stimulating, reflective educational environment, where children are empowered to be active, capable contributors to their learning and world.

Engaging families to develop effective programs

Families’ insights into their child’s knowledge, strengths, ideas, culture, abilities and interests provide the foundation for a meaningful, child-centred educational program (element 1.1.2). Educators should seek information from families about their child on enrolment, at the start of a new year and where transitions occur. It’s important to continue the conversation throughout the year.

Educators must continually shape the program and their practice to reflect children’s evolving interests, ideas and capabilities. In addition to engaging with families, meaningful interactions with children, observations (including recognising and interpreting non-verbal cues from infants or children with developing speech), intentionality and ongoing reflective practice is crucial. This equips educators with the knowledge and context they need when planning for children’s learning and development (element 1.2.1).

Discovering learning opportunities within routines

When considering ways to meet Quality Area 1, reflect on opportunities you can take to strengthen the educational program to maximise children’s learning and development (element 1.1.3). Are there any changes you can implement to enhance planned and unplanned experiences, including transitions and routine times?

Routines within early childhood education and care settings are more than just structured schedules – they are opportunities for learning and development. Likewise, transitions also provide an opportunity for children to learn and develop age-appropriate skills that support their future learning.

Some ideas of how you could maximise children’s learning during routines and transitions include:

  • Take a program-informed approach to transitions. For example, children might engage in Munch & Move activities as they move from one space to another, such as hopping on one leg, crawling and balancing. When applying sunscreen, encourage children to identify corresponding body parts and where age appropriate to apply themselves, with or without direct support.

  • Use games, songs, poems, stories and group activities during routines and transitions to engage children and facilitate opportunities to extend their learning.  

  • Use routines to explore wonder, such as engaging in discussion during lunch outdoors about the garden. Are there opportunities to explore what plants eat and drink, how they grow and how we care for our environment.

Adopting a flexible and responsive approach to routines and transitions will maximise opportunities to nurture children’s sense of agency and desire to explore and learn.

Empowering agency through child-directed learning

Fostering a sense of agency challenges educators to be intentional and responsive to children’s needs, ideas and interests. Ensuring children’s voices are heard and respected, even in small decisions, lays a foundation of trust and empowerment, which helps young learners build confidence in their ability to influence events, actions and opportunities (element 1.2.3). 

Use the following prompts to reflect on how you can support children to extend and direct their own learning:

  • Can children access a range of resources independently? 

  • How are children able to contribute to program planning or their own learning records?

  • How do educators promote child-directed learning by encouraging children to make decisions about, plan for and help set up their own play experiences or projects.

  • How are children supported to openly express their feelings and ideas? Are there obvious opportunities children can influence the learning environment, resources and experiences? How is this considered in our planning?

Empowering children’s agency should be reflected in the service philosophy, educators’ pedagogy and be embedded across the service policies, procedures and practice.

Supporting children’s agency is important for child safety

Empowering children to have a voice in their own learning also supports their confidence to speak up when something isn’t right for them including when they feel unsafe for any reason. From a child protection perspective this aligns with the NSW Child Safe Standards, ‘Children participate in decisions affecting them and are taken seriously’.

Reflective questions 

  • How does your service make decisions about planned experiences and routines? Who is involved in making these decisions? 

  • How does your service use meaningful conversations and interactions with children to ensure routine learning opportunities are engaging? 

  • How does the unique knowledge and insights provided by families about their child’s knowledge, strengths, ideas, culture, abilities and interests shape the program?

  • In what ways are routine activities intentionally designed to maximise learning opportunities, ensuring they are responsive to the evolving interests and ideas of children across different age groups?

  • What opportunities are provided for children to direct their own learning? How is this reflected across all age groups? 

  • How are children’s interests and ideas intentionally integrated into the program?

  • How are children’s voices reflected in service philosophy and other relevant documentation? 

  • How confident are you that when children feel upset or unsafe, they will raise it?

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