The challenge of documentation
One of the greatest challenges facing early childhood educators would seem to be managing documentation. In fact, a 2016 survey of early childhood educators found that “the sheer volume of paperwork is becoming unmanageable for many educators, and many struggle to complete it in the time given.” (https://theconversation.com/one-in-five-early-childhood-educators-plan-to-leave-the-profession-61279) Some educators felt that the volume of paperwork was taking away from their daily interactions with children and families.
The first change that I would recommend is being guided by ACECQA rather than hearsay. It is sobering to know for instance that we are not expected to document everything; in fact, ACECQA recommends that we be selective in what we choose to document as “it is not possible to capture all of the rich experiences and learnings that occur every day.” ACECQA also suggest reminding ourselves of why we are documenting and for whom. So I guess if we are feeling pressure to provide constant photographic evidence, or to provide copious notes that will never be read, we need to rethink why we are doing what we’re doing. If our documentation is not extending learning, then why are we doing it?
Another change worth considering is using a quality online documentation tool. Not only is this a more sustainable practice, it can also save precious time, thus reducing stress. EarlyWorks’ interface is clean and intuitive, providing educators with the ability to enter information with minimum effort. EarlyWorks includes the EYLF and MTOP Frameworks, and leads educators through the planning cycle. Observations, experiences, journals, reflections of learning and outcome comments are automatically saved in each child’s file, so information only needs to be entered once. This documentation is then available for families to not only view, but also comment on. So families can also contribute to the documentation effort!
Let’s celebrate how far we have come
December is a crazy busy time for education and care services: old families leaving, new families enrolling, OHSC long holiday programs starting, documentation being finalised, and on top of this, our own family Christmas madness to be managed! It is definitely not a good time for the faint hearted!
When we are in the middle of this craziness, it can feel like we are merely surviving and not really making a difference. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth (Yes, I’m serious).
The evidence for the difference we have made is right in front of us in our service’s QIP (Quality Improvement Plan) and all of the evidence that we have collected to support it. If the focus of the NQS is reflective practice and continuous improvement, then we need to take time out every now and again to celebrate the improvements we have made. If ever we deserved a celebration just for us, I think it’s now!
Using EarlyWorks, educators can revisit the year that was by going through the year’s QIP notes and noticing the improvements sought in the first quarter of the year that have made their way into the list of strengths in the final quarter of the year.
Educators can also revisit their reflections of pedagogy and notice the improvements in practice that have directly evolved from those reflections. Maybe one of your reflections on how feeds could be better managed in the babies’ room (Principle 1: Secure, respectful and reciprocal relationships. QA5: Relationships with children) resulted in more consistency with feeding, which in turn resulted in more secure attachments between educators and babies. We know that when babies have a sense of trust and security with educators they “are more confident, feel more secure, will be more creative and will be more likely to explore the world of learning.” (Aussie Childcare Network, Understanding the EYLF, 2009)
So I guess you may never know the extent of the impact quality reflections have on the children and families in your care. I think that should be celebrated!
I think we need to talk
We all know the importance of open and honest communication between educators and families. According to ACECQA’s Starting Blocks, “the key to maintaining consistency across home and the service is open communication between families, staff and children.” But how do we ensure this communication happens? And how to we ensure our families share important information with us? How often have we felt frustrated by not knowing about significant events in a child’s life, or changes in family routines that have affected the child’s sense of security while in our care?
If a family is new to the whole notion of childcare, they may assume that we will always know what to do. After all, caring for and educating children is our core business! I wonder if we can be victims of our own success here. The more competent our families think we are, perhaps the less likely they may be to help us out with important information from home. So I guess the solution here is asking families the right questions, and ensuring we keep the lines of communication open all the time.
It’s the ‘all the time’ bit that might need some work. I think we are pretty good at gathering information and asking the right questions when a child first enrols at our service. But, what about ongoing communication? How do we encourage families to continually engage with us, particularly when families’ work demands mean that they have limited time for face-to-face chats?
Using EarlyWorks, educators can share observations, journals, daily communications, comments and images. Families are then invited to respond in their own time. These responses can then be used to inform the program. Using EarlyWorks, educators can also engage in conversations with families, asking questions about changes to routines, changes in children’s interests, and achievement of developmental milestones.
So I guess, if we want to be kept informed, it is up to us as educators to ask the right questions and continually engage our families (either face to face or through the use of technology) in meaningful conversations.
I have been having some conversations this week about the need to justify ticking off EYLF outcomes in our individual and group observations. Don’t the outcomes say it all? Hmmm… I don’t think they do say it all.
As is pointed out in the PLP e-Newsletter (No 39, 2012) we need to ensure that we are ‘keen watchers, expert listeners, and wise thinkers.’ Our observations need to reflect this, otherwise, they will be too simple ‘all look the same and could be about any child.’
Justifying outcome choices with comments is one way of ensuring that our observations are truly individualised and provide a clear picture of where each child is at with their learning and development. Each child’s learning journey can then be followed as the comments for each outcome become more sophisticated as the child grows and develops.
Let’s take outcome 1.1 Children feel safe, secure and supported. If we just tick that outcome without any comment or annotation, what does it mean? How did the child demonstrate feeling safe, secure, and supported? Did the child demonstrate the outcome by crying to communicate their need to be comforted after a sleep? Or was that outcome evidenced in the way the child initiated a conversation with an educator during lunch about how they felt when their family pet passed away?
These comments illustrate very clearly, different stages of development, and yet the same outcome is being ticked.
Using EarlyWorks, educators are able to tick outcomes and make individual comments justifying the outcome choices. Over time, an EarlyWorks Learning Journey is created. If educators are thoughtful in their comments, these learning journeys can become a precious record of the distance travelled by each child.
Is there more to meal times than food?
Yes there is! According to the PSC Alliance (e-newsletter, July 2012) “Whilst meal times provide a break from play, they are not a break from learning.” In their view we should be putting as much time into planning for learning at meal times as we do for other activities.
I guess the most obvious learning focus for meal times is healthy eating and nutrition, and I think we are doing pretty well here. In order to meet the requirements of the NQF, services need to have a nutrition policy in place. Even when food comes from the child’s home, we are required to ensure they are healthy and nutritious. So, I think it’s highly likely our food offerings are sound (even if some of our children are reluctant to embrace our healthy menus).
So what other learning might happen during mealtimes? The PSC Alliance suggests involving children in creating a visually appealing mealtime environment. Children could pick flowers and put them in vases to go on the tables, have input into the arrangement of tables, and also be involved in selecting mealtime music (Element 1.1.6). Children can also assist with counting out cutlery, bowls and cups, and Educators might also talk about the colours of the utensils and placemats (Element 1.1.3).
I wonder if the less obvious and potentially overlooked mealtime learning opportunities involve relationships and communication skills. With younger children this might involve arranging highchairs so that the babies are facing each other and can interact.
With older children meal times might be a time to ask open-ended questions. The answers to these questions might then be used to inform the curriculum. During these discussions we might find out about food preferences and even cultural differences involving food and the way different families approach meal times (Principle 4: Cultural Diversity). If we find out that some of our children serve their own food at home from share plates, could we introduce share plates in our service?
For all of this learning to happen, we need to take the time to stop and sit with children at mealtimes. In the fast paced early learning environment, we may feel pressure to rush mealtimes in order to get on with our planned experiences and observations. However, if we view mealtimes as being an important part of the curriculum, maybe we can give ourselves permission to stop and smell the flowers on the table… Food for thought anyway (pun intended).
So much to do! So little time!
There doesn’t seem to be any way around it. In fact, it is put quite bluntly in the 6th Edition of ‘Programming and Planning in Early Childhood Settings’. “Pedagogical documentation takes time.” If we want our documentation to be meaningful and truly inform our practice, then we do need to put thought and time into it.
But how do we find the perfect balance between time spent with children, and time spent documenting? Well, I don’t have a magic wand that will produce “an ongoing cycle of observation, analysing learning, documentation, planning, implementation and reflection” (Element 1.3.1) However I do have some thoughts on how we might manage our precious time and resources so that some of our documentation happens during ‘time spent with children’.
While I would like to take credit for these ideas, they actually come from Educators using EarlyWorks.
One way to manage time and still produce meaningful documentation is to develop individual observations from group observations. This is not cutting corners, just good practice. Early childhood settings tend to be very social places, and much of children’s learning involves relationships and social skills. So, it makes sense to observe children in groups.
Using EarlyWorks, educators can record their observations and reflection of learning for the group, and then create individual outcome comments for each child. The group observation is then shared and customized to best reflect the group interests and individual learning that took place. The narrative and reflection of learning can include a valuable record of the children’s conversations, actions, interaction and learning as a group, while the individual outcome comments identify the learning that is specific to each child.
Another way to manage time is to ‘outsource’ documentation by handing the camera over to the children. I sometimes wonder about the precious learning we miss as we’re taking photos of learning that has often already happened. By letting go and allowing the children to do the recording, we may get some valuable and surprising insight into children’s interests and learning.
Some of our EarlyWorks educators have gone a step further and invited the children to not only take the photos, but also create captions for the photos, and dictate the narrative for the daily journal, thus providing an even deeper insight into children’s interests and thinking.
A lovely way to embrace the Principle of partnerships, as well as the Practice of responsiveness to children, while at the same time working towards EYLF Outcome 4 ‘Children are confident and involved learners’.
Can we engage in intentional teaching while still being child focused?
Yes we can! It’s right there in Quality Area 1: Educational program and practice, and in Element 1.2.2 Educators respond to children’s ideas and play and use intentional teaching to scaffold and extend each child’s learning. And if you are still not convinced, intentional teaching is one of the pedagogical practices identified in the Early Years Learning Framework.
I wonder if the reluctance by some of us to embrace intentional teaching is that we associate it with a rigid view of child development, and the expectation that all children will arrive at the same place at the same time. Some of us may also associate intentional teaching with being totally driven by checklists.
Jenni Connor challenges these ideas in her article entitled ‘Being Intentional’ in the NQS PLP e-Newsletter (No 72, 2014). She explores the notion of intentional teaching as being responsive rather than rigid.
Connor points out that we should have specific objectives for each child. For example, if a child finds the separation from their family difficult when they arrive at the place of learning, we might have the objective of developing ‘their sense of belonging and resilience’ (Outcome 1). We would include in our Program strategies to support the child in developing a sense of belonging in the learning setting, thus reducing the anxiety of being separated from family (intentional teaching!). It could easily be argued then, that intentional teaching can indeed be responsive, and therefore child focused.
Okay, so it is clear that intentional teaching is not a rigid, one size fits all approach. As Educators, we know that learning occurs in social contexts, and by carefully noticing the ideas, interests and strengths of the children in those play based contexts, we can make deliberate decisions to support and extend the learning we observe.
Using EarlyWorks, Educators can easily add educator initiated, intentional teaching moments to the Program. When a ‘next experience’ is added to the Program, Educators can choose to identify that Experience as Educator initiated, intentional teaching.
The Modern Planning Cycle
Is it really that different?
We’re probably all guilty of it, you know, reminiscing about how things were so much better “in our day”. For those of us that have entered the era of the “Planning Cycle” from a more traditional pre-planning approach, this post is for you.
Okay. You’ve been in the business of early childhood education for longer than you care to admit, and the EYLF feels like just another ‘fad’ that will pass. You might even feel like your understanding of programming and what constitutes curriculum is at odds with the NQS, EYLF, etc. At a glance, it might even appear as though somehow “proper” planning has become thing of the past.
Back in the day, many of us would have made detailed plans, describing in great detail the activities we would use to achieve prescribed learning objectives. Then we would work our way through these programs, ticking off the objectives as we went.
The good news is, we can still make detailed plans, however our planning is informed not only by understanding of child development and learning objectives, but also by gathering rich information about families, children, and community context.
The NQF planning cycle provides a structure through which curriculum can be developed. And that curriculum is informed by our theoretical understanding of how children learn and develop, our observations and reflections of children’s learning, and our context.
I guess the key difference to ‘how things used to be done around here’ (and I think it’s a good one) is we are given license to respond to spontaneous moments of play and learning. Back in the day, we might have felt restricted by what was already in our program. Now we have license to plan according to real time observations of children’s interests, learning and development.
Reflective Practice: Moving beyond thoughts and feelings
It is clear from both the EYLF (Principle 5: Ongoing learning and reflective practice) and the NQS (Standard 1.2 Educators and coordinators are focused, active and reflective in designing and delivering the program for each child) that reflective practice plays a crucial part of early childhood education and care. But what is reflective practice? Is it a collection of thoughts and feelings about another busy week? Or is it more than that?
If those thoughts and feelings do not involve any questioning about what we are doing and why, and if those thoughts and feelings don’t result in us taking action to make positive changes that enhance children’s learning, then we need to dig a little deeper. According to Arthur, Beecher, Death, Dochett and Farmer (2015, p. 428) “Reflection involves educators, families, children, and community members in thinking about some puzzling aspect of theory and practice that develops new understandings and new ways to strengthen practice.” So I guess, if practice isn’t enhanced, we’re not quite there yet.
One way to engage in reflective practice is to use the ‘reflect, reframe, act, revisit’ process outlined in ‘The Early Years Learning Framework Professional Learning Program’. In this process educators are invited to reflect critically on what they’re currently doing, identify strengths and gaps in their current approach, decide on a change they might make to ‘how things are done around here’, and then observe that change and continue the process.
Educators can easily use EarlyWorks’ Reflection of Pedagogy to follow this process. Educators simply tick the Principle, Practice or NQS listed on the Reflection of Pedagogy screen that they wish to reflect critically on, and then in the personal reflection box, detail their reflection, reframing, action, and observation of change.
EarlyWorks also allows educators to turn that reflection of pedagogy into action. By using the Extend feature, educators can turn their reflections of pedagogy into Observations that can then be used to inform the Program. Thus ensuring these rich conversations about practice, are then put into practice to maximize opportunities for children’s learning and development.
How to provide continuing access to families of children leaving your service.
With the end of the year approaching, you may be wondering how best to handle the situation where children are leaving your service but families still wish to have access to their child’s information on EarlyWorks.
There are three options available to you:
Option 1: This option will allow families to keep an active login so that they can view their inactive child’s information. This would be used if the child is leaving the service, and you would like to allow the family continued access to the child’s information.
(1) Ensure the family member’s Login Record is still active (using the Login Edit screen).
(2) Make the Child Record inactive (using the Child Edit screen).
(3) Ensure the family member’s Login Record is still linked to the Child Record made inactive in step 2 (using the Family Logins tab on the Edit Child screen).
Option 2: This option only allows families to view information about their children with active records. This would be used if the family has at least one child with an inactive record and one child with an active record, and you only want them to view the active child’s information.
(1) Ensure the family member’s Login Record is still active (using the Login Edit screen).
(2) Make the Child Record inactive (using the Child Edit screen).
(3) Remove the link between the family member’s Login Record and the Child Record being made inactive (using the Family Logins tab on the Edit Child screen).
Option 3: This option will prevent families from having access to EarlyWorks. This would be used if the family no longer has any active children at the service, and you do not wish them to have access to their inactive children’s records.
(1) Make the family member’s Login Record inactive (using the Login Edit screen).
(2) Make all of the family member’s Child records inactive (optional – using the Child Edit screen).
(3) Remove all links between the family member’s Login Record and any existing Child Record (optional – using the Family Logins tab on the Edit Child screen).
Revised NQS Standards and Elements
According to ACECQA “From 1 February 2018, Services will be assessed and rated against a revised version of the National Quality Standard (NQS).
To support Services transitioning to the new National Quality Standards and Elements, we have made some minor changes to EarlyWorks. These changes are available now but may not impact your Service immediately as the timing and nature of your transition will depend largely on your Service’s individual circumstances.
Services can now select from one of three “NQS Standards and Elements” options available from the Maintain > Settings screen.
- Pre 1-Feb-2018 is currently the default option. With this option, all NQS Standards and Elements displayed throughout EarlyWorks will relate to the Standards and Elements of the existing QIP template.
- If you select the Post 1-Feb-2018 option, all NQS Standards and Elements displayed throughout EarlyWorks will relate to the Standards and Elements of the Revised 1st February 2018 QIP template.
- If you select the Pre and Post 1-Feb-2018 option, both the existing and revised NQS Standards and Elements will the displayed. This will allow you to generate two versions of the QIP and QIP Evidence List.
Cute Pic or Evidence of Learning?
With the advent of digital photography and more recently smartphones, it has never been easier to use photos as evidence of learning. And it could be argued that this has been a real gift to both educators and families. Educators are easily able to capture children’s learning in real time, and then share that with families, in real time. However, what if the sharing of photos becomes the focus rather than capturing evidence of learning?
As is pointed out in the National Quality Standard Professional Learning Program e-Newsletter (No 39, 2012) “Constant photographing can be very unsettling and interrupt the flow of play and learning experiences. However, judicious use of photos with analysis can help to capture children’s learning very effectively.” So I guess as educators, we need to think about how the photos we are taking are helping us make better sense of children’s learning.
According to the EYLF, we need to be viewing children as active participants in their own learning. Using EarlyWorks, educators can use photos and the voice of the child to document the child’s interpretation of an experience. When educators record observations in EarlyWorks, they are prompted to include the voice of the child. This provides us with a rich understanding of the meaning the child has taken from an experience. So rather than relying on the educators’ interpretations and analysis of photos, daily journals and observations can include what the children see as important in their learning.
This is taken one step further when the journals and observations are shared with families. Using EarlyWorks, families can add to the journals with observations and photos from home. Involving children in deciding what photos and stories are shared, gives educators an even deeper insight into children’s interests and their understanding of the world. So, used judiciously, photos can be a springboard for collaboration and exchange between children, families and educators.
I have a theory… or two…
In order to be effective early childhood educators, we need to have a solid understanding of child development. However, this is not as straightforward as it may seem. There are so many theories of child development, and each theory may take a different theoretical approach: maturation, psychodynamic, psychosocial, cognitive, behaviourist, ecological and information processing. And within each of these approaches, there are a number of prominent theorists to choose from.
The good news is that many early childhood education professionals and service providers believe in taking an eclectic approach when it comes to theories and theorists. According to the NSW Department of Community Services, there are valid views contained in each theory of child development, and educators can use parts of a theory “if the context – the child and the situation – seem appropriate.” They go on to state that this is a helpful way of developing our understanding.
So how can this be done, and documented in an already busy setting? At EarlyWorks we understand that no two settings are exactly the same, so different services are likely to be guided by different philosophies, and drawing on different theories of child development. EarlyWorks allows educators to add theorists, philosophies and outcomes to those already included in the EarlyWorks system (EYLF and My Place, Our Time). So using EarlyWorks, educators can be guided by the philosophy of their service, as they make meaning of their observations of children’s learning and development.
According to ACECQA, the QIP should involve all relevant stakeholders: educators, managers, children and families. It also needs to be updated at least once a year, available on request to all stakeholders, and available at the service. Making this collaboration happen can be quite a challenge, and is one of the reasons so many educators are turning to EarlyWorks.
Your service’s entire QIP can be produced within EarlyWorks; with EarlyWorks, the QIP becomes everybody’s business. When observations, journal entries, program comments, reflections of pedagogy, or parent comments are entered into EarlyWorks, at the click of a button, educators and managers can choose to include this as evidence for the service’s QIP. This collaboration and sharing results in a dynamic document that is truly owned by everybody.
Using EarlyWorks, all staff can also identify and record areas of strength as well as areas needing improvement in easy to use templates that link to the Quality Areas and Elements. This shows that your service is continually revisiting and reflecting on the service’s plans for quality improvement.
Feedback from services who have made to move to EarlyWorks, is that their QIP is now a live, working document owned by everybody, thus creating a shared vision for the service.
It takes a village to raise a child
We have probably all heard the traditional African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child”. It could be argued that this philosophy of child rearing requiring communal effort is behind the second Principle of “Partnerships” in the EYLF, as well as Quality Area 6 of the NQS, ‘Collaborative partnerships with families and communities”.
Collaborative partnerships are particularly important for children with additional needs. EarlyWorks makes it very easy for educators, families and support professionals to work together to ensure every child has the opportunity to achieve their learning potential. By providing a family login to families and support professionals such as occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech pathologists and inclusive support workers, observations, comments and images can be shared.
Support professionals can add observations, comments and images directly into EarlyWorks using their family login. Then when families login to EarlyWorks at home, they can also add comments and observations. This valuable information can then be used by educators to inform their planning of new learning experiences. Support workers, parents and educators are then all contributing to the programming cycle, thus sharing and valuing each other’s knowledge.
Getting “in the moment”
One of the great challenges in producing daily journals is capturing those precious moments of learning as they happen. Finding time in a busy day to take photos, print photos, jot down notes, type notes out, stick the photos and notes into books or onto posters can be challenging. By the time you are ready to jot down the observation, the moment can be lost.
Feedback from Educators who have changed over to EarlyWorks, is that their observations and images are now more meaningful and they are produced more efficiently. Educators can enter their photos and observations of children’s learning as it happens, right in the moment.
The daily journal can then be shared with families before the child leaves for the day. This means parents can ask their child questions and make comments about their child’s day s on the way home, allowing the child to share precious moments of learning with parents while it is still fresh and relevant.
Parents often comment on the way the daily journals act as a springboard for discussion. In fact, some have said that EarlyWorks has provided them with insight they hadn’t previously been privy to. EarlyWorks allows parents to not only share in their child’s achievements and learning, but also add to it, by sharing their own comments and photos from home. This sharing of learning and development between educators and families creates an environment of sharing where children feel the connection between home and childcare.
Thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Proudly Productive today. Colleen and her amazing team of workers will have no shortage of experiences and outcomes to record in EarlyWorks! So much happening here: orders to fill, customers to serve, rocks to decorate, furniture to upcycle and, of course, cleaning up to be done.
The vision for Proudly Productive is creating an environment that replicates a workplace, where clients feel at ease and motivated to learn, essential life, social and employment skills required to potentially move into paid employment or in turn could use to turn a hobby into a social enterprise, setting up their own little boutique business as either an online Facebook Shop or regular market stall. This allows clients to sustain the hobby and give it some higher purpose and meaning adding to the sense of achievement.
Direct Debit – A New Way to Pay
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- The challenge of documentation
- Let’s celebrate how far we have come
- I think we need to talk
- Ticked off!
- Is there more to meal times than food?
- So much to do! So little time!
- Can we engage in intentional teaching while still being child focused?
- The Modern Planning Cycle
- Reflective Practice: Moving beyond thoughts and feelings
- How to provide continuing access to families of children leaving your service.
- Revised NQS Standards and Elements
- Picture This!
- I have a theory… or two…
- Everybody’s QIP
- It takes a village to raise a child
- Getting “in the moment”
- Proudly Productive
- Access EarlyWorks from your smartphone or tablet
- Direct Debit – A New Way to Pay
- Integrate EarlyWorks into your website