Connecting your practice to the VEYLDF: A conversation with Professor Susanne Garvis
This fact sheet is for educators who want to better understand how to:
- engage more deeply with the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF)
- reflect the framework more visibly in their pedagogy and practice
The Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF) upholds the image of the child as a rights holder and as a competent learner with capabilities to learn from birth. This means it is the right of every child to a high-quality education that supports their individual learning. By acknowledging this expectation for all children, educators advocate that each child’s prior experiences prepare them for learning and development opportunities. An important question to ask is around ‘equivalence’. Do all children have a high-quality ‘equivalent’ education that allows them to reach their fullest potential?
When an educator has high expectations for all children, they are also more likely to take responsibility for providing opportunities that will provoke the next steps in children’s learning. This means thinking about and reflecting on how best to support each child. For example, if a child is currently not able to complete a task or engage fully in an experience, the educator is able to provide support and encouragement that then enables the child to persist and experience success.
When educators think about ways to support the child’s learning, it is important that they consider the design and organisation of the learning environment. This includes looking at the placement of resources, types of resources, interest centres, interactions, and transitions. For example, are there a variety of math materials that promote the areas below?
- Counting/comparing quantities (games that require children to figure out more or less, playing cards, dominoes, written numbers matched to quantities)
- Measuring/comparing sizes, including fractions (measuring cups and spoons, balance scales, rulers, tape measures, height charts, games with parts to divide and put back together)
- Shapes (shapes, puzzles, magnetic shapes, patterns)
Another area to consider and reflect upon is the place and frequency of transitions in the child’s day. Children are engaged in active transitions throughout their day, from when they enter the early childhood setting through to when they leave. Children will transition multiple times as they move between activities and routines. For example, if the transition is from one activity to the next, was it smooth, or did the child need additional support from an adult to assist them to resettle at a new experience? Does the child respond differently if it is an ‘individual’ transition, compared to a ‘group’ transition? Was there a specific learning focus to the transition (such as a song sung during the transition to promote counting or a specific rhyming word combination)? Can the transition be individualised? Staff are also part of transitions in program structures. Were staff prepared and organised for a new activity and able to support children to transition without a prolonged wait period?
The VEYLDF is supported by eight Practice Principles. One of the intentions of the Practice Principles is to guide early childhood professionals to respond sensitively and positively to each child. What does this look like?
With very young children (birth to three years), consider the types/style of conversations you are having with them, and how many ‘turns’ there are in the conversation. Do you engage with all children in the group? Are there opportunities in routines (such as nappy changes) where you can continue to engage in positive conversations with the child? It is important to remember that conversations with very young children may not involve talking in the way we typically think about conversation, but may involve sounds such as cooing or babbling, and gestures such as smiling, waving or pointing.
For children entering early childhood settings for the first time, it is also important to allow time to support the transfer of primary attachment from the caregiver to the educator. For some children this will take a small amount of time and appear almost seamless, while for other children it may take longer and require more intentional and explicit support from the educator. Part of understanding the attachment transfer is to recognise the importance of familiarity for the child. You may be able to establish rosters to ensure one educator consistently greets the caregiver and child each morning and another is there at the end of each day. It is important to engage in continual reflection around the overall experience of the young child to enable you to implement practices that are sensitive and responsive. Such considerations will also support building positive relationships with families. Families come to understand and become involved in the early childhood setting.
For older children, it is important to reflect on how assessment and feedback is provided to children and their families so that all children experience success. One area of reflection is the use of learning journals. Are learning journals accessible to children? Are children engaged in productive conversations around their learning trajectories: for example, by being encouraged to reflect on artwork they have produced and other forms of documentation? Can these reflections on learning be shared with families? The key is to allow children to talk about their own outcomes in relation to their learning.
Children are confident and involved learners. According to the VEYLDF, ‘Responsive learning relationships with all children support them to learn successfully. They are encouraged to be enthusiastic and curious about their learning.’ As educators we can bring these two dispositions of enthusiasm and curiosity to life in our daily work with children.
As educators, it is important that we are able to model dispositions such as creativity, curiosity, problem-solving and enthusiasm for learning. This can be done through active questioning (sustained shared thinking) and engaging with things that are of interest to the child. As educators we may not have the answer to a question that a child poses, but we can model to the child how to seek information that will support an answer to their question: for example, ‘I don’t know that answer, but let’s look it up together in the nature book on insects.’
Another area of consideration is the balance between structured and unstructured learning throughout the child’s day. We know that learning programs that build upon children’s interests and ideas and make use of both intentional and spontaneous teaching moments throughout the day provide the best outcomes for children. You might want to consider entering children’s play episodes and scaffolding new concepts (for example, by introducing new vocabulary that will extend their play and thinking). When the educator enters these moments with children, they are able to engage with and support the children in their learning, within an area that the child has usually chosen because it is of interest to them. The role of the educator is to think about how these spontaneous teaching moments can be entered into throughout the day.
Balance is the key throughout the day; try to find some balance as you provide opportunities for child- and teacher-initiated learning activities, and transition or routine tasks that are responsive to the different capabilities and understandings of children.
As educators, it is important we engage in reflective practice. We know that positive outcomes for children are more likely when educators engage in reflective practice. Reflective practice plays an important part in our daily lives with children and their families.
A key for reflective practice is to focus on a specific goal, looking at how something might be addressed as well as the possible consequences. By being involved in reflective practice, as an educator you are also committing to the learning cycle of planning, monitoring practice, evaluating and re-visiting. You will continually question, reflect on and be curious about how you are able to support children’s learning and development.
It is important to have an agreed understanding that you will be open and honest in sharing knowledge and perspectives with colleagues. Colleagues may be able to observe elements that you do not when you are interacting with a child, or perhaps they may notice something in a play episode with a child outside while you are inside with other children. Open dialogues are important in supporting reflective practice to enhance learning and development for all children.
Another area to consider for reflective practice is the use of mapping. You might map the different areas of the early childhood setting where the children engage and spend time, as well as where in the setting the educator is engaged and spending time. For example, is more time spent in some areas than others? How often do children and educators interact across the space? Where do children’s interactions take place in the space? Do educators interact with every child during the day?
As part of the National Law and the National Quality Standards, the VEYLDF is an approved learning framework. As an approved learning framework, it has the potential to make you a better educator and your practice more contemporary.
The VEYLDF allows us to reflect on learning and development outcomes for children. As educators, we can reflect on our own practice in supporting all children by considering if our work aligns with the Practice Principles. The VEYLDF also provides us opportunities to inform our pedagogical decisions and to critique or challenge our existing practices.
Finally, the VEYLDF also provides a shared language and understanding for all early childhood professionals and can inform conversations with families, colleagues and other professionals working with young children.
Susanne Garvis is a professor of education and Chair of the Department of Education at Swinburne University of Technology. At Swinburne she oversees teacher education from early childhood to secondary education and leads a number of research projects to support children, families and teachers within education.
Noticing the red flags for children’s learning and development: How an occupational therapy lens can support your work as an educator – A conversation with Dr Anoo Bhopti
This fact sheet is for educators who want to better understand:
- when educators should be concerned about children’s motor development
- how educators can best support children’s motor development
Through movement children have opportunities to learn and develop, and these types of experiences contribute to the development of healthy brain architecture. Healthy brain architecture depends on a sturdy foundation built by appropriate input from a child’s senses along with stable, responsive relationships with caring adults. Adult responses need to be reliable and appropriate to encourage responses from children, and this helps their brains develop (Shonkoff 2000).
An inviting and stimulating early learning environment encourages the child to move and learn. Within this type of environment children experience different sensations and textures and are introduced to important concepts such as size, shape and depth. These experiences help children to develop an early understanding of spatial relations and support them to learn about their own bodies.
When we think about movement experiences from this perspective, we can see that they are very important for children as they contribute to the continuation and strengthening of their neurological connections and help build healthy brain architecture. Based on our knowledge of motor learning theory, we know that practice is extremely important for children to firstly experience, then learn and ultimately consolidate independent movement.
Did you know that a toddler will fall, on average, 17 times an hour while they are learning to walk (Adolf et al., 2012)? Thinking about this fact can help to guide our practice and might direct us to set up an environment where very young children can walk and fall safely. In setting up the environment in such a way, we are encouraging them to practise their motor skills and encouraging them to walk. The more they practise, the stronger their brain wiring is, and they learn and consolidate new skills.
Some children might have developed more competence and preference for gross motor skill experiences than fine motor skill experiences, so it is important to note and remember that we should expose children to and encourage them to practise all of kinds of movement – practice leads to competence.
When intentionally setting up an environment that will encourage movement learning opportunities, think about safety first and then plan on including some obstacles, undulating surfaces and a variety of sensory textures to enable children - especially toddlers - to navigate, problem-solve and experience successes as they move around and engage with the environment. Setting up such movement-rich environments with intention can help children extend their gross motor, fine motor, communication and pretend play and social skills, and will provide you with opportunities to notice more about children’s motor skills
Below are some examples of ‘red flags’ you might notice when you set up a movement-rich early learning environment.
- You might notice that some children are unable or much less inclined than their peers to move, crawl or walk, or that they appear clumsy in comparison to their peers.
- Some children may dislike certain textures or movements and mention these flags to your supervisors or to their parents.
- You might notice differences in children’s muscle tone – does one child consistently feel much tighter or perhaps much looser in their hips and legs when you change their nappy?
- You will be able to notice if they have asymmetries – do they use one hand more than the other or keep their hands fisted even if they are more than six months of age?
- Do they show any asymmetry when they walk? For example, does it seem like they are using one leg more than the other or limping, toe-walking or showing any noticeable differences between how they use their legs?
- Are they unable or struggling to transition from lying to sitting, or from sitting to standing up on their own?
- You will notice sensory preferences or dislikes – for example, they may not like loud noises or sudden movements, such as going down a slide; or they may seek some movements a lot more than other movements, such as swinging high or jumping from heights; or they may dislike sensory activities, such as messy play, sand play or walking on grass. (Be mindful that some cultures don’t like messy play so this could also be an underlying reason.)
- You might notice delays in fine motor skills related to their hand use, which may be limited to taking objects to their mouth to explore (mouthing). Are they building with toys and using toys for functional play, or are they just exploring? Children start building with toys at as early as 9–10 months and start putting objects into containers – are they participating in such play?
- Are they joining in pretend play? Can they feed a doll or a teddy? Children start engaging in basic pretend play at as early as 12–16 months. Are they playing in the home corner or doll house, or do they not know how to engage in such pretend play?
- You might notice early communication signs – if they are not making babbling noises or drawing attention, this might be of concern.
- You might notice some delays in social attention – eye contact, response to name, pointing to ‘show’, following gaze, waving, clapping and other gestures, copying others, pretend play, showing toys to others, shared smiles and sharing emotions.
When you create environments that provide many opportunities for children to practise their motor skills and you observe and note their progression, you can be an important contributor to building understanding of the child for their family and other professionals. The information you provide can be instrumental in helping everyone concerned with the child to create a holistic understanding of the child’s progress. Please recognise that parents may be at different stages in their understanding of their child’s development or may not yet be open to hearing of your concerns. It is important to remember that if you have meaningful and accurate documentation about children’s learning and development, this may provide you with multiple ways to speak to families and other professionals.
If you have concerns about children’s development, make sure that you discuss these concerns with the educational leader or coordinator of the service prior to talking to the family.
Play provides many opportunities for children to build and consolidate a range of skills. When an educator intentionally creates playful learning opportunities and observes children involved in playful experiences, they are able to capture authentic assessment detail.
Educators can intentionally create learning opportunities through play that can further extend motor skills. Experiences such as obstacle courses, boxes to hide in, objects to push and pull, sand to dig and pour, as well as peg boards and puzzles all support ongoing motor development.
Documenting children’s playful learning opportunities may look something like the following examples:
In order to further extend these skills, we are currently setting up pretend play with dolls and teacups and a picnic. However, we observed that ‘John’ was not interested in this play, preferring instead to play with bubbles.
We observed that ‘John’ was not aware of his peers while he was playing and prefers to play with only one or two toys. We will continue to offer such experiences and extend John’s social opportunities so that he can start interacting with his peers and engage in pretend play.
Educators are a very important part of multidisciplinary assessments, so it is essential to record accurate and meaningful observations of children. Early learning environments can be places where children spend a significant part of their day, and observing children in these play-based environments can add rigor and authenticity to the observations recorded. These types of authentic assessments can be useful to other professionals in determining diagnostic outcomes for young children.
Healthy brain architecture is shaped by ‘serve and return’ interactions. This means that when a child cries, points at something or engages in some way (the ‘serve’) and an adult responds with words, eye contact or physical touch (the ‘return’), neural pathways are built and strengthened in the child’s brain, supporting their development of communication and social skills (Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University).
The five steps below, recommended by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, highlight the importance of environments that are rich and adults who are responsive to children.
- Notice the serve and share the child’s focus of attention
Look for what the child is doing (are they pointing at something, moving their arms or legs, making a sound?) and share their attention. Look for these opportunities, for example, when you are feeding them or changing their nappies.
- Return the serve by supporting and encouraging
- You can make a sound or say ‘What’s that? I see!’ Or just smile or nod to let them know you are noticing their serve. You may pick up a toy they seem to be pointing to and show them.
- Give it a name
- You can give the thing they are pointing to or moving a name: for example, ‘Those are your toes!’ Or ‘Oh, that is teddy!’ You can name anything – a person, a thing, an action, a feeling or a combination of these.
- Take turns … and wait
Keep the interaction going back and forth. Waiting is crucial and it is amazing what we can see when we wait, because children take time to respond.
- Practise endings and beginnings
Use words such as ‘Oh, you want to play with that’ when they approach an activity, or ‘All done’ when they move away.
Anoo is a lecturer and researcher at La Trobe University, Melbourne, and a paediatric occupational therapist. Anoo’s research and practice is embedded within the early childhood intervention and disability sector, with an emphasis on inclusion and participation, caregiver wellbeing and family quality of life. Anoo was a co-author on a report for the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and collaboratively published the National Guidelines for Best Practice in Early Childhood Intervention.
This fact sheet supports information contained in the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) September 2021 Twilight Webinar Noticing the red flags for children’s learning and development: How an occupational therapy lens can support your work as an educator. Watch edited vignettes of the webinar
Adolph, KE, Cole, WG, Komati, M, Garciaguirre, JS, Badaly, D, Lingeman, JM, Chan, GL, & Sotsky, RB 2012, ‘How do you learn to walk? Thousands of steps and dozens of falls per day’, Psychological science, Vol. 23, No. 11, pp. 1387–1394
Center on the Developing Child 2017, ‘5 Steps for Brain-building Serve and Return’, Harvard University
Shonkoff, JP & Phillips, DA (eds.) 2000, From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development, National Academy Press, Washington
Collecting information about children using the VCAA Early Years Planning Cycle Resource
This fact sheet is for educators who want to better understand how the Early Years Planning Cycle Resource for the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework can be used to collect information about children’s learning and development
Collecting information is a bit like the spark that lights the fire. In many ways, the success of everything else you do as an educator is dependent on what you notice and record. All of us think we will remember everything, but education and care settings are busy places and it is difficult to keep track of our insights into what children know and are learning and doing without a recording process.
If you think about the planning cycle, collecting information is prominently positioned. It is, however, not the beginning because there is an element of reflection needed at the start as you consider what it is that you will pay attention to. Writing or recording is part of the collecting information stage.
Collecting information that is a reliable and accurate representation of where the child is on their learning and development journey will allow you to make the best decisions about what learning opportunities you offer next. The physical act of writing something down or recording it in some other way, such as collecting artefacts or oral accounts, gives you the opportunity to think more deeply about it. It reminds you that this was something worth noticing – a piece of new information that gives you an insight into the child that you didn’t have before. You can use this to begin to consider if it is a holistic representation of the child – can you see evidence of this learning in other areas? Is it dependent on who the child is working or playing with? Perhaps they still require some scaffolding from more able peers until they consolidate the required skills.
Consider the sample learning plan ‘Catching insects’ on page 5 of the Early Years Planning Cycle Resource. The observation is brief, noting an instance where the child watches an insect climb up a nearby fence and points out the insect to a passing educator. This is something an educator could miss and not use to develop further learning opportunities, but this educator has made a note of it and then analysed it to make a connection to the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF) Identity Evidence markers:
- are open to new challenges and make new discoveries
- initiate interactions and conversations with trusted educators.
The approach the educators will take is then consolidated in the ‘Act and Do’ part of the planning cycle. Writing this information down makes it available to all the adults in the room and reminds them of vocabulary they will introduce to expand learning.
Writing something down also provides you with detail that you can discuss with other professionals and families. This supports collaboration and provides a deeper knowledge of the child, giving you and others a rich and more complete picture of the child and their dispositions, and what they know and can do – their strengths, interests, abilities and needs – so that the ‘what next’ is relevant and responsive. The discussions you have with colleagues and families bring other perspectives to your notes and may open new opportunities for learning.
When collecting information about children, it is important that we consider the idea of holistic or authentic assessment; this is assessment that involves exploring and assessing different aspects of children’s learning and development in different contexts, environments and relationships. The purpose of holistic assessment is to gain a clear and comprehensive picture of children’s learning and development so that you can plan appropriately across all the Learning and Development Outcomes.
Educators need to know and understand a lot about children, and they can use this knowledge to make sense of their observations. Sometimes to make sense of a new observation, educators need to connect it to previous ones. This idea is easily demonstrated if we think about children’s interactions and how knowledge of their usual interactions can be useful in helping educators to note changes that might indicate progress in learning. For example:
- Who does the child usually play with? Observe for this – how does the child respond with different peers or adults?
- Who is the child watching? Who do you think they are they interested in and why? Are there differing levels of skill development among these children, providing a challenge for the child?
- How do you find out who children are interested in within their group? You can create laminated photos of the children positioned on pop sticks or wooden blocks or provide face photographs at the painting/pasting easel, which the children can use to create their friendship groups, adding detail by illustrating their bodies. If you set up experiences like this, you can note who the child chooses/talks about and talk with them about their choices.
- Through discussion with families, are you gathering evidence that supports your assessment? Is the child demonstrating evidence of learning in different contexts, such as the home environment? Remember, holistic assessment involves exploring and assessing different aspects of children’s learning and development in different contexts, environments and relationships.
- Where does the child choose to spend a lot of time? Talk with the family about this: is it that the child is generally choosing the place or experience where they feel competent, rather than being curious and choosing a ‘new’ place or experience that will challenge their thinking, perseverance and resilience? We need to connect this with experiences the child might have had outside of the setting – in their family or broader community. For example, what the family’s occupations or interests are might significantly influence the child’s knowledge and could serve as a ‘lever’ to make learning opportunities you plan more meaningful for the child.
- You can look beyond the immediacy of these everyday interactions and consider what the Australian Early Development Census data tells you about the children in your community. This will provide a broader context and may help you consider some collaboration with other providers or services in your community for projects that improve outcomes for young children.
Better noticing skills require a knowledge of trajectories of children’s learning and development – you need to be familiar enough to notice when a child has ‘moved’ to a new stage of development. Be attuned to the children and their interests and make time for interactions with small groups of children. Regularly review what you have recorded about children so that you don’t continue to notice the same thing – it is important to broaden your view.
Go back to the VEYLDF Learning and Development Outcomes and Key Components of Learning, and work with your colleagues to brainstorm other ways a child might be displaying evidence of progress in relation to the outcomes. The examples provided as evidence statements are just that – they are not an exhaustive list. Unpacking and thinking about the Learning and Development Outcomes will broaden what you might notice.
‘Pre-thinking’ refers to all the processes that you might go through before you put pen to paper. What questions do you have? What ideas are you considering? What ‘clues’ are the children giving you about their interests, understandings, questions or ideas? This process of pre-thinking starts with your image of the child. Each new cycle requires a belief from educators that children possess their own theories, interpretations, knowledge and questions, and that children are co-constructors of knowledge alongside their educators. Within this context of shared understandings, the educator can recognise that children’s ideas about their own learning and capabilities are important and should have visibility in the documentation you collect.
Educators need to follow children’s footprints – that is, the directions of their learning. This is only possible through a process of reviewing and reflecting on your documentation materials. It can be useful to consider what you know, what you don’t yet know and what you would like to find out more about – the pre-thinking is a bit like looking back to look forward. Gathering clues about children and then asking rich, deep questions adds great value to the development of the planning cycle.
There is great value in the questions you ask of yourself and children. What direction are you taking children and yourself with your questions? While there might be many directions you can take children’s learning, finding a thread and following it as far as you can go will feed into the complexity of the work and can produce more meaningful results.
Another important component of pre-thinking also involves the perspective of others. Planning can often be a subjective process. This is not necessarily a limitation but a strength, which enables us to take ownership of our ideas and our thinking. We do, however, still require the input of others – of children, of families and our colleagues – to create more authentic and holistic documentation that can enrich our understandings of children
It is very important to consider what is meant by context. In relation to the planning cycle, we are talking about all the influences that might affect a child’s learning and development. The ecological model is a way of thinking about these influences, and positions the life of each child within a social, environmental, political and economic context. Thinking about context in this way can help illustrate the strong networks of community, services and programs that support children’s learning and development. When you consider these influences, you can start to really appreciate that each child has their own context. Thinking about the context that children currently live in and have previously experienced helps shape and inform your planning cycle, both in the initiation of each learning plan and in its continuation. There needs to be a recognition from early childhood professionals that the families and, indeed, the broader communities that children belong to are diverse.
It can be helpful if you think of each child walking through the door of an early learning environment as having ‘funds’ of knowledge. These funds are the skills, knowledge, family and community networks that they have built up – even in a short amount of time for very young children. To do this requires early childhood professionals to establish and maintain relationships that allow them to discover more about children and their families. This can be supported by educators having an open and transparent communication style. It is important to remember that your knowledge of and relationships with children and families are not static things, as relationships are constantly changing. Teachers and educators need to have a good grasp of the everyday experiences and practices of children and how these can be incorporated into the early learning environment. It is helpful to ask yourself what you can do to support children’s learning and development and expand their funds of knowledge within your planning processes.
The first thing that needs to happen when connecting context to the planning cycle is to ask yourself what strategies you employ to gather information about each child and their family/environment and then consider how this information is reflected in the planning cycle. This can be done for individual children as well as the group.
The planning cycle includes the phase of collecting information as a key element and this is where we really draw on our observational materials.
One way of ensuring that you are collecting rich observational data is to ask yourself a few key questions:
- How do my observations and understanding connect to previous learning experiences?
- What is happening in this observation? (Try to consider your work around observation as being highly focused work that will offer you a glimpse into the processes children might use in their thinking.)
- What does the child know how to do?
- What was the context of what you observed?
- What was the role of adults in the observation you recorded?
- What predictions or ideas are the children making or sharing with you?
- Is the learning visible? Are you able to communicate children’s learning and progress to families and other educators and professionals?
- What might be the child’s point of view about this experience?
- Practise trying to see ‘a child’s mind at work’ each day. What processes are they using to ‘figure things out’?
Once you have gathered your documentation, it can be helpful to review the materials using the following prompts:
- What do I want to understand?
- What theories am I using to interpret my observations?
- What can my documentation materials help me to learn or discover?
Consider the sample learning plan ‘Sensory garden: Watching plants grow’ on page 18 of the Early Years Planning Cycle Resource. In this observation, two children are demonstrating their capacity to infer, predict and hypothesise; the educator has recorded evidence that the children can observe and notice change, and engage in explorations of living and non-living things.
When thinking about your documentation, it can be useful to consider whether you have captured the following four perspectives:
- the child’s story
- the learning and development story or theory story
- the educator/teacher perspective
- the family story.
All early childhood professionals see things differently, and it is through being open to these differences and taking the time to consider them that accurate and meaningful observations are generated.
Good observations will transform your practice.
This fact sheet supports information contained in the August 2021 VCAA Twilight Webinar Collecting information about children using the VCAA Early Years Planning Cycle Resource. Watch edited vignettes of the webinar.
The role of the educational leader in supporting equity and diversity in practice
This fact sheet is for educators who want to better understand:
- how to support all children to develop a sense of place and connection
- how to explore equity and diversity to promote children’s sense of identity
The Quality Improvement Research Project identified what many of us know from firsthand experience:
Effective educational leadership is essential to the provision of quality educational programs and practice … Employment of staff who understand pedagogical practice and can enable others to develop their skills and knowledge about play-based learning is highly beneficial in delivering high quality early childhood programs. (2019, p. 4)
The principle of respect for equity and diversity is embedded in the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF), just as it is in other national approved learning frameworks.
While we all have a responsibility to promote respect for diversity and equity and to embed this value into our teaching practice, educational leaders are uniquely placed to support early childhood professionals in this important aspect of their work.
Early childhood professionals’ respect for, and commitment to, diversity and equity is important in:
- promoting children’s sense of identity and belonging to family, groups and communities
- informing responses to each child’s unique learning and development trajectory
- helping children learn to respect and be comfortable with diversity and difference
- benefiting all children’s learning and development
- promoting inclusion and equity for all children and families
- developing and maintaining partnerships with families, the community and other professionals
- proactively identifying and addressing barriers to inclusion and equity
- challenging assumptions that work against equity, including the ways that practices, language and the environment can reinforce stereotypes or the dominant culture
- reflecting on and challenging your own and others’ views on equity and diversity as well as conscious and unconscious biases
- communicating and interacting respectfully across cultures and supporting multilingualism
- respecting and maintaining the rights and dignity of children, families and colleagues.
Educational leaders play a critical role in developing and implementing educational programs and practice, and in driving change for the better. The educational leader is intrinsically a capacity builder – building knowledge, skills and capabilities. Capacity building is the process by which individuals and organisations obtain, retain and improve the skills, knowledge, tools and capabilities needed to do their jobs competently and perform at a higher level.
Effective educational leadership also enables and empowers educators by providing them with resources, strategies and practice opportunities, and by building their confidence to be independent thinkers and develop their skills. Perspectives on diversity and difference are complex and influenced by many factors, both personal and professional, and a commitment to equity and respect for diversity requires professionals to actively address issues of inequality and promote the value of diversity and difference.
An important strategy for educational leaders is to promote critical reflection on equity and diversity in all aspects of your service operation. This can enhance clarity about the contexts for your work and how your service’s values, philosophy, policies and procedures affect your beliefs and practices. As a team, it may be helpful to think about and discuss the extent to which equity and diversity are embedded in your service operations, using the following questions as a guide.
Service philosophy and policies
- In what ways does the service philosophy acknowledge and respect diversity, promote belonging and foster inclusion?
- How is your service’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) and Strategic Inclusion Plan (SIP) shaping service values, programs, practices, policies, procedures and priorities?
- How do service policies reflect the rights of each child to access and fully participate in all aspects of the curriculum?
- What message does the physical environment send to children, families and visitors?
- What are the visible signs of welcome to families and children, and what evidence is there of connections to people’s cultures, communities and families?
- How does the physical environment support and encourage each child’s participation?
- How are routines (such as arrivals and departures, transitions, meals, sleep and rest times) organised to be flexible and foster children’s sense of security and belonging while respecting diversity and promoting equity?
Teaching, learning and assessment practices
- How are educators modelling fairness, inclusion and respect for diversity to promote children’s learning about equity and diversity?
- Are spontaneous opportunities used to teach the value of differences and respect for diversity, and to challenge behaviour that is unfair or indicates bias or stereotyping?
- Is the commitment to equity reflected in assessment practices that are inclusive and promote high expectations for every child and focus on children’s strengths, abilities and interests?
Partnerships with families
- What partnership strategies are in place to respectfully support families to:
- build strong social networks within the community?
- access local community services that cater for diverse families and offer specialist services when needed (for example, for those who may be experiencing vulnerability or stress)?
- make informed decisions about appropriate support for their child?
- How will you know if these strategies are culturally appropriate and culturally safe for families?
- How are families’ views used to ensure a welcoming and accessible physical environment for all?
This fact sheet was developed by Rhonda Livingstone, National Educational Leader at the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) and supports information presented in the June 2021 VCAA Twilight Webinar The role of the educational leader in supporting equity and diversity in practice
. Watch edited vignettes of the webinar.
Planning for under 3s using the VCAA Early Years Planning Cycle Resource
This fact sheet is for educators who want to better understand how the Early Years Planning Cycle Resource can be applied to observe, assess and respond to evidence of children’s learning and development from birth to three years of age.
When we write down our observations of children, it forces us to think more carefully about the words, images and visual representations we use to describe children’s learning. It also makes us consider the value of our documentation decisions: that is, whether these observations contribute to our understanding of children. Documentation should enrich our understanding of children, their attitudes and dispositions, and how they are learning. This is what we can reflect on and analyse. When documenting, we need enough evidence to be able to reflect and analyse because it is in these processes that any documentation starts to have meaning. This is when we need to ask, ‘How does this information contribute to our overall understanding of the child or group of children?’
Sometimes we might wait to document the ‘big moments’. The limitation of such an approach is that we may begin the documentation process with the end result already determined. Educators should be wary of engaging in the planning cycle and documenting from this perspective. It is important to recognise the ‘everyday’ moments where children show us elements of learning. For the young child this may be as simple as demonstrating an awareness of body parts related to a visual or a song they are learning. For the older child it may be an emerging understanding that water can exist in different forms such as solid, liquid or gas. These observations may seem small or fleeting, but during these moments children are showing us who they are as learners.
Documentation should show us evidence of children’s progression over time. Educators need enough rich information so that they can contextualise their thinking for each child. This type of rich documentation can help us to engage in conversation with others about what we have observed and documented, opening opportunities for us to view children’s learning and development through multiple lenses.
There is no recipe for what and how we should document; every context is different. Educators need to use their knowledge and critical thinking skills and develop a deep sense of curiosity about what is going on. This requires educators to be open to ‘noticing’ children. It is this idea of noticing that will guide what you document, which will in turn become rich and meaningful illustrations of children’s learning over time.
There are two aspects to documentation: the initial observation, which informs the planning cycle; and ongoing monitoring for change, which helps to determine future learning opportunities.
Consider the sample learning plan ‘Hats’ on page 41 of the Early Years Planning Cycle Resource. The first step in the learning plan is to ‘collect information’, which we often refer to as ‘the observation’. This is a record of what the educator observed about the child. But what makes this collected information meaningful is that the educator has gone on to question and analyse the observation, and has then linked this to the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF) learning and development outcome.
The educator collecting this information already knows a lot about this child. This helps them to assess the importance of what they have noticed, develop appropriate learning aims, and identify markers of progression. The educator can then start to think about what they might offer next and purposefully record what they will do. This process is important as it starts to prompt educator thinking about how to extend learning.
Not everyone will include the same level of detail when using the planning cycle; more experienced educators may not need to write down as much detail. For educators just starting out, however, it is recommended to take the time to think about each step in the planning cycle: collect information; question and analyse; plan; act and do; and reflect and review. This will help to ensure that your documentation is rich and meaningful, and may open up pathways for conversations with others, both colleagues and families. (There is also significant value in sharing documentation with children – even very young children.)
The final step of the planning cycle (reflect and review) asks you to move to the next stage of observation. You have collected the initial observation and provided a learning opportunity based on this observation. You have then collected additional information as the child or group of children engaged with the opportunity you created. Now you are able to reflect on or consider this additional information, which could result in a change of resources, environment, experiences or pedagogical strategies. There are a lot of options for thinking, reflecting on and changing what it is you are offering and doing. This process also creates greater opportunities for discussion with families.
The purpose of documentation is to help us better understand children. It creates a base or foundation so that we can be responsive to the children in our care, and it supports us to build further relationships, particularly with very young children. Documentation also helps children and their families understand the value we place on children’s learning and thinking.
What we write down about children becomes the basis of our planning; it helps determine what we offer next – either in learning experiences or in adaptations to the environment or routines. It is about ensuring we have evidence that will support us to match our interactions to children and become attuned to them.
Documentation allows us not only to track the child’s progress but also our own professional progression as we reconsider what we offer to children and what strategies we use. We should be growing as educators through this process and expanding the pedagogical strategies that we could implement.
Educators need to shift their thinking away from concerns about the ‘required’ volume of documentation to consider how their choices about what to document help to create a picture of a child’s learning and development. It can be useful for educators to view documentation as a process that:
- helps them to keep track of their thoughts, ideas, questions and concerns
- gives value to these observations for the reader
- demonstrates evidence of children’s progression over time
- provides an opportunity to interpret wonderings and happenings in the learning process.
We can often underestimate or undervalue young children’s thinking processes and how they construct new meanings. It is important that we do not assess children against predetermined outcomes or a particular theory. While a sound understanding of child development theory is important, educators must be open to multiple ways of viewing children and their learning. The place to start when thinking about planning for young children is with the child themselves and what you know about their interests and their current level of learning and development. This might mean that sometimes educators need to spend a little less time involved in ‘paperwork’ and a little more time engaged with children. This is especially true when you are getting to know children and their families. Documentation is important, but if you do not know the children, it is hard to document meaningfully. The decision to work this way is a pedagogical strategy.
Once you get to know children, you are then able to follow their direction and see where they take you. You join your attention to their attention. This is like finding a thread in their play or their thinking and following that thread as far as you can go. It might be helpful to think about this in terms of the following:
This can be a way of not only thinking about children but also about yourself as an educator. What are you seeing, thinking or wondering about? This way of working supports your skills in analysis and interpretation.
Consider the sample learning plan ‘Making faces’ on page 56 of the Early Years Planning Cycle Resource. Note that this sample learning plan has a title – as do all the sample learning plans in the Early Years Planning Cycle Resource. A title can help shape your ideas and narrow your focus, and can also help communicate to families about their child’s learning and development.
In this learning plan there is a lot going on. This child demonstrates visual acuity, hand-eye coordination, a sense of achievement and persistence, and a sense of agency. In reading this plan, we see that the educator has been able to support Diego to work in his Zone of Proximal Development; it is evident that with the adult’s support, he is able to achieve something he could not achieve independently. Diego’s learning could be further extended through the provision of art experiences and experiences that will support him to identify and name different emotions and what they indicate.
This learning plan presents to the educator an opportunity to ‘be in the moment’ with this child and to better understand his emotional responses and provide him with modelling and language that enables him to acknowledge these.
We can see that the educators in both the sample plans referenced in this fact sheet have chosen to focus on a particular evidence marker, but the educator could use this same observation to reflect learning that could perhaps be linked to another evidence marker. One observation and the subsequent opportunities presented to the child can lead to learning in a whole range of areas.
Generating quality pedagogical documentation is a better way to work. It provides us a record of children’s experiences, learning and development as well as a record of our own learning and development. Quality pedagogical documentation is a multipurpose tool; it is not only about children and making their learning visible but also about making their learning processes visible. It is a way to connect theory to practice as well as being a tool for assessment and evaluation.
Creating quality pedagogical documentation is not a solitary process. It requires others to also view, consider and add commentary on the work. In the Reggio Emilia approach, they describe this process as the ‘gaze of solidarity’ – it is better to invite the views of others than to make pedagogical decisions on your own. Historically we have been encouraged to be very objective about observation-taking. You recorded only what you actually saw, with little (if any) evidence of wondering. But observations are subjective; they are influenced by our own judgments about what is worth recording as well as how we analyse what we have recorded. This subjectivity was once regarded as a limitation, but it can be a real strength. The more interpreters of the record, the higher the chances are that you reflect the child’s thinking and learning with rigour. To effectively make decisions about what children might be learning, educators need to consider the possibilities that come from others collaborating and sharing their perspectives on the documentation created.
Documentation is the search for meaning, and meaningful and accurate observations are what leads to quality pedagogical documentation. When done well, documentation can provide you with the opportunity to tune into each other and children, and this makes work more joyful.
This fact sheet was developed by the Early Years Unit at the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) and supports the information presented in the May 2021 VCAA Twilight Webinar Planning for under 3s using the VCAA Early Years Planning Cycle Resource. Watch edited vignettes of the webinar.
Infant thinking and theory-making: connections to frameworks and documentation
This fact sheet explores how to plan for very young children’s learning.
Whenever we think about planning for learning with infants, we must start with the frame of relationships. Everything is learned in the context of relationships with families, friends, educators and other children. Infants also embody learning through active relationships with their environment and the things they can see, hear, touch, smell and taste.
Infant educators are highly skilled at noticing what infants are interested in, what their ideas are and what sparks their curiosity. As the youngest children communicate their learning intentions in a range of ways, infant educators need to be keen observers with the ability to listen with all the senses (Rinaldi 2005).
We need to abandon our own intentions and feelings about things and instead allow ourselves to really notice – to be surprised. We are trained to be knowers, but the art of noticing is about being an un-knower and completely open to the unexpected.
With infants it is about noticing the very ordinary, split-second happenings – if you miss it, it may not happen again. This is not to say that we have to notice absolutely everything, but being tuned in to notice is much more important when working with the youngest children.
However, the infant educator’s job is not to simply look all day. The educational theorist John Dewey said, ‘Observation alone is not enough. We have to understand the significance of what we see, hear, and touch. This significance consists of the consequences that will result when what is seen is acted upon’ (1938, p. 68). It is important for infant educators to engage with theories of learning and development so that they can interpret and understand what they are witnessing.
We must acknowledge from the outset that we can never be certain exactly what another is thinking or theorising. It is important that we never become too certain and we keep reminding ourselves that our interpretations are speculations or guesses. But speculation may well be the most important thing we can do alongside infants of this age. We get in tune with infants when we really focus on what they are paying attention to.
We may need to pull ourselves back to avoid imposing what we would like to do or what we want the infant to know. Instead, we should pause, think a little longer, and trust the infant to show us what they want us to notice.
It has become popular in infant education and care to follow a particular formula for how to change a nappy or how best to feed a child, but to truly respect the capabilities of each infant, we need to acknowledge that the development of preferences and desires starts at a young age. If we are to acknowledge this, we need to allow the infant to show us what response they would like from us.
The work of the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1999) and his notion of the ‘benediction’ can offer a frame for infant curriculum as an ‘invitation to encounter’. Levinas’ work provides a lens through which to view the immense capacities of infants to invite us into their learning encounter. We just need to trust that they will show us.
When we become skilled at noticing, we see invitations almost constantly. But we have to put our guest glasses on, not our host glasses. If we situate ourselves as the guest to the infants’ invitations, it shifts the role that we play. Rather than thinking about curriculum as a series of activities that we provide to children, noticing infants’ invitations enables us to see what they are interested in and how their theories might be leading their learning and provoking their thinking.
If we are to enter into a leaning encounter with an infant, it is important for us to understand a little about how infants learn. The book Learning About Objects in Infancy (Needham 2016) outlines the very fundamentals of how babies make sense of their world and the things they encounter. Infants learn much about their world through ‘statistical learning’ (p. 6), meaning that infants build a database of knowledge based on the patterns they observe. Infants watch, observe patterns, make sense of things and build up a knowledge of what things are and what they are used for.
The infant educator’s role in this encounter is not passive – it is highly active, both physically and intellectually. Our brains are trying to keep up with the infant. But we are also patient in allowing the infant to tell us what they want from us.
The environment is so important in setting the tone and enabling invitations. Begin by looking at the environment from the infant’s perspective. Some things to consider:
Is the environment predictable?
- Does the infant feel ‘I own this place; I know where to find things’? Is it organised and tidy enough that the infant can find their favourite things and get to them?
If the infant is not yet mobile, how are they positioned?
- Be thoughtful about what they can see and touch.
Is this a calm place?
- The infant should be able to be excited and active but also get some peace when needed.
Are the things that are visible to the infant of interest?
- Can they use things in interesting ways? The infant should be able to elaborate and change things as they see what is possible.
Is the infant’s love of embodied learning catered for?
- There should be places where the infant can use their whole body to feel and engage. Consider whether the infant can fit inside things, crawl through things or climb things. Can the infant rest their head for a micro-nap because they know where the cushions are?
Remember that infants can find the most extraordinary interest in the most ordinary objects.
If we understand why we are documenting, it becomes not a chore but a joy to record and reflect on the absolutely amazing things we are seeing in children’s experiences.
- Documentation helps us to be better educators. The act of capturing in writing and image what we are seeing helps us to see things in more complex ways. The threads of the learning begin to weave into a fabric where the patterns become clearer, the textures of relationships become easier to see and feel, and the inspiration of the children helps us to think about the next encounters.
- Documentation assists us to share this joy both with colleagues and families but also with children; older infants and toddlers enjoy hearing you read their stories and looking at photos of themselves and their friends.
What to document
If we are working with the idea of documenting encounters, we can find narratives a useful way of recording how infants encounter their learning. A narrative is a shared story of what is observed. We can go beyond simply what we see to speculate about what the infant may be learning or theorising. For an example of narratives see Cheeseman & Sumsion (2016).
One suggestion is to first write about the action you have seen, then consider what you think was going on inside the child’s mind – what do you think they were thinking and theorising about?
You can acknowledge that this is your thinking and that you can’t be certain, but this kind of speculation helps us to focus beyond what we can see and get to a deeper level of understanding of how we might support infants’ complex ideas and theories.
Let’s aim to have many more everyday conversations about what we speculate about children’s thinking and theorising, not being afraid to say, ‘I wonder if he …’ or ‘Do you think she is …?’ Let’s move on from being all-knowing to being all-wondering.
It is important to talk with families about an infant’s day and the functional parts of that day, but it is equally important to show parents that you are noticing their child’s unique thinking and how they invite us into their learning encounters.
Dr Sandra Cheeseman is the chief operating officer of the Creche and Kindergarten Association.
This fact sheet supports information contained in the April 2021 VCAA Twilight Webinar Infant thinking and theory-making: connections to frameworks and documentation. Watch edited vignettes of the webinar.
Cheeseman, S & Sumsion, J 2016, ‘Narratives of infants' encounters with curriculum: The benediction as invitation to participate’, Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, vol.17, no.3, pp. 275–288
Cheeseman, S 2017, ‘Narratives of infants' encounters with curriculum: Beyond the curriculum of care’, Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, vol.18, no.1, pp. 54–66
Dewey, J 1938, Experience and education, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York
Levinas E 1999, Alterity and transcendence, Columbia University Press, New York
Needham, AW 2016, Learning about objects in infancy, Routledge, New York
Rinaldi, C 2005, ‘Documentation and assessment: What is the relationship?’, in A Clark, AT Kjorholt & P Moss (eds.), Beyond listening: Children's perspectives on early childhood services, The Policy Press, Bristol, pp. 17–28
The challenges and opportunities of digital technologies for very young children
This fact sheet shares current research into children and how they use digital technologies and provides practical advice.
Digital technologies include a range of tools or devices, such as digital cameras, recorders, projectors, smart watches or smart toys. For very young children, devices such as tablets or smart phones that can be swiped or touched are easy to use as engagement with these devices is not dependent on highly developed fine motor skills.
Research into the opportunities and challenges in using digital technologies with young children identifies a range of findings, as the list below highlights.
While the research focus has been on three- to five-year-olds, there is increasing interest in researching digital technologies with children under three years of age.
- Digital technology in early childhood education and care (ECEC) is a relatively new field of research, and the technology is sometimes ahead of the research.
- Young children often use digital devices at home with an adult or an older child. These contexts provide new ways of socially interacting and connecting with others.
- Digital technologies influence the way children learn, what they learn (new knowledge, understanding and skills) and how educators teach and learn with them.
- There is some evidence that families are divided in their attitudes to digital technologies and to providing devices for their young children. Parents engage in different roles with digital technologies, including acting as gatekeepers, supervisors, mediators or co-constructors of learning.
- Data reveal the dramatic increase in access to and use of digital technologies from 2011 to 2017. In Australia, 97 per cent of households with children reported having access to the internet through computers, mobile phones and tablets (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018).
- While many Australian families have access to and use digital technologies, the lockdowns brought about by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic highlighted the digital divide in some communities. For example, some families possess mobile phones, but they do not have access to a computer with reliable internet access.
‘Guided play and learning occurs when adults are involved in children’s play and learning, following children’s interests and responding to spontaneous learning opportunities as they arise.’ (Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework, p. 15)
Every ECEC context is unique. Educators and families make decisions about digital technologies based on their values, beliefs and contexts as well as their understanding of the research. Educators making pedagogical decisions about digital technologies take into consideration the following key principles.
- Digital pedagogy decisions are made in children’s best interests.
- Educators reflect and make decisions using trusted evidence, guidelines and information about digital technologies and young children.
- Decisions are made collaboratively with families, children and other professionals working with children.
- Play-based learning approaches guide the program.
- Changes in children’s learning and development from using digital pedagogies are monitored for impact and outcomes and modified or adapted in response.
- Recognise the difference between children’s passive participation with digital technologies (watching television alone) and active engagement with digital technologies or devices (experiences where children are thinking, making choices, interacting with others and the device, and have a purpose).
Toddlers can use a digital camera to photograph the people, spaces or objects of interest to them in ECEC environments. Educators, toddlers and families talk about the images and what they reveal about the children and their perceptions of the environment. This discussion informs ‘What next?’ planning decisions.
Digital technologies can also be used to support participation, engagement and learning for young children with disabilities or developmental delay by: amplifying sounds
- enlarging images
- providing a communication aid
- supporting inclusion, participation and active exploration through using a touch screen device that combines a range of sensory stimuli.
Educators and very young children can co-view digital photo documentation to talk about learning and promote conversations and memory skills.
Digital projectors can be used to project large images or shapes on a wall or floor. Very young children can explore these images by using their senses of touch or sight.
Educators record very young children’s exploratory play and interactions using digital technologies and share these records with colleagues, children and families to support deeper understanding about the powerful but often subtle learning that is happening. Families, in turn, can share videos of their child’s learning at home.
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, infants and toddlers engaged in video chats with educators and peers as well as with family members they could not visit. These experiences showed the positive outcomes from using digital technologies for connecting with others.
Evidence suggests that informed, thoughtful use of digital technologies can help to motivate and enrich very young children’s learning. Using digital technologies with young children is best approached with a sense of curiosity, confidence, openness, and shared adventure.
Anne Kennedy works as a consultant, researcher, writer and advocate in early childhood education and care. Anne is a Fellow of the Graduate School of Education, the University of Melbourne and a life member of Community Child Care Association (VIC) and FKA Children’s Services. Anne has worked with the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) on a range of projects to support the implementation of the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework. Anne comes to the topic of digital technologies for young children with a sense of curiosity about the possibilities and challenges and a commitment to reflect on the research evidence from different perspectives in order to consider the pedagogical implications.
This fact sheet supports information contained in the March 2021 VCAA Twilight Webinar ‘The challenges and opportunities of digital technologies for very young children: In conversation with Dr Anne Kennedy’. Watch edited vignettes of the webinar.
Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018, ‘Household use of information technology’
Early Childhood Australia 2018, ‘Statement on young children and digital technologies’
Donahoo, D 2016, ‘We have a responsibility’, Every Child, vol. 22, pp. 16–17
Fleer, M 2016, ‘Inclusive pedagogy from a child’s perspective’, Research into Practice Series, Early Childhood Australia, vol. 22 (1)
Holloway, DJ, Green, L, & Stevenson, K 2015, ‘Digitods: Toddlers, touch screens and Australian family life’, M/C Journal, vol. 18 (5)
Livingstone, R 2015, Using digital touch technologies to support children’s learning, We Hear You: ACECQA
Miller, JL, Paciga, KA, Danby, S, Beaudoin-Ryan, L & Kaldor, T 2017, ‘Looking beyond swiping and tapping: Review of design methodologies for researching young children’s use of digital technologies’, Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, vol. 11 (3), Article 5
Yelland, N & Gilbert, C 2016, ‘Exploring with twenty-first century skills’, Every Child, vol. 22, pp. 34–35.
‘But do they do anything?’ Documentation and infant pedagogy
Infant pedagogy and documentation are central to quality early childhood education in the earliest years. It is important that teachers and educators draw on both sound understandings of baby development and best-practice pedagogy to observe, analyse and plan for young children’s learning.
- Babies have excellent perceptual skills and an infant’s gaze follows and tracks objects of interest within their surroundings.
- ‘Serve and return’ interactions, where infants and adults take turns making different verbal, physical and facial expressions, help develop neural pathways that enable learning.
- Babies come to understand the intentions of others and associate repeated actions and patterns with consequences, including within established interactions and routines.
- Babies can communicate their own intentions, reflecting desired outcomes in their minds, and they can direct their communications towards another mind, for example lifting arms to be picked up.
- Babies display their knowledge of responses of others by purposely acting to elicit those responses, and they can display overt and active expressions of positive and negative emotions that draw attention and/or enable connection.
A steady ‘rhythm of the day’ that is predictable and consistent, yet flexible as needed, fits very well with babies’ developmental capacities. New routines may become unique to the setting if the differences do not have a negative impact on the babies.
- When we have sound understandings of babies’ development, we can better pinpoint:
- what aspect of learning we might be noticing in observations
- the language we can use to explain it
- what babies might be ready to learn next, though this will also depend on context and individual differences.
- When working with infants, pedagogy involves being socially just, critical, reflective, evolving, challenging and uncomfortable. It also involves curriculum, practices and philosophy in a holistic approach.
- This means critically thinking about and reflecting on the theoretical, developmental and practical influences in our curriculum, planning and documentation.
- It also means critically reflecting on the image we have of infants’ capabilities, because if we do not think they are capable, if we have simplistic ideas about babies and their needs, we will not offer them opportunities and their learning can be directly impacted.
- In baby and toddler spaces, pedagogy acknowledges infants’ sophisticated expression - their powerful non-verbal communication – and plans accordingly, ensuring staff have levels of sophistication to meet children’s needs and best promote their education and care.
- Good pedagogical practice results in educators who have a strong rationale for all their practices and are able to articulate and advocate for these with colleagues, families, assessors and the broader community.
- Pedagogy involves understanding how all parts of the day (the staff, the space, the philosophy and thinking in action) impact on how well the day goes for both adults and children.
Intentional teaching falls within pedagogy and, among other things, we can think about intentional teaching as the environments we co-create that are thoughtfully and purposely planned and evaluated regularly, based on close and rich observations.
- Some theories of play are almost 100 years old and, as with theory and developmental milestones, need critical attention for relevance and contemporary ‘truth’.
- We need to reframe what we think play is for babies and start to look at what the children in front of us are actually doing, which is quite often playing with the world around them and becoming playful with what they know about it.
- Play is not just about building blocks, pushing trains around a track or feeding a baby doll; it is about self-regulated and/or co-regulated ‘serve and return’ interactions that can build on and extend babies’ holistic learning.
- Maths and numeracy play, literacy and language learning play, and creative arts and pretend play are all mediated by our delivery, because babies are learning as much from how we engage with them as from what we are saying or doing.
- Pretend play is said not to start until they are about three years old, but babies can pretend to laugh, cry, sneeze and cough from six months.
- Using meaningful, simple, everyday experiences to pretend with babies in playful ways can also be an avenue to develop literacy, for example, by pretending to take bites out of pictures of food in books, or pretending to cry or laugh and naming the feeling as ‘sad’ or ‘happy’.
It is important to recognise that babies’ learning is holistic – that is, various parts of their brains are working together to process the world. So, as with any good assessment at any age, if we start where they are at, we understand that a number of aspects of their learning are always developing. With that in mind it is impossible to imagine that learning and play are separate or that aspects of developmental learning (for example, numeracy, literacy, creative arts, social, emotional) are separate experiences. Babies are learning all the time and we must use everyday, familiar and meaningful experiences as the basis for what we plan for them.
Our documentation can follow set guidelines for all ages but our knowledge about babies must be contemporary and we must critically evaluate the learning that babies demonstrate before us against the theory, developmental milestones and taken-for-granted knowledge that we have traditionally used to interpret it. We are bound by ethical and professional responsibilities to uphold the rights of our youngest citizens. Valuing this most important time in human development, and the resulting cascade of choices and practices, is a first step to doing that in our work with babies and toddlers.
Dr Salamon is a lecturer and researcher in the School of Teacher Education at Charles Sturt University, with 20 years’ experience as an early childhood teacher and director. She is currently undertaking a research project about infants’ practices, funded by the Jean Denton Memorial Scholarship, and is listed as Chief Investigator on an ARC Linkage Grant about practices enacted in digital society. Dr Salamon has a particular focus on making her work accessible to professionals and carers who are working and living with very young children. An advocate for infants’ rights and quality early years learning experiences for all children, she brings her passion to uphold children’s optimal learning into her work with pre-service teachers.
This fact sheet supports information contained in the February 2021 VCAA Twilight Webinar ‘But do they do anything?’ Documentation and infant pedagogy. Watch edited vignettes of the webinar.
Facilitating children’s agency
This fact sheet is for educators who wish to deepen their understanding of the term ‘agency’ within their early childhood care and education setting, and how these concepts and ideas might be applied to pedagogical practices
Children’s agency needs to be understood as a complex and contextual concept. The educator’s role in children’s agency is integral and when educators understand agency deeply, their practice can enable children to flourish. Scott’s (2019) research into educator understanding of children’s agency found that for children to enact agency in early childhood education and care settings, there were some essential aspects and conditions that need to be facilitated by educators through their practice.
The first important point to highlight is that agency is contextual; the right conditions are required for children to enact agency and the educator plays a vital role in this.
Know your children, families and communities through developing strong relationships; every child’s agency will look different. Be aware of how much freedom and power you can share with children based on their disposition, their abilities, their interests.
Engage in intentional interactions that are underpinned by a commitment to facilitating children’s agency. Having the courage to say ‘yes’ to children’s ideas, even if they sit outside your comfort zone, can be an integral aspect for children’s agency enactment.
Allow mess, and challenge yourself to sit with uncertainty. Work on accepting how if you truly foreground children’s agency, you will be taken in directions you may not have thought of and will not have planned for!
Ensure children have opportunities to show initiative and are able to pursue outcomes that are valuable and meaningful to them. Asking a child to choose from a pre-determined set of options results in the child engaging in a ‘responsive action’ not an enactment of agency.
Be aware of what is meaningful for the child. It may not be immediately obvious but there is always a motivation behind children’s actions. Can you engage with that motivation and help the child explore and own it?
Share power with children, seek their input, listen deeply and always follow through.
Agency does not happen ‘in a vacuum’, children’s agency is not about letting each child do whatever they want, when they want! When educators prioritise children’s agency and facilitate it through their practice, valuable opportunities open up for educators and children to discuss how children’s actions and behaviours might impact others. Educators need to facilitate agency alongside affiliation, that is, the idea of living alongside others with respect and empathy.
When agency is enacted well, children can develop into young learners who are confident in expressing their ideas and practised in demonstrating initiative. These children may also become very respectful of their peers and of educators – they have a greater understanding of the reasoning and thinking that sits behind their decisions
Sue, an early childhood teacher from Melbourne, spoke of how her understanding of children’s agency had changed over her decades’ long career. She had moved away from understanding her role as an educator in terms of rules and restrictions, where the ‘power of the teacher’ was paramount, to one that prioritised and promoted children’s agency, where she ‘shares power with children’. Sue moved from practice where ‘the teacher drove everything’ with a ‘rigid, boxed program up on the wall, changed every fortnight’ to allowing children to make choices about their day and incorporating their ideas and interests into the program, where it’s all about ‘their learning, their agency and them being empowered’. Sue challenges teachers to reflect on the question; ‘is your program more about what you want to take to the children or is it really meaningful for them?’
Nina, a Diploma-qualified educator working in Melbourne, reflected on how agency underpins everything you do as an early childhood teacher … ‘well how it should underpin everything,’ she said. Nina places the utmost importance on children being able to enact and strengthen their agency and states ‘all children are able to make choices and decisions, it’s whether or not they’re allowed to.’ The importance of the educator’s role in facilitating or restricting children’s agency in the early childhood setting is clear to Nina. An example of children enacting agency in Nina’s room was when she stated that by the end of the kindergarten year Nina is able to ‘step back and let the children run the room … they looked after everything’ and this included making toast. The children were taught to use the toaster safely and were able to make themselves a snack when they were hungry – a great example of allowing children to enact their agency and make choices and decisions around their own wellbeing, trusting them to do so safely and responsibly.
The ideas contained in this fact sheet are reflected in the practice principles for children’s learning and development in the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF) that supports all children’s learning and development from birth to eight years. The VEYLDF emphasises the importance of sensitive, responsive and engaging practice and sets the highest expectations for all children.
Caroline has worked in early childhood education for over 15 years and is currently working as a lecturer in Early Childhood Education at Victoria University. Caroline has extensive experience teaching and researching in the area of early childhood in higher education and recently completed her PhD on educator understanding and facilitation of children’s agency. Caroline has been involved in many research projects across her career, predominantly in the area of outdoor play spaces, the topic on which her Masters research was based. Caroline has presented her PhD research into educator understanding of children’s agency at national and international conferences and symposiums.
This fact sheet supports information contained in the November 2020 VCAA Twilight Webinar Children’s agency: what does it really mean and why is it regarded as important? Watch edited vignettes of the webinar.