Welcome to my blog about my experiences working in early childhood. I have called it Nurturing Forests because I believe that raising children is not a isolated activity but takes a whole community.

As early childhood professionals, we are actively involved in this process but we also need to work closely with the children, parents, community as a whole and other allied professionals.

I hope you enjoy my site. I also have a facebook site of the same name where I provide links to useful sites for teachers, parents and others interested in the early childhood: www.facebook.com/nurturingforests

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Remembering who our clients are... the child and their families

I have been wanting to write a post about how important it is to remember who our clients are when working in early childhood. Everything we do must have the best interests of the child and the family at the core.

The reasons it has actually converted into making a post are two-fold. One, we are establishing new centre in my newly re-adopted hometown, Newcastle, Australia. I did grow up here but have spent most of my adult life/career in Sydney - but now I'm back. With this new centre, we have quite a few trainees and as it is a new centre, my Director and I are working really hard to make sure all of our practices put the child and their families first. My directors favorite line at the moment is "where is the child when this is happening?". Secondly, is my new partner (Drew) is having some issues with the preschool his son (my new step-son who's 3) is going to.

Engaging and learning with the child is our core job....
I know we have a job which involves a lot of 'extra tasks' such as cleaning, preparations, washing etc - but at no stage should your interactions with the children be compromised to achieve these tasks during your day. One of the easiest ways of doing this is getting the children involved. In my preschool room, the children help clean and set the tables for meal times, they wash their plates when they are finished and place their cutlery, cup (glass) and crockery (breakable) on the trolley (I would also like to point out here that the majority of breakages of our crockery and glass cups have been the staff - the children have been fantastically responsible). Very soon they will also be wiping over their place and their chair before stacking them - I have had children do this at other centres. The children also assist with sweeping the floors, making and stripping the beds and folding the washing. All these tasks are a really important way of building belonging and ownership at a centre as well as developing a child's ability to take responsibily for themselves and their community.

Are you appropriately using your staff?
Another way of dealing with these extra tasks is looking really closely at your staffing and how staff are allocated. If you do have a lot of 'not directly supervising/interacting with the children activities' then you have to look at your staffing arrangements to ensure your ratios are not being compromised. This can be as simple as sitting down with all staff and working out fair distribution of tasks during the day, utilising rest and other down times appropriately, and getting cleaners. If you are an owner or director of a centre and don't have cleaners - please think really hard about this - early childhood education and care is an important valuable job you should be employing your educators to educate and care for your children primarily not to clean the premises.

Listening to and addressing families' concerns?
The other situation with my partner and his child - is more to do with taking ownership when you have made a mistake and apologising to the family and then taking steps to ensure the mistake doesn't happen again. We all make mistakes -early childhood is a notoriously difficult job, we have huge workloads and a lot of expectations placed on us by families but that is not an excuse and if something gets missed, own up to it, apologise and then make steps to address the issue with staff and work with the family to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Building partnerships with families is a vital component of high quality early education and care and this is recognised in both our Early Years Learning Framework and the National Quality Standard - so it is critical to remember at all times the reason you work in this field and the people you are providing for are the children and their families.

What do you think?
How do you make sure the child and family are at the centre of all your practices?
If you are a parent or carer in a early childhood service, what have you observed that you think are good or bad practices in this respect?
Do you feel your concerns are adequately addressed if you raise an issue?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Building a sense of trust with families

Having recently embarked on my child protection course - I know a bit slow off the mark getting that done. One of the things I found most rewarding from the very high quality Community Child Care Cooperative (or CCCC for short) course was the great discussion on ethical practice and building a sense of confidentiality at your centre.

The trainer argued that in order to build a sense of trust and confidentiality in your centre, you needed to build a sense of trust and confidence in everything you do. For example, if a family mentioned in the morning that they had been to the zoo on the weekend - Instead of going around and telling everyone and getting very excited about links to home on your program (I know I'm guilty of it) she suggested that instead you ask the family first if they are ok with you sharing this information with others.

Her point was that if you do this with non-personal information when the family have more personal or private information to tell you they are more willing to share as they know not every person at the centre is going to know - which is obviously critical with child protection issues.

While I had never really thought of it this way before, I think she has an excellent point. Building trust with your families that you respect them and are willing not to 'talk out of school' about them is a very important part of building quality partnerships within.

I believe it is a very large part of our role to share our knowledge and skills with family about issues that face them... whether it be contacts, information or referrals I think this attitude could really help in building this aspect of our roles (and recognition of our skills in this area)

What do you think of this issue?

How do you build a sense of trust and confidentiality with families at your centre?

If you are a parent, what have you found builds your confidence in your centre to share information?

Photo Source:http://www.flickr.com/photos/valpearl/5103209989/

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The challenges of preschool-land

This year I have had the privilege (and sometimes challenge) of working in a preschool a few days a week in a maternity leave position.

Preschool land is very different from Long Day Care land. There are a few basic differences... Much shorter hours (usually only 9-3), the children bring their own food (I really don't like this one... Mostly cause I like being able to eat with the kids :) ), often they are community based centres so have a parent committee and have very little money, they often have staff that have been working in the field for a long time nearly all of my colleagues have been working in early childhood for over 10 years(which I really like some of my colleagues have the most amazing funds of knowledge about early childhood that I know I will always refer to them when I'm puzzling something out), and they have never (until this year) had to go through accreditation.

Where I have been working is very structured and has taught me lots of important things .... Like how to have a lesson plan ready for language and music every day! The lyrics to lots and lots of songs, the importance of scheduled break time, and how to achieve lots of things that the parents love (like daily craft) without burning out.

But there are times when my inner 'progressive' teacher finds it difficult... There is not much time allocated to 'free play' i.e. the opportunity for the children to meaningfully engaged with the materials we have carefully planned for them, there's all the craft, and the fact I really don't feel like I have the opportunity to get to know the families (or the children) as much as I would in long day care. Plus I love long day care as the 0-3 are my favourite age group - I find people regularly underestimate them and they are amazingly capable.

But the thing I find most difficult is the constant desire to make the children 'comply' with lots and lots of unnecessary restrictions... They are almost constantly asked to be quiet, they are expected to be incredibly well behaved during group times (even when the group time is dull), the routine is so rigid that when we were inside due to wet weather the other day a lot of the children couldn't cope with the change.... This worries me - what type of children are we creating?

I want children that are so excited about what I am teaching them that they can't help but call out, I want children that know I am flexible enough with my lesson plans that if they want to read a different book we will, I want noisy children with the confidence to tell me what they really think! I want them so engaged in what we are doing that the time flies by, I want children with great cheeky senses of humour who know how to make me and their peers laugh til we cry..... Surely that's not too much to ask?

What do you think? Is there too much focus on compliance where you work?

Posted by Wendy

"the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy" -Martin Luther King

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Back blogging!!

Well, after spending a lunch with my fellow Macquarie graduates I have been reminded to get back on my blog and get writing again.
I do have a reasonable excuse - my relationship (of 8 years) ended, then I relocated back to my home town, Newcastle, and pretty much only just got back to the stage where pretty happy and chilled with my life as it stands... So surely that's a good enough reason.

However, there is heaps of change a foot in our field at the moment so there are a few things I'd like to briefly chat about before working through my huge pile of inspirational stuff that I have been systematically collecting with the best of intentions since last post

1. First and foremost - and because you know I love a bit of industrial relations/employee rights (cant live with a union official for 8 years without some of it rubbing off)- the Big Steps campaign is gaining some fantastic momentum at the moment and I hope everyone will try and do there best to get to the events all around the country. It's a really important to get everyone there - people in the field, parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles anyone who cares about our children and their current and future rights to have high quality care with adequately (I'd love to say well) paid staff who are valued for the awesome and very hard work they do every day. So get on board the campaign!!! If you can't attend the events, do something this week to raise awareness of the campaign - share a link, put up a poster at work, talk to your parents (or anyone) about the reality of our field and its current working conditions, if you are feeling brave contact your local politician! Here's the link....http://bigsteps.org.au

2. In other campaign news, the Teachers are Teachers campaign has been presented at parliament and has in principle support - but we still need to keep going to we see the results!

3. I am going to do a specific post on the importance of risk in early childhood - I have always been a fan (I'm the girl whose always secretly making the gross motor equipment higher) but was extra inspired by Paul Tranter's presentation at the recent KU conference. To get an idea of what I will be chatting about have a look on my Facebook page for the links to the Sydney Playground Project and the Playpod. There is some amazing resources to help you convince peers and families of the importance of getting the children out there testing their limits and using their imagination early as possible. Are you seeing much risk in early childhood environments?

4. While I have been fortunate to see some beautiful practice this year while going around and working casually at a number of centres, there has also been some alarming things. For example, worksheets - I have talked about this before and continue to pull my hair out at the fact that these are still out there... Some craft is ok but sitting a child down to do a worksheet is not best practice and there are so many ways you can find out the child's level in a fun engaging way without have to resort to worksheets. They will have plenty of opportunities to do these at school let's keep early childhood a place where learning is something that is achieved through play and is engaging and exciting and individualised. Are you seeing worksheets? What's your opinion of them? If you think they are valid, can you tell me why?

5. Finally, I wanted to quickly talk about an 'interesting' concept I saw lately. I recently had colleagues try to convince me that placing no toys /provisions in a playground would lead to a higher quality play. This was not a playground rich with natural resources and loose parts - this was a empty AstroTurf playground. This obviously was not successful and not only did the children not have anything to do - it undermines our profession. We can't on one hand argue that we are professionals and our job is complicated and significant and on the other provide no provisions for learning for the children. Has anyone else seen this argument around?

Anyway, that'll do to start the ball rolling... I'll post again soon :)

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