Rattler Issue 130 | March 2020

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The keys to

EXCEED Narooma Preschool

ISSUE 130 | MARCH 2020

¬¬ Screens Vs nature ¬¬ The link between early language development and literacy ¬¬ How Alise Shafer Ivey is creating a brighter future for refugee children ¬¬ The emergence and development of leading in ECEC, plus more

FROM YOUR CEO We hope this year will improve, but the emerging signs are not promising. We are all watching and waiting to see how the coronavirus will affect our shores, and our hearts go out to the communities across the world that have been so severely affected. As we receive new information, we will work with you to ensure your services and families, remain informed and protected. The economic impact of the coronavirus is likely to cause more strain for government. It is times like these when we realise, once again, the importance of working in partnership. elcome to 2020, a year of working in partnership to improve outcomes in our communities, for the benefit of our children.


It has been a tough start to the year for many CELA members. We started 2020 in an environment never experienced before with Australia in the grips of fire and drought and later flood. An enormous number of people have been impacted by environmental crises on an unprecedented scale. Communities were devastated by natural disaster – homes and livelihoods destroyed and lives needing to be rebuilt and reimagined. Throughout these crises communities drew together, mobilising efforts and helping each other. CELA members and staff were there – and will continue to be there. We live in rural, regional and city communities. Disaster impacting our regions, our families and our children affect all of us, and we will support our members and families to access the services and support your needs as you rebuild.

As we begin the process of rebuilding communities we need to recognise that the more recent natural disasters come on top of years of strain for many families. Many families have seen their incomes stay still or decline, whilst the cost of living rises. We won’t know the combined impacts of the tragic summer season and the extended drought for some time. What we do know is these natural disasters will have an impact on children's vulnerability. A key goal of CELA this year is to be a voice for those families and communities who are often not heard. Child poverty is already shockingly high, nearly one in five children are affected. CELA is committed to casting a spotlight on poverty. Children cannot thrive if they do not have safe housing, access to food and medical care. Whilst they may be entitled to a four year old preschool place this is moot if their families do not have transport, and children do not have clean clothes or a bed. If children are hungry, and not receiving the medical,

dental or psychological help they need, how can they make friends in early childhood education, or acquire new skills and learn and grow? Surviving is skill enough. We will advocate to government that all children have a right to participate in high quality early education – but this cannot, and is not, being realised. We will strive to ensure that the national partnership for universal access to early childhood education continues, and that it is genuinely focused on supporting all children to attend and thrive in early learning. Families and educators need to work in partnership to support children. Workforce issues will continue to be a focus this year as we need to attract, retain and skill up more educators than ever before. We will work with you to support educators to meet the needs of families, and to advocate for system level changes to attract, reward and retain staff. Our sector is built on community – and community is more important than ever. We must continue to move forwards as a community, to rebuild, to protect and advocate for those who need our support the most and to achieve strong outcomes for our families and our children. We look forward to continuing working with and for you in 2020. Please feel free to reach out if we can help, via our 1800 number or email info@cela.org.au.

Michele Carnegie Chief Executive Officer Community Early Learning Australia

PUBLISHER Community Early Learning Australia EDITORIAL TEAM Michele Carnegie, Wendy Lindgren, Tracey Long, Kerrie Maguire, Louise Black,


Nathalie DuPavillon, Lisa Cloumassis Community Early Learning Australia CONTRIBUTORS Carolin Wenzel, Mandy Cooke, Leanne Gibbs, Robbie Warren, Keeta Williams, Justine McClymont, Tracey Long ADVERTISING AND PRODUCTION Traceylong@cela.org.au CONTRIBUTIONS We welcome your stories. Copyright is held jointly by the publisher and the author. COPYING Email for permission to republish any part of this magazine. CELA thanks the children and educators who gave their permission to be photographed. HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Become a member at www.cela.org.au/membership-packages or email info@cela.org.au Membership includes an annual subscription to Rattler magazine plus access to invaluable sector resources, discounts on events, training and consultancy plus a monthly webinar and access to our expert advisory team.



Early education sector conferences and events

MEET THE MEMBER YULARA CHILD CARE CENTRE 4 Director Renata Harris has vastly improved the quality and community engagement at this remote service located 26 km from Uluru in Kata Juta National Park.


Leanne Gibbs shares the results of her study into ECEC leadership including what emerging leadership looks like and how organisations cultivate and develop leading to deliver high quality early childhood education.


In this three part series, Rattler takes a deep dive with a range of services who have achieved Exceeding ratings.


Insights from Megan O’Connell, CELA’s research and policy advisor


A research study by Mandy Cooke, Charles Sturt University.





How Alise Shafer Ivey's retirement vacation sparked an idea that's improving the future for refugee children, and giving new meaning to the lives of refugee adults + how you can get involved.


THE LINKS BETWEEN EARLY LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT AND LITERACY 33 How educators can help children with language concerns.





Could screen technology actually be a catalyst for inspiring children to engage with nature?

Robbie Warren introduces her new study into how educators can support children's rights in ECEC settings.

Buy a subscription to Rattler at www.cela.org.au/shop/items/rattler DISCLAIMER The opinions expressed in Rattler are those of the authors and not necessarily those of CELA. CONTACT CELA 1800 157 818 info@cela.org.au www.cela.org.au Building 21, 142 Addison Road Marrickville NSW 2204 ABN 81 174 903 921

@communityearlylearningaustralia @CELAust


©2019 Community Early Learning Australia

Farewell June Wangmann June Wangmann, respected leader in the early childhood field, sadly passed away on the 18th December last year. June was the co-ordinator of Community Child Care Co-operative from 1988 – 1990 and during that time she gave tireless and dedicated leadership not just to the organisation, but also to the early childhood field. June was a tireless leader on the many issues relating to good quality child care always starting from the position that in any early childhood service, the children must always come first. Advocacy was one of June’s great strengths and she was heavily involved in the campaign to establish a national

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accreditation system. She was strong on policy development and was a ready participant in any forum conducted by government departments/ agencies. June looked for ways to empower the early childhood field and to support the increasing professionalism of the sector. She was a dynamic agent for change. Lecturing in early childhood – first at Waverley and then at Macquarie, June was for some time the Head of the Institute of Early Childhood. CELA recognises, and is grateful for June’s contribution to Community Child Care Co-operative, as CELA was then called. June will long be remembered for her significant legacy across the whole early childhood education and care field. She was widely admired and will be sadly missed.



Join leading thinkers and change-makers at the National Early Years Summit which will look ahead and ask: What should a blueprint for children’s wellbeing look like? www.aracy.org.au/events/event/nationalearly-years-summit-2020

ENGAGEMENT IS KEY MASTERCLASS 13 MARCH | SYDNEY, NSW This masterclass will give you the skills to build a solid foundation from which you can grow strong team engagement and enhance your leadership culture. www.cela.org.au/learning-anddevelopment/masterclasses#engagement




A core skill is the ability of leaders to mentor and coach their teams and team members across a range of areas including pedagogical practice. ACEL (Australian Council for Educational Leaders) has developed a two-day workshop, designed to be directly applicable to leaders and their needs.

This transformational masterclass unlocks the secrets to effective communication and gives you practical tools to tackle challenging conversations confidently.


www.acel.org.au/acel/ACELWEB/Active/ Event_Display.aspx?EventKey=20BYLCSYD

ECEEN CONFERENCE 9 MAY | SYDNEY The 2020 NSW ECEEN conference falls on the eve of Mother’s Day and provides ‘an opportunity to take action to heal Mother Earth’. eceen.org.au/conference.htm



17TH WORLD CONGRESS OF THE WORLD ASSOCIATION FOR INFANT MENTAL HEALTH (WAIMH) 7-11 JUNE | BRISBANE, QLD The Congress theme, ‘Creating stories in Infant Mental Health: research, recovery and regeneration’ invites you to create stories that will help infants thrive. waimh2020.org

17-19 MARCH | SYDNEY, NSW With a focus on quality early education in a changing environment, this years’ Mobile Meet will hone in on the issues impacting services across NSW including Assessment & Rating, funding, delivery of quality programs and wellbeing. www.cela.org.au/mobile-meet

ECA RECONCILIATION SYMPOSIUM 15-16 MAY | DARWIN, NT The ECA Reconciliation Symposium brings the matter of reconciliation in early childhood into the spotlight and works towards a better future for all Australians. www.ecareconciliationsymposium.com.au





Featuring experts and leading practitioners in the field of disability and inclusion, the conference will focus on the ways in which educators can ensure that all students access and engage in learning.

The retreat brings together a selection of sector experts to facilitate the change and renewal you need to effectively run your service. This three day gathering will provide you with essential skills and strategies to elevate your own practice and that of your team.

www.acel.org.au/ACEL/ACELWEB/ Events/2020/Disability_and_Inclusion_ Conference/About.aspx


THE ABORIGINAL EARLY CHILDHOOD CONFERENCE 26-27 JUNE | HOXTON PARK, NSW During this two day conference, Aboriginal experts will share their knowledge and practices, while conference delegates will engage in practical experiences related to the STEM content area as a holistic approach to experiencing Aboriginal knowledge and practices. events.humanitix.com.au/copyof-the-aboriginal-early-childhoodconference-2020

UOW EARLY START CONFERENCE 13-15 JULY | WOLLONGONG, NSW The Conference will present innovative translational research findings and provide a framework for discussion around best policy and practice to assist children to flourish and realise their potential. conference.earlystart.uow.edu.au

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COELIAC DISEASE AWARENESS WEEK 13-20 MARCH www.coeliac.org.au/caw


5 JUNE www.worldenvironmentday.global

24-26 MAY www.rideforcountrykids.com.au

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF HUMAN SPACE FLIGHT 12 APRIL www.un.org/en/observances/humanspaceflight-day


NATIONAL RECONCILIATION WEEK 27 MAY - 3 JUNE www.reconciliation.org.au/nationalreconciliation-week

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www.unrefugees.org.au/get-involved/ world-refugee-day


Yulara Child Care Centre BY CAROLIN WENZEL Imagine living and working in one of the most remote locations in central Australia. One day you are visited by a local sand goanna named George, and the next HRH Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, drop by.


hese are the extremes of daily life at Yulara Child Care Centre, in the town that services the Ayers Rock Resort. It’s situated 26 km from Uluru in Kata Juta National Park near the Mutitjulu community in the Ngaanyatijarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara NPY lands of the Northern Territory. Yulara the town is run by the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation, Voyages Ayers Rock Resort. Most people in the town work at the resort in hospitality, retail, emergency services, the airport or at the health clinic. “The Yulara community is transient and very international,” explains Yulara Child Care Centre Director Renata Harris. “People come from Europe, the UK, the Philippines and South East Asia to work at the Resort. We have two visiting doctors and remote area nurses. There’s also a small primary school

with 40-60 children from preschool to year 6. After that they join ‘school of the air’, or go to boarding school.” Having established relationships many years ago, Renata knows the Mutitjulu community well. She also set up and ran a community creche at Docker River (two and a half hours drive west of Yulara) before taking over here eight years ago when her daughter, Olivia, was two years old. “Since Uluru and the Park were handed over to the NPY communities, and the Resort established an Indigenous Training Academy, Aboriginal employment has risen from just 1% to around 40%. So, at the Child Care Centre we now have children from the Mutitjulu community and also from indigenous staff who have come from other states to work in the national park and the resort.

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“When I first got here in 2011, only two of the 25 children were Aboriginal. There was no acknowledgement of country and no cultural artefacts or local artwork. One of the first things I did was to revamp the foyer to make if feel more respectful of place,” says Renata.

RESPECTING PLACE The children were invited to choose Aboriginal art from the local gallery and art auctions to decorate the space. The centre now has a beautiful painting of the Seven Sisters – the dreaming story of the Southern Cross – by a local Mutitjulu artist, and another of a sand goanna. “When we take the children out walking, we teach them the local words in language for the animals we see, read about or sometimes even get to eat,” explains Renata. “Tjala is the word for honey ants and Maku is witchetty grubs.”

and literally keeping the children alive because of the dangerous outdoor environment, heat, and lack of effective policies and procedures. Then we worked on how to make it more inviting for the children so they would want to be here, and for the parents to feel comfortable. We chipped away, little by little.”

On excursions and walks, everybody needs to take care. The educators teach the children to stop and look carefully - you can’t just lift rocks. There are Mulga and Western Brown snakes that are highly venomous; scorpions and centipedes that come up out of the ground every time it rains, and spiky or splintery plants like spinifex and mulga trees. “When we walk everyone carries a stick, so we don’t touch anything with our hands. We always look for tracks and analyse them, we don’t see animals in the daytime unless they come in for water. We know there are spinifex mice, marsupial moles, and mala (bit like a wallaby) but we don’t see them because they only come out at night. But we often see tracks – made by rabbits, birds, beetles, and also poo – goanna poo is white, with chunks of fur probably from rabbits; dingo poo has a lot of fur, rabbits leave little balls and camels larger nuggets.”

I asked him to make a circle around the area on the ground with his stick, then we all looked to see what was there. “We saw three ants’ nests. There were little black ants, medium sized fire ants, and big red muncher ants – so that’s how we embed literacy and numeracy in everything we do.”

IMPROVING QUALITY When Renata arrived at Yulara, the service was struggling to meet minimum standards and was rated as Working Towards. At one stage there were no staff with any early childhood qualifications. “The priority was health and safety,

Eight years later there are eight staff, four of whom identify as Aboriginal. Two have a Certificate III and are working towards a Diploma, one has a teaching Diploma from New Zealand, another has a Bachelor of Education and is halfway through her Early Childhood Diploma. Renata is degree qualified with training in Forest School, Nature Pedagogy with Claire Warden, Nature Play and playground design. One of Renata’s early recruits, Aimee Williams from western NSW, is one of the Aboriginal educators. Aimee was working in hospitality when Renata discovered she had early childhood qualifications and offered her a job at Yulara in 2014. Aimee is pleased to see a real improvement in how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is discussed and reflected at the centre. "Five years ago there were staff who didn’t recognise the Torres Strait Islander flag,” recalls Aimee. “Now we are having more conversations with educators and our families about our culture and how we can bring it into the program.

The rule on excursions is for the children to wait behind the teacher, with one child designated as the leading child. If the group comes across a snake or lizard track, they circle the area so it isn’t ruined by their footprints. They walk in single file through spinifex and bushes, that way children are less likely to fall onto the spiked vegetation. “One day I spotted something interesting,” recalls Renata. “ One of our Aboriginal children was the leading child.

HRH Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge drop by

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"We work really well with the Aboriginal families from the Mutitjulu community to come up with experiences for the children around special occasions such as NAIDOC week.” Another educator, Fiona, has developed resilience from overcoming the very real challenges of working in such a remote location. Fiona says that the rapidly changing social and physical landscape can affect enrolments, staffing and resources, and that time has been the best teacher in learning to be much more adaptable, resilient and innovative. The guidance and years of experience that Renata brings to the service have also been invaluable. Fiona appreciates how her teaching skills have developed beyond what she learned in her Diploma: “One of the skills I am most proud of developing is the ability to recognise new opportunities to guide children’s learning throughout everyday activities, conversations and play. Much of my teacher education was based around planned lessons that met curriculum criteria. It has been an absolute joy and freeing experience to explore the Early Years Learning Framework and feel more comfortable with the idea of learning and developing whilst engaging in intentional and incidental play. ‘We offer a lot of risky outdoor play. We catch scorpions and centipedes, it’s the only way to learn which is the bitey

end, and we include reptile awareness as part of our program. The regulations are great, we can incorporate anything the children are interested in, including regular excursions. We just do a risk assessment and earn the trust of parents and children.” Fiona and Renata attended workshop sessions with Nature Pedagogy expert Claire Warden and brought back many ideas that are now incorporated into both the physical environment and the approach to learning. The biggest project was the creation of an outdoor nature play area.

NATURE PLAY GARDEN Constructing their new nature play garden was a wonderful challenge. The nearest Bunnings is four and a half hours drive away in Alice Springs! Everything was made with recycled and donated materials, including a balancing log, monkey bar area and climbing web. “All we had here was red dirt and spinifex,” recalls Fiona. “That is not a safe environment for children on their own. They can injure themselves on the spiky plants, then there are the deadly snakes and wild camels. Even the centipedes can give a nasty bite. On top of that, we have extreme heat – over 40 degrees on many days, high UV and dust storms.”

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Along with parents and members of the local community, they replaced existing plastic and metal with wooden structures, and added softer sand and recycled water. They softened the harshness with plants such as natives, herbs and citrus trees. They planted native trees and fruits and created a ‘creek’ by pouring a cement bed and installing a tank. They fill the creek with water from the rainwater tank at the start of the week and the children know it has to last all week. “With the improved outdoor habitat, we get more visits from goannas, and they eat snakes and snake eggs. When George our resident sand goanna comes out, we all get up on a hill to watch him. One day he started digging a hole in the sand pit, and he dug up an egg and ate it whole.”’ With the increase in professional skills and the environment changes Renata introduced, their last assessment in 2017 resulted in an overall rating of Meeting, with Exceeding in quality areas 3 (physical environment), 6 (partnership with families and community) and 7 (Governance and Leadership).

A NECESSARY FOCUS ON ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY Renata tells us that the town’s infrastructure is operating at capacity, so they can’t add any extra load to the electricity, water or sewerage.

“I’m now an expert on recycling grey water, which is to be used sub terrain and on non-edible plants, and I know all about portable ‘medi-sinks’ and ‘smart sinks’. “To help us recycle water we’ve overhauled our whole cleaning system. We don’t use chemicals, except for disinfectant in the high-risk areas like the kitchen, toilet and nappy changing area. We use Enjo microcloths, that clean just using a small amount of water.”

CHALLENGES Apart from finding qualified staff, funding is an ongoing challenge for Yulara Child Care Centre. They can’t rely on fees to cover all their costs, because the population is transient and the numbers of children attending fluctuates. They managed to get Sustainability Funding for five years under the Community Child Care Fund, in addition to a capital grant which will help to build a new Eco-cabin, increase capacity to support under three year olds and improve the existing child care building.

“I went to the Resort for extra support, because they run the town and it’s mainly their staff whose children attend,” says Renata. “I said, ‘Do you want your staff and families to just get by? Or do you want us to provide the best quality service we possibly can? “Our families also struggle with the cost of living remotely, and in isolation from family and support networks. In recognition of these facts, Ayers

Rock Resort now makes considerable annual donations towards the ongoing operating costs of our small, very remote, ever evolving and extremely flexible service.” Renata concludes: “To be able to make it work out here you need to be stubborn, flexible, and have energy but be realistic and do things a bit at a time.” 

"To be able to make it work out here you need to be stubborn, flexible, and have energy but be realistic and do things a bit at a time."

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WE DON’T NEED ANOTHER HERO The emergence and development of leading in early childhood education In the July 2019 edition of Rattler, Leanne Gibbs shared an insight into her research study on how leadership emerges and develops in early childhood education settings. In this edition, Leanne talks about the study results including what emerging leadership looks like and how organisations cultivate and develop leading to deliver high quality early childhood education. The research was undertaken within education settings with different governance arrangements. All centres were rated as Exceeding in all elements in all quality areas.

WHY WE NEED TO STUDY LEADERSHIP IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION How leadership emerges and develops in Australian early childhood settings is becoming a more compelling and important question as the demand for early childhood education and care grows (ECEC), and therefore, demand for more positional leaders increases. Positional leadership roles are embedded within the standards and regulations. With the expansion of early childhood education, it follows that we would need more leaders, but where will they come from and how will they be prepared to lead? We know that the pathway to a formal leadership role is not always straightforward. Educators can find themselves in leadership roles

without the adequate preparation or confidence to undertake the challenges of leading. Professional development offerings don’t always support the important learning for the complex task of leading people, policy and pedagogy in ECEC. So, what would it take to identify those people who are emerging as leaders and to cultivate their leadership and the leadership of formal leaders in early childhood education settings? How can organisations do the ‘heavy lifting’ on leadership development and overcome the expectation that, somehow, charismatic, heroic leaders will materialise and take on formal leadership roles?

REDEFINING ‘LEADERSHIP’ Whilst leadership in early childhood

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education has been historically conceptualised as a role framed by three elements; the person (traits, values, personality), the place (ECE settings) and the position (formal leader), we are seeing new propositions for leadership. In contemporary constructs, leadership is increasingly identifying as relational, participative and as a practice. To take this thinking a step further, leadership could be redefined as: leading where “socially just practice occurs as a relational activity in a collective, (and) as a dynamic activity that can be undertaken by anyone, not just those in formal roles”.1 This definition of ‘leading’ aligns with a values driven profession like early childhood education. The definition opens the leadership story up for

emerging leaders as well as positional leaders. It sees educators engaged in the practice of leading in the complex landscape of early childhood settings. Through the practice of leading, educators are preparing not just for future formal roles of leadership, but they are also sharing the leadership role through participation in decision making, communicating, vision setting and acting in autonomous ways in their pedagogy and practice. This is, by far, a more sustainable way for leadership to be enacted in early childhood settings, where people participate in the practice of leading to deliver a highquality program.

REFOCUSING THE STORY OF LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT So perhaps, rather than focusing all efforts on developing positional leaders, organisations could look at identifying emerging leaders. They could then consider how to support development and shape their leadership practice. As a foundation for identifying emerging leaders, it helps if we have an understanding of what leaders look like in effective early childhood settings. Research (for example Siraj Blatchford and Manni) tells us that the practices of leaders on effective ECE sites include: effective communication; contextual literacy; critical reflection; a commitment to ongoing professional development, community partnership and using evidence to drive improvement and outcomes. In my research study, I looked for people across each organisation who practiced leading in this way. Then I took it a step further to try to

“In contemporary constructs, leadership is increasingly identifying as relational, participative and as a practice” understand who these people were, what drove their practice and how their practice was shaped. I found that emerging and existing leaders on these sites had sound professional knowledge and identity, effective skills of pedagogy and held values that were founded in social justice practice. They were also innovative and creative, passionate, and felt autonomous in their decision making and actions. These educators were ‘leading’ as a socially just practice. They saw their common purpose as the delivery of high-quality early childhood education for children and families-not just driven by standards and compliance requirements. Their leading practices pursued high quality, inclusive, creative environments that were framed by the regulations but driven by their own values and professional understandings of early childhood education.


investigation helped me to see how the organisational culture, the resourcing and the social arrangements on the site cultivated and shaped both emerging and formal leadership.

The culture, the resources and the social space Each site was different, particularly as they all had different governance arrangements (for example-local government, or board managed). However, all sites had some common practices and approaches that cultivated and shaped leadership. ⊲⊲ There was a strong culture of trust and a philosophy that encouraged autonomy. ⊲⊲ Individuals and teams used a shared professional language that helped them to navigate conversations with each other and to build a community focused on quality.

This was where the next stage of the research came in.

⊲⊲ There was freedom to have professional conversations and to informally mentor and coach each other. These conversations were considered to be as important as engaging with the children and physical spaces were created to make the conversations possible.

I interviewed people and conducted a dialogic café-an emergent type focus group designed to learn how organisations shape peoples’ practice of leading. These methods of

⊲⊲ Educators were adequately resourced to pursue projects and ideas they had conceived and led. Physical spaces were altered to enable innovation and creativity.

So-did these ‘leading’ educators present themselves as fully formed leaders able to act autonomously, and independently with confidence?

“I found that emerging and existing leaders ...had sound professional knowledge and identity, effective skills of pedagogy and held values that were founded in social justice practice.”

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“I think you’ll see it [leadership] in the spaces, you’ll see it as you walk around, you’ll see it in the philosophy, you’ll see it in the work being done. We are all able to have leadership in the work that we do. We are all able to have our own ideas, our own personalities, our own interests, our own passions and desires. We are the ones making that happen. I can run that program...” Theresa, study participant

⊲⊲ Leadership development was very important. The scope and range of the development was differentsome had formal approaches, whilst others gave individual educators agency to choose their own approaches to leadership development. The important thing was that it happened.

⊲⊲ Role autonomy and equality was important. Positional leaders included emerging leaders in important meetings where they could learn about administration, funding, policy and integrated working with families. ⊲⊲ Organisations challenged educators and encouraged innovation. "This is a place where I want to be at this point because it’s passionate, it’s forward thinking, it’s all these things that I love, and it challenges me as well. You don’t want to go to a place that's all the same every day." Koral, study participant

The quality of leading and leadership gains greater importance as the early childhood education space expands and we see the growth of settings and workforce changes. The more complex the ECE landscape becomes the more

important it is to have sustainable approaches to both the development and the practice of leadership. By redefining and decentralising leadership there is an opportunity for the proliferation of leading as a socially just practice. Organisations can then take up the challenge of cultivating and shaping leading as a practice through the conditions they create on each ECE site so that leading is actually…all around us. Thank you to the early childhood education settings and educators who were involved in this research project investigating leadership, nested in the Charles Sturt University led ARC and industry funded study ‘Exemplary educators at work’.  Leanne Gibbs is a researcher, author and consultant on leadership and public policy in early childhood education. She holds the position of principal researcher at a large public provider of early childhood education and is a doctoral candidate at Charles Sturt University.

REFERENCES: Siraj-Blatchford, I., & Manni, L. (2007). Effective leadership in the early years sector: The ELEYS study. Institute of Education Press. Waniganayake, M., Cheeseman, S., Fenech, M., Hadley, F., & Shepherd, W. (2016). Leadership: Contexts and complexities in early childhood education. Oxford University Press. Wilkinson, J., Olin, A., Lund, T., Ahlberg, A., & Nyvaller, M. (2010). Leading praxis: Exploring educational leadership through the lens of practice architecture. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 18(1), 67-79. [1] (Wilkinson, Olin, Lund, Ahlberg, & Nyvaller, 2010).


The essential early and middle childhood education and care story


NANCY CHANG EXPLAINS THE NEW NSW QUALITY RATINGS GUIDE www.cela.org.au/2019/12/04/newquality-rating

2. BEST PRACTICE PRINCIPLES FOR SUPPORTING FUSSY EATING IN EARLY CHILDHOOD www.cela.org.au/2020/02/14/ supporting-fussy-eating-earlychildhood 3. EMBEDDING HEALTHY EATING AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY INTO YOUR SERVICE www.cela.org.au/2019/11/29/ healthy-eating

4. BUSTING PARENT STEREOTYPES – HOW TO LOOK BEYOND THE HELICOPTER, LAWNMOWER AND TIGER PARENT www.cela.org.au/2020/01/24/ busting-parent-stereotypes 5. ACKNOWLEDGING GREAT WORK www.cela.org.au/2020/02/04/ acknowledge-great-work 6. THE BEST GIFT YOU CAN GIVE YOURSELF www.cela.org.au/2019/12/11/ wellbeing-goals



8. RESPECTFUL WATER PLAY www.cela.org.au/2020/02/16/ respectful-water-play 9. HOW TO RESPOND WHEN PARENTS FEAR THE TRANSITION TO SCHOOL www.cela.org.au/2019/11/26/ transition-to-school 10. INTERNATIONAL MOTHER LANGUAGE DAY – SAVING INDIGENOUS LANGUAGES www.cela.org.au/2020/02/11/ international-mother-language-day

Stay on top of current issues and stories that inspire quality early education: www.cela.org.au/amplify-signup RATTLER ISSUE 130 | MARCH 2020 | 10


s s e n l u f mind

Ways to practice

with babies

Mindfulness and yoga for children has been shown to have great health and wellbeing benefits such as a reduction in stress and anxiety, greater focus, better memory and behaviour (Harvard Medical School , 2016). It can also be beneficial for babies.

8 TIPS FOR INTRODUCING MINDFULNESS TO BABIES: << Be fully present with them when you interact << Look into their eyes << Sing to them << Talk to them and tell them to be aware of their senses << Show them different objects and give them time to really observe and see the items << Encourage them to touch their surroundings and feel different textures << Give them an opportunity to explore their taste and smell << Expose them to different sounds

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The keys to exceed

Narooma Preschool RATTLER ISSUE 130 | MARCH 2020 | 12

In this three part series, Rattler takes a deep dive with a range of services who have achieved Exceeding ratings in all seven Quality Areas to share with you how they reached this high standard. BY CAROLIN WENZEL n Part 1 we find out about Narooma Preschool, a small stand-alone preschool in regional NSW that has made great strides in engaging with their local diverse community and improved their rating from ‘meeting’ to ‘exceeding’ in Quality Areas 1- Education, 2– Health and Safety and 7– Governance.


NAROOMA PRESCHOOL Quality rating: Exceeding Narooma is a small beachside town in the Eurobodalla Shire in southern NSW. There is a strong local Aboriginal community, but when Director Kathy Phipps took over in mid-2015, very few Aboriginal children were enrolled.

Narooma Preschool started 44 years ago in the mid-70s. Kath’s predecessor had been in the role for 35 years, and many of the staff had been there for ten years or more. Kath wrote up the Quality Improvement Plan based on 12 months of reflection and notes made by the team, making sure the six guiding principles of the NQF were reflected in each of the seven Quality areas: 1. The rights and best interests of the child are paramount 2. Children are successful, capable and competent learners 3. Equity, inclusion and diversity underpin the right to success of children of all capacities and cultural backgrounds 4. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island cultures are valued2 5. The role of parents and families is respected and supported 6. Best practice is expected in the provision of education and care services

Kath made the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families her highest priority. She made use of an opportunity by indigenous education consultants Ngroo Education to undertake a cultural audit to find out what they needed to do differently to make Aboriginal families feel welcome and included. “We learned that coming through our gate was a big deal for these families – their families had been part of the stolen generation, so we had to first build trust. The first thing we did was put the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags on the front desk,” said Kathy. Kathy enlisted the support of Natalie Bateman, an Aboriginal mother who had recently moved back to the area and enrolled her son Marrlawgay (pron: Maal-ow-gay). “His name means ‘thunder and lightning’ in his father’s language from up north, at Nambucca and Bowraville,” says Natalie. “My family is Yuin – all my grandparents are from the Yuin clan which has 13 sub-tribes and

Vulnerability of children in Narooma when starting school rose sharply in the 2015 AEDC results, with 20% of 5 year-old children vulnerable in two or more domains (double the rate for the Eurobodalla Shire that year), but were much reduced by 2018 down to 9.2% lower than the rate for the shire (9.6%) and for NSW (11%). Narooma Preschool could well provide a strong case study for the direct link between high quality early learning with qualified educators and reduced vulnerability leading to improved education outcomes. (A Productivity Commission report shows that children who attend early childhood education and care have half the rate of vulnerability when they start school as children who attend no ECEC).1 Director Kathy Phipps says, “I knew from the day I started that I was expected to keep Narooma’s Exceeding rating at the next assessment – which would be four years away, so our preparation for the assessment began four years ago.”

Narooma PreSchool Graduation ceremony - Layton Moore doing Welcome to Country

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their traditional lands stretch from La Perouse [in southern Sydney] down to Eden [on the south coast].” “I was very glad when Marrlawgay turned three and could enrol at Narooma – it’s a beautiful preschool with an impressive outside space – a big yard with trees.” Kathy knew that Natalie was a nationally recognised artist with her work exhibited in galleries and shows across NSW, Queensland and the ACT. She secured a grant to commission some artwork and invited Natalie to create a mural for the front fence, as well as a larger mural in the yard. “What Kath’s doing is subtle," says Natalie. "She speaks to us with respect and she’s quietly making changes, like asking me to create the welcome board at the front. I worked with the children and included their drawings of whales, dogs and a garden. The board says ‘Welcome to Narooma preschool’ in language. I painted Yuin symbols of the duck, Gulaga mountain and the sun. It’s very light and welcoming.”

1. Educational Program and Practice Kathy explains that play is at the heart of the philosophy at Narooma. She says that they aim to find the balance between following the children’s interests, and building in intentional teaching so that they support the children’s voice, but also give educators a voice. An example is the way Kathy has embedded the practice of creating ‘circles of interest’ to draw children in to a provocation and then allow them to develop it. “One teacher was interested in art, so she put some artwork based on famous artworks by Picasso and cubist artists onto a circular mat. The children who were drawn to it came and explored and were invited to do their own interpretive artwork. “As a result of that project, we realised we needed a permanent art space, because art is different from craft. With this teacher, the children started doing all different styles of art – lino

prints, art in nature, photography.” Kathy tells the story of how one girl went home and used her mum’s phone to take lots of photos. When the parents saw their child’s art portfolio at the preschool, they realised what she was doing and how passionate she was about it, and bought her a camera, even though she’s only five.

2. Children’s health and safety Narooma involves the children in their health and safety processes. They discuss their routines with them, and have a song they sing when they wash their hands. “It’s part of our interaction with children,” explains Kathy. “Our progressive morning teas are done with respect, invitation and time. Every child is provided with time to come and relax, eat and socialise. To learn about healthy eating, sustainability and caring for our world.”

3. Physical Environment The service has worked hard to make their physical environment amazing, and they leave a lot of space for the children to choose what they would like to do. They support building children's agency by allowing them to make decisions about their world, and their learning spaces. For example instead of putting all the outdoor toys out, they open the shed door and ask the children, ‘What would you like out today?’ It’s all about working together. “We created a rule book together to keep ourselves safe, and made signs that say things like: ‘This is a walk way’, ‘This is a run way’,” says Kathy. “We encourage risky play, and we ask the children to work out what we need to do to keep each other safe – if they are doing something we feel is unsafe, an educator could say, ‘I’m not feeling safe with that, what can you do to make me feel safe?'”

4. Staffing arrangements

Narooma preschool graduation ceremony Paeje Mathie leading Acknowledgement of Country

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Narooma has just one room and a verandah and up to thirty children attend. Five staff members are rostered every day, so someone can always take a break and there are always four people on.

Mural with artist Natalie Bateman and her son Marrlawgay

5. Relationships with children Kathy tells us that relationships are incredibly important at Narooma, and that the relationship with the children includes relating to their families. She believes that it’s important for children to see the preschool as a place of cohesion and strength, especially if things are stressful at home. “They see you as, ‘you’re my earth’, everything’s normal when I come here,” says Kathy. Kathy tells her educators: “Our clients are four years old – they show their gratitude with their smiles and how often they call your name and hug you. You’re making a difference in someone’s life, let’s celebrate that together.”

6. Collaborative partnerships with families and communities One of the challenges Narooma faced was how to connect with the Chinese and Thai parents who run restaurants and are extremely busy. One of the educators suggested they go to their restaurant as a team and have a meal there. “They felt so honoured,” says Kathy. “It was a great solution to build connections that we came up with through teamwork.” Kathy’s work building trust with the local Aboriginal community culminated recently at their graduation ceremony

where a young teenager, Layton Moore, was invited to do a traditional Welcome to Country for the first time at the preschool. He wore a headpiece that represented his personal totem the magpie and a traditional possum cloak. Graduating preschool student Paeje Mathi led the children in the Acknowledgement to Country. A local Yuin Elder, Aunty Vivian was also present. All the Yuin women who worked with Natalie and the children on the murals came and commented that they felt ‘a tide was turning’.

7. Governance and Leadership Kath shares that one of the challenges she faced as a new director with the committees was to ensure that they had a preschool vision in place, and a philosophy that was foundational to that vision. It needed to be a living document embedded in the National Quality Standards that reflected their community values and educational needs. “Over the past four years we have worked together to create transparency through strong policy development and good Governance procedures. This has seen our committee members feel capable and confident to stay on our committee for up-to three years, which benefits our preschool management continuity.

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“We also educate the Committee, especially the office bearers, about what we’re doing. I invite the President to our staff appraisals, so he can understand the thinking that goes into developing our programs.”

THE ASSESSMENT PROCESS AND FUTURE GOALS Kathy and the team spent four years working up to their assessment and rating in August 2019, and she says it all came down to just two days when the assessor was visiting. Only one other staff member had been through an assessment before, so they all found the process intense and at times overwhelming. “I was the first to arrive and the last to leave on assessment day. Some of the educators were very optimistic when the day started, but I found them later in tears, it was so nerve wracking. “The assessor wrote down everything we said and expressed disappointment at some things she saw. You have to be prepared to be on your toes and know your stuff. By the time she left none of us were sure what rating we’d get,” said Kathy. The result for Narooma was a significant rating improvement. In 2014, although they were rated Exceeding overall, they were only rated as Meeting in areas 1,2 and 7. The 2019

assessment was under the revised NQF and they were rated as Exceeding in every quality area. Kathy says, “We’re going to go for Excellence in Leadership next. The National Quality Standards say that leadership is a shared responsibility. We want to shift our thinking here from expecting leadership to come from the top down and seeing leadership as a shared responsibility. We are currently working on our team values. We are in agreement that kindness is our mantra”. Look out for Part Two in the next issue of Rattler. 

WHY QUALITY MATTERS We know that for some children, attending quality early learning can have life-changing impacts. It can support children’s cognitive, emotional and social development so that they don’t start school behind. An often quoted Australian study found that children who attend preschool score higher on Year 3 NAPLAN tests. (Warren and Haisken-DeNew, 2013).3 But the key to these improved learning outcomes is Quality. Learning circle - nature objects High-quality early education and care benefits cognitive development, improves concentration, and fosters better intellectual development, enhanced vocabularies and greater sociability. In contrast, poor quality care is associated with deficits in language and cognitive function for very young children, and has been associated with poorer social and emotional development (Productivity Commission, 2014 In Quality education for all, Mitchell Institute 2016).4 The National Quality Framework (NQF) and Standards (NQS) are the sector’s guide to providing quality early learning for all Australian children, no matter where they live. Education and care services are assessed and rated by their state and territory regulatory authority and the regulator who monitors these standards is the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). As nerve wracking and stress-inducing as a ratings assessment can be, even for the staff and directors of the highest quality services, it’s the only way we can know to what extent quality early education and care are being provided across Australia and for all services to be held accountable to the same set of standards. In fact, a hallmark of high-quality-rated services is the way they support the quality standards and embed the NQF principles in their philosophy, structures and daily programming.

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REFERENCES 1. Early Learning: Everyone Benefits. (2019). State of early learning in Australia 2019. Canberra, ACT: Early Childhood Australia Fig B8 p9 2. Guide to the National Quality Framework (2020) ACECQA p10 - download here www. acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-01/ Guide-to-the-NQF_2.pdf 3. O’Connell M, Fox S, Hinz B and Cole H (2016). Quality Early Education for All: Fostering, entrepreneurial, resilient and capable leaders, Mitchell Institute policy paper No. 01/2016 p7

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A brighter future for refugee children How Alise Shafer Ivey’s retirement vacation sparked change in the lives of many others

Tracey Long speaks with Alise Shafer Ivey, Pedagogical Institute of Los Angeles (PILA) founder and former Director of Evergreen Community School in Santa Monica, about her refugee early education project, The Nest.

Alise Shafer Ivey on her ‘retirement’ vacation to Europe

fter retiring as Founder and Director of Evergreen Community School in Santa Monica, California, Alise Shafer Ivey and her husband Tom decided to take a vacation to Europe. Both avid foodies, they chose the Greek island of Lesvos as their final destination. They took great delight in exploring the small tavernas, fournos (bakeries) and traditional cafes, while soaking up the historic architecture and verdant landscapes. They had no idea that their visit to this beautiful island, situated just off the coast of Turkey, would dramatically change their lives and the lives of many others.


“One day while on our way to a taverna we found ourselves on this tiny mountain road,” recalls Alise.

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“ I jumped out of the car to help navigate us through, just as a young woman came bounding down some steps with a broad smile.” Originally from Kansas, the young woman was working in Lesvos as a relief worker. Her role was to keep watch at the beach every night as refugee boats from Turkey washed ashore. Along with other volunteers, she would help the weary, frightened and often traumatised passengers to disembark safely and find their way to the refugee camps. Alise admitted that she knew little about the situation for refugees on the island, so the young lady suggested that Alise and Tom could visit one of the refugee community centres to find out more.

CIGARETTE BUTTS, RUSTY NAILS AND A TODDLER WITH A STEAMING COFFEE Towards the end of their time on Lesvos, Alise and Tom paid a visit to the community centre, One Happy Family (OHF), which is run by a Swiss NGO. OHF welcomes several hundred visitors a day. They primarily provide services for young men, but are also frequented by women and children. The OHF model is to work with refugees, not for them. Their aim is to ‘give a measure of dignity and selfdetermination’ back to the thousands of people stuck in limbo on Lesvos. “We walked in and there was a bustle going on,” recalls Alise. “The first thing I noticed was this young boy, toddling about aimlessly with a cup full of hot coffee. It was such a jarring sight to see. That was my first moment of high alert. From there I started noticing all the children. Some of the kids were playing with cigarette butts and lighters and rusty nails.” While she knew that catering for children was not central to OHF’s purpose, Alise asked if they had anywhere for kids to play. A volunteer showed her a rather soul-less room, which contained little more than a couple of broken crayons and a puzzle without all the pieces. “Later, while chatting with the person in charge and before really thinking it through (we were on a retirement trip), I asked if he would like us to come

‘A mother and her child take a break from the refugee camp to build structures in The Nest. Together, they are building towers, building dreams and building hope.’ via @think_with_us on Instagram

back and set the space up for children to play.” As soon as the words tumbled out of Alise’s mouth, she felt a moment of panic. As the executive director of

non-profit organisation Pedagogical Institute of Los Angeles (PILA), she realised that she hadn’t checked in with the board or considered the cost before making the suggestion.

FEVERISH FUNDRAISING AND A TRUCK LOAD OF IKEA FURNITURE Shortly after arriving back in LA, Alise called a PILA board meeting. To her relief, everybody was in agreement that the initiative should proceed. She sent out a fundraising email to family and friends of The Institute and within 48 hours they had raised $10,000 to make Alise’s idea into a reality. Less than two months later, Alise and Tom returned to Lesvos with a truck heaving with IKEA furniture purchased in Athens, and 300 pounds of teaching supplies that were shipped from the US. With the help of international NGO and refugee volunteers, they furnished the first Nest in the OHF community centre.

A Community Nester playing with a child at The Nest Samos

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“The Nest offers what all children are entitled to, to ensure healthy development the right to play.” “The humour and magic of encountering each other through a magnifier captures the imagination of the children in Nest Congo!” Via The PIofLA on Facebook

THE NEST BRANCHES OUT Two years on, there are now five Nests helping children and families to learn and heal: one each in the Greek Islands of Samos and Lesvos, The Nest’s Congo Peace School, and two Nests in Tijuana, for families waiting immigration interviews at the US/ Mexico border. In each location, The Nest offers engaging spaces where young children can play and explore. They offer a peaceful refuge from the overcrowded living conditions that families endure in refugee centres. Equipped with openended materials that spark creativity and curiosity, Alise tells us that Nests offer what all children are entitled to, to ensure healthy development – the right to play.


into a Nest, volunteers are given training to ensure that they can teach with a trauma informed approach, and understand the Nest’s constructivist philosophy.

In Tijuana, the Nest’s international volunteers provide a range of services for refugee adults including English language lessons and parenting classes.

Dozens of young male and female refugees have found a new passion for early education while volunteering at The Nest, some even plan to study teaching when they finally settle in their new host country. It seems that the volunteering role has provided an opportunity for personal growth and healing, and has given greater meaning to time in limbo (it can take up to two years before refugees on Lesvos are granted an interview with Greek police to discuss their case for application for refugee status, and during that time their movements are limited to the island).

“We have parent meetings every few weeks where we serve wine and cheese and hors d'oeuvres,” says Alise. “We talk about brain development and why the 123s and ABCs aren’t what makes a person smart. It’s the ability to puzzle through a problem. “We can’t talk without a translator, but their gratitude comes through in every way. The adults are rethinking what it means to be a parent.”

While Alise’s core idea for The Nest was to help children, it soon became clear that these spaces would be of great value to adults too. “We thought that the sole purpose for The Nest was to help children who were lost in the shuffle,” recounts Alise. “But I would now say the benefit is to help the adults as much as the children.” The Nest model works by engaging a mixture of international volunteers (who are already qualified educators) and local adult refugees (community Nesters) as teachers. Before walking

Nester Suzie Rauch teaches English language classes to adult refugees in Tijuana

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INTERNATIONAL NEST VOLUNTEER CHLOE FLANNERY FROM GUARDIAN EDUCATION AUSTRALIA Chloe Flannery says that she has always been passionate about supporting and advocating for the rights of refugees and people seeking asylum, so when offered the opportunity to volunteer at Nest Lesvos by her employer, she was very keen to help out.

“There are currently two refugee camps on Lesvos,” explains Chloe. “The larger has a population of around 8,000 people and the smaller has a population of around 2,500 people, mostly families."

“In my spare time, I volunteer with a social community group,” explains Chloe. “We organise fundraisers and events to fund education projects for refugees in the Middle East. As part of my volunteering I have started to learn and speak Arabic. When the opportunity with Guardian was offered, I applied as I believed my previous experiences and ability to speak Arabic would be beneficial.”

The photos below taken by Chloe, of the tents and the groups of children on mats on the ground, show the reality of the living conditions and daily life for refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, North Africa and Kurdistan.

Chloe spent two weeks on the island of Lesvos volunteering as an International Nester, driving the shuttle for the refugee helpers and also at Attika and Refugee4refugees clothing banks, sorting donated clothing and assisting newly arrived refugees to pick adequate clothing and toiletries. Chloe’s starkest memory of her time on Lesvos was the sheer scale of people living in cramped and intolerable conditions.

Chloe explained that the groups of children on the mats are the ones who are not fortunate enough to attend any formal schooling projects. Refugee4refugees has organised this simple education station alongside the refugee camp to offer the children some consistency and belonging. “I would highly recommend going to volunteer at the Nest or supporting people displaced and seeking refuge,” says Chloe. “These experiences offer life lessons from the amazing people you will meet and the stories they share. As a person and as an educator, spending time with refugees has really taught me the value of social constructionism, togetherness and community.”

JOIN EDUCATORS FROM ACROSS THE WORLD AS A VOLUNTEER NESTER The Nest is looking for experienced teachers who would like to spend a minimum of two weeks working side by side with young refugee children. “As a Nester, you will not only enrich the lives of children and their families,” says Alise, “you will enrich your own life in ways no other experience can.” Find out more at www.thinkwithus.org/refugee-project

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COMMUNITY NESTER – MINA’S STORY One of the first refugee volunteers for Nest Lesvos was a young woman from rural Afghanistan. Mina and her husband Mehdi jumped at the opportunity to help Alise and other refugee volunteers to unpack box loads of furniture, toys and teaching materials. “The place was buzzing as refugee carpenters started erecting furniture, electricians installed lights and the space started to take shape,” says Alise. “I noticed that Mina had become fixated by a baby doll that she had unpacked. She was sitting in one spot cradling that doll for what felt like ages, and I wondered what was going on.” Mina ended up becoming one of the Nest’s first refugee volunteer teachers and Alise and her husband have since formed a very close bond with Mina and

her husband. After building this personal relationship, Alise found out about the couple’s tragic story. Mina and Mehdi were childhood sweethearts, but their union was forbidden as their families were from warring tribal factions. After begging their local Imam on many occasions, he finally agreed to marry them, but they were sworn to secrecy due to the outrage it would cause in the village. Not long after marrying, Mina discovered that she was pregnant with Mehdi’s baby. While the couple tried to work out how they could be together as a family, Mina was informed by her father that she was soon to be married off to a relative. Their one confidante, Mehdi’s older brother, warned them they would be stoned to death if they did not flee.

The pair managed to scrape together a small amount of money and headed to Europe seeking freedom from persecution via Iran and Turkey. Sadly, Mina lost her baby while dodging gunfire on their journey through Iran. It has been over two years since Mina left Afghanistan. She and her husband now live in Germany, still in a refugee camp, still awaiting asylum. The story of a refugee is a long one, a hard one and not always a successful one. On good days, Mina believes that one day she will have a “normal life”, and that she and Mehdi will have good jobs and raise a family. On bad days, Mina cries for all that she left behind and for a happy future that often seems just out of reach. 

WOULD YOU LIKE TO HELP BUT CAN’T SPARE THE TIME TO VOLUNTEER? You can donate via www.thinkwithus.org by going to the international projects tab and clicking the donate button for the Nest project you would like to support.

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CHANGING THE ODDS FOR VULNERABLE CHILDREN: BUILDING OPPORTUNITIES AND RESILIENCE New OECD evidence shows that we are facing a persistent gap in opportunities between the children at the bottom of the income distribution and the children at the top as children in affluent families receive far more investment in parenting and education than ever before. Individual and environmental factors contribute to childhood vulnerability. The OECD examines policies across a range of areas, each of which can reduce vulnerability:

well-being and providing opportunities through mentoring and organised sport and cultural activities. ⊲⊲ Policies that enhance child protection ⊲⊲ Policies that increase children’s educational success ⊲⊲ Policies that improve children’s health such as designing prenatal care

⊲⊲ Policies to empower vulnerable families such as home visiting

Interestingly they find that mixed cohort ECEC is important for children’s educational success, pointing to the need to integrate intensive and targeted approaches into mainstream settings where possible.

⊲⊲ Policies that boost children’s emotional and social skills by enhancing the roles of schools in emotional and social

https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/a2e8796c-en/index. html?itemId=/content/publication/a2e8796c-en

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HOW AUSTRALIA CAN INVEST IN CHILDREN AND RETURN MORE New research from CoLab and partners examines the cost of late intervention in Australia. The research finds that $15.2 billion each year is spent on high-intensity and crisis services for problems that may have been prevented had we invested earlier and more wisely. A range of recommendations are contained in the report, focused on improving data and evidence to support transparent decision making. The report has been widely cited and emphasizes the importance of starting early, including through early childhood education.

POTENTIAL OF ‘STACKING’ EARLY CHILDHOOD INTERVENTIONS TO REDUCE INEQUITIES IN LEARNING OUTCOMES This latest research from the Restacking the Odds Murdoch Children’s Research Institute project used Longitudinal Survey of Australian Children data to determine risk and exposure measures for 0-5 year olds across antenatal care, nurse home-visiting, early childhood education and care, parenting programmes and the early years of school. The research found children’s reading at 8–9 years old was positively impacted if children had access to all five services, and negatively impacted for each risk a child experienced.



POSITIVE MENTAL HEALTH AND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: NEW EVIDENCE FROM A MATCHING ANALYSIS TRENDS IN PRESCHOOL ATTENDANCE IN AUSTRALIA FOLLOWING MAJOR POLICY REFORM: UPDATED EVIDENCE SIX YEARS FOLLOWING A COMMITMENT TO UNIVERSAL ACCESS New analysis by Meredith O'Connor et al. shows an increase in preschool attendance since the introduction of Universal Access to preschool in the year before school. The analysis shows attendance increased by over 10 percent between 2008 and 2014 but attendance for some cohorts of children is lower. There remains a challenge in supporting indigenous children and children from non-English speaking backgrounds to attend preschool.

www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/ S0885200619301218?dgcid=author

PARENTING BEHAVIOR AND CHILD LANGUAGE: A META-ANALYSIS Sheri Madigan et.al have undertaken a meta-analysis of research into warmth and sensitive responsive parenting and children’s language development. They found that sensitive responsive parenting - tuning into and responding to a child’s needs, is linked to improved language skills particularly for low socio-economic children. Warmth is also linked but to a lesser degree. These findings have relevance to educators and parents alike, highlighting the importance of sensitive interactions with children to support their development, and the opportunity to work with parents to encourage sensitive interactions at home.


Dan Cloney and Meredith O’Connor et.al provide a synthesis of their research about the ongoing need to focus on children’s mental health. Their research cites the significant number of children who start school with social and emotional problems. The researchers discuss the opportunity to address mental health to improve children’s learning in school. This includes opportunities to identify and assist children during their early learning years.


WHICH TIME INVESTMENTS IN THE FIRST 5 YEARS OF LIFE MATTER MOST FOR CHILDREN’S LANGUAGE AND BEHAVIOURAL OUTCOMES AT SCHOOL ENTRY? A new study shows that time spent on educational activities at 2-3 years of age has the most impact on vocabulary and behaviour at school entry. The researchers investigated data collected via time-use diaries for Australian children aged 0-5. They found that every hour of educational activities, such as: time spent reading, talking and singing to the child; being taught to do chores; colouring, drawing and other educational activities would increase receptive vocabulary and reduce parent- and teacher-reported externalising problem behaviours, relative to other uses of time. Time invested in play was also important to both receptive vocabulary and behaviour although the effect was smaller. Time invested in play at 2–3 and 4–5 years of age reduced problem behaviours at school entry. Interestingly, screen time at all ages was associated with poorer parent- and teacher-reported externalizing problem behaviours. This research highlights the importance of children aged 2-3 years of age engaging in educational activities as well as play.

academic.oup.com/ije/advance-article-abstract/ doi/10.1093/ije/dyz192/5575346

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“Feeling good about the future is important for our happiness... Choosing ambitious but realistic goals gives our lives direction and brings a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when we achieve them� Actionforhappiness.org

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hat comes to mind when you hear the words ‘risk-taking’ in an early childhood education (ECE) context?


A review of ECE research literature (eg Little, Wyver, & Gibson, 2015; Sandseter, 2009), magazines and professional development offerings suggests that many people view risktaking in ECE as something that: 1. Children do 2. Takes place outdoors

aspects of life. It can be social, emotional, environmental. It can take place indoors as well as outdoors, and educators can also engage in risktaking. In ECE, however, our attention seems to have been predominantly focused on risky play. As I reflected on the literature and my own experiences as an educator, I began to wonder how educators view risk-taking. Do they see it purely as risky play? Or do they think of it as more than this?

3. Is physical and play-like in nature. These elements combined are what we have come to know as risky play. When I first began my PhD research three years ago, I was keen to research risky play. As a lover of the outdoors, rock climbing and nature pedagogy, I saw risky play as an exciting way to engage in the types of experiences and pedagogical approaches I saw as important and beneficial for children. As I began my research, I discovered that psychologists, sociologists and a small number of early childhood researchers saw risk-taking as not just physical, not just outdoors and not just something that children do. Risk-taking can take place in many

RISK-TAKING Risk is a complex concept with both positive and negative connotations. Risk-taking differs from the notion of ‘at risk’. Being considered ’at risk’ refers to the vulnerable and often involuntary position of being at risk of harm. Whereas ‘risk-taking’ is voluntarily engaging in an act or experience that has a perceived danger or uncertainty that may lead to either positive or negative consequences. Like risk, risk-taking can be both positive and negative. Negative risk-taking tends to be impulsive and has negative consequences that outweigh possible positive outcomes. Positive risk-taking,

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also known as healthy or beneficial risk-taking, is the kind of risk-taking we are talking about and want to include in ECE. Positive risk-taking is thoughtful, reflective and planned. It usually has positive outcomes that outweigh possible negative consequences. Benefits can be for the person taking the risk or for others. Benefits can occur through achievement or success, or through the learning involved in error, failure or injury.

RISK-TAKING IN ECE Children’s engagement in positive risktaking has been on the agenda for ECE for the past 10 to 15 years. In Australia, risk-taking for children is included in the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). The EYLF encourages educators to provide opportunities for children to take risks both indoors and outdoors and in all aspects of learning (Australian Government Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR], 2009). Inclusion of risk-taking in the EYLF aims to support confident, competent and resilient children through learning to assess and manage risk and cope with failure. Unlike the dominant discourse in ECE literature, the EYLF does not focus on

"...children may engage in social, emotional and cognitive risk-taking in experiences such as making friends, sharing ideas, making suggestions in play and attempting a task that is new."

risk-taking as risky play. For risk-taking to be in line with the holistic approach of the EYLF, a broader view of risktaking is needed. It is this thinking that led to my research.

RESEARCH OVERVIEW My research, titled Towards a ReConceptualisation of Risk-Taking in Early Childhood Education, is a qualitative multi-site case study nested within a larger research project titled Exemplary Early Childhood Educators at Work. The focus on exemplary educators in both projects is to ensure that data identifies perspectives and practices associated with high quality ECE. The study involved interviews and observations with 55 educators from three services deemed ‘exceeding’ in the ACECQA assessment and rating process. In addition to their exceeding rating, services invited to participate also expressly valued children's risk-

taking. This was assessed using a ‘risk indicator checklist’ created from the literature. Both the exceeding rating and the value services placed on children’s risk-taking put educators in these services in the best position to offer insight on risk-taking in ECE.


is an ontological practice theory that aims toward a dual purpose of education – to help people ‘live well in a world worth living in’ (Kemmis et al., 2014, p. 25). The theory provides a framework for analysing practices and the conditions that enable and constrain practices.


1. How is risk-taking conceptualised by educators in exemplary ECE services that expressly value children’s risk-taking?

Results of the first research question revealed two key findings:

2. What are the practice architectures that enable and constrain educators’ risk-taking practices in exemplary ECE services that expressly value children’s risk-taking?

2. With minimal provocation, educators identified a broad range of risk-taking for children and educators

The term ‘practice architectures’ refers to the theory that formed the theoretical, methodological and analytical approach to the research. The theory of practice architectures

Educator's predominant discourse about risk-taking in ECE was about risky play. Children’s risk-taking outdoors, such as tree climbing, using tools and swings and other activities

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1. Most educators first and foremost think about risk-taking as risky play


that could injure, were educator's ‘go to’ when asked about risk-taking. Participating educators had all undertaken professional development that included information about risktaking in the form of risky play, often in conjunction with learning about outdoor play or nature pedagogy. Some educators admitted:

The Story of Joseph and Abraham

Abraham: But boys can’t marry boys

From the first day I met Joseph and Abraham (pseudonyms) at the conservative Anglican school where I taught, it was apparent that they were quite fond of dressing up in what we might traditionally consider ‘girls’ clothing- dresses: tutus and shoes with heels.

Friend: But you married Joseph

‘I think [about] risk-taking [as] physical [and] outside…I gravitate towards physical things that could injure.’

From the first day I met Joseph and Abraham’s father, it was apparent that he was not fond of the boys dressing up, something the boys seemed aware of. His first question to me on orientation day was ‘So Mandy, what are you going to do to man up my boys?’

and ‘I think risk-taking is more outdoors… I don't really see those things as risks inside.’

PROMPTING EDUCATORS TO THINK MORE BROADLY As the purpose of the research was to explore risk-taking beyond risky play, I provoked educators to think more broadly. The main provocation was a story about my interaction with twin boys I’d taught some years ago.

As I got to know Joseph and Abraham, I learned they also liked to engage in wedding play. They loved to arrange big elaborate weddings where they dressed as glamorous brides and usually married each other. One day, after a particularly delightful garden wedding, I overheard a conversation between Abraham and a friend.

Abraham: Yeah, but not really As an observer to this conversation, I had the option to engage, or not. I chose to engage. Educator: Well actually, you’re both right. In some countries, boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls, just not in Australia, not yet. A few days after this interaction I was called into the principal’s office. It turns out that Abraham had gone home and told his parents what he had learned. And they were not happy about it. They said they didn’t think it was appropriate information to be discussed at school. I was asked to apologise to the boys’ parents. Despite the clear disapproval from the boys’ parents and the school principal, the boys continued to wear their dresses and I continued to allow them to (and purchase new dresses from the op shop when requested). Actions that I now wonder, could they be considered

"I think [about] risk-taking [as] physical [and] outside… I gravitate towards physical things that could injure." RATTLER ISSUE 130 | MARCH 2020 | 31

risk-taking? Not physical outdoor risktaking like risky play, but social and emotional risk-taking that for Joseph and Abraham could be connected to their sense of identity and for me was an opportunity for advocacy.

A BROAD RANGE OF RISK-TAKING FOR CHILDREN AND EDUCATORS Following the above provocation and questions such as, ‘Can you tell me about any risks the children could be taking indoors?’ and ‘Have you taken any risks yourself?’, educators began to express a broader view of risktaking. Findings reveal that educators perceived that children may take risks: ⊲⊲ Indoors Educators’ examples of possible indoor risk-taking include rough and tumble play, attempting a new puzzle, asking someone to play and contributing ideas to a group discussion. ⊲⊲ Non-play activities Educators suggested that children may take a risk when they try a new food at snack time, participate in a self-help task such as tying their shoe lace or asking for help with a new skill, such as cutting with a knife. ⊲⊲ Non-physical activities Educators said that children may engage in social, emotional and cognitive risk-taking in experiences such as making friends, sharing

“If educators primarily view risk-taking as risky play, they may overlook opportunities to provide and support children in a broad range of positive risk-taking experiences” ideas, making suggestions in play and attempting a task that is new, such as writing their name. In addition to a broad range of risktaking for children, many educators recognised risk-taking as a valuable and important part of their professional practice in ECE. Three main themes emerged as to why educators take risks: 1. For professional growth and development 2. To support children’s development as competent and empowered individuals

to provide and support children in a broad range of positive risk-taking experiences – experiences in line with the holistic approach toward risk-taking presented in the EYLF. It is also a concern that if, as a sector, we are not aware of the risks that educators take, we may overlook opportunities important for their professional development and opportunities to support them to negotiate risk-taking beneficial to children’s learning and development and for creating a more socially just society. 

3. As intentional acts of advocacy and activism. I am currently in the process of finalising journal articles detailing educators’ risk-taking practices and the conditions that enable and constrain these practices.

IMPLICATIONS As detailed in an article published in Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, the concern is that if educators primarily view risk-taking as risky play, they may overlook opportunities

FURTHER READING ⊲⊲ Listen to Mandy talk about the complexity of risk in early childhood education in this PED talk. www.facebook.com/EECERA/videos/388092285230599/ ⊲⊲ Read Mandy’s article published in Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, titled Towards a re-conceptualisation of risk in early childhood education. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1463949119840740 ⊲⊲ Look out for Mandy’s next article, titled ‘High quality educators’ conceptualisation of children’s risk-taking in early childhood education: Provoking educators to think more broadly’ in the European Early Childhood Research Association Journal, due out June 2020.

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Mandy Cooke has over 20 years’ experience teaching and leading in primary and early childhood education in Australia and internationally. She is currently in the final stages of a PhD at Charles Sturt University. Mandy’s interests include educator practices, creativity, play, children’s rights and being outdoors. The research and ideas discussed in this article are drawn from her doctoral studies looking at early childhood educators’ conceptions and practices of risk-taking in early childhood education.

REFERENCES Australian Government Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR]. (2009). Belonging, being and becoming: The early years learning framework for Australia. Canberra, Australia: DEEWR for the Council of Australian Governments. Kemmis, S., Wilkinson, J., Edwards-Groves, C., Hardy, I., Grootenboer, P., & Bristol, L. (2014). Changing practices, changing education. Singapore: Springer. Little, H., Wyver, S., & Gibson, F. L. (2015). Levels of positive risk-taking and peer context in preschoolers’ play. Retrieved from ResearchGate website: https://www.researchgate.net/ publication/268355515 Sandseter, E. B. H. (2009). Characteristics of risky play. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 9(1), 3-21.

The links between early language development and literacy HOW EDUCATORS CAN HELP CHILDREN WITH LANGUAGE CONCERNS

BY KEETA WILLIAMS anguage and literacy skills provide children with freedom. Children use communication to engage with new experiences, form friendships and convey their wants, needs and ideas. Communication improves their ability to learn and supports life-long participation in society.

But how does an educator know if a child is experiencing language difficulties? Will language issues in early childhood impact a child's literacy learning in primary school?

Early childhood educators understand the importance of fostering language development. Infants benefit from rhymes, music, storytelling and one-to-one interactions. Older children benefit from a language-rich environment with access to literacy materials and tools, and diverse opportunities for socialisation.

While many children who are late talkers grow up to have acceptable language skills, research indicates that speech and language competence in early childhood can influence school literacy achievements.



Children learn skills progressively. Oral language skills gained during

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early childhood include knowing the meanings and sounds of words, and the grammatical structure of sentences. These skills are required before children can learn to read and write in primary school. Word recognition depends on knowing pronunciation, and text can only be understood if the word meanings are known. Children with speech and language concerns face greater challenges developing and improving literacy. Children from Growing Up in Australia, a longitudinal study of Australian children, were separated into two groups in the later years of early childhood: those with speech and

three predicts not only reading ability at ages 10 to 11 but achievement in learning overall." Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel, an extensive meta-analysis of hundreds of studies, found several early abilities that could be precursors of later literacy achievement: ⊲⊲ Knowledge of the names and sounds of letters

"Studies show that language development at age three predicts not only reading ability at ages 10 to 11 but achievement in learning overall."

⊲⊲ Ability to write their own name ⊲⊲ Phonological awareness ⊲⊲ Ability to quickly name aloud a series of items on a page: letters, numbers, colours and objects ⊲⊲ Ability to remember spoken information for a short period of time. Early childhood educators can support children in developing these abilities in preparation for primary school, but this does not mean they need to create a checklist. Educators can still maintain a play-based curriculum, as described in The Early Years Learning Framework, that is rich with opportunities for observing, using and exploring all forms of language. "Early educators are well aware of the benefits of play for early learning, and are generally able to explain its value to families. Many early childhood services, however, often under pressure from families, adopt methods for supporting literacy that are best left for the early years of school," says Dr Djonov.

language concerns (SLC), and those without. Throughout primary school, the SLC children achieved lower literacy scores compared with those in the second group. This study also found the SLC children progressed normally at school, but did not catch up to the literacy levels achieved by the children in the second group. Dr Emilia Djonov, a Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Language and Literacy at Macquarie University, says, "language development prior to school

equips children with competencies that are essential for learning to read and write in conventional terms. An important one among them is phonological awareness, children’s familiarity with the sound structure of language and skills in manipulating speech sounds. "Oral language skills, which include but extend beyond vocabulary, are another key competency for success in both literacy and learning. Studies show that language development at age

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"For example, pre-packaged, one-sizefits-all, and expensive, commercial phonics programs are heavily advertised as building knowledge of sound-letter correspondences and thus supporting children in learning to read and write. Their claims, however, have not been tested by rigorous, independent research. "Such research shows, in fact, that preschool-aged children best develop reading and writing skills through child-driven, play-based, authentic and individualised experiences with print."

IDENTIFYING LANGUAGE CONCERNS Amanda Simon, a speech pathologist who has 25 years' experience and works with children in Sydney, identifies red flags that may suggest a child needs additional support with communication development.

9-12 MONTHS ⊲⊲ Poor use of eye contact to communicate and share experiences. ⊲⊲ Does not appear to listen when spoken to. Child may be unresponsive when their name is called. ⊲⊲ Little or absent use of joint attention - the child does not look at an object they are interested in and then towards another person, to indicate and share their interest. ⊲⊲ Little use of babble and no specific sounds used (e.g. baba, da-da).

3 YEARS ⊲⊲ Cannot answer simple questions and have a short conversation. ⊲⊲ Repeats back a question or direction rather than responding to it. ⊲⊲ Does not show a clear understanding of early concepts (e.g. big/little, primary colours). ⊲⊲ Cannot use four or five words in a sentence. ⊲⊲ Cannot name many common objects, animals and actions.

12-18 MONTHS


⊲⊲ Does not try to copy physical actions (e.g. clapping).

⊲⊲ Cannot point to common body parts when asked.

⊲⊲ Does not follow simple directions (e.g. "get your shoes").

⊲⊲ Cannot answer simple questions (e.g. “what does a dog say?”).

⊲⊲ Does not use any true words consistently. Roughly, children should have at least 10 meaningful words by 18 months.

⊲⊲ Cannot follow two related directions (e.g. “get your shoes and your bag”).

⊲⊲ Does not show interest or respond to simple directions when looking at books (e.g. "show me the duck"). ⊲⊲ Has limited play skills (e.g. mouths or throws toys rather than using toys for their intended use).

4 YEARS ⊲⊲ Does not ask questions. ⊲⊲ Does not answer questions about the present, a recent event, or a story they have just heard. ⊲⊲ Cannot follow directions with prepositions (e.g. 'in', 'on', 'under', 'behind'). ⊲⊲ Cannot use grammatical components of language (e.g. plurals, pronouns). ⊲⊲ Child’s speech is not easily understood by strangers.

⊲⊲ Does not use at least 50 words regularly. ⊲⊲ Does not combine words into two-word phrases. ⊲⊲ Does not use the sounds m, p, b, w, n, d or t correctly when talking.

5 YEARS ⊲⊲ Does not understand preschool language concepts (e.g. common colours, words for describing size). ⊲⊲ Frequently appears to have difficulty following directions. ⊲⊲ Cannot have a reasonably welldeveloped conversation about a topic that interests them. ⊲⊲ Cannot join their sentences together with words (e.g. 'and', 'because', 'after'). ⊲⊲ Cannot talk in grammatically correct sentences, although some parts of grammar are still difficult for many children at this age. ⊲⊲ Cannot tell a simple story with a beginning, middle and end.

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"It’s very important to reassure parents that any language difficulties their child may be experiencing is not a sign of a lack of intelligence. It also doesn’t mean things are hopeless."



Early childhood intervention is the provision of specialised support services for children with disabilities and/or development delays. Research tells us that children who need intervention have a better chance of improving if they are identified and referred early.

Simon encourages educators to discuss concerns about language development with the child's family or carer. Check that the child has had a recent hearing test, not just newborn screening.

"It is generally better to suggest referral for assessment earlier rather than later," says Speech Pathologist, Amanda Simon. "There are two reasons for this: the evidence in support of early intervention and the fact that waiting lists for services are long." Families can ask for help from their general practitioner, local community health service or child health nurse, who can refer the child to specialist services if required. As part of The Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) approach, early childhood educators can refer children with developmental concerns to a local ECEI early childhood partner (www.ndis.gov.au/ecei).

"Explore what languages are used at home. However, even if a child comes from a different home language environment, they should still be able to use eye contact to communicate, listen and engage in joint attention," says Simon. Marianne Connolly, the Director of St Paul’s Early Learning Centre in North Brisbane has access to a speech pathologist for children who attend the centre. She says, "When approaching a parent about language difficulties their child may be experiencing, it’s critical to be specific. Speaking in general terms is unhelpful. Give specific examples around how it affects them in the context of their early learning environment so that parents can have greater clarity.

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"It’s very important to reassure parents that any language difficulties their child may be experiencing is not a sign of a lack of intelligence. It also doesn’t mean things are hopeless. "Sometimes parents can understand what their child is saying but a child’s peers or teachers may not. This can be difficult for parents to grasp on occasion. It’s important to articulate exactly how the child’s language difficulties are manifesting." The most important factor to support children who need help developing literacy is cooperation. Children benefit most when educators, speech pathologists and families work together, to provide helpful, personalised and consistent learning experiences. 

LET’S GET READING! Here are some picture book suggestions which could help with early language development

RHYMING LET’S GO STROLLING by Katrina Germein illustrated by Danny Snell ISBN: 9780648115694 *Winner of the 2019 Speech Pathology Book of The Year Award* Puppy dog, butterfly. Aeroplane, cloudy sky. A sweet, gentle rhyming book that promotes language development and outdoor fun. Young readers will love finding familiar objects on every page.


RIBBIT RABBIT ROBOT by Victoria Mackinlay illustrated by Sofya Karmazina ISBN: 9781743834060

These websites provide information on language and literacy with practical ideas for meaningful, play-based interactions. ⊲⊲ Reading Rockets readingrockets.org ⊲⊲ GreatStart education.sa.gov.au/ greatstart

This lamp is enchanted and I am the genie I'll grant all your wishes but DON'T be a meanie ... A magical, hilarious tale about kindness with simple alliterative text. Perfect to read aloud.

MUSICAL PARTICIPATION MY POSSUM PLAYS THE DRUMS by Catherine Meatheringham illustrated by Max Hamilton ISBN: 9781922081834 Night-time falls and the possum orchestra begins. Children will love to join in with this noisy celebration of possums and their night time antics.

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Screen time has been blamed for an ever-growing list of childhood problems, not least the lack of time spent in outdoor play in nature. It’s certainly an issue that the early education sector is aware of. But could screen technology be a catalyst for inspiring children to engage with nature? Justine McClymont finds out. ccording to the Australian Department of Health, long periods of screen time is connected to less active outdoor and creative play; slower development of language skills; poor social skills, and an increased risk of being overweight. The Department of Health guidelines recommend that children between the ages of 2–5 years old have a limit of one hour per day of screen time.


The concept of “nature-deficit disorder” has also been coined by American author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods. While this term is not a recognised medical condition, Louv links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s 'wired' generation

to childhood trends such as the rise in obesity, attention disorders and depression. In his book, Louv argues for the need for direct access to nature for healthy childhood development and emphasises the crucial role that nature plays in the physical and emotional health of both children and adults.

nature play? Could screens be a catalyst for inspiring children to learn about our amazing natural world? Rather than screens being seen as part of the problem, could the technology provide the chance for children to develop their own sense of connection to nature and the environment?

It would seem, then, that screen time is diametrically opposed to spending time in nature.

Dr Jo Bird is a lecturer in early childhood education at the University of New England with a particular interest in children’s use of digital technologies and play-based learning. Her short answer is ‘yes’. Screen technology can absolutely help children to connect with nature, but only if used effectively.

WHAT IF SCREENS COULD BE PART OF THE SOLUTION? But could screens, in fact, be part of the solution to encourage children to participate in active and creative

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“We all know that children are interested in technology,” says Jo. “If we actually embrace their interests and teach them how to use the technologies in a positive way, it will help to build up skills that they will use in their future learning.” One of the most important considerations is to ensure that children engage in active screen time rather than passive consumption. “I would prefer a child to have an hour of screen time where they’ve created a nature book of all the bugs that they found in their backyard than an hour of sitting there watching a YouTube video,” she says. “Even though it’s the same amount of time, the learning and the skills that the children are developing and their interactions with the device are totally different.”

PRESENTING TECHNOLOGY AS A SUPPORT TO NATURE PLAY Jo was invited to present at the 2019 Nature Play Conference at Thalgarra Environmental Education Centre near Armidale NSW, where she showed educators how to use screen technology to interact with and learn about nature. “Knowing that technologies are often viewed as being in opposition to nature play, my idea was to present technologies in a way that actually supports nature play and that might encourage educators to use screens outside in ways that respect nature,” Jo says.

Participants were asked to go and find items on a nature treasure hunt and capture them through photos, videos and audio recordings. They then created a digital book of their discoveries using an app called Book Creator. This creative app allows users to add photos, videos, audio recordings, notes and drawings. The books can be viewed digitally and also exported to PDF for printing. “Children love treasure hunts,” says Jo. “Book Creator is a great way to create a book on anything by using images and videos. It’s quite quick and easy to use.” According to Jo, this type of app, which provides opportunities for active and creative learning (not to mention getting children outdoors in nature), is much more beneficial than “skill-anddrill” apps which can be repetitive and limiting. In addition to apps like Book Creator, there are also apps available like FrogID and Aussie Bird Count that encourage children to become active ‘citizen scientists’ through observing and counting species, and then logging the results to help inform the work of Australian scientists. “The response from educators at the session was very positive,” says Jo. “A lot of the educators said at the start that they were reluctant to use technologies with children at any time because of the idea that children get too much screen time normally. I explained to them that, when I was teaching, we used to use bug catchers and we would go up into the yard,

collect bugs, bring them back into the room, put some leaves in an old fish tank and watch the bugs crawl around. Eventually the bugs would die, the children might get upset and then we’d get rid of the bugs.” “I explained that this approach definitely wasn’t sustainable and it wasn’t supporting nature. Now I encourage children to use an iPad, to video the bugs in their natural habitat, and then they can watch the video over and over again. It’s not interrupting the bugs and what they’re doing, and it also means that the children are learning how to use iPads, but they’re using them in a positive way.”

OPENING UP A WORLD OF OPPORTUNITY Karen Bramley is an Educational Leader at Armidale Community Preschool in regional NSW who attended one of Jo’s workshops. She said the preschool had previously decided to stop using screens with their 3–5 year olds for a range of reasons including some children not being able to differentiate between screens and other objects (such as trying to 'swipe' real puzzle pieces back into place) and possessiveness of iPADS when there weren’t enough to go around.

"One of the most important considerations is to ensure that children engage in active screen time rather than passive consumption." Dr Jo Bird, lecturer in early childhood education at the University of New England

“Children weren’t settling very well, so we canned the technology and continued with the nature play day programs,” she said.

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After attending Jo’s workshop, Karen realised that the children were missing out on a world of opportunity when it came to creative ways to engage with nature. The preschool now regularly uses the Book Creator app on iPAD minis. “The cicadas have started coming out, so we’ve just made a nature book about cicadas,” said Karen. “When children find a cicada shell or a cicada, it just opens up the whole learning experience, from language to touching to learning about how to care for them. It all goes onto the Book Creator. All the children’s voices are in there. It’s all immediate learning.” Armidale Community Preschool also uses the Guided Access setting on iPhones and iPads, which limits the device to a single app and can be used to set time limits and control which features are available.

Karen says re-introducing technology using these apps has been beneficial for the children, and the educators are seeing positive outcomes. “Children are much more aware of why we need the bugs and the bees and everything in our environment. So instead of catching the bug and putting it in a bug catcher, a lot of the children are now happy to watch it on the tree and watch where it goes and what it’s doing. They’re a lot more engaged with the natural environment and they respect insects and nature.” Karen adds that it has changed the way the children process information and think about nature and the environment. "Being that ‘up close’, I think it’s made them really process their whole way of thinking. Being in the natural environment, seeing what’s in the environment and how to care for it and learn, we’ve seen a big back-flip and the kids are just benefiting so much from it.”

APPS TO TRY Book Creator bookcreator.com Guided Access setting support.apple.com/enus/HT202612 FrogID (Australian Museum) www.frogid.net.au Aussie Bird Count (BirdLife Australia) aussiebirdcount.org.au Pizzey & Knight Birds of Aus apps.apple.com/ au/app/pizzey-andknight-birds-of-aus/ id714625973 Xmas Beetles ID app (Australian Museum) apps.apple.com/au/ app/xmas-beetle-idguide/id1180442876

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When it comes to screens vs nature, it’s no longer a case of 'never the twain shall meet'. The curious desire of children to learn how to use the technology they see their parents using every day isn’t necessarily something to be afraid of or reluctantly 'managed'. Rather, it presents an opportunity for educators to harness that inquisitive energy and mindfully guide it, providing opportunities for young minds to develop their own sense of curiosity and wonder about the natural world. 

FURTHER INFORMATION Early Childhood Australia Statement on young children and digital technologies, 2018 www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/ our-work/submissions-statements/ eca-statement-young-children-digitaltechnologies


HOW EDUCATORS CAN SUPPORT CHILDREN’S RIGHTS Study introduction by Robbie Warren ducators working in Early Childhood Education services are in a unique position to embed the principles of The United Nations Convention on the rights of the child into their practices, and to be key advocates for the full spectrum of rights afforded to children. Attention to, and research on, children’s rights has grown exponentially since 1989 with the unanimous adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by the United Nations General Assembly (Gillett-Swan & Coppock, 2016).


This treaty, the most significant global tool to advocate for the rights of children under the age of 18 years, recognises children as rightholders and citizens. Integral to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is the recognition of the child as competent, with agency, and a voice in things that matter to their lives. In the thirty years since Australia’s ratification of The Convention, considerable advancement and recognition of children’s rights in Early Childhood Education (ECE) policies in Australia has occurred. As a practicing educator in a rural preschool I became interested in the considerations and challenges that all educators face in respecting and upholding children’s rights throughout the day. I embarked on research to investigate what enacting preschool children’s rights in exemplary ECE services looks like – what are educators doing and saying in their practice?

A review of the literature in relation to children’s rights in ECE services in Australia found that there was little empirical evidence researching what shapes educator practices in relation to the rights of children who are aged 3 – 5 years. Four ECE services, in NSW and South Australia, who have achieved an Exceeding rating under the ACECQA rating system and expressed a philosophical position grounded in rights, consented to participation in my study. The purposeful selection of these sites offers the potential to learn from educators who are exhibiting practices that are exemplary in relation to children’s rights. Educators at these services participated in interviews, focus discussions and observations with educator practices with children being the specific focus of my data collection. I am currently analysing the data collected from these services using the Theory of Practice Architectures to

generate an understanding of the arrangements in the services that enable educators to respect and uphold preschool children’s rights and what may constrain or diminish children’s rights. An initial analysis of the data has revealed positive results and consistency with service philosophies and educator practices in relation to children’s rights. A series of journal articles will disseminate the final results of this study including a report of findings and learnings for this publication later this year. My expectation is that my findings provoke conversation and critically reflexive practice amongst educators in relation to respecting and upholding children’s rights in the context of their own ECE service.  Rattler will share Robbie’s findings in a future issue.

REFERENCES - Gillett-Swan, J., & Coppoc

Robbie Warren is an educator with over 20 years of teaching experience in Early Childhood Education services, and currently works in a preschool service in regional NSW. After completing a teaching degree at Charles Sturt University, she undertook a Master of Education at the University of Wollongong. Robbie has an interest in understanding how educators can be full advocates for children’s rights in their roles. This has inspired her to research the topic of children’s rights through her doctoral studies at Charles Sturt University. Robbie’s study is nested within the Exemplary Early Childhood Educators at Work project, a three-year study funded by the Australian Research Council. She is investigating the conceptualisations and enactment of educator practices in respecting and upholding preschool children’s rights in exemplary Early Childhood Education services.

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Are you making the most of your member resources? Our member library contains over 90 sector leading resources that will help you to navigate the National Quality Framework and standards and provide the best possible outcomes for children at your service.


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