Each nominee in the 2014 Early Education & Care Awards was invited to submit answers to five questions based on ACECQA's 7 Quality Areas, and also to discuss their future plans.
Balnarring Preschool's submission was written by Karen Anderson, Centre Director, and is the reason the preschool was selected as a State Winner in 2014.
1. WELLBEING: Explain the process that your team/scheme uses to identify and manage the emotional, social and/or physical wellbeing needs of all the children in the centre/scheme. Describe the planning, training, implementation and/or impact of this process on children, families and staff. (max 200 words)
At Balnarring Pre-school everyone has a voice – educators, children, parents, families and management. Together we develop programs that engage everyone. We are dedicated to an inclusive environment – access for all - rarely seeing the barriers but looking for the possibilities. This approach then develops a service that creates a strong sense of Belonging for all involved.
The educators have regular meetings where discussions occur around practice, training, mentoring and future developments. The parents and families are invited to discuss program developments as well as environment improvements. The families are also regularly surveyed for their reflections on the program and general running of the service.
There is a strong focus given to establishing relationships and connections between families, children, educators and the community. As relationships are developed so is trust: Trust in knowing that everyone’s views are heard and respected.
One area we have all been aware of over the past year or two is the importance of having time to ‘be’. The program supports providing children with blocks of time that treasure the here and now, that allow children to ‘savor the moment’. This in turn has led to the adults involved in the program respecting and appreciating the value of ‘down’ time and just ‘being’
All the areas described above support Well Being and Belonging.
2. PROGRAMMING: Describe one innovative change or shift made to the children’s program in the last 12 months that has led to authentic learning experiences for the children. Describe why this change was made and how children have benefited as a result. (max 200 words)
We became extremely aware that indigenous children only learnt from the land and now we were including this approach to learning with the children at Balnarring Pre-school.
The educators expressed a need to develop their knowledge so they could include indigenous perspectives in the program in an authentic manner. An indigenous consultant was employed to work directly with the educators. The consultant then worked directly with the children; learning on Country together.
In 2014 the committee of management committed funds so that each group of children would receive multiple visits from the indigenous worker.
Now, in the centre, Indigenous perspectives are a regular inclusion in every day practice. When you enter the building you will see Indigenous resources being used on a daily basis, The Australian and Aboriginal flag are hanging in the building as it an acknowledgment we have written.
The children mention indigenous learning within their play and discussions. When we venture into wild spaces connections to indigenous peoples are made.
The children are becoming aware of the past, present and future. They are engaged in learning about Aboriginals and adopting some of their practices. For example – story telling with items found in nature; recognising the significance of the wedge tail eagle and Black raven and finding wonder in the land, sky and waterways.
3. SERVICE IMPROVEMENTS: Describe a recent improvement made to the service (physical space, operations, structure, culture etc); discuss the process of engagement/consultation with the team/families and the importance of leadership, culture and teamwork in driving this improvement. How has this improvement impacted on educators, the children, families and/or others. (max 200 words)
The service has been developing sustainable practices over a number of years. In the last few years this has been taken a step further by developing a Learning and Living with nature philosophy. Educators participated in professional development and conversations that led then to explore educating the children in natural spaces.
The families were presented with the concept of their child exploring nature whether inside the premises or beyond the gate and immediately engaged in the process
This new approach has developed a new culture within the service. A culture that is focused on connecting children to nature which in turn is connecting families to nature.
The children are exposed to various experiences: spending one day a week at the beach; exploring local wetlands and parklands; developing a fire pit ; using natural items found in nature in various play areas; indigenous perspectives; playing and walking in the rain.
This approach has been received by the families with an amazing amount of enthusiasm and positive reflections. . Families are going outside more, some even in the rain! The educators are now sharing their experience with educators from other services
4. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: How are individuals’ professional development goals supported/recognised? Describe any ways in which your service/scheme has become a recognised leader or provider of certain approaches as a result of its ongoing program of professional development. (max 200 words)
Educators discuss possible professional development options during staff meetings and as challenges and questions arise. Any professional development opportunities that we receive are shared with the team.
The committee of management is extremely supportive of educators developing new knowledge and understandings. They will provide the funds for educators to attend professional development and provide paid leave for those educators when funds are available. For example in 2014 the whole team will be attending the Early Childhood Australia conference in Melbourne – funds for this were put away last year to ensure everyone could attend.
The committee of management recognised the importance of the indigenous goals the educators were pursuing and provided funds in the budget this year to employ a consultant.
The service applied for a grant which enabled them to run five indigenous workshops for educators across the Mornington Peninsula. Eighty educators attend these workshops.
Educators from other services – early years, primary school and university – have visited the beach program in order to observe the practice of educating in nature. Educators are also often involved in discussions with other educators looking to take their children into nature.
Educators are also regular contributors to Nature Networks that have been established by like minded educators who are connecting children with nature
5. FAMILY PARTNERSHIPS: Describe your community of families and the steps that you have taken to build and encourage interaction between families and your service. What, if any, challenges did you face and were they overcome? What benefits did you achieve? (max 200 words)
Balnarring pre-school is fortunate to be involved with families who are able to spend time with their children. We can then offer many opportunities for them to be involved at what ever capacity they choose.
We recognise the importance of families in a child’s life and the positive impact their involvement can have on a child’s education.
Participation is encouraged in many areas – committee, fundraising, sharing skills, nature adventures, special events. Welcome to Country ceremony, luncheons, discussion with educators on their child’s progress, contributing to projects such as the vegetable patch and the creation of a new outdoor space and regular working bees. Parents are developing relationships with each other and their children’s friends through many of these activities.
Parents and families voices are sought and listened to; discussions, progress reports, reflections, and surveys.
We distribute monthly newsletters to the families and contribute to a community publication each month.
If families are separated we ensure that both parents are kept informed and if they choose to be involved we welcome that. If parents are working and unable to access the daily program we provide out of hours opportunities to connect and learn about the service eg parent and child evenings or Saturday gatherings.
6. FUTURE PLANS
These awards can create opportunities even for those who do not win (eg networking, PR, reflective practice etc). What opportunities do you believe your service will benefit from as a result of being involved in the awards and how might these opportunities be used professionally? (max 200 words)
Involvement in the awards reinforces the great work everyone is doing. It is affirming that the dedication and hard work is seen as valuable not only to the immediate pre-school community but further a field. This service has had some courageous conversations around practice and innovative ideas – this award process supports the service to be leaders and encourages the people involved to continue evolving practice and the service.
Balnarring Pre-school has a strong collaborative approach. Being part of this award demonstrates to everyone involved that each of them is a valued contributor. It is important to share the recognition between the service to reinforce that what we have achieved has been a collaborative effort.
The award process provides opportunity to share the service’s passions and provide inspiration to other services. Considering all the committee are volunteers this award is a way for the community to recognise and thank them for the wonderful job they have done and are doing; therefore encouraging other families to be involved in the future.
Future opportunities may flow onto the educators as leaders in innovative practices, they can inspire other educators both within Victoria and other states in early childhood and beyond.
If you were to win the National Service of the Year Award, what would you do with the prize ($4,000 training with One World for Children and $4,000 PD grant)? (max 200 words)
The prize money would provide our newer educators with professional development opportunities that can refine their skills and increase their knowledge. We have one educator who has one year experience and one co-educator who has just begun with us this year.
The families have been extremely interested in the indigenous perspectives. When we held the Welcome to Country, we received many comments on how little the parents knew about the Aboriginal history and culture. We hope to provide some sessions where parents could be involved in workshops with the indigenous consultant and educators. This would then create a rich culture of indigenous acknowledgment. Families involved in other community services could also access these sessions eg playgroup families.
We would also like to engage the local primary schools in developing indigenous knowledge. With the grant funds we could possibly provide them with workshop opportunities. This would also strengthen relationships between the service and schools.
Many discussions have occurred around publishing what we have learnt about educating in nature and developing indigenous perspectives. Funds could be used to create a publication around ‘Out and About on Boon Wurrung Country’. This would provide us with another avenue for inspiring other services and educators.