Children with smiley faces painted on hands

Securing 2021 Occupancy

Securing Occupancy banner

As we draw closer to the end of another year, for services this means starting the re-enrolment process for the new year and saying goodbye to children who are off on their next adventure – school!

The Kidsoft team have compiled some of their tips ‘n tricks to assist Services during this busy time. We’ve developed a series of bite sized tutorial videos covering each feature.

Take the stress out of manual enrolment administration with iEnrol, Kidsoft’s powerful customer relationship management (CRM) feature inclusive in your Kidsoft account. 

Kidsoft iEnrol settings support families who have waitlisted through iEnrol previously, pre-populating the enrolment form with their details. Families simply need to check that the information is correct, updating any details that may have changed, and then request the days they require for the new year. Embrace a paper free re-enrolment and invite your existing families to record their preferred dates for 2021 via iEnrol.

Mother with child and laptop

Service Occupancy

At a quick glance, once your existing families start to re-enrol, you can refer to the Vacancies Menu to determine how many openings you have for new children. This will then allow you to adjust rosters accordingly. To assist in an increase in your service occupancy we would recommend the Utilisation Report which will highlight how many vacancies are available in order to up-sell additional days to families. 

CCS Bulk Booking Editor

In most services, children transition to a new room each year. The CCS Bulk Booking Editor allows services to move an entire room, or a handful of children. If services have a fee change that is determined by age, the booking types can also be updated in bulk using this feature.

Exit Child Feature

The end of the year also sees the end of enrolments with children heading off to school, re locating etc.
The Exit Child Feature is a one stop shop, allowing users to complete all the applicable steps associated to when a child exits the service.

We're here for you

Most importantly we want all of our customers to know that we’re here for you. If you need any support, have questions or would like to seek advice during this unprecedented time please reach out. Our team are available Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 5pm whether via phone, email or in person. We’d love to hear from you and support you in any way we can.

Children with building blocks

Being, belonging, becoming… but what else is in the EYLF?

Children with building blocks

When the early years learning framework (EYLF) first came out in 2010, many educators were quick to latch on to “the 3 B’s” – the core elements of the EYLF – being, belonging, becoming.  

Overnight, belonging walls, wooden signs and displays showing all the different ways children “belonged” to a service popped up, and the learning outcomes which “proved” the 3 Bs were latched on to.  

What was, and remains, less familiar to the sector are the principles and practices which sit under the core elements of the EYLF. All too often, the first section of the EYLF is something which is flipped through in a hurry to reach “the important stuff” of the learning outcomes.  

By flipping past, some of the most important elements of the EYLF may be missed. When read as a whole, it quickly becomes clear that the framework is exactly that – each part is held up by a scaffold of principles and practices, and these rich elements can take documentation, planning, and many other aspects of working with children to the next level.  

While it’s understandable that in an environment where there are so many competing demands of rostering, staffing, child protection issues, menus, compliance…and a global pandemic… that the view “any shortcut is a good shortcut”, skipping over the principles and practices means children’s learning is reduced to “tick a box”, and educators become compliance monitors rather than the creative and spontaneous practitioners we know them to be.  

For many years, under previous curriculum models, educators felt constrained, having to fit into pre-defined boxes, and meet various elements of curriculum, whether or not they were right for their service.  

We finally have a model that allows services the space to create programming and curriculum which suits them, but many services are defaulting to “out of the box” solutions which are quick, generic, and “one size fits all”. The principles of the EYLF can help services to dig in and learn more about what they believe about children, and work to make this connect with the need to work under an approved learning framework. 

What are the principles? 

The EYLF has five principles that reflect contemporary theories and research evidence concerning children’s learning and early childhood pedagogy. They are designed to underpin the practices which take place within a service, and are focused on assisting all children to make progress in relation to the Learning Outcomes.  

The five principles are; 

1. Secure, Respectful And Reciprocal Relationships:
This principle speaks to the need for educators to prioritise nurturing relationships with children, and to help children to develop the skills to return the same nurture to themselves and to others.
 

2. Partnerships:
In this principle, educators are reminded of the importance of working as a member of a “team” in the life of a child, where everyone values the knowledge and contributions that other team members make in a child’s life, as well as communicating respectfully and sharing their thinking and decision making with other team members. 

3. High Expectations And Equity:
Here, educators are encouraged to believe in all children’s capacities to succeed, regardless of diverse circumstances and abilities, and to recognise and respond to barriers to children achieving educational success.
 

4. Respect For Diversity:
When educators adhere to principle four, they are recognising that there are many ways of living, being and of knowing, and that children come into their care  with a culture, which is not only influenced by traditional practices, heritage and ancestral knowledge, but also by the experiences, values and beliefs of individual families and communities.
 

5. Ongoing Learning And Reflective Practice:
As educators come to understand themselves, and those they work with more deeply, they become co-learners, with children, families and communities, valuing the continuity and richness of local knowledge. Reflective practice is a form of ongoing learning that asks educators to grapple with questions of philosophy, ethics and practice. 

By digging more deeply into the EYLF, educators can add layers of meaning not only to their documentation and programming, but also to their professional and pedagogical practices. Far more than just a prelude to the learning outcomes, the principles and practices of the EYLF offer educators a window to understand more about themselves and the learning of the children in their care.  

Further resources:  
Community Community Child Care Co-operative Ltd (NSW) – Living practice with the EYLF 
The Early Years Learning Framework Professional Learning Program – Thinking about Practice 
Department of Social Services – Living the EYLF everyday team meeting package  

Child gardening

Giving Children a Purpose

Child gardening

A sense of purpose is a powerful thing. It provides us with meaning; it helps guide our decisions and has a positive influence on our mental well-being. 

Without a sense of purpose, we can easily find ourselves feeling lost, and we become more vulnerable to feelings of depression, boredom, frustration and pessimism. Many psychologists argue that there is a strong relationship between addiction and a lack of purpose.

Psychologist Vikor Frankl calls it the ‘existential vacuum’. 

What does this have to do with children? 
Our jobs as parents and educators are to help prepare children for life. 

With a strong sense of purpose, we become more resilient; we can overcome challenges and bounce back faster after setbacks.  According to William Damon of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, “Purpose is the number one, long-term motivator in life.” 

Life seems easier; we embrace a more positive outlook on life bouncing out of bed in the morning, ready to tackle the day head-on. Characteristics that we want our children to have, qualities that we know we serve our children well as they head into adolescence. 

While there is a lot to be grateful for and a lot of positive in the world, we must not be naive and think that our children are not going to face adversity at some point. Thanks to technology, things like bullying are now 24/7 and no longer reserved for the playground. There is more content that children can access. 

How can we help our children find a sense of purpose? 
Helping children develop a sense of purpose is not something that accomplished in an afternoon; it is something that is encouraged (authentically) overtime. 

Lead by example – Be positive and share wisdom. 
Having an optimistic mindset and actively working to instil that in children can help them adopt the same outlook. When faced with a challenge, teach them how to deal with it positively. 

Talk with children regularly. 
Regular conversations with children will offer hints about their values. Ask them about their opinions on everyday events or activities, or what they think about certain TV shows or commercials. By carefully listening to what children say and repeatedly asking them ‘why?’ we can learn what is important to them. 

Let them to the work. 
It can often be tempting to jump in and help children with their tasks. However, it is better to keep a distance and let children learn. Completing chores (at least while they are young) gives children a sense of accomplishment and pride. 

Let them make decisions. 
Let children make as many decisions as they can. Of course, please use good judgement here and not put children in danger, but this is the fastest way they will learn. They need to know that actions have consequences. By falling (from time to time), they will learn quickly how their choices affect their outcome. 

Help them discover their purpose.
While this is easier said than done, parents and educators can help children find purpose based on their conversations and interests. Again really listening to what children have to say and repeatedly asking ‘why?’ can help guide them. Getting them to write it down can make it more concrete for them. 

Helping children find a sense of purpose is a rewarding endeavour in itself. Knowing that another little human is as prepared as possible for what life has in store is a purpose all of its own.

Kindyhub is a certified Kidsoft partner. Kindyhub enables educators to simplify and streamline documentation, enhance communication with parents, in-turn improving children’s learning outcomes. Learn more about Kindyhub and how they can assist your business by clicking here.

Mother with daughter cuddling

Parental involvement – solving the puzzle

Do parents at your service rush in the door in the morning, handing over a child with tangled hair, a full nappy and a quick goodbye? When it comes to pick up time, are you chasing them down the hallway with an accident report which needs to be signed?  

For many educators, it can feel as though parents don’t have time for the “musts” of being involved in an early childhood education and care (ECEC) service, let alone any of the things you would like, such as input on new policies, or a contribution to the quality improvement plan.  

With life being so busy for families and educators alike, how can services encourage parents to be more involved and engaged?  

Mother and daughter cuddling

Empathy 
Before any of the more practical ideas are put forward, it’s essential for educators and leaders to be empathetic with parents, and try to understand their stress levels, strengths, weaknesses and overall capacity.  

2020 has been a tough year for many, financially and in terms of mental health. Parents are no doubt doing the best they can, and no matter how hard you try, not every parent will want to engage with the service, or be involved.  

One size does not fit all, and so remaining open to new ideas, and being receptive to the feelings of the families in your care is key to getting families on board.  

The personal touch 
Greeting each parent, being sure to say hello, smiling when they drop their child off, and greeting their child/ren can set the tone for engaging them more deeply in the service. It’s a simple gesture, but one which makes parents feel welcome, which can lead to more willingness to engage later on.   

Over time, get to know the parents a little more, perhaps by asking what they did over the weekend, talking about pets, hobbies, passions etc. This leads to more in-depth conversations and deepens the rapport. Asking about things they have talked about previously will solidify the bond.  

Use social media 
Many parents are active on a variety of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest etc. Some services shy away from engaging on social media because of privacy concerns, but there are a number of ways to use these platforms without compromising children’s right to privacy.  

Perhaps favourite recipes could be shared, photos of learning environments, recordings (sound only) of children singing, or providing links and suggestions to activities taking place in the local area.  

By adding an interactive element, such as a poll, an “ask me anything” question box, or by offering contests and giveaways, parents are more likely to interact with the social media presence, and increase engagement. 

Communicate 
Many ECEC providers use CCS management software to streamline their processes. Kidsoft joins with integration  partners like KindyhubStorypark and many others to allow services and families to seamlessly communicate, sharing video, pictures, learning and much more, all in real time.

Using platforms such as these helps parents to feel connected to the service, and also to feed information back.  

The old fashioned touch 
Reaching out to families with a “sunshine call” sharing a moment of good news or delight can really lift their spirits and make a long day feel bright. Calling at least one parent a week to relay some good news about their child/ren will leave a smile on your face, and theirs.  

Make “Sunshine” Calls – Reach out with a quick phone call when you see that parents need some cheering up.  Or make a practice of calling at least one parent a week to relay good news. 

(Tip: Keep track of these sunshine calls and make sure each family receives the same amount of calls throughout the year.) 

Invite them in  
When restrictions allow, invite families into the service at various times – before, during and after a standard working day. Setting up activities for the children and families to work through together can be a great way to showcase the important work which happens in your service each day.  

For families who cannot attend the service, perhaps they can work together to make a family poster, filled with photographs, drawings, notes or handprints, to bring something of their family in.   

Families, communities and services all around Australia, and indeed the world, are unique and special places. While some of the advice above may not work for each service, trying many different ideas, and continuing to try and connect, should eventually yield a return.  

Further resources; 
Department of Education, Skills and Employment – Connecting with families? Bringing the EYLF to life in your community.  
Emerging Minds – Engaging with Families and Children  
Community Early Learning Australia – Connecting with Families  

clock with pink and blue background

The 5 biggest time wasters for Childcare Centre Managers (and how to reduce them)

clock with pink and green background

We know that on a daily basis, Centre Managers and Operators are being pulled in multiple directions. They’re under continuing pressure to not only ensure a Centre is running smoothly, the team are motivated, and families are happy, but also meet occupancy targets and changing regulatory requirements.  

And that regulatory administration workload is coming at a significant cost to Childcare Centres and the industry as a whole. According to a recent study by Canon, 63% of businesses are wasting up to 10 hours per week on manual and repetitive (yet necessary) administration tasks. For a Childcare business, that equates to $20,800 of a Centre Managers average salary per year that is allocated to administration work alone. That’s a staggering financial cost to any Childcare business, and one that needs to be addressed now!  

So how can you cut down on your administration workload and increase productivity? We discuss the 5 most time-consuming activities for Centre Managers and how to reduce their impact. 

1. Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork

Managing records, incident formsenrolment paperwork, CWA’s and attendance – there’s no getting around it, running a Childcare Centre comes with a lot of necessary paperwork. We’ve got two words for you, automation and technology. Automation is a lifesaver for Childcare Centres who are looking for ways to streamline daily tasks while saving both time and money. Why not: 

  • Create, customise and automate the Family enrolment process to alleviate the pressure on you and make sure it’s a smooth process for Families. iEnrol and  Childcare CRM are two great options on the market to help make this happen. 
  • Digitise paper forms and processes (such as incident, illness or trauma forms) using PDF fillable forms, or software programs like 1Place Childcare to make these processes easier to complete and store online for quick access and sharing.
  • Digitally capture attendance and then outsource the manual process of auditing your attendance and rectifying any submission discrepancies that come up. Enrolment Hub can help you here. 
  • File regularly and oftenHere is also a great resource for managing paperwork storage at the Centre.  

It’s time to embrace technological advances and outsourced solutions to reduce your administration burden.  

2. Responding to new enquiries

With the average enrolment equating to $12,558 per year – every unanswered enquiry can cost Operators thousands of dollars in revenue. Now more than ever, it’s important that every single enquiry you receive is answered and the development of personal connectionwith prospective Families are prioritised. On average, it takes 10 points of contact to convert a new lead to an enrolment, so here are some easy ways to simplify this process for you:  

  • Funnel all your enquiries into one locationsuch as a specific enrolments email address or digital waitlist database to help you keep on top of them. Never let them fall through the cracks again. 
  • Create a range of email templates to allow you to communicate quickly with Families, whilst still ensuring that your brand is always represented appropriately 
  • Allocate two blocks of time each day to review your enquiries and respond accordingly. That’s all.  
  • Get on the phone – a single call could reduce back and forth email communication by half. 
  • Allow Families to book a Centre tour directly on your website to cut down the emails. A web developer can help you here and you can set up rules for times and days tours are available.  
  • Still running short on time? Businesses like Enrolment Hub or Childcare CRM can help manage this entire process for you. 

3. Sending, explaining and investigating Family statements

Child Care Subsidy (CCS) entitlements can be confusing for Families – and the confusion looks set to increase, as Families circumstances and entitlements change with COVID-19.  

This is a great task to outsource to an experienced team – as the investigation into discrepancies alone can sometimes take days. If you’re not ready to outsource, create an ‘Accounts’ email address and direct Families to send their enquiries there. That way you can keep on top of queries and it won’t clog up your inbox. Set time aside three times a week to manage these queries and respond. You can also create automated payment reminders when Families miss a payment through iParentPortal or why not look into integrating iDebtPro? It’s important to ensure your debt ledger never gets out of control. 

4. Applying for CCS, ACCS and QKFS

Cue big groan. Applying for CCS, ACCS and QKFS are some of the most time-consuming activities for any Centre Manager and very rarely are they straight forward. Here are a few tips to make it more manageable: 

  • Ensure your program is set up correctly from the get go (including entering all Family details accurately) to mitigate issues occurring down the track. It will save you hours! 
  • For QKFS funding, look at outsourcing the assembly of the forecast calculation and reconciliation spreadsheets each semester. That way you simply need to review and approve before submitting. 
  • Create various cheat sheets that you can send to Families to help them apply for CCS and ACCS. This will save you time explaining the process multiple times and give Families a clear roadmap. 
  • For ACCS, look at outsourcing the gathering of application information to a third-party (such as Enrolment Hub) to take the pressure off your team. 

5. Booking casual days

Every Centre should provide Families with the option to book casual days as they’re a great source of additional revenue and have become much easier to facilitate over the last 18 months. Why not: 

  • Digitalise the process and give Families the ability to book casual days using programs such as KindyNow. 
  • Set an hour aside at the end of every day to manage and confirm casual bookings received that day. Template any booking confirmation communications so you can work through them quickly. 
  • Families still wanting to book directly with you? Have specific rules around casual day bookings (such as they must be booked at least 24 hours in advance) to give you the opportunity to plan your roster and minimise that last-minute request stress on you.  

Looking to the future, decentralisation is going to be the key to success for many Operators and Centre Managers. Outsourcing key business operations (such as Administration Support and Enquiry Managementwill allow businesses to thrive into the future. 

Like any new process it takes time and commitment to developKnowing how to prioritise and make the most of your time is essential to you, your Centre, and your work/life balance. 

Enrolment Hub, a Kidsoft partner, supports the ECEC sector by maximising enrolment opportunities, converting enquiries and streamlining processes to allow businesses to thrive. Learn more about Enrolment Hub and how they can assist your business by clicking here. 

Not sure where to start? Enrolment Hub Director Scott Monaghan is always available to chat about how best to streamline your processes and remove that administration burden. Why not give him a call to discuss how he can help you – you can reach him on 02 8123 2300 or send him an email at: scottm@enrolmenthub.com. 

Child with VR googles

Digital technology in ECE

Children with iPad

Become more confident using digital technology in ECE

When it comes to digital technology in ECE, some people are much more confident exploring what is possible. Others, however, can feel a little nervous, and unsure how to navigate this whole new way of being. ICT certainly challenges some of our ‘tried and true’ values and beliefs about how children learn best.

Do you remember many years ago thinking that the year 2020 would have us all zooming around in a Jetson’s type of world? Everything would be much more advanced, quicker and easier. Anything would be possible with all of the exciting and brilliant technology available, designed to save us time and make life generally easier. A housecleaning robot was something many of us looked forward to in the future, and as predicted, we have robot vacuum cleaners (here’s to future updates here that include the ability for robots to cook dinner, fold washing, and take the dog for a walk). There is a lot that we are yet to see in our lifetimes, but all in all, the general population has grown accustomed to the use of technology.

The use of digital technology in ECE has become a real game-changer. Particularly during COVID-19 restrictions, educators quickly realised its value. You used technology to stay connected with and work with your children and their families. Zoom meetings became the norm, and everyone quickly adjusted to this new way of being.

As educators, when it comes to digital technology and devices, there are literally thousands of ways that you can benefit from the use of technology. To use for administrative purposes, and also to use with children as part of their learning programme.

So, how can we best utilise ICT (information communication technologies) with educators, children and families?

There is so much to consider and reflect on when embarking on this journey, and we have categorised the things that we feel are most important.

Child with VR googles

Breaking down the concerns and pedagogy of ICT in ECE

  • Have you considered whether you need to update, or create new policies and procedures that relate to the use of digital technology in ECE? Particularly in regard to educator’s and children’s use of technology in your learning service? 
  • Which programmes, apps and online programmes are best to use with children?
  • Why is it so important to implement safe ways of using ICT with young children?
  • What are some common fears and concerns that educators have about the use of ICT?
  • How do pedagogy and curriculum influence the way you integrate and utilise ICT within your service?

Exploring the world of apps and ICT tools

  • What are some of the basic tools available on digital devices that can enhance your work with children? 
  • How do you critique apps, and how do you choose apps that support the type of learning that you value?
  • What is the difference between an inadequate app, a good app, and a great app?

Staying safe and developing good digital citizenship skills

  • How can you go online with children safely, to investigate and revisit learning experiences? 
  • What are the pedagogical and safety challenges in relation to this?
  • What are some of the very important issues you need to consider, such as copyright laws?

This is just scraping the top of what is a whole new (fantastic) can of worms! It can be overwhelming to know where to start, and from what we have heard, a lot of teams are putting it in the “too hard right now” basket. 

But, as technology advances, are you being left further behind? The short answer is, yes!

child on laptop

STOP THE BUS!! It is time to unleash your inner Jetson, jump on board with Storypark in their four part virtual journey exploring digital technology and devices in early childhood education. 

Are you ready to up your technology game? 

You will leave feeling confidently capable of implementing new and valuable technology in your early learning service. You will have a solid understanding of the legalities around using digital technology in ECE, and the policies and procedures you will need to create and/or update to ensure the safety of all, looking at tools and apps and how to choose quality ones, and look at where pedagogy and curriculum come into the equation. 

Storypark, a certified Kidsoft partner, allows you to record and communicate learning as it happens within a secure online environment. Learn more about Storypark and how they can assist your business by clicking here.

Man with phone, computer and paperwork

The Importance of Software in Streamlining Your Business Operations

Man with computer, phone and paperwork

Software has largely become an indispensable part of modern business. When used properly, it offers significant benefits by helping businesses improve their operations and run more efficiently. 

Software must be chosen carefully and deliberately, and can be incredibly useful for childcare businesses in particular. A solid tech stack should support employees through their day-to-day tasks, as well as improve and facilitate the overall experience for all stakeholders, from managers to parents. 

Here are just some of the benefits that can be afforded to your business by implementing software.

Ramps Up Productivity
With advances in tech, a lot of business software now includes AI features that allow businesses to ramp up their productivity — without hiring any more employees. 

Machine learning is able to tackle the more tedious tasks required during business operations, which frees up staff members to get on with the more important tasks that demand a human mind. In this way, software can help your business scale up and simultaneously cut costs.

Boosts Efficiency
Applying software, when done right, will create efficiencies in every part of your childcare business. For starters, as mentioned above, automation helps to cut the time your team is spending on admin tasks – a major time drain in the childcare sector.

Generally speaking, business software also helps improve communications between various stakeholders, thereby boosting efficiency. For example, Kidsoft includes a communications platform that facilitates the process of emailing families, which cuts down on unnecessary time spent writing and sending emails. 

Furthermore, having all your business ops information in one place and easily accessible to all relevant parties means that staff members will spend less time trying to dig out information from filing cabinets or hard drives. 

Improves Compliance
Many industries — including childcare — are subject to sometimes complex regulations that they must comply with. Implementing software, such as
1Place Childcare, is key to ensuring that everyone feels comfortable operating under these regulations by allowing staff to track processes and more easily maintain compliance.

Facilitates Integration
One reason it’s important to have the
right software is to ensure that your different tools integrate seamlessly to make processes even more efficient. Using various software that isn’t able to interact will make certain tasks easier but can still lead to headaches if you need to transfer data from one tool to another, for example.

However, choosing the optimal tech stack for your childcare business means that your tools will sync and operate in tandem, ensuring that no information gets lost along the way and making it easier to track tasks and processes. Kidsoft offers an ever increasing list of public API’s allowing our clients to integrate with more platforms than just our existing ecosystem. This coupled with advanced BI and Data Visualisation integration offers an exciting roadmap that is constantly evolving.

Promotes Accountability and Ownership
A major pain point for business owners is accountability when things go wrong due to human error. When trying to solve problems, it can be difficult to find out exactly what went wrong and why.

With the right childcare software, managers can put this headache behind them. Each user will have their own ID on the system, which makes it easier to track down the source of any errors that arise.

This promotes ownership of tasks, and also enables managers to have better visibility on the actions being taken by employees.

Prevents Lost Information
The loss or misplacement of vital business information — whether it be payroll, HR documents, or client information — can be a major issue for business owners in the childcare industry.

But when humans are running processes, this kind of loss is bound to happen from time to time. Information accidentally gets trashed, lost forever in the wrong folder, or just never gets collected in the first place. 

Software can ease this process by providing one centralised location to store all your important information, automatically sorting it into the relevant place and prompting users to add necessary details when appropriate.

Furthermore, having a centralised location for all your business information means that employees won’t lose as much time searching for various files.

Improves Onboarding
Business software is designed to be user friendly — after a short training session, most childcare employees will understand the ins and outs of how to use it for whatever tasks they may require it for.

This is a vastly different experience from having to learn and carry out various different processes, all created by different people for different reasons. Software makes onboarding easier and gets new employees up to speed quicker. All the checks you can put in place also lessens the risk of new employees making mistakes that impact the business.

Any one of these streamlining benefits should be enough of a reason to consider implementing software to help your business operations. Put them all together, and you’ll see a huge improvement — saving you energy, time, and money. 

Contact us to learn more about how Kidsoft can help streamline your childcare centre and business operations.

Laughing boy lying on green grass

Turning group time from grumpy to giggles

Laughing boy laying on green grass

Tips and tricks for successful group times

When it comes to bringing the whole group of children together at various points in the day – to listen to a story, to put on sunscreen, or to transition from one activity to another – educator views are divided.  

Some educators insist that group time is a must – after all, if the children don’t practice how to sit still and pay attention, what will happen when they go to school?  

Other educators believe that children shouldn’t be forced to participate in any activity which doesn’t capture their interest, and that, if the group time is interesting enough, the children will be drawn to joining in.  

Rightly or wrongly, and for a variety of reasons, there will be times in the early childhood day when it is necessary to bring the whole group together, for a variety of reasons… so how can “group time” be done in a way that supports children’s rights?

Know your audience 
Each early childhood setting, and each group of children within that setting, has different needs. These needs grow and change with time, and can shift more than once within a day. The presence or absence of a lunch time sleep, socks that don’t fit quite right, or bigger problems, such as worrying about whether or not a parent will return can all weigh on the mind of a child.  

Most children, particularly those with additional needs, will respond well to routine, consistency and predictability. Using visual aids, such as a storyboard, liquid timer or other sequencing tools can help children know that group time has a defined beginning, middle and end.  

Comfortable group times might need cushions instead of scratchy mats on little legs. Music might need to be softer, lights less bright. Consider the positioning of the children during group time – are they staring into bright sunlight? Getting too hot under a heater? Environmental conditions can make it difficult to focus.  

Be like a Boy Scout, and come prepared! 
Rather than gathering all the children into the group time space, and then frantically trying to remember how the tune for Mr Clicketty Cane goes, do some pre-planning.  

How will you gather the children to the group time space? A sound? A song? A signal? Transitions are important – think about how group time will start and finish.  

Once the children have gathered, have you got a way to keep them engaged? Will you sing? What song? Will you read a story? Which book? Are you going to give them each something to hold while you sing – a scarf, tambourine or maracas? If so, do you have enough for everyone? How will you handle the disappointment if someone doesn’t get their preferred choice?  

Most importantly, what’s your plan B, in the event children lose interest? If something isn’t working, taking too long, or otherwise holding group time up, what will you do instead? 

Go for gold, but know your goal 
Perhaps the most important consideration in any group time experience is “who is advantaged and who is disadvantaged when I work this way, and why?” – you may recognise this reflective question from the approved learning frameworks.  

Questions such as these encourage educators to think more deeply about their practices. Group times might be great for the educators – they allow one educator to keep the whole group in one space, while others re-set the room, put out beds, or tidy up after lunch – but do they serve the needs of the children?  

Is it necessary to have a group time every day? Could routine tasks such as applying sunscreen be achieved in any other way?  

When evaluating the use of group time in a service, using the lens of the child may help.  

Further resources:
Early Childhood Australia – Small Group Time Vignette  
Phoenix Support for Educators – How do I ‘manage’ children’s behaviour during group time? 
Early Childhood Australia – Perspectives on Group Time 

children playing in trees

Sustainability – without the sadness

children climbing trees

With recent research finding that children’s relationships with nature are complex, and that feeling a strong sense of connection to nature can also generate negative emotions linked with environmental issues such as climate change, educators are faced with a dilemma – how to educate for a changing world, without upsetting children about the world they stand to inherit?  

Speaking to children about complex environmental issues such as drought, fires, and climate change needs to be done in a delicate way, which educates without overwhelming. 

Early childhood expert, Dr Sue Elliot, has said that at the heart of all sustainability education needs to lie the concept that change is possible. These changes can be small – such as turning off the lights when we leave a room – but, when added together, create a movement which has a big impact. 

There are many ways that children can be involved in contributing to their world and acting for a more sustainable future, including:  

  • Using recyclable materials where possible. 
  • Encouraging children to use half flush on the toilets, 
  • Encouraging children to turn the water off when they have washed their hands, 
  • Encouraging children to recycle paper and rubbish within their rooms, at home and when in the wider community, 
  • Talking with the children about electricity and encouraging them to turn off lights, 
  • Educating children in the natural decomposition cycle through exposure and participation in worm farms and composting food scraps, 
  • Educating children and having them participate in ‘garden to plate’ activities i.e. seed sprouting, weeding, vegetable gardens, cooking amongst other activities, 
  • Educating children in how to care for pets and letting them actively participate in caring for the Centre pet, 
  • Educating children on caring for plants and our waterways i.e. recycling water etc 

Children can also take part in attending rallies or protests, writing to local members about issues, or inviting members of the community into their settings to view sustainability in action.  

Helping children to take appropriate action in response to sustainability concerns can help them to feel less helpless and hopeless. Actions taken in response to children’s concerns about sustainability need to be age-appropriate, practical and achievable, and ideally, help them to see the impact of their decisions.  

Further resources:
Child Australia – Climbing the little green steps 
Early Childhood Australia – Early childhood environmental education – making it mainstream 
Shellharbour Council – A sustainability resource kit for educators   

Smiling baby with balloon

But they can’t talk! Programming tips for pre-verbal children

One of the most common concerns from educators when they find they will be working with children under the age of two years is how they will follow children’s interests and plan for an emergent curriculum when the children can’t talk, and tell educators what is interesting for them.

Smiling baby with balloon

Here, the thinking of Reggio Emila’s educators might be supportive. Loris Malaguzzi is best known for his instrumental role in creating, developing and refining the Reggio Emilia approach, a child centred way of educating and caring for children which views children as competent and capable individuals with an ability and desire to construct their own knowledge.

Malaguzzi wrote a poem – the Hundred Languages – which talks about the hundreds of ways in which children communicate their ideas, beliefs, interests and desires, all without saying a word.

From the roots of this poem, the pedagogical strategy for the construction of concepts and the consolidation of understandings came about.

Although verbal language and expression is recognised as being very important in communicating with children, there are many other ways of communication.

Babies communicate from birth, and a born hardwired to make connections with their caregivers. They use sounds, such as grunts, cry’s, coos and squeals, facial expressions such as smiles and grimaces, and gestures and body movements, such as pointing, or waving their arms and legs with excitement.

This communication grows when babies see that their actions elicit a response from their caregivers, and they quickly learn to refine their communication skills to work with the adults around them to get their needs met.

Using communication to support programming
Understanding that communication can take place without a word ever being said, how can educators use non verbal communication to program for babies?

When working with very young children in particular, a lot of the focus is on care, and meeting immediate needs for food, sleep and comfort. For infants especially, much of a day in an education and care setting may be taken up with nappy changes, feeding and settling to sleep.

Even in these routine times, however, there is space to make connections.

When changing a nappy, for example, is baby looking up at a mobile? Does baby feel more comforted when they have something in their hands? Are they practicing a new skill, such as rolling over?

When you said “there you are, a nice clean nappy!” did baby smile in response? All of these moments are opportunities for reflection, communication, observation and ideas for next week’s plan.

You might change up the texture of what baby is given to hold – adding something crinkly, or perhaps something smooth? You may sing a different song, or change the mobile hanging above baby’s head.

What can you look for?
Some of the elements an educator may choose to look for, observe, and program about when working with pre-verbal infants and toddlers include:

  • Changes in behaviour
  • Strengths
  • Developmental milestones – such as sitting, walking, wiping their own face etc
  • Interests – what makes their eyes light up? Do they have a favourite toy or meal?
  • Changes in routine – have they dropped a nap? Do they now engage more with stories?
  • Interactions with others – educators, other children in the room, special visitors?
  • Gestures and facial expressions
  • Movements and responses to music and to art
  • Sensory experiences such as engaging with grass, touching different surfaces etc.

While working with children who cannot verbalise their interests may seem a challenge at first, if you take the time to stop and listen, babies have a lot to say!

Further resources:
ECA Learning Hub – Engaging with Babies and Toddlers
First Things First – Mirror Play
ECA Learning Hub – Babies and Toddlers Amazing Learners