|parts of children’s experience
or do you pay closer attention to some parts more than others?
If the latter, why do you think this is so?
What steps can you take to make sure that you think about and take
full advantage of all the opportunities throughout the day to support children’s learning?
The curriculum or program
Think about a good weekend away or a holiday you’ve had recently. Think about everything that contributed to it being successful.
You may think first about what you did – maybe shopping, eating a delicious meal (one that you didn’t have to prepare!), going to a show or a sporting event, having a swim, or going for a walk in a beautiful place. You probably also thought about more than what you did – perhaps you thought about who you were with, how everyone got along with each other, where you went, your accommodation, the weather, the pace and having enough time to do what you wanted to do and how relaxed and comfortable (or excited) you felt.
It’s also likely that the planning you did and the information you gathered ahead of time helped to make the time away a success, even though you may not have stuck to your original plans as you discovered interesting things along the way.
In some ways creating a good time away is similar to what it takes to provide a good family day care experience
for children. Many factors contribute. Offering a few special activities isn’t enough. Special activities can be an important part of the child’s experience, but they are only one part. It’s important to think of the children’s program in a much broader way.
The curriculum or program is the child’s whole experience. It includes interactions, experiences, activities, routines and events. This definition means that educators need
to think about, pay attention to, plan for and evaluate all of the children’s experience in the service, from the time they arrive until they go home. Educators need to plan the children’s program but things will happen that are
unplanned, and children will learn from these spontaneous events too.
Play and other learning opportunities
[Elements 1.1.2 and 1.1.3]
Children need interesting and worthwhile things to do whilst in family day care. They are learning all the time. You can see from the discussion so far in this Guide that the most valuable learning experiences happen when environments are well set up, educators know children really well and plan in response to their needs and interests whilst taking account of the family, cultural and community contexts of their lives.
• know and respond to children
• sometimes initiate new learning opportunities
• appreciate the importance of conversations
• see opportunities for enjoyable and worthwhile learning experiences in the everyday.
A few special activities offered occasionally at the right time can add interest to the children’s day. Sometimes, however, these ‘special’ activities require the educator to supervise closely and sometimes they are structured
and offer little flexibility for children to engage with them at their own level. When educators focus on the activity, this may interfere with having quality interactions and conversations with children. There is often little value in stopping children from what they are doing to participate in an activity that the educator initiates.
Often the simplest experiences are the best. Some examples include a collection of cardboard boxes, some new props to go with the blocks, a few new utensils in the home corner, some new hats or dress-up clothes, involving children in tasks such as getting ready for a meal or folding washing, a fresh batch of play dough, looking at a book with a few children or singing a song together.
It’s not always easy to predict, but when making decisions about the program it’s important to balance what is provided so that a number of possibilities appeal to children and they won’t all want to do the same thing at the same time.
Sara is a family day care educator in
a community that has people from a variety of different
cultural backgrounds. She asked families who use her service for suggestions or donations of props for the home and dress- up areas that reflect something about the family’s lifestyle.
She had a wonderful response – clothing and accessories that reflect particular
cultural groups, as well as a bike helmet, an apron, a fishing vest, crockery, food packets and cooking and eating utensils. Children talk about what the items are called and their uses and what the
food packets contained. These items are a rich source of conversation.
Some of the most inviting kinds of materials and experiences that children of different ages enjoy, and that should be available in any education and care service, include:
• books and stories
• visual arts – drawing, painting, collage, sculpture, finger painting
• cooking and food preparation
• movement and dance
• block play
• sensory play (sand, water, mud)
• dramatic play (dress-ups, a home corner, dolls)
• water play
• sand and dirt play
• everyday excursions (walks to the shop, the park or the local school)
• physically active play (obstacle course, climbing, running, jumping)
• manipulative play.
Play is a particularly valuable way for children to learn. The EYLF says about play:
Play provides opportunities for children to learn as they discover, create, improvise and imagine. When children play with other children they create social groups, test out ideas, challenge each other’s thinking and build new understandings. Play provides a supportive environment where children can ask questions, solve problems, and engage in critical thinking. Play can expand children’s thinking and enhance their desire to know and to learn.
Play is led and directed by the child. Educators can contribute to play in many ways: by offering interesting props and play materials, talking with children in and about their play, allowing big chunks of time so that children
get really involved, making suggestions and sometimes playing with children (but without taking over). Educators help children solve conflicts that come up during play and ‘help children recognise when play is unfair and offer constructive ways to build a caring, fair and inclusive learning community’. [Element 1.2.2]
for reflection, discussion and action
What kinds of activities do you do with children?
How do you build learning opportunities into the environment?
How do you balance offering everyday learning opportunities and special experiences for children?
How do you encourage children to play, and what roles do you have in their play?
Educators make sure that over the day there is a good balance of play and learning opportunities that are child led, child initiated and educator supported and that every child is included. [Element 1.1.5]
One kind of experience that many educators offer is every day and special excursions. It’s great for children to have the chance to go out into the community – to the library, the local park, the shops, the local kindergarten or school, for example. There is so much to see and do! Linking what the children experienced in an excursion or by talking about it or following up in some way adds to its value and interest.
Atiba has three children under three years in her family day care service.
She went to a session at a conference on the topic of supporting children’s sense of agency. The presenter talked about letting children do things for themselves and how that contributes to their sense of identity and their learning.
Atiba thought about her lunchtime routine and decided to try letting children serve
themselves. She started by putting pieces of
fruit on platters for afternoon tea and encouraged the children to serve themselves with tongs. Afternoon tea takes longer now, but the children really enjoy being able to do
it themselves. Atiba has noticed how much more skilled they are with
the tongs than when they first started using them.
Daily living experiences (routines)
Routines or daily living experiences include arriving and separating, reuniting with and leaving family, eating and drinking, resting and sleeping, nappy changing and toileting, dressing and undressing and hand washing. Routines take up a lot of the children’s and your time.
Educators can turn them into important learning experiences with thought and planning. They can be times for conversations and interactions, for building a sense
of being part of a group, learning to do some things for yourself, learning skills and moving toward independence.
Finding ways to involve children actively in these daily routines – doing them with children instead of to them—can result in valuable learning opportunities. Some examples include taking time to let younger children feed themselves, letting children put on their own shoes or encouraging them to butter their toast. [Element 1.1.3 and 1.1.6]
As mentioned previously, arriving and leaving are particularly important routines in a family day care service, and need to have priority when making decisions about the program. Helping children settle in and make the transition from being with family to being in the service is essential for their wellbeing. Sometimes children will be upset about coming to family day care and being away from their family. The children and their families need to feel confident that you understand and will help them.
Sometimes, at arrival and departure times, both the family and the child need gentle caring support from you in order to separate. Encouraging family members to stay with their child while the child becomes familiar with you helps the child build a relationship with you. Holding and comforting children and then helping them find something that interests them can make it easier to separate. [Elements
5.1.1 and 5.1.3]
Questions for reflection, discussion and action
How much importance do you place on routines in your program?
How do you help children make the transition into family day care when they arrive and back to family and home when they are leaving?
What changes can you make to routines to make them better learning experiences for children?
Nina had always encouraged the children to stay at the table
at lunchtime until everyone had finished.
She was reflecting on the time between finishing lunch and
rest or sleep. Children were tired, there was a queue for the toilet, and she was hurriedly getting mats ready.
Children were standing around waiting for her to finish. She decided to try letting children leave the table as they finished, getting them to scrape their plates into the bin and then asking them to go to the toilet, wash their hands and begin to
set up their mats – or to set them up first and then go to the toilet. Giving them the opportunity to decide made the transition much smoother, and freed her to interact more with the children as they took care of their own routines.
Organising time and structuring the day
A relaxed flow to the day is critical for children’s wellbeing. A good rule to follow is to minimise the times when children are waiting with nothing to do (for example, waiting for lunch) and when every child has to do the same time (for example, queuing up to wash hands).
Flexible relaxed transitions from one part of the day to another are easier to manage for you and the children than ‘all-at-once’ and ‘all-of-a-sudden’ ones. Letting children know in advance that a change is about to happen gives them a chance to finish what they are doing – letting them know, for example, that it is almost time to walk down to collect children from school, or that lunch will be ready soon.
Allowing children to transition individually from one part of the day to another rather than in a group means less waiting and more opportunities for children to take some initiative in their own experience. [Element 1.1.3]