Published by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority
41 St Andrews Place, East Melbourne, Victoria 3002
This publication is copyright. Apart from any use permitted under the Copyright Act 1968,
no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission
Dr Anne Wilks
Dr Berenice Nyland
Dr Barbara Chancellor
Consultancy and Development Unit
School of Education
Executive Summary 3
National and International analyses 3
What the literature reveals 4
Opportunities from the literature for development of an early learning and development
curriculum framework in 2008 10
Essential Principles of quality provision for children birth to 8 years 11
Analysis of curriculum /learning frameworks for the early years (birth to age 8) 12
Themes from national and international curriculum/learning frameworks 15
1. Early years lays the foundation for future learning 15
2. Changes in family lifestyles require change in provisions offered 16
3. Changes to age range coverage 16
4. Economic impact of quality early childhood provision 17
5. Diversity of approaches to curriculum 18
6. Education and care 22
7. Accessibility of curriculum to a wide range of audiences 22
8. Partnerships in education 24
9. Changes of views and images of children 25
10. Recognition of the importance of quality provision for young children 25
11. Recognition of the importance of play 27
12. Recognition of the social nature of learning 28
13. Changes to approaches in the ways we observe and plan for children 28
14. Importance of continuity of provision 30
15. Importance of implementation processes 31
16. Importance of resourcing 32
17. Education for sustainability 33
18. Outdoor and learning play spaces 33
19. Literacy and numeracy 34
20. Influence of ‘best practice’ programs 35
Essential principles underpinning quality provision for children birth to 8 years 37
A. In recognition of how our views or images of children impact on both how we interact with
children and the types of experiences we provide: 37
1. Viewing children positively as capable and competent 37
2. Acknowledging children as having rights 38
3. Valuing the richness that cultural diversity brings to learning situations 39
4. Recognising children as being literate within the culture of their community and families 39
B. In recognition of the special characteristics of children from birth to 8 years 40
5. Focusing on a sense of well being and belonging 40
6. Acknowledging the importance of relationships 40
7. Recognising play is central 40
8. Enabling Environments: Learning through exploration, engagement, inquiry, investigation,
hands on real life experiences, risk taking and problem solving 41
C. In recognition of the importance of collaboration and partnerships in education 41
9. Empowering children, families and the communities 41
10. Viewing teachers as scaffolders and as co-constructors of learning 42
11. Valuing and embracing diversity 42
12. Acknowledging the multicultural nature of Australian society 42
D. In recognition of quality teaching and learning approaches 43
13. Interweaving teaching, learning, and assessment 43
14. Learning through play 43
15. Using ‘teachable moments’ for focused teaching and learning 44
16. Embedding rich literacy and numeracy experiences into programs 44
17. Acknowledging the environment as the third teacher 44
18. Recognising the quality of teaching staff as critical to quality program delivery 45
Implications for development of curriculum/learning frameworks for the
early years (birth to age 8) in 2008 46
The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) requested an analysis of curriculum/learning frameworks for the early years (birth to age 8) following a review of the literature in 17 national and international jurisdictions. The project was to focus on national and international initiatives and current directions in the development of curriculum and/or learning documents for the early years (birth to age 8). The project report was to include an examination and analysis of the documents issued and currently in use by Australian states and territories and nine selected international education jurisdictions. In discussions with VCAA staff, it was agreed that, considering the timeline, the source of the findings would be readily available curriculum documents and commentary found on the internet.
A wide range of curriculum frameworks and guidelines have been written in the last ten years. Each curriculum guideline presents a unique focus on learning areas and the specific dimensions within the learning areas it presents. Many curricula include suggestions for planning, teacher interactions, monitoring and assessing learning and reflection. Both nationally and internationally the age range catered for in the curriculum documents varies. To provide for continuity of service for young children in Victoria it is important to ensure continuity of curriculum for children building on the best of both the early childhood and primary aspects of curriculum, to support and promote the learning of children from birth to 8 years.
Within Australia each state and territory has worked independently to produce their own curriculum documents for their early childhood and primary sectors. These documents vary in terms of the age ranges covered as well as in the conceptual underpinnings and framework that structures each document. To add further complexity to the discussion and components of these documents, the terminology for the year prior to school and the first year of school represents one thing in one state and a different thing in another state. For example the term ‘kindergarten’ refers to the year prior to school in Victoria while the same term refers to the first year of school in NSW. Likewise, the term ‘preparatory year’ refers to the year prior to school in Queensland and the first year of school in Victoria. The age for starting school also differs across the states and territories, so a child could be eligible to commence school in one state, but on moving states would not have reached school entry age.
Expectations for a 5 year old might be vastly different in different systems. For example, the 5 year old child can be included in an early childhood curriculum document for birth to 5 years which caters for their characteristics and dispositions for learning while at the same time the 5 year old child can have a set of expectations in terms of ‘areas of learning’ or subjects with a set of learning outcomes if in their first year of primary school.
Both nationally and internationally the literature supports the notion that the early childhood years cover the age range from birth to 8 years. Children within this age range are characteristically different from children at older ages. When describing programs for children in the birth to eight age range within Australia, the provisions represented in each state and territory vary from no early childhood curriculum provision for the birth to five age range in Victoria, to provision for birth to 5 years in Tasmania and New South Wales, and three to five in Western Australia, ACT, Northern Territory and Queensland and birth to Year 12 in South Australia. Some states such as Tasmania have used common language and organisers across all children from birth to sixteen years.
Internationally the provision for children birth to 8 years is just as varied as within Australia. Some countries do not cover the birth to three years age range at all while others comprehensively cover birth to three or birth to five, or six or 8 years.
The 6 year old child is often represented in both the early childhood setting and the school setting curriculum document in most European countries just as the 5 year old child is within both systems in Australia and New Zealand.
With the move towards a national curriculum in Australia imminent, it is timely to examine the educational provision for children in the birth to eight age range and work towards a cohesive approach which provides continuity of provision for children and their families in these vital early childhood years within Australia.
By closely examining the curriculum frameworks in Australia and nine international jurisdictions some key features of effective curriculum provision will be highlighted. It is timely to evaluate the curriculum and early learning documents in terms of world’s best practice and pinpoint implications of these for policy directions in Victoria.
The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) requested an analysis of curriculum/learning frameworks for the early years (birth to age 8) following a literature review of 17 national and international jurisdictions. The project was to focus on national and international initiatives and current directions in the development of curriculum and/or learning documents for the early years (birth to age 8). The project report was to include an examination and analysis of the documents issued and currently in use by Australian states and territories and nine selected international education jurisdictions.
Following consultation and discussion between the VCAA and the Consultancy and Development Unit, School of Education, RMIT, it was agreed that the eight jurisdictions in Australia would be analysed: ACT, New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia as well as nine international jurisdictions: Canada, Finland, Italy (Reggio Emilia), Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States of America (High/Scope and National Association for the Education Young Children (NAEYC)).
National and International analyses
The various approaches taken by jurisdictions were first individually analysed in terms of their
• the structures of the framework
• related support materials
• implementation strategies and processes
• links between early childhood frameworks and frameworks for older children
• suitability of the curriculum to a wide range of audiences
• identification of the key components of an effective curriculum
• the principles underpinning and guiding the curriculum
• opportunities for linking teaching, learning, assessment, monitoring reporting, planning and reflection
• opportunities it offers for continuity of provision for children birth to 8 years
• identification of expectations explicit and implicit in the document and
• how well the document caters for the inclusion of families and children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds with different learning needs.
Following individual analysis of the seventeen jurisdictions, they were compared in terms of emerging themes and evaluated in terms of best practice.
The key principles from all the jurisdictions were identified and discussed in terms of implications for Victoria developing a unique early childhood curriculum that caters for the diversity of services that support young children aged birth to 8 years, and their families.
The literature review concludes with opportunities for policy directions in 2008 that will ensure the development of a national curriculum and will include the key principles necessary to meet the unique characteristics of children aged birth to 8 years.
What the literature reveals
• Both nationally and internationally the literature supports that the early childhood years cover the age range from birth to 8 years.
• Children within this age range are characteristically different from children at older ages.
1. Early years lay the foundation for future learning
• Current research globally has established the importance of the early childhood years in laying the foundation for the future.
• Recently brain research has highlighted that investing in children’s services impacts on children’s success (Shore, 1997).
• Nationally, there has been a focus on providing quality programs for children. In the past 10 years most states in Australia have introduced early childhood curriculum guidelines.
• Early childhood education is important in its own right as a time when children inquire, explore and discover a great deal about the world around them and establish attitudes to learning that remain with them throughout their lives.
2. Changes in family lifestyles require change in provisions offered
• Studies by the Australian Institute of Family Studies confirm the changing needs of Australian families in terms of the growing requirement for quality early childhood provision.
• The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2006) found that a large number of Australian parents are accessing a range of formal and informal care arrangements for their young children.
• There has been an increase in the number of parents returning to work before their children reach school age.
• The increase in the number of families with two parents working, and the increase in single parent families has led to an increase in the need for the provision of quality early childhood care and education for children from six weeks of age.
• Flexible education and care arrangements have been needed to cater for this increase in both parents working.
• In the past kindergartens have offered what was described as sessional programs which do not currently meet the needs of many families.
3. Changes to age range coverage
• The brain research (McCain, 1999) and lifestyle changes have emphasised the importance of quality provision for children from birth to three years in particular. Previously there had been a national and international focus on early childhood provision for children over three years of age.
• Nationally and internationally children from birth to three years have become the focus of discussion in relation to curriculum.
• There is increasing interest in the importance of quality experiences in the first three years.
4. Economic impact of quality early childhood provision
• There is growing evidence and awareness of the substantial benefits that accrue from investments made in the first few years of life.
• The concept of human capital is recognised.
• The positive impact of improving the health, wellbeing and productivity of an individual child accumulates over a lifetime, with clear flow-on benefits for individuals, families and the broader community.
• In Australia, child care choice and work decisions are sensitive to the price of care and families with access to more financial resources or who have fewer children use more non-familial care.
5. Diversity of approaches to and definitions of curriculum
• Within Australia, there is a complex set of arrangements for children aged birth to 8 years seeing provision that differs between the states and territories.
• Children in the birth to eight age group fit into preschool provision for part of this time and compulsory school provision for the remainder of this time resulting in at least two curriculum offerings.
• The curriculum or learning framework varies from guiding principles, principles and characteristics through to key learning areas and descriptive outcomes.
One of the factors influencing what is written as a curriculum appears to be the definition or perception of what constitutes ‘curriculum’.
• In the New Zealand curriculum guidelines Te Whãriki, the term curriculum is used “to describe the sum total of the experiences, activities, and events, whether direct or indirect, which occur within an environment designed to foster children’s learning and development” (Ministry of Education, 1996, p10).
• In contrast, the New South Wales early childhood curriculum framework defines curriculum as “the intentional provisions made by professionals to support children’s learning and well being” (Board of Studies NSW, 2005).
• Definitions also vary when children are under the school system and the term curriculum tends to focus on learning areas or subjects.
6. Education and care
• In New Zealand the early childhood curriculum brings together the inseparable elements of care and education from birth to school entry age. This curriculum document was the first to value the interrelated nature of care and education as an example for others to follow.
• Some countries such as Korea and Canada are still struggling with the integration of care and education in their early childhood provision.
7. Accessibility of curriculum to a wide range of audiences
• The birth to eight age range is serviced by many different early childhood and school organisations including both for profit and non-profit organisations.
• The range of services include schools, child care, family day care, occasional care, community based programs, private providers, corporate providers, kindergarten, pre school, early learning centres, mobile children’s services and outside school hours care.
• Principles for early childhood or guidelines for birth to 8 years would need to be mindful of this wide range of services.
• There are early childhood centres and schools that have their own particular philosophy and/or pedagogy and these provisions would need to feel their uniqueness was not being compromised by a prescribed curriculum or framework.
• Language would also need to be inclusive for educators, families and the community.
8. Partnerships in education
• True partnership has been described as - “those efforts that unite and empower individuals and organisations to accomplish collectively what they could not accomplish independently” (Kagan & Rivera, 1991 p.52).
• Partnerships can create opportunities for the development of shared understandings of learning.
• Collaboration can also lead to the provision of curriculum that is culturally and individually relevant and to the promotion of social justice and equity (Gestwicki, 1992; Apple & Beane, 1995).
• “When educators respect the unique strengths of each family, collaborative partnerships are strengthened and the continuity of learning between homes and educational settings is enhanced” (Arthur, Beecher, Death, Dockett and Farmer, 2005 pp2-3).
• Assessment or ‘learning stories’ are one area around which a partnership can be realised if families and the community are empowered to contribute.
9. Changes of views and images of children
• Malaguzzi, one of the founders of the Reggio Emilia early childhood centres in Italy, views children as strong, capable and resourceful (Malaguzzi, 1993).
• This image of children has challenged educators in the early childhood field to reconsider the types of programs they offer young children. This has added to the pressure to provide flexible high quality care and education for young children.
• This image requires adults to partner with children in the decision-making process (Lancaster, 2006).
10. Recognition of the importance of quality provision for young children
Doherty-Derkowski (1995) presents two essential aspects of quality:
• structural quality, the regulated environment of space, teacher training, group size etc.
• process quality, which is concerned with such things as relationships, stimulation within the learning environment and social emotional security.
Today educators would also
• consider such characteristics as cultural awareness, an appreciation of diversity, a comprehension of environmental, historical and technological influences on experience.
• acknowledge the importance of the immediate context and its influence on well-being and development.
• Low staff/child ratios are essential in the provision of responsive care and education.
• The presence of highly qualified and experienced staff has been consistently linked to high quality interactions.
• The qualifications and competency of staff to implement curricula are critical to success.
11. Recognition of the importance of play
• Marcon’s (1990) research showed that, in both the short term and long term, gains were higher for children who experienced a ‘play based’ early childhood program compared to more structured approaches.
• Play encourages exploration, risk taking, socialisation and engagement in learning.
• Through play children can explore and reflect on interests and issues relevant to and meaningful in their lives.
• In the Swedish preschool curriculum play is described as an ‘omnipresent activity’ and central to children’s learning.
12. Recognition of the social nature of learning
• Vygotsky’s (1978) work on the socio-cultural approach to education stresses the importance of the social nature of learning.
• This not only influences the type of learning experiences to be provided, but also the role of the teacher in scaffolding and supporting children’s learning during their social interactions.
• Collaborative partnerships with much dialogue between educator, children and families are one of the cornerstones of Reggio Emilia schools (Abbot & Rodger, 1994).
• In Sweden the preschool is described as a ‘social and cultural meeting place’ (Skolverket Lpo98 2006: 5).
13. Changes to approaches in the ways we observe and plan for children
• In New Zealand Learning Stories have set a high standard as a process of documenting children’s learning in the context of their social relations, and as a basis for collaborative planning.
• Learning stories are used to find children’s emerging skills, interests or dispositions.
• Documentation through learning stories values children’s ideas and helps ‘make their learning visible’. Documentation is also a key feature of the work in Reggio Emilia early childhood centres.
• In Queensland the Early Years Curriculum Guidelines (EYCG) provide suggestions for planning, interacting, monitoring, assessment and reflection described in terms of ‘phases of learning and development’; becoming aware, exploring, making connections, and applying. These phases of learning also promote close observation of children to support and facilitate future learning.
• A strength focus approach has the ability to enhance the parent-child relationship by sharing what the child can do well and all parties then work together to build on this (Wilks, 2004).
• A strength focus also builds confidence and self esteem both leading to further success.
14. Importance of continuity of provision
• With a growing number of children accessing early childhood services from six weeks of age, many children will use several different early childhood provisions in their years prior to school entry.
• Some children will use several early childhood services simultaneously.
• New curriculum documents can promote continuity of experience for the growing number of children who access several early childhood services and school, from birth to 8 years.