Standard 3.1 Design – Case study 2
The design of the facilities is appropriate for the operation of a service.
This family day care service is situated in a regional town close to a major city. The coordination unit is located within a purpose-built integrated child and family service, which includes a long day care program, maternal and child health centre and a branch library. The service also has community spaces that are available to local community groups. The coordination unit makes use of these spaces for professional gatherings, such as team meetings, reflective practice meetings and professional learning sessions for educators.
The vision of the family day care service is to promote a sense of belonging and inclusion for all, respecting and celebrating the diverse cultures, backgrounds, strengths and interests of children, families, educators and the wider community. This vision is evident in the respectful relationships and collaborative partnerships between coordinators and those working in other child and family services and programs within the integrated service, as well as with children, families and the community more broadly. It is also the foundation for everyday decision-making within the service.
Recently the educators attended a family day care conference which triggered reflection and changes in practice. For example, educators reflected on and discussed the concept of ‘home’ and what that meant to each of them. This included sharing the words, feelings and emotions that came to mind when they thought about home. Ideas such as ‘feeling safe and secure’, ‘being valued and respected’, ‘shared spaces, experiences and memories’ and ‘more than a house’ were shared and discussed. The latter comment caused educators to reflect together on their own physical environments and how the design and upkeep of their home supports the access, participation, learning and wellbeing of each of the children who spend time there.
The educational leader drew on Quality Area 3 in the Guide to the National Quality Framework (NQF), particularly the reflective questions, to support and extend this conversation about their home environments. The coordinators continued to explore these aspects with educators during home visits and, to ensure that they considered multiple perspectives, worked with them to design an online survey to gain feedback from families. The educational leader also encouraged educators to talk with children and record their comments about what they liked and didn’t like about their indoor and outdoor play spaces and to consider what they might change or do differently based on their feedback.
Key feedback from families through the survey was that the physical environment needed to communicate that the service and educators really care about their child and that the environment needed to be consistently clean, safe and well maintained. The children’s feedback included their love of being outdoors, having fun, being able to run around and make a mess.
Following up on this feedback, the educational leader encouraged educators to view all aspects of their physical environments as if the families were viewing them and to reflect on whether their entries and indoor and outdoor play spaces were always clean, safe and well maintained. Educators were also encouraged to reflect on how their homes and their practice show families that they really care about each child and to think about what they might need to do differently to ensure their homes were welcoming and accessible for all.
In reflecting on children’s voices, and to further extend educators’ knowledge and thinking, the educational leader shared some research into the benefits of outdoor environments for children of all ages with educators. New research in positive psychology was also shared, including the benefits of getting out in nature for increasing positive emotions and well-being. This exposure to contemporary research acted as a catalyst for educators and coordinators to consider new ideas and perspectives and to reflect on their current practice.
Follow up conversations between educators and coordinators about environments also occurred during home visits and at play sessions. In response to listening to the children’s views, the educators and coordinators discussed how the design and maintenance of their environments currently support or could further strengthen children’s participation in these spaces for their learning and development. For example, one educator began to explore opportunities to enhance children’s engagement in their outdoor environment. They are currently exploring how they might extend their sandpit and create an outdoor kitchen area to provide children with more opportunities to engage in messy play.
Another educator, who was planning a home renovation, decided to consult with the children and families. Their opinions were sought on the planning and design of a new indoor space which would encompass an open plan family/rumpus room leading out to a new covered deck area outside. The input from the children and families was considered by the educator, as well as the need to ensure an appropriate balance between the educator’s own family’s need for privacy and providing adequate spaces to foster children’s learning, development and wellbeing.
As a continued reflection on environments, the coordination unit also reflected on the space they use for their play sessions, to determine what was working well and where improvements could be made to the design of the facilities. The playroom is a large open plan indoor space and, as it is shared with other community groups, much of the equipment and resources need to be packed up after each play session.
Coordinators had noticed that the number of educators attending the play sessions had dropped off during the year and were curious why this might be the case. Some educators reported that the play sessions provided them with an opportunity to connect with other educators and coordinators. They also noted that the children enjoyed interacting with other children. They added, however, that the play space had become less engaging for children over time. Other feedback included that there wasn’t sufficient outdoor space for children to be physically active and engage in messy play, which had been identified as an area of interest by children. The amount of outdoor space also impacted how it could be arranged and utilised for children of different age groups.
This feedback caused the coordination unit team to reflect on the limitations of the indoor and outdoor spaces in supporting children’s learning and development, and to reimagine what their play sessions could look like to be more responsive to the aspirations and interests of children and educators. A reflective practice meeting was held with coordinators and educators to discuss alternative venues for play sessions. The educational leader shared information about a model that had been introduced by another family day care service, in which play sessions at different locations were offered across the week, including parks and playgrounds. It was suggested that perhaps this model could be considered to better align with the current priorities, interests and needs of the children, families and educators.
There were mixed reactions to this proposal. While some educators were supportive of the idea, others were hesitant about introducing something so different from what was currently happening. For some educators, the idea of going to multiple locations was daunting. To explore the idea further, coordinators from the service that had been implementing the proposed model were invited to a meeting so everyone could learn more about their journey and how the model was working. Afterwards, the educational leader and coordinators involved the educators in a reflection about the benefits and costs of continuing with the same practice and changing to a new model.
The educational leader facilitated conversations over several meetings to give educators the opportunity to ask questions and to respond to their concerns, and to provide opportunities to brainstorm appropriate outdoor spaces in the local community. This included the potential of using community parks and playgrounds. Through these conversations, the educators came to the realisation that the model would provide increased opportunities for children to engage in a greater range of environments and experiences that would enhance children’s learning, development and wellbeing.
Undertaking a benefit and risk assessment of potential outdoor spaces also alleviated the concerns of educators who were initially reluctant to embrace the idea. This included ensuring spaces were safe and well-maintained and provided adequate shaded areas. Feedback from families, who were kept informed and given opportunities to give input throughout the process, was positive. One family, for example, suggested a bush setting not far from the coordination unit’s office might be a suitable environment for nature play.
Twelve months later, the service’s re-imagined approach to play sessions is working well. Play sessions are held in two local parks and a bush setting according to a set schedule across the week. These outdoor spaces provide greater opportunities to extend children’s learning and development aligned with their interests, strengths and needs. Educators sign up ahead of time so coordinators can be responsive to the demand and plan accordingly.
Children’s responses to the play sessions have been extremely positive. When asked what they like best about the play sessions, consistent responses included spending time outdoors, having fun and being physically active.
Some educators have reported that they are enjoying the play sessions more than they had anticipated and are delighting in seeing children’s responses to, and engagement in the play sessions in the different outdoor settings. Educators and families are noticing increased activity levels, enhanced motor and social skills, and increased confidence and self-esteem in children.
In reflecting on the program, the service is now considering if and how they might extend the program further. For example, the principal of the local school has offered the service regular access to the school playground as part of their transition to school program. While conversations continue, children, families and educators continue to relish in the new model of play sessions and the benefits for all.
As part of the work the coordination unit has been doing in this space coordinators, together with educators, have developed a new resource for future educators about what outdoor and indoor spaces look like in their individual educator services. This includes how the concept of ‘fit for purpose’ needs to be considered but that each educator’s home can be different and still appropriate for the operation of their service. This new resource is shared with anyone making an enquiry about wanting to join the service and encourages them to think about what they need to do and think about in relation to children’s play spaces.
Other new initiatives have also been introduced. For example, coordinators supported educators to review their business plans and budgets to ensure they have a plan for the replacement of equipment, fixtures and fittings in their services. They also set up a working group of educators to review and update maintenance and safety check policies and procedures, as well as cleaning schedules for educators’ homes, furniture and equipment.
The working group shared their findings and suggestions at an educator meeting, which is typical of the service’s practice when introducing new or improved procedures to ensure there is a shared understanding and consistent implementation by all educators. For example, additional questions were added to the online survey for families to give them more opportunities to provide input into safety issues and inform the service’s approach to making improvements to the physical environment. Checklists were also added to maintenance and safety procedures to strengthen current practice and ensure no key processes were overlooked. Coordinators have set a date to revisit these changes with educators in two months’ time as part of their evaluation process.
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