Standard 3.2 Use – Case study 1


The service environment is inclusive, promotes competence and supports exploration and play-based learning.

This case study is a collection of examples of high quality practice to prompt reflection and discussion about Exceeding NQS practice in a range of service contexts. It is not an extract from an assessment and rating report for a service that is rated Exceeding NQS for this Standard, and does not comprehensively describe the ways that a service can demonstrate Exceeding practice.
educator and two children in garden
icon representing family day care - a set of houses and children

Family day care educators working in the outer suburbs of the city provide diverse residence and venue environments to enhance the learning, wellbeing, and development of the children, across age ranges, enrolled in the service. The service’s coordination unit offers guidance and support for educators to consider theorists and alternative approaches to creating welcoming, inclusive and sustainable play-based learning spaces. The family day care educators cater for a diverse range of families including single parent families, families where both parents work, families of refugee backgrounds, same sex parent families, families from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds and families with diverse linguistic backgrounds.  

The service has a Strategic Inclusion Plan (SIP) addressing actual and potential barriers to inclusion within the service. A focus of the plan is embedding inclusive practice in the physical environment to reinforce their service’s philosophy, which promotes inclusion and a sense of belonging for all.  

The coordinators wanted to make the SIP a working document with each educator that was meaningful and contextualised to the educators’ specific environments and explore how they ensure each environment provides a diverse range of engaging learning experiences while maintaining a warm, homely environment for children. As part of their service visits, coordinators sat with each educator to adapt the service SIP to develop individual strategic inclusion plans based on their learning spaces.  They looked at potential barriers within the environment, for each child and family and how the children participated within their spaces. This encouraged each educator to reflect on strategies specific to them and how they could make their spaces welcoming and accessible to enable the full participation and engagement for all children of a variety of ages.  

During a service visit, there was a support meeting between a family, educator, and coordinator. The SIP was shared with the family who raised concern that often the spaces can be overstimulating to their child. The family provided information written by Autism Spectrum Australia on sensory processing difficulties and suggested that the child’s early intervention specialist conduct a service visit and attend the play session.  

The early intervention specialist and educator together revisited the routines and learning spaces to ensure they provided the child with a sense of consistency and structure throughout the day.  The specialist supported the educator to make their large open rumpus room into designated areas for each type of activity including a wellbeing and mindfulness area that all children could use. Together they worked with the children to establish what they would like in each area and establish guidelines for their use. This created predictability for the children, a sense of ownership of the spaces and an understanding of the ways to engage with the spaces and resources.  

The educator reported since this, the child is calmer in the space, understands what is expected and manages transitions with minimal support. They have also observed the child is participating in all activities and will play alongside other children for short periods of time. The educator also reported that all of the children have benefited from these changes and are displaying a stronger sense of belonging which is also being shared by the families. As a result of the improvements and in consultation with the specialist, the educational leader organised the play session area in a similar way to promote predictability.  

The early intervention specialist and the inclusion support agency were invited to present at the educator bi-monthly forum. The presentation focussed on the changes to the play sessions and potential strategies that could be considered for each educator’s residence or venue to assist educators in ensuring their spaces were also inclusive and supported exploration and play based learning for all children. The rationale for changes to play sessions was understood by all and relevant strategies were included in each educator’s SIP.  

The strategies identified within each educators SIP were shared at the next educator bi-monthly forum. The educators discussed their environments and inclusive practices in relation to the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS-R) and discussed some opportunities for adding further inclusion in their spaces. This included the importance of place-based pedagogy for children, particularly those from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds. Educators decided to test various strategies in each educator’s residence or venue and come back to the next bi-monthly forum with the results in order to evaluate their trial and error process.  

At the subsequent bi-monthly forum the educators debated the strategies used, the benefits and challenges and were able to devise an environmental inclusion plan that demonstrated the strategies and practices that worked best in the trial. It was suggested and agreed by all that this information and guidance should be made available to new educators joining the scheme so that the learning spaces available to children are inclusive from the onset of education and care. The importance of inclusive learning environments was included within the New Educator Information pack and initial inspection report.  

Inclusion, accessibility, and the SIPs are now reviewed as part of the coordinator service visit report completed during each coordinator visit to the educators’ residence or venue. As part of the fortnightly service visits with educators, the coordinators also use the Approved Learning Frameworks to engage educators in robust and reflective discussions on their existing indoor and outdoor spaces including the sustainable use of all resources and equipment. The coordinators have also been sharing resources on the Approved Learning Frameworks and found the Glossary of terms matching game particularly useful to unpack terms and references unfamiliar to the educators. Educators have been eager to identify the correlation to their existing environmental practices and intentionality within environmental education to that of social and economic sustainability.  

An educator has expressed a strong interest in sustainability and environmental responsibility and is the service’s representative on the Early Childhood Environmental Education Network (ECEEN).  The educator disseminates information from this community group at the educator forums, in the group chat and in the educator newsletters. They also share practical tips on how they include sustainability within their own environment.

This educator worked with the coordination unit and the family consultation committee to review the service’s sustainability policy to include practices reflective of social and economic sustainability.  They also ran workshops for the educators that supported them to see that many of their existing practices already embedded social and economic sustainability as well as how they could enhance these further.

Initially some educators felt overwhelmed by the amount of information available on this topic and were uncertain about where to start. As a result, it was decided that one of the workshops be run at the educator’s residence to enable other educators to see the practices in action.  

This educator’s outdoor space includes a grassed area, worm farm, sensory garden, veggie patch, compost bin and a chicken coop. The composting and worm farm reduces waste and fertilises the garden. The children are active in the maintenance of these areas and choose to spend a large portion of their day outside. The vegetables and plants are taken home by families to start their own gardens and used in meals for the children.  

The chickens were introduced following a suggestion from a family and subsequent discussions with children, families, and coordination unit staff. In introducing the idea to families, the educator prepared an information sheet that outlined their rationale for having chickens in the garden. This included the benefits for children of caring for animals and understanding of our interdependence on the land. The information sheet included links to the Early Years Learning Framework, the National Quality Standard and literature from ECEEN.

As a first step the educator conducted a risk assessment with the assistance of a family that had kept chickens in the past. This identified potential risks and strategies to address them. This included, for example, how to identify signs of illness or injury in the chickens. With input from this family and the assistance of coordinators, the educator developed a draft policy. The policy was shared with the local vet who provided guidance on keeping the chickens healthy and disease free. It was also shared with the family consultation committee to review and give feedback on. The policy addressed supervision, handling the chickens, hygiene, and considerations for cooking with eggs. Following feedback from one family expressing concerns regarding animals spending some time in a coop environment, further inclusions were made to always ensure the welfare of the chickens.

It was agreed that the keeping of chickens in the environment be trialled with a check in with families at the end of every week. After three months, all families recognised the positive impact caring for the chickens had on the children who relish the responsibility of letting them out of the coop each morning and ensuring they have fresh food and water each day. The educator has created profiles on each of the chickens which all families can view and update with stories, videos, artwork, and investigative findings by the children. For example, one child keeps track of how many eggs were laid over the week, while another provides updates on how to groom, pet and hold them. The children are also captivated any time a chicken comes across a grasshopper or worm in the garden to eat which has evolved into research on lifecycles and the interdependence of ecosystems. The educator explained that this intentionality has supported the children to understand that animals and humans must co-exist and that the children can help to protect and not deplete our natural resources.  

Recognising that not all educators are able to include gardens and chickens within their learning spaces, the service approached their local bush care and community garden co-operatives about establishing a community garden within the grounds of the coordination unit. The members of the community garden co-operative now tend to the FDC garden in their care roster and work with the children during play sessions to understand companion planting that minimises toxins and keeps the garden safe for the children to explore. The service has now also included a worm farm, community composting and a plant, vegetable, and food swap station that community members, educators and families have access to.  

This swap station further led to an idea that was discussed by the educators and raised by the family consultation group to support the ongoing costs involved in updating resources to reflect the children’s emerging interests, curiosities, and needs. It was discussed and decided by the educators to run a resource swap at the play sessions. This is an opportunity to swap, borrow or use each other’s resources to minimise this. The existing educator group chat is used by educators to post about the children’s interest or needs and ideas they want to implement into their programs and other educators will assist with further ideas or offer resources and equipment they could borrow. The coordination unit noted that this has reduced the running costs for educators and has resulted in many resources being repurposed. It has also seen an increase in educators working together to support each other, sharing the ways they set up their spaces and resources to support children’s learning. Areas within the educator’s residence have become more inviting and children are engaging in the play spaces in a more constructive way.   

You may wish to use the indicators for Exceeding practice, the reflective questions for Exceeding practice at the Standard level, or the questions used by authorised officers to establish Exceeding practice to review and consider the examples of practice described above using the online Guide to the NQF. You may also wish to consider them as part of your self-assessment, and in the development of your Quality Improvement Plan.

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