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.
icon representing family day care - a set of houses and children
rubber boots used as pot plants

Family day care educators working in the outer suburbs of the city provide diverse home environments, including the indoor and outdoor play spaces, to enhance the learning and development of the children in their care. The service’s coordination unit offers guidance and support for educators to consider theorists and alternative approaches to creating welcoming and inclusive play-based learning spaces. The unit also hosts a regular play session where educators share ideas, resources and engage in professional conversations.

Play sessions also give coordination unit staff the opportunity to model different ideas and approaches for creating indoor and outdoor learning environments to inspire and extend what educators do in their homes. This includes the intentional arrangement of furniture and provision of open-ended and recyclable resources and materials to promote children’s active participation, exploration and engagement. Educators also enjoy being able to give children access to different learning spaces, equipment and play materials to what they provide in their homes through attending the play sessions.

Coordinators use fortnightly home visits to engage educators in reflective conversations about the use of indoor and outdoor spaces in their homes. This includes highlighting and building on what is already working well, as well as where improvements can be made specific to each educator’s strengths, interests and needs. Coordinators also facilitate bi-monthly networking meetings to create regular and ongoing opportunities for educators to engage in professional conversations and evaluate their practice. Creating learning environments that meet the range of ages, interests and abilities of all children is a frequent discussion point at these meetings.

One educator makes use of a large, open plan rumpus room to include a mix of quiet and relaxing spaces, as well as more active spaces. Areas for children to engage in creative arts are also provided. These spaces remain the same over time so the layout remains predictable for children and they can confidently return to an area of their choice at any time. The educator had reflected on the importance of this for all children, including a child with additional sensory needs currently attending the service. The educator introduced variety into the environment through alternating the materials available in each space, incorporating children’s interests and ideas at the time.

The educator spoke to the coordinator about what else they could do to support the child with additional sensory needs to be more actively engaged in the educational program through the environment, building on ideas provided by the child’s family. The coordinator organised a meeting with the child’s early intervention teacher, who offered to visit the educator’s home to provide some suggestions. The teacher suggested the educator organise play materials in storage compartments so they can be more easily accessed. They also suggested they reduce visual clutter by minimising the amount of posters or artwork on the walls, to prevent the child from becoming overwhelmed.

The early intervention teacher also supported the educator to revisit their program to ensure it provided the child with a sense of consistency and structure throughout the day, for example establishing routine arrangements for furniture and equipment during meal and rest times. In a follow up call from the teacher, the educator reported the child is now much calmer in the setting and managing transitions with minimal support. They have also observed the child is now able to play alongside other children for short periods of time.

To further support educators to provide inclusive spaces for all children, the educational leader contacted the local Inclusion Agency who assisted the service to develop a Strategic Inclusion Plan. The Strategic Inclusion Plan identified strategies to address actual and potential barriers to inclusion within the service, such as limited mobility, challenging behaviours and variance in children’s ages and related abilities. A focus of the plan was embedding inclusive practice in the physical environment. This encouraged all educators and coordinators to reflect on strategies to ensure all learning spaces are welcoming and accessible and promote full participation and engagement for all children. This was in line with the service’s philosophy, which promotes inclusion and a sense of belonging for all. It was also consistent with the approved learning frameworks, which see children’s lives as characterised by belonging, being and becoming.

Another educator makes use of their large backyard to provide a range of outdoor opportunities for children. This educator has a strong interest in sustainability and environmental responsibility and played a leading role in the development of the service’s sustainability policy. They are also the service’s representative of the Environmental Education Network. Such is their interest and expertise in this area, the educator has facilitated regular information sessions with other educators about environmentally sustainable practices. Initially some educators felt overwhelmed by the amount of information available on this topic and were uncertain about where to start. Through ongoing conversations over time, however, they have become more open to trying out new ideas. As they grow in confidence, educators have also started sharing their successes and learnings with each other and with families.

This educator’s outdoor space includes a large grassed area for setting up a range of experiences. It also includes a sandpit, veggie patch, compost bin and a chicken coop. The chickens were a recent addition, 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 getting the chickens. This included the benefits for children of caring for animals and understanding where their food comes from.

As a first step the educator did 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 other families to review and give feedback on. The policy addressed child supervision, handling the chickens, hand washing, and considerations for cooking with eggs. Following feedback from one family, some additional words were added to ensure the welfare of the chickens was being observed at all times.

One family was initially uncertain about the chickens but agreed to the educator’s proposal of a three month trial period. The educator also suggested they check in with the family at the end of every week. By the end of the three months this family were the chickens’ biggest advocates. The chickens were also firm favourites with the children. They relished the responsibility of letting them out of the coop each morning and ensuring they had fresh food and water each day. One child enjoyed keeping track of how many eggs were laid over the week, while another took great delight in petting and cuddling them. The children were also captivated any time a chicken came across a grasshopper or worm in the garden to eat.

An unanticipated, yet delightful outcome of the chicken coop was the relationships it has forged with neighbours. On hearing about the chickens, neighbours on both sides of the educator’s home have started supplying food scraps for the chickens. The children created a list of what the chickens could and couldn’t eat, which they shared with the neighbours, just to be sure. They also share eggs with the neighbours from time to time, as a token of their appreciation. This experience was shared at a recent service networking event, resulting in lively discussion and debate about the merits of keeping chickens, and animals more generally, in educational settings.

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. 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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