Standard 3.2 Use – Case study 2

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.
service indoor set up


icon representing centre based care - a family under a roof

This purpose-built, community managed preschool/kindergarten is located in a regional town. Reflected in their service philosophy, the educational program and daily practice is the service team’s commitment to sustainable and inclusive education.  

From inception, the service was designed to reduce the environmental impact on the community. The service faces north, to take advantage of sunlight for heat and light. It uses solar panels and a waste treatment system for the management of wastewater. Rainwater tanks are used to water the well-established vegetable garden and the new flower garden. There is also a coop for chickens and ducks that opens up to a free-range area separate to the children’s play space. Having animals to care for is contextual to the families within the service with many living on working farms or supporting the farming community. The children enjoy looking after the animals and take this responsibility very seriously. The chickens provide children and families with a plentiful supply of eggs and the animals are a source of excitement and learning for children.

As a number of families are involved in community projects, at their suggestion, the children and educators of the service are actively involved in a number of projects too. These include working with community groups and the local council in the maintenance of a nearby park and regular participation in the community Bushcare and tree planting programs. These projects have given children the opportunity to develop a knowledge of plants local to the area, including the skill to identify safe plants and those that may be poisonous.

The community which the service is situated in and supports relies on the interconnectedness of the land. The service team wished to honour this by considering the ways they could focus more on the effective use of resources and minimisation of waste.  The service team and management committee have developed a five-year ‘zero waste’ policy, with input from families, children, educators, and the community. This policy was developed following an environmental analysis audit conducted by children and educators in conjunction with the local council. The council program was designed to determine how much waste local businesses produced over a one-month period and then work with the environmental impact department to determine waste minimisation solutions. The audit gave the service a better sense of the type of waste being produced to then inform the development of their policy and waste reduction and management practices.  

This has also influenced their purchasing policy with a clear checklist developed to determine if items are in fact needed and if so ensuring that the most sustainable option is purchased and, where possible, from local companies. Their menus have also been reviewed to ensure that items used are in season, sustainably sourced and reflective of the children’s likes and needs to minimise waste.  

Whilst a strong aspect of the service philosophy is on rethinking the purchase and use of items to minimise waste, the service also aims to ensure that items can be re-purposed or recycled, where possible.  Additional recycling bins have now been set up in all indoor and outdoor spaces and labelled by the children.  Children researched the type of food scraps that are suitable for the animals, compost bins and general waste and have provided demonstrations to the educators and families. Left-over water from cups or drink bottles is tipped into a watering-can that is used to water the indoor plants. This research and practices have led to some lively discussions amongst the children about their waste management practices at home and families have now set up similar bins and water conservation containers.

The children’s research led them to consider what other recycling methods could be used and with guidance from educators decided they could set up a recycling or collection hub for the community. The children along with educators and families conducted a survey asking community members in the local shopping area about their waste management processes and what they would like to reuse or recycle.  

Paper waste and recycling was identified by the majority of participating community members. This led to investigations on where paper comes from and how to make their own paper using recycled materials. This investigation went on for several weeks, with children experimenting with a range of materials, including newspaper, magazines, junk mail and discarded envelopes, to see what worked best. The children were thrilled with their efforts and supported by an educator, they made a book using the paper, which described the paper-making process in words and pictures. The book was displayed alongside the survey results and advertisements for their collection hub at the community library.  

The service provides a community collection drop off to recycle batteries, mobile phones, prescription glasses and soft plastics. It has since been extended to a clothing and food bank after hearing of families within the community who had been impacted with recent flooding.  

The service’s sustainability approach is seen as a ‘work in progress’ as the team, in collaboration with families and children, are continuously looking at where and how they can improve. The use of open-ended, natural, and recycled materials in both the indoor and outdoor environments was discussed in recent team meetings.  

Educators have been exploring and learning more about the benefits of using loose parts to support children’s exploration, curiosity, creativity, and collaboration skills. Initiated through ongoing critical conversations within their education and environmental networks, the team began their own professional reading on this. Their combined research was brought together for the educators and families to discuss the potential of using loose parts to support children’s social interactions, language development, imagination, and problem-solving skills.  The families expressed an interest in learning more about it and how it would directly support their children.

It was decided that the team would do their own investigation on how the children were using loose parts and other open-ended materials to support their explorations and child-directed play versus commercial single use items. Over several weeks, educators documented children’s play in both the indoor and outdoor play spaces, capturing images of the children’s explorations, with their permission. Educators shared these images with the children and talked with them about their thinking and the learning that was occurring through their play. This documentation was used to inform ongoing conversations about what educators were noticing and thinking about and how they might build on and extend the opportunities for play and learning provided by the loose parts.  

At a team meeting, educators took turns in sharing their reflections and learnings from the investigation. One room had documented that children were engaging in sustained play for longer periods of time, often using the same materials in a different way each day. The other room agreed with this statement and that the younger age group brought the loose parts into their imaginative play and as a result they were more versatile than single use items.

Children were observed actively making decisions, individually and together, as they discussed and decided how they would use the materials from one day to the next. As some items were rotated across the program, it was agreed by the whole team that when the children had access to a larger range of materials and could self-select, the play was more diverse.  

This led to a discussion about children’s developing sense of agency and revisiting what this means within Belonging, Being & Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia and their own philosophy. A direct link between agency and the aspirations of the service community was summed up within Learning Outcome 2 where ‘Children’s connection and contribution to their world is built on the idea they can exert agency in ways that make a difference and build a foundation for civic and democratic participation’. Educators also considered the Principle of ‘Equity, inclusion and high expectations’ and how they create inclusive learning environments. In considering these against their own findings, educators discussed whether all children were truly able to participate and engage if they needed to ask an educator for materials that they couldn’t freely access. Educators discussed how children may be disadvantaged by having to approach educators for permission to enter the shed. They considered barriers such as cultural and linguistic diversity, children living with trauma, disability, and neurodiversity and children’s individual dispositions. As a result, a proposal to introduce an open shed policy was raised.

A robust discussion and debate took place about the benefits and risks associated with children having open access to the shed, with some educators concerned about child safety and others seeing the added potential for more open-ended, child-directed spontaneous projects which may encourage considered risk taking and competence. After further critical reflection, educators agreed to talk with the children about the issue at a group meeting, to hear their thoughts and ideas about it focussing the discussion on identifying barriers to inclusion from the children’s perspectives.

The idea of keeping the shed doors open was popular with the children and greeted with enthusiasm. Ideas flowed and children identified a number of useful strategies to address safety concerns, including options such as a second shed for storing the loose part materials in the service’s milk crates and baskets or a storage unit similar to the trolley used to store loose parts in the playroom. All the children’s ideas were recorded in reflection journals and shared with families to encourage discussion about their own thoughts and perspectives on the idea.

Educators and families agreed that the storage unit idea had appeal and it created an opportunity for the service to collaborate with the local high school’s woodwork class. The woodwork teacher had previously remarked to the service that their students were always open to a challenge and that they would be happy to work with the educators and children. The children were equally excited to work with the high school students and to be involved in the design of the storage unit.

The high school students attended a meeting at the service with the children to hear their wish list of what they wanted in the storage unit.  The woodwork class helped the children draw up a plan with all their requirements and a storage unit was built using recycled materials, consistent with the service’s sustainable practices.  The children have multiple compartments to keep the materials organised and easy to find, all at an appropriate height for the children to access materials safely and easily. At the children’s suggestion, the students added wheels to the unit so it could be moved around to different locations in the playground and undercover at the end of the day.  

Loose parts continue to play a pivotal role within the service program and a source of inspiration for children’s explorations and self-directed learning. A group of children working with loose parts in the playroom attempted to reproduce drawings they had made using various materials including pebbles, shells, feathers, sticks and leaves. The educators lead prompted discussion amongst the children on how they might recreate their drawings in ‘three dimensions’, perhaps as a sculpture.  

They researched artists and sculptors who have worked with found objects in the past. They were particularly interested in the work of a local artist, who creates sculptures from litter and other found objects collected from local beaches, to raise awareness of the impact of litter on seabirds and marine life. The children were excited about this possibility, although wondered if the loose parts and found objects in the outdoor storage unit and recycling hub might be more suitable for the task.

One of the parents of a child attending the service is an artist and, on hearing about the children’s interest, offered to work with the educators and children as part of the sculpture project. Other families contributed with donations of loose parts, as did local businesses, who had heard about the service’s sustainability practices and were keen to get involved.

These provocations inspired the children to come up with a range of ideas, with some working individually and others with their peers. Some children remained keen on the idea of creating sculptures based on their drawings. Another group of children, who were passionate about caring for the environment, were inspired to create a sculpture using litter, found objects and other discarded items. The loose part sculptures were added to their growing display at the community library.  

This project, as well as the service’s ongoing sustainable practices, have led to the service being invited to attend community network meetings where the sustainability of the regional community is discussed.  The educators, children and families are keen to extend their passion and views on sustainability and environmental awareness, creating further opportunities to collaborate on community projects to address these issues.

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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