Standard 6.2 Collaborative partnerships – Case study 2
Collaborative partnerships enhance children’s inclusion, learning and wellbeing.
This kindergarten/preschool, situated in an outer suburb of a major Victorian city, is committed to actively seeking out partnerships in response to the needs of the community. Their vision and approach to developing and sustaining collaborative partnerships with the community is informed by their service philosophy as well as the principles and practices of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and the practice principles of the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF), Victoria’s approved learning framework.
Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Model, which underpins the VEYLDF, also influences the service’s approach. This theory emphasises that ‘children learn about themselves and construct their own identity within the context of their families and communities. This includes their relationships with people, places and things and the actions and responses of others’ (p.5). It highlights the importance of the connections and interactions between the different systems that surround them, including their family and the local community, on children’s learning and development.
The service’s commitment to collaborative partnerships is evident through their active engagement with a range of community groups and organisations, which have been developed and sustained over several years. For example, they have established strong links with many of the local schools the children attend after leaving their service. Over the past couple of years this has included participating in a reciprocal visits transition program with the schools, where teachers from the schools visit the service and teachers from the service take children to visit the schools. In addition, the service has regularly been included in school events, including school assemblies, the annual fete, and other community gatherings.
The service has also developed a partnership with a local speech pathology service, following feedback from some families. Families are offered the opportunity twice a year to have their children screened by speech pathologists who visit the service. The speech pathologists also provide workshops for staff, which are planned to support any current interests or identified areas of priority or need. Past topics have included stuttering, articulation and supporting children’s expressive language development. Given the interest in these workshops, the service now invites other education and care services in the local community to attend.
In other community partnerships, the service is actively involved with the local community garden group, which helped them set up their own composting bin. This followed an action research project initiated by children’s interest in the communal compost bin in the community garden. More recently, the service has worked with the local council to seek guidance and advice about creating a footpath garden of vegetables and herbs on the verge alongside the service. This initiative followed conversations with a child and their family about the challenge of sourcing fresh, seasonal produce in the local area.
The service is keen to continue to strengthen and extend their community partnerships and collaborations and actively seeks input from children, families and the community about this. For example, the service has developed a welcome pack for new families in response to family feedback. The service’s welcome pack has evolved and improved over time based on ongoing input from families as to what information would be more useful. It now includes a folder of information about local community services, facilities and supports that past families have reported finding helpful. It also has a map of local parks, children’s playgrounds and other local attractions and places of interest. A recent addition to the welcome pack is a book that has been written and illustrated by children who attended the service in past years, detailing what they thought was important for new children to know about the service and the local community. A quilt that was created from children’s drawings showing where they like to spend time in the community, is displayed in the foyer. Families have also expressed great interest in the shared places that children enjoy, with one family commenting that they didn’t know there was a park in that part of their suburb.
An example of how the service prioritises connections with family and community involved a family who had recently commenced in the service, having moved to the area from interstate. In a conversation with a family member, the educational leader asked how they were settling in and if there was anything the service could do to help. The family member mentioned that their child was missing their grandparents, who they used to see several times a week. They added that it was important to them that their child have opportunities to interact with people of all ages and they were unsure how they might achieve this in their new community. The educational leader made a note to speak to the team about organising a family event to give the family an opportunity to meet other families in a relaxed and social setting.
The educational leader shared this conversation with the rest of the team at a staff meeting. This prompted an educator to share a conversation they had with a child in their room who mentioned over lunch time that they had recently visited their great-grandmother in a nursing home. Another educator mentioned that they knew a service in another local government area that visited aged care facilities at the end of the year to sing songs for the residents. They suggested the service could perhaps do something similar. This idea was met with much discussion and debate about the pros and cons of an annual visit, for children and for aged care residents, versus an ongoing collaboration between the two services, which some felt would be more meaningful and authentic.
To progress the conversation, the educational leader suggested they revisit the EYLF and VEYLDF as well as their service philosophy, all of which highlight the importance of respectful relationships and partnerships with families and community. The educational leader offered to source information about intergenerational programs for the team to become familiar with before the next meeting to inform the conversation. A link to an Australian television series about four year old children who attend a regular program in an aged care facility was provided. This was described as a unique social experiment that brings together elderly people in a retirement community with a group of 4 year olds. Articles provided included information about a research project being conducted by a university on an intergenerational care project and another published in a local newspaper that featured an early education and care service sharing their experience of a reciprocal visits program with a nearby aged care facility.
The educational leader co-facilitated a series of conversations with the team over several weeks. Initially these conversations focused on getting clarity around their purpose and intention for introducing an intergenerational program to the service. This included a discussion about the benefits for children, families and community and its alignment with their philosophy and with the key elements of the EYLF and VEYLDF. This helped to ensure that their purpose and intention reflected their commitment to creating a culture of inclusion and a sense of belonging for all children and families.
Throughout these conversations, the service took care to ensure that the views and perspectives of all children and families were heard and considered. For example, families were informed about the potential project through the service newsletter and a display in the reception area, where they were invited to share their thoughts, comments and feedback. All staff encouraged conversation about the project as families arrived in the morning and afternoon so that they could provide further information and answer questions. They also contacted a nearby aged care community to gauge their interest in the idea and to begin preliminary discussions.
Through their informal chats with families the service discovered that there was strong support for the idea. They heard stories from some of the children and families who visited extended family members in aged care facilities and the joy these visits gave all involved. They looked at photographs brought in by children of their extended family members, including grandparents and great-grandparents, great-aunts and uncles.
The service was excited to learn that the staff from the aged care community were keen to participate in a trial project. In conversations they learnt that some residents, for a range of reasons, didn’t have many visitors. The aged care staff hoped the program would give the residents a greater sense of purpose and meaning, and increased health and wellbeing.
Both the service and aged care facility conducted a risk assessment for conducting visits to each of the sites. For the service, this included addressing the risks associated with walking to the aged care community, which is within walking distance of the service.
The educational leader and recreational therapist from the aged care facility collaborated to develop a model to address issues such as the number of children and residents who would take part and the number and duration of visits to each site. They also prepared a draft program of possible activities and experiences drawing on the findings from the university’s intergenerational care project. This report highlighted the importance of paying attention to energy levels and group size to maximise engagement, interest and enjoyment for all involved. This was shared with staff in both sites for input and feedback, which resulted in some minor adjustments before the final program was agreed upon.
Monthly visits have been happening for several months now. Staff at both sites contribute to individual reflection journals after each session, to capture their thoughts and impressions about what happened, including the responses of the children and residents. These are shared and discussed at respective team meetings to evaluate the current approach and to determine what’s working and what’s not, and where changes might be required. For example, some staff in the aged care facility noted that activities involving one or two children engaging with one or two residents seemed to work better than working in larger groups, especially at the aged care setting. This led to a rethink of the arrangement of the furniture and number of chairs set up at each table, to encourage children and aged care residents to engage with each other in pairs or small groups.
Written and photographic documentation is shared with children and families via a display in the reception area. This is generating wonderful discussions between children, families and educators. Children eagerly share stories of moments captured through the photographs on display, while families share children’s recollections and impressions from conversations at home. This documentation is also used as a reflective tool in team meetings to reflect on their pedagogical practice and deepen their understandings of children. For example, educators have observed qualities of kindness, empathy and cooperation in the children’s interactions with the older adults. They have also noticed the close bonds starting to form between particular children and the residents. These are also reflected in the children’s artwork, as they often recreate their favourite moments back at the service or spend time creating pieces to take with them to give to their special friends at the next visit.
A working group consisting of staff from both sites and facilitated by the educational leader and recreational therapist, meet bi-monthly to review and evaluate the program against its broad goals and anticipated outcomes. They draw on their individual reflection journals to share ideas and suggest improvements. For example, staff in both sites reported that both children and aged care residents wanted more opportunity to give input into the program by suggesting activities for the following session. As a result, an ‘ideas book’ was introduced at both sites, so that staff can document children’s and aged care residents’ ideas and suggestions, to inform ongoing planning.
The meetings also allow staff to reflect on and gather evidence about the benefits of the program for children and residents that could be shared more widely within the community. At the suggestion of a parent, who is the curator of a local art gallery, the working group is now looking to exhibit photographs, artwork and commentary related to the visits at the gallery.
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