Embracing natural spaces and communicating with families

This week on We Hear You, Natalie Cowley from KU Lance Children's Centre at Millers Point in inner city Sydney tells us about how her service has made plans for continuous quality improvement after its assessment. Natalie has been working at KU Lance for a year and a half and has been teaching in early childhood for almost eight years.

At Lance we have achieved a beautiful, calm and natural environment, using only natural materials and no plastic materials in any of the spaces. Our reasoning behind this is we believe children deserve to have beautiful things to engage with and to develop a respect for the world around them.

When I first started at Lance with Donna, the centre was very different. This was not the focus, as Donna and I had previously worked together at another centre where we incorporated the ELYF and used natural materials. Knowing what kind of positive effect this has on children and their development, we focused our time and energy on changing the focus of Lance.

Within a year, we had changed the environment to be more nature focused, plastic free and over all a beautiful place to be. Interactions with children and the quality of care & education greatly improved and become the focus. Many of the staff did struggle with this change, most being able to learn from it and finding a new philosophy. Our practices improved with these changes, which allowed for strength in particular NQF quality areas (1, 2, 3 and 5).

Our assessment visit was early to mid last year and we received a rating of exceeding standards overall. There were a few areas that we were recommended to further improve in as we received a meeting standard in two areas as opposed to an exceeding. From this we further developed our natural spaces, both indoor and outdoor. Focusing on children and family involvement in the program and room set up, ie asking for suggestions or parents to help bring things in or get involved in classroom experiences such as cooking etc.

An area we needed to spend more time on was parent and community involvement. A lot of the families in the centre are quite busy and work long hours and often do not have time to come and contribute to the program, be involved in centre happenings or have time to read the program, journals and documentation. I thought of ways in which I could improve this and get more parent and community involvement. Donna (our director) suggested that we email families the daily diary. We began doing this a couple of months after the assessment and the response was overwhelming. Families loved receiving the daily diary while at work and would respond via email or mention at pick up how great it was to get an insight into their day while they were at work. From this great response, I came up with the idea to start a centre blog. Updating every 2nd day with learning stories, photos and centre happenings. This has also had a great response, with the parents looking at it often and commenting on posts with ideas/suggestions or positive feedback. The quality of our family interactions improved greatly from these changes, being able to communicate through social media has allowed for a lot more family involvement and from families that may not of shown much interest (due to time restraints) previously.

[caption id="attachment_427" align="alignleft" width="90"]Natalie Cowley Natalie Cowley[/caption]

I have been working for KU Lance for a year and a half now and have been teaching all up for almost 8 years. Our director Donna has been at Lance for over two years and teaching for over 20 years. Since our quality assessment, we feel our service has come far in providing an exceeding standard of care for all the children and families attending our service.

Images of KU Lance Children's Centre's natural spaces:

KU Lance outdoor space

KU Lance indoor space KU Children's Centre

Latest comments

Anne Govoronsky

Sat, 25 May 2013 - 04:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

As a grandparent of Triplets who attend KU Lance I am so happy the girls attend such a beautiful centre. The warmth and feeling of belonging is so evident from the moment you walk in. I live two hours from the triplets so when I read their daily diary online and the blogs I feel so much part of their lives and can talk to them about what they have done at day care. What a great way of communicating to ALL the family. Love the natural environment well done Donna and Nat could not want more for our beautiful girls. Keep up the good work you are a great example to the early childhood sector!
Anne Govoronsky

Radha Narasimhan

Sat, 25 May 2013 - 11:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Meaningful and beautiful play invitations for children. Seems so inviting and well thought about. However....I do question the mode of thinking that ...Plastic should be eradicated...?
In our daily lives children do see the use of plastic in so many things that we use within our homes and environments. This pendulum shift to one or the other is concerning for me who is an early learning consultant from Victoria. Does it actually reperesent the truths of everyday Belonging... Being and Becoming?? We also need to reflect upon these kind of shifts.... the ways we may sustain such thinking in moderate and realistic ways for our children coming from diverse communities of learning and being?
Would be interested to know some of your thoughts.....

Radha Narasimhan
Early Learning Consultant
Goodstart Early Leanring

Natalie Cowley

Mon, 27 May 2013 - 04:45

In reply to by Radha Narasimhan (not verified)

Hi Radna,

Thanks for your input, always great to get feedback and discuss these types of things. The decision to get rid of all the plastic within the centre (our pre-school room still use some plastic, however in the nursery I do not have any plastic resources) was based upon the orignal resources wearing out and needing replacing and to obtain a more natural & appealing aesthetic to the room.

It is a personal and professional decision based on my philosophy as an educator to not use plastic within my learning space. From my experiences teaching I notice that children's play and learning changes when they use natural and beautiful resources or are outside. They are calmer, more involved and their play becomes more in depth. Sustainability is a big part of education and using natural resources and encouraging children to use these resources helps us to achieve sustainability.

Of course we still use plastic in our food storage and bowls, the same we as adults use plastic for storing food etc. However when it comes to engaging children in play or learning I feel this is best achieved through the use of natural resources and minimal use of plastic. Creating a sustainable future requires us to think of more natural and responsible ways to live each day and educate our children. What better resource to do this than to use the resources provided around us, such as what is in our gardens, the bush etc.

I hope this helps answer some of your questions.

Thank you!


Fri, 28 Jun 2013 - 02:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

variety is the spice of life...everything in moderation....children need a balance in life to become well adjusted adults


Mon, 27 May 2013 - 04:26

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I am a KU Casual and have worked in many centres in both the Hunter and Sydney over the last seven years. Lance is like no other centre that I have worked in- It has become one of the most magical, calming, exciting and inspirational centre I have ever worked in. The natural resources, aesthetics of the centre (both inside and our gorgeous views of Barangaroo) and brilliant team make it an absolute pleasure to walk through the gates every day. It does not feel like a childcare centre- It feels like our home. Casual staff members often tell me that our centre is one of their favorite to visit because of how calm the children are and how friendly and supporting the staff are. I believe our environment plays a large part in creating secure and safe environments that we all love being in.

In regards to the plastic- In the preschool we utilise different forms of plastic which we believe are valuable to the children's learning- for example, lego, magnetic letters etc. We have replaced plastic containers and boxes with baskets made from sustainable natural materials and opted for wooden and natural toys instead of choosing plastic. As toys that have been in the centre for years reach their used by date they are actively repaced with more sustainable and natural resources. We have seen the evidence that these decisions are working as the space has changed completely and the children's play has also changed to be much more positive and respectful in their approach to each other and the environment.

Thanks for being such a great inspiration Nat and Donna!

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