The report is directed to my long day care service. It is an old community hall site. It serves an extremely diverse clientele, with a large proportion of staff and families being of Asian, Sudanese and Indian cultures. Looking at how it meets the six dimensions of health required consideration of thirteen staff members differing backgrounds and cultures.
The aim of this report is to examine how the service with its unique identity caters to and meets the wellness and wellbeing of children.
All staff members of the service could benefit from the findings. The report could apply to all persons in early childhood education, particularly those in a culturally and linguistically diverse setting.
Belonging, Being & Becoming is the focus of the new early years learning framework for Australia. It applies to all early childhood education services. Currently it is being implemented across the nation. It identifies five developmental outcomes for children as follows;
“Children have a strong sense of identity
Children are connected with and contribute to their world
Children have a strong sense of wellbeing
Children are confident and involved learners
Children are effective communicators.”
(Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2009, p. 8).
The Framework is bringing changes as to how educators view and cater for children. It is also pinpoints child wellness and wellbeing as a key factor to be considered on an on-going daily basis.
There are many dimensions of wellness and wellbeing. Donatelle (2006, pg. 9-10) defines six dimensions of health, “Physical, intellectual, social, emotional, environmental and spiritual.” These are explored below.
Physical: This dimension looks at our biological makeup, our general body fitness and ability to perform everyday tasks.
Intellectual: This is our ability to use our cognitive and brainpowers, to think, solve problems, our ability to learn reason and be objective.
Social: Our social health reflects our abilities to interact with others, how we conduct ourselves in social situations and our everyday behaviour.
Emotional: Our emotional health reflects our sense of self and our emotions. It reflects our ability to connect and respond to others appropriately in personal, social and work relationships.
Environmental: This is our ability to connect with the external, physical world we live in, our place in it and the part we play in sustaining, protecting and improving our own and or others living conditions.
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Spiritual: Spiritual health is not just the belief in a religion or a higher being. It is also about how we connect ourselves with the environment, our belief in our place in the world and our purpose in life. It is our ability to feel, express and experience deeply and unreservedly in and for all life. I believe that spirituality or soul, is the core of our being from which all else radiates.
I consider this to be a holistic approach. Donatelle (2006, p. 11) claims, “Many people believe that wellness can best be achieved by adopting a holistic approach, in which a person emphasizes the integration of and balance among mind, body and spirit.” A holistic approach considers the whole child, which is the focus of the ELYF.
“Achieving wellness means attaining the optimal level of wellness for a given persons unique set of limitations and strengths.” Catering to individual wellness and wellbeing of the whole child is imperative for quality care.
Many children spend more time in care than at home, and educators help lay foundations for a child’s future. “For the large majority of families, especially the growing number of dual income families, children no longer spend the first five years of their lives at home with their mothers, instead being cared for in multiple settings with multiple carers for a greater proportion of their young lives.” (AIHW, 2005; Bowes, Wise, Harrison, Sanson, Ungerer, Watson & Simpson, 2003; McCain & Mustard, 2002; OECD, 2005 cited in McMurray 2007, p. 154).
Due to my previous position as 2IC and now as the qualified reliever, I have been able to observe and review each room’s practices and routines over 3 years. Current programs and programming reports for rooms over the last 3 months were examined.
The new framework is being implemented with photo diaries recently replacing traditional planning. This has allowed the children to have more influence and contribution.
Staff members catered for each dimension as described below.
Physical development was mainly provided for outside. Children spent large amounts of time there during good weather.
Outdoor programming was repetitive across the centre, showing little or no child contribution in the younger rooms and a lack of variety and imagination. Most staff members spend more time supervising children than encouraging or participating in play with them.
Experiences that focused on and encouraged physical body awareness and development were minimal. During winter, staff occasionally bring climbing frames inside. Indoor physical experiences were limited to music, movement, dancing and quick runs when the weather permitted. In my forum posting (Underwood, 2011) I agree with Brooke Bosowiec on a quote she posted that stated, “There is no inappropriate weather, only inappropriate clothing.” (Bosowiec, 2011)
Experiences such as puzzles, memory games and mazes are utilized. Staff failed to follow up on opportunities for intellectual discussion. Programming appears to be very ‘product and prop’ orientated with little formal time provided for discussion with the children on a regular basis.
Staff members were more comfortable and capable with intellectual discussions when using their home language. As one staff member said, ‘It’s hard to find the words you’re your learning them yourself!” (F. Jounge, personal communication, March 18 2011) However, staff members display an eagerness to learn and are not afraid to ask questions or for definitions of words.
Staff role modelling of social skills was positive. All staff related well, showing a respectful and easygoing friendly attitude towards each other. Parents are encouraged to ‘stay and play’ and children are encouraged to visit siblings in other rooms.
Some aspects appeared superficial. Children were required to ‘do things’ rather than deciding for themselves or being guided towards an appropriate action or response. For example, I often hear “You need to say sorry!” accompanied by staff dragging the child over to the “victim” and being made to mouth the words “sorry”. Staff members are encouraged by the director to prevent this by ‘thinking outside the box’ (Walton, K, personal communication, March 9, 20114). Allowing rigid social norms to relax, instead to focussing on what is best for the individual child is being encouraged.
Programming for this area tended to focus on ‘home corner’ and looking at social occupations within the community. Visits from members of the community are encouraged but often not followed up.
The emotional care of children was wonderful except the nursery. Here there were negative reactions from the group leader. When children showed an interest there was little allowing them to participate with her in routines or setting up experiences. Her communication with them was short and abrupt and often negative.
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Other staff members were considerate and respectful of children, involved them in routines and responded quickly and appropriately to them. Emotional support and care was evident in their tone of voice, communication and physical actions.
The staff’s general practices are supported by Millei & Watson (2009, p. 9) who conclude, “Adopting strategies and developing practices that are informed by the thoughts and feelings of children and include their active participation assist educators in creating environments and experiences that are both supportive and protecting. A sense of autonomy, connectedness and value created, contribute to a child’s social and emotional wellbeing.”
The service has a vegetable patch and a worm farm that are not accessible to the children, without leaving the outdoor yard and ensuring staffing ratios. The outdoor yards appear large, sparse and sterile and are laid with Astroturf. Plastic and metal is the material for permanent structures. Pot plants have been added by some staff at their own expense.
Natural resources are utilized and incorporated into program planning. Natural disasters and other events were topics of discussion with the older children, with the children later expressing their feelings through role-play and artwork. Room aesthetics are pleasing, looking inviting and friendly, but could be improved.
Elliot & Emmett (1997, p. 28-29) claim “Children are now becoming increasingly removed from natural settings and direct involvement with nature for a number of reasons…opportunities need to be provided for children to experience the many dimension and the interconnectedness of the natural world, otherwise we are in danger of producing a generations of people with limited ecological understanding.”
Most cultural holidays were recognised. Staff celebrated amongst themselves and families sharing food and presents. The concept of spirituality stopped there for most staff. They displayed little understanding of or concern for spirituality or how to provide for it.
Adams, Hyde and Woolley (2008, p. 36) state, “For adults, the difficulties of responding to children’s spiritual experiences are numerous. An initial problem lies in adults actually recognizing that children are expressing something spiritual.” This seems to be the case within this service, although many of the staff are religious themselves.
The services provision of the six dimensions of wellness and wellbeing is competent on all levels. It could be improved significantly. Staff members could acquire more knowledge and understanding of all the dimensions of health explored in this report.
Communication between staff and children needs support and encouragement. Language differences are a key issue that appear to hinder staff members’ growth and development. More formal time for discussion with children could be provided to assist intellectual and social development.
The outdoor environments and planning require improvement. More thought, care, imagination and variety is needed. Staff member’s attitudes, concept of and provision towards winter outdoor play and child spirituality could be encouraged and expanded. The concept of personal and child spirituality could be explored by all staff.
Support is required for the nursery room leader to negate personal pressure from home life. More child participation in daily events, routines is needed and providing more positive role modelling and communication is essential.
The major issue to consider is the nursery room leader. She has personal challenges with her two children attending the service. Her 5mth old has had pneumonia on and off since birth.
The above circumstances combined with running a nursery room in a culturally diverse service, makes burnout a possibility. It can be addressed with a multidimensional approach from management. Lambert (1994, p. 8) states ” A multi-dimensional perspective of burnout would take into account the ecological nature of early childhood settings, and must therefore contribute to a better understanding of individual centres and their unique ways.”
Staff education and support using multi-dimensional solutions are the next factor. Management could provide the following:
Information and encouragement to further skills.
Library books for interest and reference.
Time for all staff to access the services Intranet.
Staff meetings with discussions on the six dimensions of health. Role play used to demonstrate and improve skills and techniques.
Translated copies of key information in regards to the six dimensions of health and other areas of interest
Assistance with learning positive language and communication for children.
Staff and children encouragement to share and learn differing language skills through games and role play.
Language education for staff members.
The provision of dictionaries and thesauruses in each room.
Encouragement to provide a thoughtful, considerate show and tell session regularly in weekly programs. This could assist social, emotional, and intellectual needs. And perhaps also, spiritual needs of children.
Time for staff to visit other services to see how to include the environment and natural resources.
The outdoor areas restructured to provide more sand, earth, water, rocks, vegetation and animals. This encourages environmental and spiritual health.
Moore (1997, p. 4) claims, “In nature, we become sensitive to our mortality and to the immensity of the life that is our matrix, and both these sensations, mortality and immensity, offer the foundation for a spiritual life…nature opens an inviting and guiding path toward a spiritual life.” The natural environment can assist children on all levels of development, as it always has, since the beginning of time.