Bought and sold: Early education in Australia

A couple of things happened in the early education sector recently. Neither of them are huge deals on their own, but they both represent trends in the sector that tell us a lot about where we are at right now.

One of Australia’s largest early education organisations ditched the “Early Learning” in their name for “Childcare and Education”. Some blokes in suits, with no early education qualifications whatsoever, did it to grab a few more clicks from families on Google they could convert into revenue.

And an AFL team has decided that a “childcare centre” near their stadium shaped like an enormous football would be pretty cute. It’s called Kool Kids, of course. More blokes, more suits, same amount of early education qualifications (zero).

What matters about these announcements isn’t that they’ve happened. It’s that they’ve happened and no-one cares. Reached for comment, Australia’s early education sector said: shrug emoji.

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Are we too interested in children’s interests?

One of the fundamental features of play-based approaches to learning and development in the first five years is a focus on children and their interests. Formal, rote or instructional learning in this space has limited, if any, benefits to children, while approaches that promote engaging children in fun and interesting play can have an amazing impact.

The Early Years Learning Framework strongly acknowledges this approach, particularly through the Principles and Practices that support educators to think holistically and individually about each child, their family and their community. Since the introduction of the National Quality Framework I have seen a big shift in the sector towards focusing on “children’s interests”. When I speak to Team Leaders in particular about their approaches to educational programs and practices, I often hear variations of “I extend on children’s interests”.

This is worth exploring. On the surface, this seems obvious and clear. We’ve been told for a long time to explore children’s interests – surely we should promote the things that engage children? But as with all of our teaching strategies, we have to be prepared to engage in critical reflection about what they mean and how they affect children.

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