Quality in Early Childhood Services (August 2010) 01/08/2010

Philosophy: what do services value and believe about children's learning?

Philosophy statements express the values and beliefs held by those involved in a service and reflect what is important. In high quality services, the values and beliefs of everyone involved are taken into account in developing a philosophy. The philosophy is not only documented and displayed in the service, but also evident in day-to-day practice.

Some services base their philosophy on the principles of the early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki, and consult extensively with their community to develop their philosophy so it reflects who they are and what they value in children’s education and care. Sometimes educators develop a philosophy specific to their teaching approach.

An example of high quality from an individual service’s ERO report.

A clear and well understood philosophy underpins the centre programme, learning environment and adult interactions with children. In the under-two area the focus is on building trust, ensuring time for uninterrupted play and children having freedom to explore. In the over-two area children’s creative endeavours are valued and the natural environment plays a significant role in fostering children’s exploration and learning.

Philosophy statements also enable services to make explicit the ways research and/or current educational theories influence their thinking and practice. Some themes highlighted in this area include:

  • respectful practice for infants and toddlers
  • the place of the environment in supporting children’s learning
  • the role of the family and/or community in collaborating to support children’s learning.

ERO’s national evaluation reports have recognised the place of philosophy statements in making explicit the values and beliefs that underpin practice. The Quality of Assessment in Early Childhood Education reported that in two-thirds of services, the focus of the philosophy was reflected in assessment practices. ERO found that in many of these services:

“the philosophy made direct reference to the importance of educators noticing, recognising, and responding to children’s learning and development. Services’ philosophies recognised that children were actively involved in their own learning and development. Educators responded to children’s interests, strengths, experiences, and conversations, and sought to increase parent participation in assessment. Where this was a particular strength, parents were involved, alongside educators, in reviews of philosophy and assessment practice.”

In Success for Māori Children in Early Childhood Services: Good Practice, ERO highlighted two services where philosophy and practice aligned.

Teachers work collaboratively in ways that are true to their philosophy, empowering children and their whānau to share in the responsibility for teaching and learning. They embrace the concepts of tuakana/teina where it is common for siblings to attend this centre. The younger children learn from the older ones and the older children learn perseverance. In the context of this centre, the teachers, whānau and children learn from one another.

A feature of this centre is the strong link between the philosophy and what happens in practice. The philosophy emphasises affordability and whānau involvement and support. The personal teaching philosophies of individual teachers are closely aligned to the overall philosophy of the service. Discussions with teachers highlighted their very personal commitment to the centre’s philosophy and to realising this in practice.

In high quality services, philosophy statements are regularly reviewed to find out how well they relate to practice and to ensure they reflect the values and beliefs of everyone involved. This is an ongoing process through which services’ philosophies evolve over time.

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