Children’s social competence and emotional wellbeing is at the heart of the early childhood curriculum. ERO evaluated how well each service’s curriculum supported children’s learning and development.
How effectively does this service’s curriculum support children in developing their social and emotional competence and understanding of appropriate behaviour?
As shown in Figure 1, most of the services (83 percent) were implementing a curriculum that supported children’s developing social competence, and understanding of appropriate behaviour. Fourteen percent of services had some effective practices, and three percent had practices that were not effective.
Hihly effective practice included:
Where practices were highly effective in supporting children’s social competence and understanding of appropriate behaviour, ERO observed children:
Where practices were less effective, educators were often inconsistent in their approach and use of strategies to support children’s social competence and emotional wellbeing. Poor or ineffective practice included:
Where practices were ineffective, or poor, ERO observed children:
In what ways does this service work in partnership with parents and whānau to support children’s developing social and emotional competence?
Warm, trusting, respectful and affirming relationships were integral to developing children’s social competence and emotional wellbeing. Getting to know children and their whānau was an important first step for educators in developing relationships. This included respecting and valuing the role of parents and whānau in their child’s learning and development.
The ways in which children and their whānau were welcomed into a service mattered. Processes for settling children took account of their individual needs and circumstances and included parents. Parents were comfortable being in the service and were encouraged to participate in the programme.
Communication was important and worked best when it was two-way and timely. Managers and educators were approachable and accessible to parents at times that suited both parties. Informal daily conversations often focused on a child’s social and emotional wellbeing. Sometimes documents, such as daily notebooks for infants and toddlers, detailed information about the child’s health and wellbeing. Multiple forms of communication between educators and parents included messages in pockets on the wall, email, face-to-face, website, newsletters, phone calls, questionnaires, whānau hui, and centre diaries. Educators and parents discussed aspects of children’s behaviour as needed. These conversations often focused on children’s friendships, how they were feeling, and how educators were helping children to socialise with others in the service.
Inclusive assessment practices were integral to working in partnership with parents and whānau. Where partnerships were well developed, services formally and regularly sought input from parents and whānau. Children’s portfolios or profile books that documented their learning were used as a basis for conversations with them and their parents. These were easily accessed and parent and whānau contributions were encouraged along with parent involvement in deciding next learning steps for their child. Fundamental to well-developed partnerships was the knowledge and respect that educators had for each child’s language and culture.
Strategies that worked well in building a partnership between parents and educators to support children’s social competence and emotional wellbeing included:
Where partnerships were limited or not yet developed, services needed to:
How does this service’s behaviour management policy or positive guidance procedure align to educator practice?
Where ERO found strong alignment between services’ policy and practice, documented expectations were well understood by educators. In some services, the principles of the early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki underpinned practice with a strong focus on relationships and empowering children as capable learners.
Where services formally reviewed their policy or guidance document, this often led to increased awareness and clarity of expectations and more consistent practice. In some services, policy review resulted in particular emphasis on an aspect of the curriculum or led to a new focus for self review. In others, policy review happened as a result of an incident or concern. Self review sometimes included feedback or input from parents and whānau. It also involved educators and/or managers collecting data by observing practice and comparing it to policy expectations.
Where self review was more informal, policies and guidance documents were discussed at meetings and modified or endorsed by managers and/or educators. This often meant the service did not know how well policy expectations were implemented in practice, or how effective educators’ practices were in bringing about positive outcomes for children.
Where policy and practice were not well aligned, it was often because policies did not include explicit expectations and strategies to guide practice. Policies in some services focused on what not to do rather than giving guidance about strategies to support children’s developing social competence and understanding of appropriate behaviour. In some instances, policies were generic and had been developed by an umbrella association or organisation without involving educators and parents from the individual service.
Other factors influencing the lack of alignment between policy and practice included:
How are managers and educators supported in managing children’s challenging behaviours?
Across the services, managers and educators were generally well supported in responding to children’s challenging behaviour. Findings highlight the importance of well understood and agreed guidance or policy related to managing challenging behaviour. Such guidance sets out expectations, promotes a common understanding of what constitutes challenging behaviour, and documents strategies and agreed approaches.
In some services, managers and educators exchanged information, shared concerns, developed strategies, made decisions, solved problems and reflected on their practice. These discussions often took place at team or staff meetings and gave educators the opportunity to learn from each other, gain an understanding of expectations and give and receive feedback. At such meetings managers were often involved in decisions about strategies and next steps. This led to increased consistency of practice.
Some services accessed professional learning and development (PLD) opportunities to upskill and support educators. Topics for PLD included:
In some services, PLD contributed to development and review of guidance and policy documents. It also led to understanding among educators about agreed strategies, and promoted ongoing discussion. Educators were encouraged to use agreed strategies to manage children’s challenging behaviour through services’ induction processes, and advice and guidance programmes associated with teacher registration.
Where services were using external support from specialist services and agencies, this was useful and timely. Some services were proactive in seeking support and had developed good working relationships with external agencies and specialist services. ERO found few instances where services had difficulty getting appropriate external support.
Managers and/or leaders played an important role in providing guidance, particularly where services were part of an umbrella association or organisation. Being part of a cohesive team was important to managing challenging behaviour. Support for each other, and a shared understanding of appropriate, agreed strategies were critical to implementing a consistent approach.
Modelling of good practice by professional leaders or other educators was a constructive way to help educators. This included sharing specific strategies and collaborating on solving problems.
The learning environment played a key role in developing children’s understanding of appropriate behaviour. In some services, educators fostered children’s emotional resilience. Children were learning to trust that the environment was fair and consistent. They had opportunities to solve problems and make real choices and decisions, rather than always relying on adults to fix or sort out issues. Children also had access to a wide range of resources and were engaged in meaningful play.
Strategies used by educators to manage challenging behaviour included:
ERO identified several issues for services in managing challenging behaviour. In some services new, inexperienced or unqualified educators were not aware of strategies, or confident in using them when children’s behaviour was challenging. Sometimes a lack of stimulation in the environment, or a shortage of resources led to disruptive behaviour. Where challenging behaviour was not addressed or responded to this was often because educators were ignoring it or were not aware of it. In these services, situations often escalated beyond a single incident.
Playcentres are parent co-operatives. The parents and whānau of children attending each Playcentre are responsible for the management of the centre on a day-to-day basis. Playcentres are affiliated to regional associations which belong to the New Zealand Playcentre Federation. Playcentres generally have a high ratio of adults to children. Some are small and located in rural areas and others suit the needs of families in urban areas.
As well as providing early childhood programmes for children, they offer educational programmes for parents and whānau that can lead to parents gaining a recognised qualification: The Playcentre Education Diploma Curriculum 2000.
In this evaluation, some Playcentres had a high turnover of parents, and others had a stable group of parents with a mix of experienced and new members. Parent involvement in training programmes that led to qualifications, also varied across the Playcentres.
Figure 2, shows that three quarters of the Playcentres in this evaluation had highly or mostly effective practices to support children’s developing social and emotional competence, and understanding of appropriate behaviour.
In Playcentres where practices were highly effective, the centre’s philosophy strongly underpinned the curriculum and guided how parents supported children’s learning. Warm, positive and respectful relationships were at the heart of effective practice. High levels of parent involvement in training meant there were good role models, and new parents were well supported in their use of strategies that helped children’s developing sense of belonging.
Playcentre workshops for parents and whānau, along with introductory/induction programmes and involvement in gaining qualifications through training programmes, were crucial to effective practice. This was especially so when parents were faced with children’s challenging behaviours. Association personnel, such as liaison or field officers, also supported individual Playcentres by undertaking observations of individual children and providing formal feedback on strategies parents were using with children with challenging behaviours.
The collaborative and inclusive culture of Playcentres with highly effective practices meant parents had opportunities to discuss issues as they arose. This often happened during daily session evaluation meetings, where parents could talk about what had happened at a session and share successful strategies. In many of these Playcentres, regular and well-considered review of positive guidance procedures ensured close alignment between guidance and practice. Sometimes review was triggered by an incident or concern during a session. Spontaneous reviews enabled parents to focus on an aspect of policy or practice, and make changes based on what was happening for children.
In the 24 percent of Playcentres where practices were less effective in supporting children’s social competence, and understanding of appropriate behaviour, issues related to:
Warm, positive relationships are a feature of the Playcentre. Friendships between children are well established and their enjoyment of playing together is highly evident. All parents are part of discussions when concerns are raised and possible solutions discussed. Unhurried sessions, where adults take time to be involved with children, support their engagement in positive learning experiences.
Practices are well aligned to policy expectations. Playcentre training provides all centre members with an understanding of policy, procedures and practices about managing behaviour and supporting children’s growing social and emotional competence. Discussion about the behaviour management policy is part of induction of new centre members. Open and honest discussions about children’s challenging behaviour help parents and give them strategies for managing this.
The Association’s positive guidance policy is well implemented. Parents provide good support for children in managing their frustrations and strongly encourage them to be considerate and caring of others. Older children have opportunities to nurture and care for younger children and younger children learn by observing and imitating older peers. Children are capable and independent learners. They move confidently between areas of play, pursuing activities that interest them and often maintaining high levels of engagement for long periods. Children confidently initiate and maintain conversations with adults and seek their assistance. Toddlers have good opportunities for sensory play and exploring the environment.
Parents collectively discuss and plan for children at termly and daily evaluation meetings. They identify strategies to support children to include others in their play; develop self control in challenging situations, foster friendships, and cater for children missing friends or babies who are fearful of strangers. Parents’ interactions with children are consistently respectful, affirming, and caring.
The Association field officer and more experienced members provide strong support for newer members in their parenting and educator roles. A feature is the very high level of members who have Course 3 and one member with a Playcentre Association Certificate. Playcentre Association workshops and parent education courses promote positive guidance and peaceful, cooperative interactions in accordance with Playcentre philosophy and the basic rules of behaviour. If necessary, members collectively discuss ways to manage challenging behaviour at end of session evaluation meetings. The centre is very well managed with well developed systems of self review.
Relationships and interactions are warm and promote respect. Children from many ethnic backgrounds are included with their families in centre activities. Parents support each other, mindful of responsibilities for all children, not just their own. Children are encouraged to play in mixed age groups, learning how to interact with those younger and those older. Adults listen to children, respond appropriately to them and are sensitive to their feelings.
Routines and rituals foster leadership and independence. At flexible kai time children pour their own drink of water, collect their own food box and engage in table conversations. Although adults are hovering, they often deliberately leave children to have their own space and independent learning time.
Kindergartens are teacher-led services that are managed and administered by kindergarten associations. Associations are responsible for governance and management of individual kindergartens in their area. All kindergarten teachers are registered and hold a recognised early childhood qualification. Most kindergarten associations employ or contract senior teachers or professional services managers who have responsibility for monitoring and managing the quality of education and care provided for children.
Many of the 80 kindergartens in this evaluation were located in increasingly culturally diverse communities. Some had shifted from sessional to all-day licences, leading to changes in adult:child ratios and in the mix of ages of children attending.
Figure 3, shows that 89 percent of the kindergartens in this evaluation had highly or mostly effective practices to support children’s developing social and emotional competence.
Respectful, responsive relationships were central to highly effective practice. Philosophy statements outlined what is valued and set the foundation for the nature of relationships. Teachers were committed to working closely with parents and whānau. They had high expectations for children’s learning and behaviour. Deliberate teaching of social skills helped children express their feelings and listen to others. Teachers were also skilful at knowing when to intervene and when to stand back and allow children to negotiate and resolve problems. An ‘unhurried’ environment meant there was time for rich and sustained conversations between adults and children.
Where practice was highly effective, kindergartens were welcoming for children and their families. Physical environments were stimulating, offering children genuine choices and supporting high levels of engagement. Children had opportunities to explore their ideas and interests with teachers and to solve problems. They were skilled at supporting each other as articulate and competent communicators, valuing friendships and learning about being a friend in a trusting and secure environment. Children were highly aware of expectations and often involved in determining and reviewing rules, limits and boundaries. They were developing a strong sense of belonging.
Most kindergartens benefited from their association’s ongoing, targeted PLD and association policy guidance and support. Guidance and expectations for self review helped to ensure alignment between policy to guide teachers to support children’s social competence and practice.
Issues in the 11 percent of kindergartens where practices were less effective included:
Relationships and interactions are warm and promote respect between children and among children and teachers. Through the programme children are empowered to take increased responsibility for the wellbeing of themselves and others. Children are involved in developing the rules, limits and boundaries. These are well known to children. Those who have attended the kindergarten for longer help the new comers and explain the rules to them when and where warranted. Routines and rituals foster children’s independence and respect their preferences. Teachers are sensitive to, and knowledgeable about children’s cultural backgrounds.
Children start at two years of age at this kindergarten. They gain a real sense of whānau and belonging. Children are developing positive social skills in an emotionally supportive and caring atmosphere. There are many adult and child-initiated opportunities for children to talk in groups where they can share their ideas, take turns and contribute to group problem solve. Teachers are attuned to children and actively listen to them. Positive role modelling by teachers encourages children to develop a range of communication skills and strategies to manage their own behaviour.
Central to the curriculum and the philosophy that underpins it is the value given to children’s views and perspectives in the programme and the organisation of the environment. Children’s ideas are highly valued. Teachers make a conscious effort to foster in children respect, responsibility and cooperation. Taking responsibility is a disposition that is particularly encouraged, with the expectation that children will take responsibility for the wellbeing of themselves and others.
Children play, learn and have fun in an environment where they relate to adults and other children, and where teachers model cooperative relationships in their interactions with children, their families and with other staff. Children are secure in their belief and expectation that their opinions and ideas will be heard and that both adults and children will respond appropriately to what they say and share.
The partnership between teachers and parents and whānau is based on principles of inclusiveness and accessibility. Parents feel welcome as they assist with learning, and work alongside or observe their own child. Parents attend an afternoon playgroup where they make friends, talk to each other, and gain parenting skills. The consistency between learning at home and in the kindergarten is increased. Parents describe their improving capability to support their child’s emotional and social development.
The environment is a feature in promoting partnership. In the foyer, a large visual display of planning and evaluation of learning provides adults with an immediate connection with the learning is happening, how learning takes place and demonstrates the outcomes of the learning for children. The display is informative and interesting.
Non-English speaking/reading parents are equally able to enjoy the environment as they observe learning through the large photos of children interacting with others. The environment reflects te ao Māori with many objects, charts and descriptions displayed using signage in te reo Māori. The programme for children is truly brought alive for families through this living environment. Tuakana/teina relationships are practised. Children develop clear understandings of acceptable behaviours and are treated with consistency. They learn that they are valued.
Families are valued. Through the open-door policy and strong links with parents, families, parents, whānau and community know that they have a place to come, to “have a cup of tea”, talk and share with each other and share with their children in their learning.
Education and care centres are licensed, teacher-led services. They include all-day and sessional services, Māori immersion and Pacific language centres, and private and community-owned centres. Some centres operate from particular philosophical approaches, such as Montessori or Rudolf Steiner. Others may affiliate to institutions, organisations and community groups such as churches, tertiary providers, businesses or government departments.
Education and care centres cater for children of varying ages. Some are licensed for children under two years of age, some for children over two and others have mixed-age grouping. Children attend for varying hours, with some attending fulltime and others for only a few hours each week.
Figure 4 shows that 85 percent of the education and care centres in this evaluation had highly or mostly effective practices to support children’s developing social and emotional competence.
A common feature of highly effective practice in education and care centres was positive relationships between teachers, children and their parents and whānau. Warm, reciprocal and trusting relationships contributed to an environment which was conducive to supporting children’s social competence and emotional wellbeing. Processes for welcoming, settling and transitioning children included parents and whānau. Interactions with children were respectful and affirming. Teachers listened to children and took time to get to know them and their families.
Where practice was highly effective, communication was a strength. Managers and teachers shared information in a variety of ways, both formally and informally. These included emails, newsletters, notice boards, photographs, children’s portfolios or profile books, parent meetings and whānau hui. Teachers engaged in daily conversations with parents and whānau about their child’s learning and development.
Guidance policies were closely aligned to teacher practice. Regular policy review increased teachers’ understanding of expectations and approaches. Teachers made good use of a range of strategies to help children work with and alongside others. In some centres, stability of staffing contributed to increased consistency in teachers’ expectations of children and in their use of strategies to support children’s social and emotional wellbeing.
Teachers were generally well supported with PLD, particularly related to managing challenging behaviour and working with children with specific learning and behaviour needs.
In the 15 percent of education and care centres where practices were less effective, issues related to:
Sensitive strategies are used to settle new children. Staff have good, honest, open communication with parents. Parents are confident in asking for advice and help if needed. As a result of self review teachers and parents have a good understanding of the expectations and strategies in the behaviour management policy. Good teamwork contributes to collaboration and consistency amongst staff.
The centre is proactive in accessing support from external agencies. Staff participated in professional development to increase their awareness of neglect and abuse. Teachers are skilful at teaching children to respond appropriately to each other. Recently at a staff meeting teachers reviewed the Behaviour Management policy and talked about what it meant for them as teachers. They also discussed the different strategies they use with children. The policy was also put out to parents to contribute to the review.
Teachers draw on a range of strategies to effectively guide children’s social and emotional competence. Children have the time and space to solve their own challenges. Teachers are mindful of adapting the wide range of strategies required to support the development of skills according to the individual child’s needs. Strategies employed include:
Teachers, families and children experience respectful and affirming relationships with one another. Teachers are approachable and encourage positive socialising strategies that allow children to play together in groups as they pursue their interests. Conversations enrich children’s thinking and add complexity to their play. Children socialise in group activities and pursue their own interests as individuals, confidently approaching teachers as needed. Teachers work closely with parents and whānau sharing children’s social and emotional learning and behaviour.
The head teacher, supported by the professional services manager, business manager and centre manager, initiates and implements effective spontaneous and planned self review. Key outcomes of self review include: