The early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki [1], provides a framework for early childhood services to implement a curriculum that supports children’s competence and confidence as learners. Developing social competence enables children to relate to others in ways that enrich and extend their learning. Educators have a key role in nurturing children’s emotional wellbeing and helping children to develop an understanding of appropriate behaviour.

The Education Review Office (ERO) evaluated how effectively early childhood services helped children to develop social competence, emotional wellbeing and an understanding of appropriate behaviour. ERO gathered data for this evaluation from 310 early childhood services during their regular scheduled education reviews in Terms 2 and 3, and part of Term 4, 2010.

This report discusses the areas of strength, and areas for development that ERO found. It also describes the practices of specific service types - Playcentres, kindergartens and education and care services - in supporting children’s social competence, and understanding of appropriate behaviour,

Early childhood services were generally very good at helping children to learn alongside other children and adults, and to understand the limits and boundaries of acceptable behaviour. In 45 percent of the services reviewed educators used practices that were highly effective in assisting children to develop social and emotional competence. In a further 38 percent, practices were mostly effective. Fourteen percent had somewhat effective practices and three percent were not effective.

In services with highly effective practice, educators acknowledged and valued children’s cultural background and the experiences and perspectives they brought to their learning. Interactions with children were sensitive, caring and respectful. Educators had high expectations for children and they took account of parents’ aspirations in setting these expectations. They were attuned to younger children, responding sensitively to their body language and including them in conversations. Learning environments were calm and unhurried, allowing time for rich conversations and opportunities for educators to work alongside children, supporting their interactions with others.

Socially and emotionally competent children were observed by ERO to be:

  • confident in relating to other children and adults
  • initiating conversations with others and asking questions
  • considerate and supportive of younger children
  • independent problem solvers and negotiators
  • learning to respect the views and opinions of others
  • happy and settled, and familiar and comfortable with centre routines
  • secure in their relationships with others, with a strong sense of belonging.

Common features of highly effective practice in supporting children’s developing social competence and understanding of appropriate behaviour, across the service types,included:

  • respectful, responsive and reciprocal relationships among all adults involved in the centre
  • educators having respectful and supportive interactions with infants, toddlers and young children
  • good two-way communication processes for sharing relevant and timely information between educators and families
  • the provision of timely, targeted professional learning and development for educators, especially when children needed additional support with their learning and/or their behaviour was challenging
  • well-considered self review that ensures alignment of policy and practice and a consistent approach to supporting children’s wellbeing.

Where practice was not effective, this was largely due to educators’ limited understanding of policy expectations and associated lack of consistency. Turnover of educators, and/or a lack of professional leadership and support also contributed to poor practice. Other issues related to curriculum implementation, especially educators not being responsive to children’s needs and having poor quality interactions with them. In some services, the learning environment did not support children. Children’s behaviour, learning and development were not helped by their limited access to resources and the poor management of group times.