Where do ‘children’s needs’ fit into current thinking about planning and assessment for young children?
In a conversation with a colleague recently, the discussion focused on children’s needs and how they fit into the current perspective of early childhood education, viewing children as capable and having rights.
For my colleague, the concern was that ‘children’s needs’ are no longer considered in planning. I disagreed, children’s needs are considered in planning for young children, but instead of starting with a child’s needs, educators begin planning from ‘… what children know, can do and understand’ (DEEWR, 2009, p. 17); this is the starting point for educators to collaborate with parents and children to determine learning goals and outcomes (ACECQA, 2011). Educators, parents and children decide what a child needs to know, understand and have the skills to learn.
As a result of this conversation I was challenged to write my thinking about ‘children’s needs’ down as an article.
The word ‘needs’ was once frequently written at the top of planning and assessment templates, usually associated with the terms ‘needs’, ‘interests’ and ‘strengths’. Currently, the words ‘children’s needs’, or planning and assessing for ‘children’s needs’, has disappeared from the heading and from statements. Within the Early Years Learning Framework and within National Quality Standard 1: Educational Program and Practice, the thinking and the language about planning and assessing learning has changed.
Information gathering about children’s needs has been replaced by gathering information about ‘each child’s current knowledge, ideas, culture, abilities and interests’ (ACECQA, 2011, p. 26) as the basis of planning. Gathering information based on children’s needs, interests and strengths fails to recognise the diversity, complexity and capability of individual children.
The notion of children’s needs does create an image of the child as needy. An image of children as needy is at odds with the view expressed in the Early Years Learning Framework. ‘Children actively construct their own understandings to others’ learning. They recognise their agency, capacity to initiate and lead learning, and their rights to participate in decisions that affect them, including their learning’ (DEEWR, 2009, p. 9).
The term ‘children’s needs’ fails to be useful if it narrows early childhood educators’ thinking in the planning of the educational program and practice to that of planning only to meet basic survival needs—that is the need for sleep, food and caring relationships. Educators, when planning for learning, would find it more useful to plan using learning outcomes and development outcomes, rather than needs.
The notion of ‘children’s needs’ is out of step with current positions of children’s rights. ‘Children are now viewed as citizens with entitlements and rights. Increasingly, children are seen as competent and capable and able to participate in the negotiation of their learning and social experiences’ (ECA, 2006). Changing perspectives consider children’s rights rather than needs.
The term ‘children’s needs’ has slowly disappeared from early childhood education and care planning literature. The National Quality Standards state that early childhood educators plan and assess for individual children’s learning outcomes and developmental outcomes (ACECQA, 2011).
The recognition is that these outcomes will not be the same for each child, children progress towards the learning outcomes in different ways at different rates (ACECQA, 2011). Early childhood educators use a range of ‘different teaching strategies for different children in different contexts’ (Arthur et al., 2014, p. 213) to plan, support and assess the learning of young children.
It is the core work of early childhood educators to plan and assess for learning and development. This may happen in subtle ways when we demonstrate to a child how to turn on the tap, or with more complex learning, such as how to make a friend or regulate emotions. The notion of ‘children’s needs’ however, does not provide educators with a useful framework to think about our work when planning and assessing for learning. Maybe this is why the usage of the term ‘children’s needs’ is disappearing from early education and care documents and literature.
Arthur, L., Beecher, B., Death, E., Dockett, S., & Farmer, S. (2014). Programming and planning in early childhood settings (6th edn). Australia: Cengage Learning Australia.
Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). (2011). Guide to the National Quality Standard. Retrieved 6 February, 2015 from acecqa.gov.au/national-quality-framework/the-national-quality-standard.
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). (2009). Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework. Retrieved 6 February, 2015 from docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/belonging_being_and_becoming_the_early_years_learning_framework_for_australia.pdf.
Early Childhood Australia (ECA). (2006). The Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics. Retrieved 6 February, 2015 from www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/code_of_ethics_-brochure_screenweb_2010.pdf.