What outcomes can families expect for their child in early learning?

It‘s natural for families to discuss with friends what their young children are doing and learning in early childhood education and care. But it can be unsettling too and it can prompt many questions for early childhood educators, directors and managers. In this blog, DR WENDY BOYD demystifies ‘real learning’ and developmental milestones. She examines ACECQA‘s five domains checklist to make it easier to identify and demonstrate for families what quality early learning experiences look like for children aged three to five years. Dr Boyd is one of many expert presenters offering rich, practical and thought-provoking sessions at 2018 ECA National Conference. To book now, click here.

Families often have different expectations for their three- to five-year-old children when they attend an early learning centre or similar service. Some parents expect their child to engage in academic learning activities or ’real learning‘. They associate academic activities with formal school-based learning such as writing, reading and knowing their numbers.

Parents are reported to feel concerned if they visit their friend’s home and see their friend’s child brings home worksheets (for example dot-to-dot of their name, colouring in of Easter eggs, or other adult-directed products) from their early childhood service. They may worry their child is being left behind because their child is ‘only playing’ and not engaging in real learning.

Other parents focus on their child being safe and secure in a stimulating environment where children make choices about what they will play. Such learning environments are supported by educators who are responsive to the child, and socially construct the child’s play.

The tension lies between teacher-directed activities where children are perceived to be doing ‘real learning’, as opposed to children making choices to play according to their interests.

So, what should three- to five-year-olds be learning?

Developmental milestones provided by the Australian Children’s Early Childhood Quality Authority (ACECQA) state:

Children’s learning is ongoing and each child will progress towards the outcomes in different and equally meaningful ways.

This milestones checklist covers five domains of learning, which is linked to the curriculum and the National Quality Standards:

  1. physical
  2. social
  3. emotional
  4. cognitive
  5. language development.

The checklist indicates what a child should be able to do by a certain age, and this is linked to the early childhood education curriculum.

Developmental milestones and the Early Years Learning Framework and the National Quality StandardsCC BY-ND

Research demonstrates children’s learning achievements are greater from play-based programs, which include activities such as block building, compared to early childhood programs that have an academic focus.

The early childhood education curriculum emphasises the importance of play-based learning and research demonstrates children’s learning achievements are greater from play-based programs compared to early childhood programs that have an academic focus.

When to worry

According to the developmental milestones, parents should seek advice from a professional if their three- to five-year-old child:

  • is not understood by others
  • has speech fluency problems or stammering
  • is not playing with other children
  • is not able to have a conversation
  • is not able to go to the toilet or wash him/herself.

Parent-teacher relationships are important

Educators need to be able to explain their approach to children’s learning to parents at the outset of the child/family’s admission to the centre and reinforce this as children learn and develop.

The curriculum and the National Quality Standards both focus on educators having ‘’partnerships with families’. But if there is disagreement about what and how children should be learning, a partnership between the parents and teachers won’t develop and endure.

Parents need to be continuously informed about the learning program in the centre. There needs to be alignment between parents’ expectation of what their child will learn in an early childhood centre, with the learning program provided, and the play-based approach a good one for the children.

This blog was first published on The Conversation.

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Wendy Boyd

Dr Wendy Boyd joined Southern Cross University in February 2009 with professional expertise in the field of early childhood education and care, where she taught for 25 years. This experience has taken her into research in this field, and particularly in the field of the quality of early childhood education and care. She completed her PhD in 2011, the title of which was Parent decisions regarding paid work and care of the child. Wendy has published and presented from her PhD, and collaborated to publish research involving pre-service teachers' attitudes to child care, early childhood education for sustainability, pre-service teachers' mathematics anxiety and advocacy of pre-service teachers in the field of early childhood. Her approach to teaching of pre-service early childhood teachers has been recognised through the award of a 2011 Vice Chancellor's Citation Award for Excellence in Teaching. In 25 years of early childhood professional experience, Wendy led a large staff team to consistently achieve the highest ratings in the early childhood Quality Improvement and Accreditation System. Wendy is highly regarded in the early childhood field and active with the North Coast Branch of Early Childhood Australia, actively advocating for high quality early childhood education and care for children and their families.

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