Children becoming safe and active agents

Engaging children in a conversation on active supervision

Active supervision of children is an integral part of quality early childhood education and care. Educators fulfil their essential ethical and professional responsibilities to ensure that children are safe, secure and positively included in experiences that maximise their learning and development. Educators are made aware of this responsibility as soon as they join the profession. Qualifications teach educators how to keep children safe, and regulation and quality standards reinforce these expectations.

So, what happens when educators invite children to join in conversations about their own safety and that of others? Marlene Steiner, a Kindergarten Teacher at Alpine View Children’s Centre, shared the challenge of active supervision with children, which helped her team identify gaps in their supervision practices. Following is an account of how the team reflected on supervision in the service’s outdoor spaces and what conversations they had with children.

Our service has a large integrated outdoor space, which offers amazing learning opportunities for children from birth to six years of age. However, it also brings many challenges. The large space requires educators to position themselves to ensure a view of all children, whilst actively engaging in all of the varied experiences provided.

As part of our Quality Improvement Plan and our self- assessment of the kindergarten curriculum, we identified active supervision as an area for improvement.  Though we felt that we were demonstrating some aspects of active supervision through practices such as scanning, listening, redirecting and head-counting, we definitely needed improvement in the positioning of the educators and in communication between educators.

Our observations of children over time revealed patterns that challenged us to think about our supervision practices. We noticed that:

  • children in the kindergarten program were moving away when we approached them and tried to engage them in conversation or play
  • when the kindergarten children were outside and the younger children were inside resting/sleeping, it became increasingly difficult for us to engage with the children across such a large space
  • our previous restrictions on where children could play while only two or three teachers were present outside were affecting children’s ability to choose, make decisions, and explore and extend their own interests.

Using an action-research approach, we decided to consider supervision in a collaborative way, along with children. Our first step was to invite the children into a conversation about active supervision, to see what they understood about this topic. We set up a small-group intentional-teaching experience in the playground each day for a week and provided children with a playground set with toys representing teachers and children so they could initiate role play. Every child had the opportunity to participate over the week.

We noticed that each child took a ‘child toy’ and role played while the ‘teacher toys’ sat on the chair in the playground, not involved in the play. After some time in play, we asked the children some questions about playing outside at Alpine View:

  • What do the teachers do outside?

Amber: They walk around and keep us safe.

Axel: They look after us and see if someone’s hurt.

Ella: The teachers are there to help everyone remember the rules.

Kokoda: Everyone forgets the rules.

  • Do you think the teachers are helpful when we are outside together?

Orion: Yes, the teachers should be with the children.

  • If we ask you to move the teacher dolls, where would you move them in the playground?

Ella: One near the sand pit and one near the swings. We need more teachers near the slide and the fire pit.

  • When the teachers come to play with you outside, what do you do?

Flo: We run away.

Marlene (Teacher): Why?

Flo: Because we want to play by ourselves.

Marlene (Teacher): I think playing games by yourself is ok, but I wonder if the teachers need to know where you are as well, because we have already said the teacher’s job is to keep you safe.

Flo: The teachers know we are outside.

  • But do they know you are safe?

Ella: We find the teachers if someone is hurt.

Marlene (Teacher): It’s wonderful that you help each other like that.

  • Is it ok for the teachers to play with the children outside, like they play with them inside?

Dustin: Yes, because we talk to them outside too.

It was clear to us through this experience that children have the capacity to understand the role of the teachers, and they know how to stay safe and seek help with they need it. The realisation that the children did understand this concept assisted us to develop our practices to ensure active supervision was taking place.

When children and educators work together, as this example demonstrates, the results can be extraordinary. Next time you are faced with a practice challenge like supervision and safety, why not invite the children to think with you?

* Pseudonyms have been used to protect children’s identities.

All images featured in the blog have been provided by the author.


Marlene Steiner
I have been working in early childhood for 42 years, having completed my qualifications in WA. I taught In Kindergarten and schools in WA, NT and ACT before settling in Bright in Northeast Vic in 1986 and taking on the position of the Kindergarten teacher at Bright and District Kindergarten. During my time as the Kindergarten teacher, I was nominated for and won the regional Shining teaching award in 2011 and was runner up for the Victorian Excellence in teaching award. In 2012 I became an Early Childhood NEITA winner recipient. In 2013 a new Integrated Centre was built, and we became Alpine View Children’s Centre. Being part of a large team has enabled me to continue to grow and develop and learn new skills and an opportunity to follow one of passions of mentoring. I have been incredibly fortunate to have worked with amazing educators, many of which I have mentored to further studies. I have always been passionate about providing an environment for children that supports their individual learning styles and work closely with the schools to support successful transitions.

Catharine Hydon

Catharine Hydon is the Director and Principal Consultant at Hydon Consulting. Over the last 10 years Catharine worked with a range of organisations and governments to understand and articulate quality and inspire change. With a Masters in early childhood education, Catharine has extensive experience in the early childhood sector beginning as a teacher in a kindergarten program in the northern suburbs of Melbourne to lead roles in a range of services and projects.  Catharine draws on her experience and ongoing practice research to consider how theory connects and informs practice.  Specialising in early childhood practice and pedagogy, quality improvement, policy and governance, the delivery of integrated services to engage vulnerable children and their families.  Catharine’s involvement in the early childhood sector is an important part of her commitment to the outcomes for children.  She is a long-time member of Early Childhood Australia (ECA) and has just concluded her role as the Co-chair of the Reconciliation Advisory Group and is a regular contributor in ECA publications. Catharine has been a member of the ECA Code of Ethics working group for the last two reviews and is a co-author on the recently published Ethics in Action Implementation guide. Catharine is a dynamic speaker and collaborative facilitator and is skilled at engaging professionals in reflective dialogue and creative conversations.   

One thought on “Children becoming safe and active agents”

    Michelle Collins says:

    Thank you for sharing your story Marlene and for your part in publishing this Catharine. It was a very enlightening read.

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