Enabling environments and children’s agency: Connecting the pieces

The Early Years Learning Framework (DEEWR, 2009, p. 45) defines agency as being able to make choices and decisions, to influence events and to have an impact on one’s world. Children’s agency is supported through intentional teaching, involvement in decision making and reciprocal, attuned responsive interactions. (ACECQA, 2018) all of which constitute the environments that teachers/ educators provide for children.

Enabling environments that support teaching and learning for all children provide opportunities for both planned and spontaneous teaching and learning, they show evidence of an understanding of children’s learning, development and wellbeing as they are challenging, promoting the notion of high expectations for children (DEEWR, 2009) and stimulating. They are underpinned by children’s theories, perspectives and ideas that engage and challenge them to what to extend on their learning in new and exciting ways.

At Goodstart, we have adopted the use of two internationally renowned environmental rating scales to focus on environments to improve outcomes for children across our services. They are:

  • ECERS-E: The Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (Sylva, Siraj-Blatchford & Taggart, 2010)
  • Assessing Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care: Sustained Shared Thinking and Emotional Well-being (SSTEW) Scale for 2-5-year-olds provision (Siraj, Kingston & Melhuish, 2015).

Research suggests that these tools can raise standards of quality in 3- 5 years rooms (Siraj, Howard, Kingston, Neisen-Hewett, Melhuish, & de Rosnay, 2019). This program has now been in place for two years in all our early learning centres. Teachers and educators use the scales to self-assess in order to understand the quality of learning environments and teaching practices. Results are then used to set goals to focus improvement in each particular centre. These resources make very clear what is required in identified areas of learning to ensure high-quality, enabling environments that supports teaching and learning and children’s agency.

Gagan, and Natsumi two of our teachers from Goodstart Calamvale, share their experiences with the tools:

Below, Gagan describes how the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS-E) has supported the design and resourcing of the room.

ECERS-E has helped me in planning, reflecting and self-evaluating the physical environment in the kindergarten room. It has helped me in deepening my knowledge of what “high quality early childhood education” looks like, our strengths and areas of development. Based on the assessment results as well as I was able to design the room into areas that consider literacy, mathematics, science and the natural environment, and take into account diversity. Critically reflecting on all the areas in the room, brainstorming with colleagues about having specific resources in the areas as well as listening to children’s voices and understanding their interests, helped in the design of the room. I always make sure to keep the areas refreshed and ‘alive’ by adding or taking away resources and provocations. Making sure the areas provide support to the ongoing projects, emergent interests of the children and cater to the specific needs, has helped in children being engaged and has immensely improved the learning and development outcomes for the children.

Natsumi reflects on one of her goals as a self-assessment using SSTEW:

One of my goals focuses on “Encouraging sustained shared thinking through storytelling, sharing books, signing and rhymes” (p. 30) and I have been working on building resources and engaging in shared and sustained conversations with children in small groups. Hand-made puppets and felt boards have been added to our book corner for children to access and use alone, in small groups or with the support of an educator. Consideration of grouping sizes has further enabled me to engage in better conversations with children and focus on scaffolding learning. I have also learnt that this way of working allows me to provide many opportunities for children to revisit their own learning in their own ways. They are given ample space and time to co-construct and deepen their knowledge base and I find myself balancing my role as an observer, facilitator or researcher in children’s learning.

By providing quality learning areas and facilitating a positive learning environment we are able to create and sustain enabling environments that authentically supports children’s agency.


When considering and evaluating your teaching environment, you are encouraged to critically self-reflect:

  1. Do the learning areas within my room promote literacy, math, science, diversity and creativity?
  2. How am I keeping children engaged and curious within these learning areas to promote learning?
  3. Am I promoting child choice and independence through your early learning program?


This blog was written as part of Goodstart’s sponsorship package for the 2021 ECA National Conference.

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A walk in the park: Creating rich, irresistible environments for young children
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Take a walk with two experienced early childhood professionals through their 25-year journey creating rich learning environments for young children. A unique book for the Australian context. Drawing on inspiration from Lilian Katz, the schools of Reggio Emilia, Montessori and Art Costa’s Habits of Mind. Purchase here on the ECA Shop.

Catherine Tisdell

Catherine works at Goodstart Early Learning as the National Lead within the Pedagogy and Practice team. Catherine oversees the Environmental Rating Scales quality uplift program, supervision and policy. Catherine has worked within the early years sector for the last 28 years, in various teaching and centre management roles, as well as vocational education and educational management. Catherine is passionate about pedagogical leadership within the context of continuous improvement to enable Goodstart’s early childhood practitioners to be the very best teachers and educators they can be to support child outcomes.

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