Exclusive: Child's play based on butterflies and building blocks will be a key part of formal early learning under the first curriculum changes to daycare in a decade.

The nation's education ministers will launch a review of Australia's "early learning framework" this year (2021), to change the way babies, toddlers and preschoolers are taught in childcare centres.

The review will use the latest research on children's brain development.

Early Childhood Australia chief executive Samantha Page called for play-based learning to sparks kids' curiosity.

"Children should be learning as they play,'' she told News Corp Australia yesterday.

"Really good learning looks like children are playing - but they're learning about language, co-operation, science and the fundamentals of numeracy.

"That will set them up really well for learning to read, and the theory of mathematics.''

Ms Page said the childcare curriculum should not be based on rote learning.

"We're not asking children to 'sit down and repeat after me' through rote learning in the early years,'' she said.

"Little children need to be active and hands-on, to explore and be curious.

"You don't want to constrain them too much.''

CEO of Early Childhood Australia Sam Page Picture: Supplied
CEO of Early Childhood Australia Sam Page Picture: Supplied

Ms Page also predicted a return to nature-based play, after many childcare centres became "too sterile and boring'' in the 1990s.

"There is research showing the value of connecting to nature, learning about the weather, the life cycle of caterpillars and butterflies,'' she said.

"That sets children up well for learning about science down the track.''

Ms Page said today's "digital natives'' were immersed in technology.

"Children are now growing up in a digital world where everyone's connected,'' she said.

"Children need to learn to master the technology, not have it master them.

"We need them to use an iPad to take photos of a caterpillar, not to sit passively consuming the content.''

Early Learning and Care Council of Australia chief executive Elizabeth Death said play "stimulates children's brains''.

She proposed a "play based'' version of STEAM - science, technology, engineering, the arts and maths - in childcare centres.

"We want to make sure scientific concepts and technology are embedded in the curriculum,'' she said.

"Children need to be fascinated by a topic - like where does water go when you turn the tap off and the water goes down a drain?

"Let children be little scientists and hypothesise about what happened.''

The curriculum changes will highlight the need for more highly-trained teachers in childcare centres, which are already struggling with staff shortages.

All centres are required to employ at least one university-trained teacher - but early childhood teachers often prefer to work for higher wages and longer holidays in primary schools.

Staff shortages have forced the Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) to grant "staffing waivers" for one in 10 centres to operate without the required number of qualified educators.

Diana Garcia Ames, Lead educator, with kids Tomas Moreno, 5yrs 2 months, and Thomas Higgins 3yrs 11 months, at the Spring Hill Early Learning. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Diana Garcia Ames, Lead educator, with kids Tomas Moreno, 5yrs 2 months, and Thomas Higgins 3yrs 11 months, at the Spring Hill Early Learning. Picture: Steve Pohlner

'WE WANT MORE LEARNING THROUGH PLAY'

The call for more "learning through play" activities in Queensland early learning centres has been backed by staff at the Spring Hill Early Learning in Brisbane.

Centre Lead Educator Diana Garcia Ames and Senior Operations Manager Lee Gane have also backed the existing framework's versatility, despite it being originally created in 2010.

"We couldn't agree more, more play based and hands on learning programs is definitely what we want to be seen," Ms Ames said.

"We're very happy with the (existing) framework - it allows us to focus on those partnerships and community, on children being at the centre of everything that we do." She added.

The sentiment was echoed by Ms Gane, who has held a number of leadership and mentorship positions during her 30 year tenure in the industry.

"I think the one challenge with the framework is that we need to engage with it more, and educators need more opportunity and time to really unpack it." Ms Gane said.

"Every time you go back to it, you find just how rich and strong the framework actually is," she added.

"It ensures that we're not doing a cookie cutter or a one size fits all approach when it comes to each child."

Orlando Dodds, 5, and younger brother Lachlan, 3, enjoy playing at Hunters Hill Preschool. Picture: Toby Zerna
Orlando Dodds, 5, and younger brother Lachlan, 3, enjoy playing at Hunters Hill Preschool. Picture: Toby Zerna

IT'S VERY WELCOME'

Parents and staff at Hunters Hill Preschool are looking forward to the new emphasis on unlocking learning through play.

Kate Damo, the director of the not-for-profit, community-run centre, is in full support of the curriculum overhaul.

"I would like to see that we continue to scaffold children's learning with a focus on play as that's how children learn, through fun and play … it opens up the neural pathways in their brain and stimulates brain development," she said.

Ms Damo, who has been working in early learning for 30 years, said a national standard was also important.

"It (is) ensuring everyone is working towards the same outcomes for our children. It's a very welcome document," she said.

Stephanie Dodds, whose two boys attend the preschool, is also fully in favour.

"One of the benefits of play-based activities is the focus on sustainability, which teaches the children about recycling, composting and gardening, which they can then bring home," she said.

"It's not forced, it's natural and the children can really guide it themselves. There is no end date to this learning; it continues to evolve."

- with Nathan Edwards, Madeleine Damo

 

Originally published as Childcare review: New way for kids to learn



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