Working as a family child care educator is a rewarding job and there are some dedicated and talented professionals in our field of work but let's be honest…it is a lot of work meeting programming requirements, Australian EYLF outcomes and scheme or coordination unit regulations.
There are no lunch or morning tea breaks let alone a toilet break….no programming time while another staff member takes over the children's care, no cleaner, no gardener, few sick days or holidays. It can get overwhelming…I know, I've been there this month as I try to combine running a business and family with all the usual household tasks and the landscaping we are trying to finish.
I've learnt it's important to use your time efficiently and ensure you have systems in place that work for you. I know from visiting forums, emails through my blog and messages on my facebook page that many educators are struggling the most with the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) outcomes and fitting in their planning and programming.
Although programming does take time and often has to be completed at night or weekends it doesn't need to take over and it certainly doesn't need to be as stressful as I am seeing many educators make it. I think in their quest to understand and ensure they are meeting all requirements, educators are often trying to do more and more to show potential assessors and scheme coordinators that they are fulfilling programming duties.
Don't fall into the trap of doing a little bit of everything to try and cover all areas which takes a long time and yet often doesn't actually achieve any of the outcomes well. But it does ensure stress! I firmly believe quality is better than quantity when it comes to programming.
Let's step back a little and explore what we as family day care educators actually need to do to ensure we are programming correctly and meeting the planning cycle steps as well as EYLF outcomes. I will give you examples below of the documentation and strategies I personally use to meet those steps but please keep in mind that this is a system that works for me and won't suit everyone.
I discuss in this article how to find the system and documentation templates that best work for you, your strengths and personal learning style.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, think of it as an overview to use as a launch pad for extension perhaps.
The Planning Cycle – What Do I Actually Need to Do?
Develop Your Philosophy
Develop your own personal philosophy and ensure you understand your scheme philosophy. Keep it simple. Mine is only a few paragraphs…you don't need to write an essay, just list a few of the methods, beliefs and passions that are important to you as a professional working with children in your home and that also reflect the core elements and wording of the EYLF outcomes. Refer to it often when programming.
Decide on a program template that suits how you work and understand things. Don't try to copy one you don't fully understand or that takes you hours to complete. Draw up a few drafts to get something you can work with comfortably. I went through about 5 different templates before I settled on the one below.
I needed to try them out and see how it all came together before I was happy to move forward confidently. Keep in mind that you are not just doing all this work just for a CDO, assessor or parent to see. Most won't have time to read them at great length but you will!
I do a program for my own benefit first and foremost so it needs to work for me as well as to show how I am meeting regulations and EYLF outcomes. Don't fall into the time consuming trap of writing a fancy program for others that doesn't actually make sense to you. Don't feel you need to link every single one of your activities to an outcome…it will be obvious to those who need to know and if you have a thorough understanding of the EYLF you won't need to be continuously writing links to outcomes down.
On the template above you can see that I prefer the old style box method of planning. It's how I was first taught many years ago and it is how I am most comfortable. You don't need to throw away all that you have previously used or learnt just because the EYLF is new to you…what you need to do is modify. After reading through the EYLF document I devised area headings for each box that directly relate to outcomes and the terminology…so I know that if I have all of those areas filled in I am covering all outcomes.I don't need to add links. Some weeks the program will focus a little more on some areas than others but this is ok. It depends on the children's emerging interests and our current learning focus and it is the ongoing learning that is important to show across all of your programming. I display the first 2 pages for parents on my noticeboard and the third page has space for me to reflect on the week's activities briefly…what worked, what didn't, moments that stood out, activities I could extend on and ideas for next week's planning. This reflection takes me 10 minutes and also provides a clear link to the next program. You can read more about reflection and evaluation HERE.
You don't need colour coding, tricky symbols and complicated linking systems to demonstrate your planning for individual children and groups is focused on the 5 learning outcomes. Your activities will do that, your environment will do that, you parent communication and your individual child records and documentation will do that. But you do need to read the EYLF and think about the activities and environment you plan and present to the children. You need to show spontaneous activities that have occurred during the week, intentional teaching opportunities, space for parent feedback or questions, some activities that have developed from the children's interests (things that you noticed last week), and individual focus activities (from your observations and analysis – see below). How you do this is up to you. I'm not going to go through all the different methods as I'm sure you have explored most of them already at length! But remember to find or develop a template that works for you. Decide whether it is a weekly, fortnightly or monthly program and don't be afraid to go back and re edit areas that might not be working for you. I'm a writer so I find it easy to fill in the form I have devised. I tend to write more than I need to but it makes sense to me and only takes me around 15 minutes and then another 10 minutes to do the reflection and forward planning.
Observing and Recording
Again work out what suits you and how you work rather than what you have seen others doing. I take a lot of digital camera photos and find them a wonderful prompt when I get the time to sit and reflect on individual and group learning, interests and achievements. The idea of individual records is so that you can identify and note strengths, interests and goals. There are many ways of doing this including… Formal Observations Learning Stories Photo Collages showing the process of an activity, interest or strength with or without text Portfolios containing information about each child's personality, interests, needs, artwork and activity examples, documentation of learning and progress achieved. Mind maps And many, many others! What is important to know is that you don't HAVE to do any of those things listed above. It is not a requirement, there is no regulation that states you need to use these documentation formats and if you do with what frequency. Yes you read that right I promise! What you do need to demonstrate is written evidence of a planning cycle which can show you are observing, noticing, recording, planning and evaluating. There also needs to be written evidence of children’s progress towards the Learning Outcomes. But once you have your own system in place it's not as time consuming as it seems. If you have been in early childhood for a while you will have learnt to observe and evaluate according to children's developmental stages and progress. This can still be important but the EYLF asks us to consider the child's strengths and what they can currently do rather than their deficits which I find so much easier! Once you identify a strength or skill that is of particular interest to the child or you as an educator you can then plan to extend or challenge this strength through your planned activities rather than noting what they can't do according to developmental checklists (see my templates and guide to using checklists effectively HERE) and plan to ‘improve' their skill or developmental level which could often be rather limiting to both the child and educator. I have heard some educators express concern that we are no longer focusing on developmental stages and something ‘might be missed' but all educators should still have a good working knowledge of developmental milestones and early childhood development and stages so this will also continue to inform your practise. Just in a different form. I personally don't have time to be constantly taking notes, I prefer to be fully engaged with the children and take lots of photos of special moments and general play. I use photos later when I have child free time to really reflect and as the basis for my parent communication, my observations of their learning, my critical reflections, my forward planning and as a way to bring my cycle together. You can see some examples of how I use photos in my planning below.
My advice would be not to get caught up in what you ‘have' to show, not to get down about the time it takes you away from the children and play, not to overthink the process. Just do what you can manage in a way that makes sense to you. Sometimes I don't get to my observations until the weekend but a quick scroll through photos or the daily communication forms I write for parents prompts me to remember something I wanted to acknowledge and extend upon.
Remember to take into account how often a child attends your service and their current needs. I know you already know the children in your care well and if I asked you what they are currently interested in, doing well, having some trouble with or asking questions about I know you could tell me so let that be an indicator of what you can record. You don't need to be constantly writing and assessing or plastering sticky notes everywhere no matter what people might tell you! You just need to be looking and documenting when something really stands out to you over a period of time. The reason for observing and documenting regularly is to ensure no one child is being overlooked so don't go overboard with the frequency . Don't write an observation just because you as the educator need one for this month. It's a waste of your time and the child's. If you feel your scheme has this expectation of you then question it from an informed position, understand why you are doing them and explain your process. Use what you see each day and already know to inform your documentation and grow from there. Learn more about writing meaningful observations HERE Be able to explain your system and the reasoning behind it to others.
Analysis, Reflection and Evaluation
I need to see things clearly set out to be able to make sense of a planning cycle. I don't like to clutter my program or my individual and group observation forms with lots of links and reflections so I devised a separate form to tie my observations and planning template together. I used to keep it in my programming folder until completed for that child and then slip it into their personal file folder – now I just save it in a computer file as part of each child's ‘digital learning portfolio'. This might seem like too much work to you but it's how I need to document to allow my system to be efficient, useful, show clear links, critical reflection and above all not waste my time. Ok…stay with me friends…So you have a planning template you are filling out weekly, fortnightly or monthly, you have decided on a method or two (or 3 or 4, whatever works for you) for documenting individual and group learning.…now you need to show how your individual and group observations inform your forward planning. This is where your reflection and evaluation comes in. I use the form below to tie everything together easily. I simply tick the observation format I have used in the left column which might also include the daily reflections I send home for parents as they always include the children's voices and moments of importance and learning. I then write a brief analysis of the learning evident from this observation and then add a few ideas to extend on this skill, learning or new interest. Pretty simple really and doesn't take much time.
I then write in a date I plan to add this activity to my program template (and add this to the child focus box on my plan with a link to the obs date) and later come back and reflect on the planned activity briefly. This might not happen straight away but it does happen eventually! Read more about how I link using this template HERE
Environment and Evidence
I don't have lots of little boxes that tell everyone I am linking to certain outcomes. I have a wide variety of planned and spontaneous activities occurring in my program, I have an environment indoors and outdoors that reflects children's current interests and developmental levels, I have a comprehensive parent communication system in place which offers opportunities for parent feedback and program input, displays of children's artwork and photos of past and present activities, evidence of welcoming children and helping them to belong when they attend my service.
You can read more about strategies for encouraging communication and belonging HERE.
I offer activities each day that I know will promote learning for each particular group but I also plan additional activities, intentional teaching opportunities and interactions that form the basis for individual development and learning. My documentation merely helps me plan activities for learning efficiently and effectively and helps to demonstrate over time the children's ongoing learning while in my care. What I'm trying to say is your environment, everyday planning, parent communication, health and hygiene practises and interactions with the children are just as important in the context of evidence as your planning cycle and documentation are so if you are getting stressed about the planning, work on your other areas first and gradually tie it all together in a way that suits you and the children..not an assessor or coordinator. This article has been huge I know so well done if you stuck with me to the end! Please remember that this is just my interpretation of planning, programming and documentation as a home/family day care educator, what works for me may not for you or your scheme may have more specific requirements of you. Hopefully you will feel more confident to ask for clarification or support if you don't understand their expectations though! I have worked as a FDC Coordinator and child care centre Assistant, Room Leader and Director so I have experienced all sides of the planning spectrum, requirements and associated meltdowns!. What I can tell you for sure is that I have been on visits with assessors over the years and what they will look at first and foremost is your interactions and activities with the children, parent communication methods, the materials and resources you have in your environment, evidence of a strong commitment to outdoor play and sustainability, photos of previous play and learning activities and a clear planning cycle that works well for you and shows a pattern of children's ongoing learning. Not pretty portfolios, reams of scribbled notes, fancy charts, colour coded programs and lots of ticked boxes. Take the stress off your shoulders and get back to doing what you do best….helping children in your care to Belong, Be and Become!
What do you find most difficult about planning and programming?
A Little About Me
Jodie Clarke is an early childhood professional supporting educators who want and need to stay passionate about the work they do! She has 30 years hands-on experience in the early childhood and human services sectors across many different roles.
Jodie is mum to 3 in Australia and has already helped thousands of educators with their work through her popular blog posts, activity ideas, online training and e-books.