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Early childhood education lays the foundation for a child's lifelong learning journey. It's a time of immense growth, exploration, and development. Within this crucial period, the role of orientation programs cannot be overstated. These programs serve as a bridge between home and school, offering invaluable opportunities for children, families, and educators to establish connections, build trust, and foster a nurturing environment. In this article, we delve into why extensive orientations in early childhood education are crucial for the well-being of children and why skipping them can have negative consequences.


Building Trust and Security

Imagine entering a new environment without any prior knowledge or familiarity. It can be daunting, overwhelming, and unsettling, especially for young children. Extensive orientations provide children with the opportunity to explore their new surroundings, meet their teachers and peers, and become accustomed to the daily routines and expectations. This familiarity helps alleviate anxiety and uncertainty, fostering a sense of security and trust in the learning environment.


Establishing Relationships

Strong relationships form the cornerstone of effective early childhood education. Orientations offer children and families the chance to develop meaningful connections with educators and staff members. Through shared experiences, conversations, and interactions, bonds are forged, and trust is cultivated. These relationships serve as a supportive network for children as they navigate the challenges and triumphs of their educational journey.



Understanding Expectations

Early childhood education encompasses a myriad of expectations, from behavioural guidelines to academic goals. Orientations provide families with valuable insights into the philosophies, values, and expectations of the educational institution. Clear communication regarding routines, policies, and procedures sets the stage for collaboration between home and school, ensuring consistency and coherence in the child's learning experience.


Promoting Emotional Wellbeing

Transitioning to a new environment can evoke a range of emotions for children, including excitement, apprehension, and apprehension. Extensive orientations create a nurturing and inclusive atmosphere where children feel valued, respected, and supported. By acknowledging and addressing their emotional needs, educators lay the groundwork for positive social-emotional development and resilience.



Enhancing Parental Engagement

Parents play a pivotal role in their child's educational journey. Orientations provide families with opportunities to actively participate in the learning process, ask questions, and voice concerns. By fostering open communication and collaboration between parents and educators, orientations promote a sense of partnership and mutual respect. Engaged parents are better equipped to support their children's learning and advocate for their needs effectively.


Why You Shouldn't Skip Orientations

Skipping orientations may seem tempting, especially for families with busy schedules or prior experience in early childhood education. However, doing so can have far-reaching implications for the child's well-being and adjustment. Without adequate orientation, children may struggle to adapt to their new environment, experience heightened levels of stress and anxiety, and face challenges in forming meaningful connections with peers and educators.


In conclusion, extensive orientations in early childhood education are invaluable for promoting the well-being, security, and success of children. By investing time and resources in these programs, we lay the foundation for a positive and enriching educational experience. Let us prioritize the holistic development of our children by embracing the transformative power of orientations.


Remember, the journey begins with a single step—a step towards building a nurturing and supportive learning community where every child has the opportunity to thrive.


References:

  • Pianta, R. C., & Walsh, D. J. (1996). High-risk children in schools: Constructing sustaining relationships. Routledge.

  • Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., & Pianta, R. C. (2000). An ecological perspective on the transition to kindergarten: A theoretical framework to guide empirical research. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 21(5), 491-511.

  • Howes, C., & Hamilton, C. E. (1992). Children's relationships with child care teachers: Stability and concordance with parental attachments. Child development, 63(4), 867-878.

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By Tracey-Lee Elliss 

Lead Pedagogical Leader 

 

Year in, year out, no matter how long the children have been in care, or if they have been at the same early learning centre with the same children and the same Educators since birth, October to December is always challenging for Educators, children, and families. As Educators we know it, prepare for it as best as we can, and try and develop tools to alleviate what is coming, but it still comes crashing through the door and requires a community to rally together. What am I referring to? End of Year Anxiety and Exhaustion. 

 

Around October each year we typically see an increase of children displaying what is first described as ‘out of character’ behaviours like not wanting to come to ‘school’, crying or holding on tightly at drop offs, retreating into themselves when typically, they are outgoing, or having highly emotional or aggressive outbursts. These are normal responses in children when they don’t have the tools to communicate what they are thinking or feeling. Please be assured that the professionals that are in your child’s room know how to support and guide each child in ways that are respectful, appropriate, and meet their needs.  

 

Imagine being a young child through October. Halloween is being advertised everywhere with decorations, costumes, and an abundance of sweet treats and all of it is at a child’s eye level. Then we move into November and it’s a quick change from promoting Halloween and straight into Christmas – all a similar product but a change in colour and more of it. This direct stimulus is seen throughout the community and media consistently, providing both excitement and stress of varying levels depending on the current family climate. 

 

We then need to include for our older children going for preschool and school orientations. They are going from a place that they feel connected to and seen as the ‘big kids’, to a brand-new space where they are the youngest children. For some children, this becomes highly overwhelming, and they need to know that their safe person is still there – this is where we may see some ‘testing type’ behaviours. For others, there is excitement for new learning opportunities, and they want to be at school NOW! Going back to their early childhood setting just isn’t good enough anymore, even though once they get there, we know they will be totally fine and have a great time. 

 

Having all these stimuli, and change consistently swirling around, and the fact that the reaction between children varies, there is no doubt that we are all exhausted and trying our best to manage each situation and day as it comes. 



  What we know?

  1. Anxiety in children is normal and it is up to families and other responsible adults in their lives to support them to develop strategies to cope. 

  2. When anxiety is combined with fatigue it can manifest as irritability, clinginess, defiance, crying at the drop of a hat, fighting with siblings or full-blown tantrums. Those big feelings that are being masked by a behaviour are what’s matters most so it’s important to make time for rest, connection, and reflection.  

  3. Children pick up on the emotions and behaviours of EVERYONE around them. When we get to October, it seems to be all about change and preparing for next year. When significant people in that child’s world are stressed, unwell, unable to regulate their emotions and bodies, the child will respond in the ways they know how.  

  

What can families do? 

  1. Acknowledge how your child feels. By validating an emotion and giving children words to ‘name’ what they might be feeling, we provide them with tools to recognise and manage their emotions and enhance their resilience. 

  2. Build, strengthen and promote supportive relationships. A strong community for a family fosters opportunities to connect and ‘share the stress’. Just being able to talk to someone who is going through the same things as you can be helpful. 

  3. Stick to the routine. By maintaining a good routine at drop off particularly, families set children up for the day. Be honest and explain any changes to pick up, acknowledge that you can see they are sad/worried/etc, and that you will see them later. Please don’t ever ‘sneak out of the room’ as this could add to their anxiety. 

  4. Practice self-care. If you are remaining calm and dealing with your stress, children will see this and take note of how manage. 

 


What can quality early learning centres do? 

  1. Keep the lines of communication open. Knowing and using the best communication method with each family aims at addressing things early rather than letting them go. 

  2. Be there and present for your child. The Educators are professionals and have many strategies and supports at their disposal. They will do EVERYTHING they can think of to bring a sense of calm and security to your child. This is not their first time so please trust that they have the same goals you do. 

  3. Include more challenging provocations through October & November to recapture attention. The children are now older and more capable to start exploring new resources or concepts. We have been practicing all these foundation skills, time to put them to the test. For example, working on balance and locomotor movement in a toddler’s age group to include using the monkey bars. Or reactive science projects that preschool aged children can do independently because they have learnt how to be safe and aware of others. 

  4. Purposefully and deliberately program plan wellness and wellbeing strategies as a focus, across the December period. While children’s agency and autonomy are embedded across the year, making a choice to solely focus on slowing down, rest and relaxation, grounding techniques, etc, we are supporting children’s need to reconnect with their sense of self.   

 

Each child and family are different, and this should be embraced and celebrated. What works for one, may not always work for another, or immediately after with the same child in a similar situation. Quality early learning services and effective Educators are there for all families and confidently state that if they are worried, they will let you know. If you concerned, perhaps make the time to speak with your child’s Team Leader in the first instance. 

 

We see you, we see your child, and the early childhood education and care sector will continue to provide a learning environment that is created for children where they can grow into who they are and be celebrated. 

  

  

References:

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In the world of early childhood education, there's a growing awareness of the powerful benefits that mixed-age groups can bring to the learning environment. Traditionally, children were grouped according to age, but today, educators are discovering the unique advantages of mixing different age groups in the same classrooms. Let's explore why mixed-age groups are so important in early childhood education.

Mixed-age groups are a great way to simulate real-life situations where people of different ages interact and collaborate. This setting provides children with an opportunity to learn from their peers without any age-based restrictions. Younger children look up to the older ones as role models and can learn by observing, imitating, and asking questions. This creates a learning culture where children can grow their skills and knowledge while supporting each other. Interacting with peers of different ages helps children understand diversity better. It allows them to empathize with others, appreciate differences and become more compassionate individuals. That not only benefits their social and emotional development but also promotes inclusivity in society.

Older children often take on the mentorship role for their younger peers. This position helps them enhance their own learning while requiring them to be patient and explain concepts to their younger counterparts. In return, this helps the younger children gain confidence and benefit from personalized guidance. Mixed-age groups offer a comprehensive range of cognitive and emotional experiences. Younger children can learn advanced concepts, while older children can revisit foundational ideas, promoting growth in cognitive abilities and emotional intelligence. Mixed-age groups can improve problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills by allowing children to negotiate with peers of different ages. It helps prepare them for real-world scenarios.

In Woden Valley ELC, mixed-age groups create a diverse, enriching, and inclusive learning environment. These groups encourage natural learning, foster empathy, and offer customized educational experiences for young learners. Ultimately, they prepare children to succeed in a world where collaboration, empathy, and adaptability are crucial. So, let's celebrate the wonders of mixed-age groups, where young minds can grow, learn, and improve together.


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