Decision making through the lens of wellbeing Five chapters by the five Eden Hills Kindergarten staff: Tracey, Penny, Jan, Sarah & Lisa Our own Wellbeing impacts on children’s learning: If we are happy, children are happy. If children are happy, they are receptive to learning. The Eden Hills Kindergarten Staff team attended a retreat to attempt to document the Wellbeing for Learning Inquiry undertaken over the last 12 months. Each staff member wrote on a different aspect of our Inquiry so please excuse some repetition and/or overlaps. INTRODUCTION- ‘Setting the Scene’ - through the ‘Tracey’ Lens As my wheels crackle onto the gravel parking area, I don’t have any hesitant feelings – I am happy and excited to be arriving at work. I put on my DECS badge and lock my car, then turn and greet Sam, one of our students and Mum, Amy with brother Max and new baby Finn. I greet them individually as I know them all by name and walk with them along the path to the tall childproof gate, holding it open for them and three other families as we all arrive for our day at EDEN HILLS KINDERGARTEN. Although the air is bitey on a typical winter morning in the Blackwood Hills, the general atmosphere of our kindergarten is very warm and inviting - smiles and genuine energy to start the day with the chil- dren’s learning and wellbeing at the forefront of our minds. Visually, our worksite is idyllic. The rustic landscape of gums, backing onto a Bush Reserve, unhin- dered by buildings, traffic or houses, is the perfect setting for our preschoolers to feel a sense of free- dom and let their imaginations run wild as they learn through play at Eden Hills Kindergarten. The learning space is rich and inviting, with an environmental emphasis. As you enter the outdoor learning area, you will see: • a weedy patch with rubber boots lined up and shovels in the dirt to the right • hammocks and sack seats hanging from trees • sheets draped over smaller branches for homemade cubbies • ladder swings, tyre swings, cradle swings and standard swings • a rocking bridge (aiding balance and releasing enthusiasm) • a vegetable garden with spinach and parsley growing • a worm farm • a large sandpit with various activities (digging, pots & pans, trucks, building walls etc) • a trampoline • painting AND THAT’S JUST FOR TODAY’S SESSION!!! Inside is the ‘cha(ka)-orderly’ bustle of parents joining in an activity with their children, chatting to staff, children and staff settling into their day at Kindy. Angus is making a building out of the many donated cylinders and boxes whilst Mum, Bronny sits next to him, breastfeeding Esther and admiring his archi- tectural skills. Lisa, our teacher, is at the playdough table surrounded by children measuring out the flour and salt and deciding on what colour to add this week. Opposite, Penny is in the open plan kitchen, making the staff their morning cup of freshly brewed cof- fee, offering Bronny and other adults a cuppa too. Sarah is talking to Lucas’s mum about his transition to school, and how that might look as he moves into the New Arrivals Program in a bilingual classroom. Jan is at the puzzle table, surrounded by excited learners, sharing their weekend stories. I greet many children as I step over the wooden block construction, reinforcing one of the basics of well being – Inclusion. I deposit my belongings into my locker in the office ready to join Hannah and her mum, Fleur (the child I support on Mondays) whom I am genuinely happy to see. Just a typical day at my lovely and engaging worksite at Eden Hills Kindergarten where I am immersed in Wellbeing and Learning. Eden Hills Kindergarten has a whole site focus on Wellbeing, inclusive of chil- dren, staff, parents and visitors. Children- As a team we focus on extending the children’s learning using their interests and imagination as our starting point. We are also aware that a number of our children access two or more care/education settings each week. In using wellbeing as our inquiry topic we focus on the wellbeing of children over these sites by visiting them in their different services to gain a perspective into their lives. We gather infor- mation on routines, timetables and children’s involvement in the curriculum, and share this with the staff at our site, providing invaluable information for programming for the children’s needs. Staff- We look at staff wellbeing by focusing on enhancing team spirit and camaraderie. We attend staff meetings every 3 weeks, enjoy social interactions and attend relevant Professional Learning to extend our knowledge and keep us all on the same page. Parents – We have an emphasis on relationships at Eden Hills Kindergarten. We recognise that it is those casual conversations with our parents and staff that strengthen these relationships, allowing for (maybe more important) conversations in the future. Twilight sessions, New Babies’ afternoons, Breakfast at Kindy and learning about different languages and cultures are all ways that families are included in our curriculum. Diversity of children Our kindergarten welcomes all children: from birth to five in our playgroup and 3.5 years to 5+ years in the Kindergarten program. We embrace and appreciate the diversity of our student base, as a chance to learn about different cultures, celebrations, disabilities and families in general, incorporating this wonderful di- versity into a rich and child-centered program. In conclusion, I know that wellbeing for learning is our site focus when I glance around at our happy chil- dren - children supported by staff in extending their own learning. I see Harper collecting a moth from the ground and, with help, assessing the library resource to find a similar moth in a book to extend her knowledge; Piers lining up wild flowers he has picked along the pave- ment and, with help, using chalk to divide and number them; and Sam and Liam working collaboratively on a symmetrical block construction. I hope this sets the scene and gives you a snapshot of the environment where I work and learn, and have friendship and support. 2. Relationships and Wellbeing - through the ‘Lisa’ lens In developing our Wellbeing Inquiry, our initial question led us to focus on children who were in multiple care/educational settings. Our application linked us with Blackwood Kindergarten. However, as time elapsed our Inquiry took on a more individual approach and we followed our own “leads”. We collated in- formation about individual children who were in multiple settings and sought permission from their parents and the other Centres involved, to visit them at their other site. This group of children became the focus for observation at our centre and we recorded 2 minute videos to analyse using the Reflect Respect Relate rating scales. This gave us an indication of the level of their en- gagement in our curriculum and enabled us to compare this with their level of engagement in another set- ting. At a staff Training & Development day, we visited children at Montessori Kids and Flinders University Child Care Centre and took 2 minute video clips and collected information including the name of the teacher/carer, an outline of the child’s day at the Centre, favourite activities, friendships, how often they attend and for how long, child/adult ratios, issues or concerns, how we can work together to maximize each child’s wellbeing. This involved staff going out in teams and then reporting back to the rest of the group and reflecting/collating the information we had gathered. The children using Out of School Hours Care (OSHC) at Eden Hills Primary School are transitioned on a daily basis by Kindergarten staff and settled in with Sue, the OSHC coordinator. Daily interactions with these children and OSHC staff provided us with opportunities to enhance Learner Wellbeing by acting as an advocate for the child – relating information between child and staff and providing opportunities to dis- pel fears and ‘mistruths’ which we were able to share with the child, child’s family and other staff. These mistruths included “custard was not optional at OSHC” and that a Kindergarten child did not have a voice to express what they wanted whether it be a favorite toy, the security of a buddy, the need to chill out and sleep or the desire to access the playground. This evolving/developing/strengthening relationship between the Kindergarten and the OSHC staff pro- vided opportunities to strengthen our relationship and lead to changes in outcomes for children. The growing respect we had for each other also led to conversations around other topics such as: • Readiness for school • Appropriateness of care/routine/expectations • Emotional resilience • Developing coping strategies Looking at everything with a ‘Wellbeing’ lens provided us with other opportunities to enhance wellbeing for more than just individual children in multiple care/educational settings. We identified a ‘new mum’ as being isolated. Soomin’s Mum, Yooyung, was expecting a baby. We hadn’t seen Yooyung for a couple of weeks. One day, Soomin came in to let us know that she had a new brother. We said we were looking for- ward to meeting him. We reiterated this to her Dad. After 9 weeks, Yooyung came to pick up Soomin with Taksek. She said a couple of things that alerted me to the fact that she had felt very isolated. With this in mind, we organised an afternoon tea for Mums with new babies. Once we started listing them, we found that we had 12 in 12 months at the Centre. 10 Mums out of the 12 came to the afternoon tea, supporting the fact that there was a strong community need for that kind of connection. Dates have been set for the next 2 baby groups. This has created a support network to provide each person in the group with opportu- nities to learn from each other and share their experiences. Wellbeing in action! Less stressed Mums nurture children for better learning outcomes. 3. Wellbeing for Children/Individuals through the ‘Sarah’ lens Our Learner Wellbeing Inquiry began with a focus on the Partnerships’ Learner Wellbeing Domain by look- ing at the needs of children in multiple care/education settings. In analyzing this, we gathered information from families about the activities children were involved in over a week. We found that one child was in six different settings each week. If I take a moment to focus on this individual, how does he engage in the program offered at each setting? What is constant for him and what are the variables? How can we as a Kindergarten staff team support him in his learning and facilitate transitions and communication? With these children in mind, the staff organised visits to the other settings children attended. These in- cluded Child Care Centres, Out of School Hours Care, Independent Early Learning Centres, and schools if the children were moving towards transition. We gathered information on the timetable, routines, program, how often the child attended and for how long. We found that while there were many things that were similar across settings, some aspects were dramatically different. For example how to get a drink ranged from independently accessing their own wa- ter bottle to asking a staff member for a cup of water. Some things we could influence and some not. We found, in many circumstances that by initiating the visit, we had opened an important communication channel, both with the staff at the other service and the parents. More informal exchanges ensued once we had made the connection. Changes implemented/action taken as a result of this included: • making a ‘bag tag’ for children with a list of things to collect at the end of the day if they were going to OSHC • including an optional dance program in the Kindergarten day to reduce the risk of ‘overscheduling’ children • speaking with parents about care/education options that were more seamless. In making decisions ‘through the lens of Wellbeing, we have positively influenced the learning of individu- als at our Centre. I give an example: Lucas’s parents informed me that he would be starting at a local Primary School in the NAP (New Arrivals Program) the following term. Lucas had been with us for 2 terms and had little English. I contacted the school to ask about bringing Lucas for an informal visit before the formal visits began. I had written per- mission from his parents for him to travel in my car. I had assumed that Lucas’s parents had had contact with the school, met the principal, been to visit. Lucas and I went to school. The school Principal had vis- ited the Kindergarten recently, so Lucas had a photo of him in his hand. I wasn’t sure how much Lucas understood when I told him where we were going. Lucas seemed very anxious and bewildered. Our first stop was the office, where we saw the Principal. We found Lucas’ classroom and met his teacher; we went for a walk around the playground, visited the toilets and spent some time in the classroom. The Bilin- gual Assistant came and spoke to us and the expression on Lucas’s face changed from fear to animation as Sheena spoke to him in Chinese! A quiet and reserved boy was transformed with an animated and en- thusiastic expression. He had so much to tell Sheena. He told her he was from China and his English was- n’t very good, that he had never seen his new school before as he had been living with his grandmother in China until a few months ago. Sheena was able to reassure him that all the children in the class were in the same position and that they were all learning together. We organised 3 more visits-2 with Kindy staff and one where his Dad took him. Thank goodness we had a Wellbeing focus at the Centre which enabled Lucas to have some time at school, gain reassurance and a sense of belonging to feel more relaxed about this new stage in his learning journey! 4. Family and Wellbeing: through the ‘Penny’ lens To foster and nurture the Domains of wellbeing it includes our community, importantly the ‘families’ of those children who attend Eden Hills Kindergarten. In adopting a whole site focus on wellbeing we put an emphasis on relationships being formed with all families, encouraging their involvement on all levels. Remembering that adults are learners as well, the centre has included in each of our term learning plans; opportunities for parents and carers to attend and participate in events that will allow them to inquire and open their minds, challenge their viewpoints and ultimately encourage a holistic perspective of wellbeing and learning for their child. Events organised at our site are rich and varied including: • Parent Evenings: speakers on “ Optimism”, “Helicopter Parents”, Coping with Bullying”, “Child Pro- tection”, “Grief counseling” • Biggest Morning Tea, where all Kindergarten families, school community and local members are invited. • Twilight Kindy: Science and Maths and Wellbeing focused evenings. These organised events give more family members and carers a chance to attend their 4 year olds’ daily environment, to press ‘stop’ on busy adult worlds and remember to lean over and engage with children in their special world ie, to be available. It offers a chance to remember what it’s like to sit cross legged on the floor in a circle and share something about yourself, or about an activity you just did. So simple, but many parents and carers rarely have the opportunity to do this and then reflect on their learning. These evenings have been very important in building bridges between parents who work and our kinder- garten environment, promoting healthy relationships between children and their families and staff and families. A four year old can’t always articulate their daily challenges and success, so creating these op- portunities, allows staff to observe family matrixes and understand how they connect. It is these casual conversations with our Kindergarten families and staff that build pathways and trust. It often allows for fu- ture conversations that are of great importance for future learning. For example, Brock has a speech delay and limited language. Meeting his father and seeing their strong connection was a great insight into their communication style which is gentle and subtle. Brock was the main character in a game at mat time; his Dad’s expression revealed his pride. It put another piece in the wellbeing puzzle for us to see how father and son connect and communicate. There are many other opportunities for families to connect with the Kindergarten, including being a parent helper, joining Governing Council, opportunities to hire the kindy to hold family celebrations, sharing per- sona dolls to give a connection with the home by sharing personal routines and rituals and many more. As a site we are supportive of changing family relationships. With fewer families having accessible ex- tended family, many look to us for support as we are approachable and available and have created a posi- tive wellbeing environment. 5. Staff Wellbeing - Through the ‘Jan’ lens Staff wellbeing is a priority as our own Wellbeing impacts on children’s learning: If we are happy, children are happy. If children are happy, they are receptive to learning. As a staff team we all get on well, communicate and understand each other. We laugh and cry together. The whole site has a happy and relaxed atmosphere where everyone belongs and is accepted, acknowl- edged through birthdays, happy hours, cluster meetings and staff meetings. Decision making is shared by the whole team. Our staff meetings are open, confidential and honest. Problems are solved, decisions are made jointly and everyone can speak their mind. Our meetings are inclusive and we enjoy having a good chat and getting our problems off our chest. We are all patient, supportive, sharing, calm, friendly, acknowledge individuality, committed and respect each other. We look out for each other, are non-judgmental, share positive and negative comments from parents, watch and applaud as children turn corners and reach milestones and appreciate how good our home life is when we have insights into the lives of others. Professional Learning Days are supported by the whole staff team. We take turns in driving and navigat- ing to and from the venue, giving us time to chat, reflect and de-brief on the way home. We are aware of each staff member’s family commitments and try to balance training day schedules within our own family timetables. We all help the centre run smoothly by supporting working bees, Governing Council, fund-raising, banking, shopping and paying accounts. Staff also support Governing Council with pancake breakfasts, Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea and use their own cars for school transition visits, OSHC runs and excursions. Our Staff Christmas Lunch is family friendly where we bring our children, enjoy Kris Kringle, good food and have fun. We are friends out of work and enjoy each others company, bring resources from home, keep- ing the centre personal. We pass on clothes and share movies within the team. We each have a per- sonal/professional Portfolio of certificates, thank-you cards etc. in the office highlighting the great work we all do. Conclusion Why is wellbeing important? In visiting the Centre and making a decision about whether this is the best educational environment for their child, parents often focus on the ‘learning’ that happens. What does literacy & numeracy look like? How does Eden Hills Kindergarten prepare my child for school? But if children don’t have a sense of wellbeing, how can they engage and learn the more traditional/formal aspects of the curriculum ? Our staff have authentic relationships creating a warm, welcoming environment. Each individual staff member brings a sense of wellbeing to the Centre. The Inquiry has brought together the 5 lenses of well- being into a cohesive whole. The Inquiry highlights the connections between wellbeing and learning and the importance of a whole of site focus on Wellbeing in the Site Learning Plan, where the documented wellbeing goals are supported and funded through Professional Leaning Days, visits to other sites, and by having wellbeing for learning on the agenda for staff and Governing Council meetings.