Tuesday, May 31, 2011


The Task Force Report will be released tomorrow. Check out this news item from the New Zealand Herald, Tuesday 31 May 2011. Clearly some indications of what is coming in the Task Force Report tomorrow.

Help parents choose, urge preschool reviewers
By Martin Johnston

Spending on high-quality early childhood education has been shown to help children at school and in their adult lives.
"A major review of early childhood education will urge the Government to overhaul performance reporting to make it easier for parents to compare centres.

Education Minister Anne Tolley set up the taskforce in October to review the effectiveness of the Government's spending on early childhood education, set at $1.4 billion in the 2010-11 Budget. Families of the 188,924 children enrolled in licensed services pay the rest, estimated to be at least $350 million. The taskforce will release its report tomorrow.

Its chairman, Dr Michael Mintrom, associate professor of political studies at Auckland University, told the Herald its recommendations would include providing performance reports for parents. "We took the view, very much echoed in submissions, that parents don't have adequate information for making good decisions about the kind of services they want to use. "The Education Review Office does review services, but those reviews are done primarily with services themselves as the audience.

"It's often difficult for parents to decipher from those reports what would work for their child and which services are working better than others."  On Saturday, Professor Mintrom told the Early Childhood Council conference in Wellington that his group would recommend steps be taken to raise the overall quality in the sector and to reduce the variance in quality between centres.  The next day, he said there was good evidence that spending on high-quality early childhood education helped children at school and in their adult lives. The effects were greatest among children from low-income backgrounds.

Early childhood education enrolment rates were generally high, but investment was needed to increase participation from lower-income families. More funding was needed to achieve many of the recommended improvements, Professor Mintrom said, but the group recognised the financial constraints on the Government. "We are suggesting this is something we move towards, particularly when the country is in a better fiscal position," said the former Treasury economist. "Maybe there's room for reprioritisation ... We've suggested areas where you might look."

He wouldn't reveal those areas.

The Childcare Association's chief executive, Nancy Bell, said it was concerned that reprioritisation would mean more children were enrolled, but the amount of state funding stayed the same.
"We're all wondering where that money might come from. I suppose it might come from the end of 20 hours ECE, which is something we think has been very good because it enables every 3- and 4-year-old to have 20 hours free, or relatively free."

Mrs Tolley wouldn't comment on the report before its release, but did say she would consult on its recommendations.

"Any major plans for change will form part of our election campaign."

On Saturday, she outlined to the conference the Government's efforts to reach those missing out on early childhood education, including a quarter of Pasifika children and a fifth of Maori children."

Tomorrow this Task Force Report will be released. The Minister will no doubt be listening very carefully to the recommendations of this group. It is vital the the early childhood sector responds to the Task Force and makes its voice heard.

For your information the members of this Task Force are:  

Professor Richie Poulton is the Chairperson of this Task Force. Ritchie is the Director of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit at the University of Otago. The other members of the Taskforce are-

  • Associate Professor Michael Mintrom. Michael is an Associate professor of Political Studies at the University of Auckland
  • Emeritus Professor Anne Smith. Anne is the former Director of the Children's Issues Centre at the University of Otago. 
  • Aroaro Tamati. Aroaro is the Director of a Maori Immersion EC Centre  Te Kōpae Piripono. 
  • Tanya Harvey. Tanya is the General Manager of the Auckland Kindergarten Association.
  • Claire Johnstone. Claire is the General Manager of Business Services for the Hutt City Council.  
  • Laurayne Tafa. Laurayne is the Principal of Homai School in Manurewa
  • Peter Reynolds. Peter is the Chief Executive of the ECC.
  • Ron Viviani is the Sole Director of a Pasifika ECE Management Consultancy company in Auckland.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Power of Portfolios

This week I have been reminded of the power of portfolios! I was in one of the centres I support and in the last three months the portfolios have come out of an inaccessible area to an area where children and families are now able to revisit these with relative ease. I had gathered a number to look through and sat down on a comfy chair and had no sooner opened the first one than a child came up and sat with me to look at the photos and stories. As luck may have it, the portfolio I was looking at happened to be his sisters and we spent quite some time looking at friends and family that were familiar to him and having a conversation about what we saw. There were a number of favourite stories that he kept going back to and I could see the connections he was making to people, places and things that were of significance to him.  Our new friendship firmly established, when we had finished looking at the portfolio we moved on the dough table to spend more time together.
This could be an every day occurrence, we all spend time working alongside children, sharing their stories as well as their daily experiences. What is unusual here is I was a relative stranger to this centre and to this very young child, the portfolio became the vehicle for this interaction and I got to know him through his sisters portfolio (we did read through his as well). The other thing that amazed the teachers at the centre was this boy hardly ever speaks to them, they hear him speak with his family so they knew he could, often they will get gestures instead of words for an answer. The teachers said to me later that this was the most they had ever heard him speak! How fabulous that the portfolio revisiting gave him the confidence and desire to begin to have conversations.
 It is so important to engage children with their portfolios, to share the new learning stories that have been added and spend time revisiting them alongside them. I remember when I was teaching being so excited about the story I had written the night before that I would have the portfolio in hand to share with the child when they arrived in the morning!  How ever you encourage children to revisit their portfolios, what is important, is to find ways for children to not only take ownership of their portfolios, but also to revisit them regularly. From this interaction we can see the power portfolios have to build relationships, become literacy artifacts and support children to have a view of themselves as competent capable learners.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Norway, a powerful place to learn in the outdoors, including magical snowflakes!!

Magical snowflakes, each one unique!

What an amazing experience, and opportunity to join a ‘MindStretchers’ Study Tour. I felt very privileged to be invited by Claire Warden to join their tour of Nature Kindergartens and various outdoor settings in Norway. We visited kindergartens for children aged from 1 to 6 years as well as a preschool. Children in Norway go to preschool the year they turn 6. We also visited a school setting in the district as well.
I have visited a number of outdoor settings/forest kindergartens in Europe but never before had the opportunity to visit these settings in the winter. I met Claire Warden and Niki Buchan at Heathrow and we set off to Norway together.
Niki Buchan, Claire Warden and me leaving Heathrow.
Imagine my excitement when I realised that I was arriving in Norway in temperatures of minus 25!!! On arrival the landscape was covered in deep snow and had been for some months. I was well rugged up in my NZ possum merino, along with my blue puffy jacket, in fact it looked quite a lot like the ‘Michelin Man’ marching into the snowy landscape! It was such a joyful experience, there were opportunities to walk across a frozen fiord, to witness a frozen waterfall and to join in a variety of outdoor experiences, for example sledging and skiing in the snow. 
Niki, number one photographer capturing magical moments!
The week was filled with opportunities to visit a variety of settings. I was particularly excited to be in settings where children spend the entire year in the outdoors. No weather was a deterent. Rain, hail, sleet, wind and snow. All were viewed as further opportunities to learn. Opportunities to build strong and resilient learners ready to take on the world. As I joined in the activities, 

I too experienced the joy of being at one with nature. To fully play and to be deeply involved in the environment. The week was filled with both joy and magic. The joy of being in a playful environment, the wonder of seeing beautiful snowflakes in their beautiful forms for the first time. I think the following images will tell you more than my words. Interesting to note as well, that at no time did I feel cold in this environment. In the words of so many Europeans, there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing!!

Niki was the number one photographer and a number of the photos I am sharing with you were taken by her! She captured many very lovely moments on this fabulous trip. 
I will also add a few more photos of this trip to my personal blog - http://wendyelp.blogspot.com

The depth of snow across the country was extraordinary

Nature Kindergarten buildings

Shelter for the full time nature kindergarteners
A space with fire, could provide protection from a blizzard

Lunch is well underway

These blocks of snow and ice create amazing learning spaces

Children head off on an adventure through the forest
This space is a warm retreat
A place to be

These snow shoes provide some advantages in the snow

I have a deep interest in ensuring that children of all ages are exposed to risk and challenge. Our country has, I believe, an outdoor environment that is second to none. I am very interested in how we prepare children to take full advantage of such a fabulous environment not only today but also in the years ahead. In recent years, we have, as a society, become risk averse. This has in many early childhood settings undermined the provision of challenging and interesting programmes for children. We do have an important role in advocacy to protect our children’s futures by advocating for risky and challenging environments for all children from birth.

So ponder the thought. Do you ensure that children have access to indoors and outdoors at all times? Or have you institutionalised your setting and the children within it and created and indoor prison! If this is so, is this the childhood that you experienced? How can you justify this position? It cannot be because of the weather. Children can wear appropriate clothing!