What matters most in quality early learning

Published on Wednesday, 10 November 2021
Last updated on Tuesday, 09 November 2021

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The Education Review Office (ERO) is all about quality education. This government agency evaluates and reports on early learning services and schools to show what’s working well and where there’s room for improvement.

They publish review reports and research papers for parents, and have released a new resource called What Matters Most For Your Child and their Learning in an Early Childhood Service.

This guide explains what you can expect from an early childhood service, and suggests questions you can ask about its quality, so let’s look at the resource a little closer and see what guidance it gives.

What does matter most for your child and their early learning?

Early childhood services do much more than just child-minding.

A quality service will help your little one develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes that support their lifelong learning, and the ERO guide is organised around six things that indicate quality in a service.

Specifically, what matters most in high quality early childhood education is that:

  1. Children’s learning and development in play-based contexts is supported through caring, learning-focused partnerships.
  2. Children, parents, and whānau contribute to a curriculum that recognises their languages, identities and cultures.
  3. Children have equitable opportunities to learn through a responsive curriculum that’s consistent with Te Whāriki.
  4. Te reo Māori and tikanga Māori are valued and an integral part of teaching and learning.
  5. Children’s learning and development is supported through culturally responsive and intentional pedagogy (teaching method and practice).
  6. Assessment practices enhance children’s mana and identity as successful learners.

As a parent it can be hard to tell if these six quality indicators are a big part of your child’s current or prospective service, but help is at hand!

The What Matters Most guide lists the things you might see, hear or feel when you’re at a quality service, and it suggests ways to open up a dialogue with educators for the good of your child’s learning.

What should you see, hear, feel and ask at a service?

This will depend on which quality indicator you’re considering.

For instance, if the service has a strong emphasis on ‘caring, learning focused partnerships,’ you may:

  • See that the service’s philosophy values whanaungatanga (the importance of relationships and connections).
  • Hear inclusive questions and comments, like ‘What is [your child] interested in at the moment?’ or ‘We’d love you to share your waiata (song) with us.’
  • Feel that you’re welcome at the service, and that children are exploring and learning through play.
  • Notice that your child is happy to see friends and educators and has plenty of opportunities to play in different activities.
  • Ask your child’s educators questions like, ‘Why is learning through play important?’ or ‘How will you keep me and my whānau informed about my child's learning and development?’

Conversely, if ‘equitable opportunities to learn’ are a strong feature at the service, you might:

  • See children looking after themselves and each other and making choices about what and how they do things.
  • Hear children talking about taking turns, and educators saying things like, ‘How can we help [child] learn?’ or ‘I wonder…’
  • Feel that everyone is treated fairly at the service, according to their needs.
  • Notice that your child shares their questions and wonderings and explores the environment at their own pace.
  • Ask your child’s educators questions like, ‘Does my child have a plan just for them?’ or ‘How do you keep things fair for children, and what do you do when children aren’t acting fairly with each other?’

That’s just a few examples of what’s in the resource, though.

The What Matters Most guide contains lots more statements of things you might notice, and talking points you could raise, for each of the six quality indicators.

How can the guide be used in different ways?

Quality remains important long after you’ve enrolled your child in early childhood education, and the good thing about this guide is that it can be used in various ways, depending on whether you’re selecting a new service or enrolled in one already:

  • If you’re choosing a service for your child, you can think about which see/hear/feel statements in the guide are most important to you, your child and whānau, and which service is the best match for them.
  • If you’re considering the quality of your child’s current service, you can think about which of the statements you experience most strongly, and whether there are some you don’t experience (in which case, you need to think about how much this matters to your family).
  • And if you’re talking to educators at your child’s service, you can use the guide to discuss what you like/appreciate about their work with you and your child, or use the talking point questions to kick off a conversation about how you feel your child is going, or ways for you to be more involved in their learning.

The over-arching aim of the guide is to help you and your whānau understand what matters most for your child and their learning in an early childhood service, and this ERO resource is definitely a quality read.

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