The ‘why’ of what we do Inquiry learning blog feature image(2)

The ‘why’ of what we do: Inquiry learning

Recently, both our educational leadership team and our kindergarten teaching teams have been exploring the work of international leadership expert, Simon Sinek. This month I would like to share the why behind our inquiry curriculum approach at Mother Duck Child Care and Kindergarten and the way we have reimagined our work with children in response to our whys.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, we began what we call the ‘Reconfiguring Quality Project’ in 2015 as a transformational exchange of ideas between myself, Karen Prestedge (Founding CEO of Mother Duck), our Chairman, Denis Hinton and alongside our Committee of Franchisees. We began by changing our approach to our curriculum in three pilot centres, Mother Duck Wynnum, Mother Duck Bellbowrie and then Mother Duck Manly, before inviting our other 7 centres to engage with the project.

What is curriculum?

First of all, let me explain what I mean by ‘curriculum’ at Mother Duck. In our settings, we believe that the curriculum is everything that happens with and alongside children from the time our doors open in welcome in the early morning, to the time our doors close farewell in the early evening. For example, this may include:

  • The way in which children and families are welcomed
  • The experiences children are offered upon arrival
  • The way we structure the rhythm of our day
  • The rituals and traditions we have such as morning meetings, tea parties, and acknowledging country
  • The large block of uninterrupted time offered to develop purposeful play in the morning
  • Our approach to nappy changing and toileting
  • The way our mealtimes and rest times are offered
  • The way we offer spaces and places of solace, peace and tranquility to support self-regulation
  • The high expectations, and the trust, we hold of children
  • The way we approach risk and problem solving with children
  • The way we honour children’s learning right up until the end of the day, with farewell rituals such as pop-up tea parties and moments of reflection and gratitude.

As you can see, I have not mentioned things such as literacy and numeracy, socialisation, gross and fine motor skills – and I have done this purposefully to invite you to think about “Is this really our ‘why’ in early childhood in the 21st century?” in terms of what we believe is important, even critical, for children to learn. I am not suggesting these skills are not important or not addressed in our early learning environments, however I DO suggest just how much more could we do if we really thought about the skills and dispositions children will need now, and into the future, in order to affect change in societyThe ‘why’ of what we do_ Inquiry learning images (4)The ‘why’ of what we do Inquiry learning images

Changing our image of the child - blog feature image 1

So, what is our why?

When I invited our team of educational leaders – our Pedagogical Coordinators – to express their thoughts of ‘the why’ of our curriculum, they used phases such as:

  • Who do we want our children to be? – we want them to be good and decent humans
  • We want both children and adults to be inquirers
  • We want both children and adults to grow as learners
  • We want to slow down our curriculum, to be present as learners
  • We want children to have the time and space to explore their theories, their thinking, their ideas about the world around them
  • We want children to love learning – not in a superficial way, but to be truly invested in their ideas and the ideas of others
  • We want to make a difference to society in the way we approach early childhood education – no gimmicks or hollow rhetoric, but to really show what is possible with very young children
  • To ensure that we attract other educators to Mother Duck who also believe there is more to early childhood than fun and games!

Let me offer you a practical example:

When I work with teaching and learning teams, I always start with where we could get smalls wins, but also affect change for children and adults. My thinking is always informed by research and what we can do in early childhood to support children in being the best, and most awesome human possible.

For personal reason reasons, I became very interested in what I call ‘the rush hours’ in early childhood (see my article on LinkedIn if you are interested). I became concerned that ‘our why’ round meal and rest times had become task driven, and the outcome was to have children fed and resting so other chores could be doneBut what if we flipped this to an experience focused on children: the way they might be able to self-regulate eating, the way they might view a meal or snack as a social occasion of worth, and to learn the social skills of preparing, eating together and being responsible for re-setting their meal place and cleaning up after themselves.

So, what we have changed through mealtimes at Mother Duck is inviting children to be active participants by:

  • Moving to progressive meals where our cafes are open for up to 90 minutes for the children to choose when they are ready to eat
  • Expecting children to be involved in the transformation of the meal/snack table, setting it with flowers or artifacts, cups, bowls and plates, cutlery, water jusgs, etc
  • Supporting children with questions such as, “Is your tummy hungry yet?” or “How hungry is your tummy?” when children are self-serving their food
  • Inviting children to engage in conversations about their lives and experiences such as – “tell us more about your family visit to the museum” or “what was it like when you went helped you brother to learn to ride his bike?”
  • Having educators actually sitting and eating with the children so they are role modeling appropriate engagement with food.
The ‘why’ of what we do_ Inquiry learning images

Through these experiences, we hope to support children in having more control over their bodies, to recognise what hunger feels like, to enjoy the experience of food as both social and physical involvement, and to develop a positive and joyful relationship with food and eating.

Our other whys

We have also begun a longer-term project on supporting children in becoming and being socially responsible citizens. We have a firm belief in this being our primary ‘why’ as we watch the adults in the world around us behave in unbecoming ways through starting wars, damaging our planet, engaging in domestic and family violence, committing heinous crimes, enacting intolerance and discrimination and the emergence of far-right extremism. While we do not teach (or preach) our primary why, we do however try very hard to support children in becoming hopeful, respectful, mindful, and good humans.

As our current inquiry for both children and adults, beginning on 2020, we have been investigating the topic, “Play and vehicle for understanding, practicing and enacting social responsibility”. We have been proposing questions for investigation such as:

  • How do we support children in understanding kindness?
  • What does it mean for children to become authentic collaborators?
  • Why is it important for children to be critical thinkers?
  • What role does problem-solving have in children’s play?
  • What does empathy look like for very young children?
  • How can we ensure children engage with digital technologies within their play?The ‘why’ of what we do_ Inquiry learning images

As I have said before, at Mother Duck we are trying to be truly authentic with our work. Whilst we always adhere to the governing regulatory requirements in Australia, we do try to be brave and courageous in our work, always responding to how we can make a difference in children’s lives and our society at large. We try to be innovators and sector leaders and NOT to do things because they have always been done a certain way!

Please reach out to us if you would like further information on our work and do look out for our Exhibition in September which will showcase many more examples of how we have reimagined our work.

Deborah Harcourt signoff

Quality Child Care at 10 Centres in The Greater Brisbane Region

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