Exploring Holistic Approaches for Early Childhood Educators

With a growing body of world research emphasizing the importance of holistic approaches to education, early childhood educators are being challenged to incorporate a teaching practice that focuses less on the traditional milestones of academic development, and more on the complete physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing of a child (UNESCO, 2002).  The research is compelling and studies show that over time,  even persons with average IQ (Intellectual Intelligence) but with high EI (Emotional Intelligence) are significantly more successful than those with much higher IQs but low EI (Goleman, 1995).

So what does this mean for an early childhood educator?  The Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) as part of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) describes:

Holistic approaches to teaching and learning recognize the connectedness of mind, body and spirit. When early childhood educators take a holistic approach they pay attention to children’s physical, personal, social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing as well as cognitive aspects of learning.  While educators may plan or assess with a focus on a particular outcome or component of learning, they see children’s learning as integrated and interconnected. They recognize the connections between children, families and communities and the importance of reciprocal relationships and partnerships for learning. They see learning as a social activity and value collaborative learning and community participation.  An integrated, holistic approach to teaching and learning also focuses on connections to the natural world. Educators foster children’s capacity to understand and respect the natural environment and the interdependence between people, plants, animals and the land (DEEWR, 2009).

Teaching Philosophies that Embrace Holistic Approaches

Over the last few decades many varied holistic education philosophies have emerged.  Montessori prescribed a “prepared environment” containing specific materials that children use, independently for the most part, to learn at their own pace, responding to particular readiness for specific sensory and intellectual stimuli.  Rudolf Steiner‘s ‘Waldorf’ approach is based on intuitive (his followers claim clairvoyant) understanding of the needs of the evolving soul at each level of development: children in Waldorf schools are divided into grades according to age and spend most of their time learning through group activities carefully planned and led by the teacher (who is also supposed to have intuitive insight into children’s personalities and immediate needs) (Miller, n.d). Some holistic approaches (for example, Quaker schools, or “neo-humanist” education based on the teachings of Tantric guru P.R. Sarkar) have adopted meditation, periods of silent reflection or journaling, yoga and other centering practices (Kesson, 2002). Other holistic approaches (the Reggio Emilia system of early childhood education comes to mind) place great emphasis on artistic self-expression and engaged creativity. Krishnamurti, on the other hand, advised against methods as such and suggested that a caring, open, non-authoritarian relationship between people leads to genuine learning (Forbes, 2002)(Miller,n.d).

Methods for Implementing Holistic Approaches

While there is clearly no one method, Miller (2006) after review of a number of different holistic teaching methodologies, describes four key aspects of holistic approach based teaching:

1.       Learning is organic, emergent, experimental and based on cooperation.   Pre-planned teaching is facilitated only so far as to initiate open ended questioning and inquiry;

2.       There is a strong sense of community and engagement between children, parents and educators where those members feel strongly to care for one another

3.       There is a great respect for children’s interior life,  with methods ranging from environmental spaces that facilitate time out of competitive nosier environments, to time to ask deeper questions about the meaning of life and spirituality.

4.       There are strong connections to nature,  with the care and connection to the environment incorporated throughout the curriculum.

In another interesting article by Ron Miller he describes the aspirations of the holistic educator:

Holistic education aims to call forth from people an intrinsic reverence for life and a passionate love of learning. This is done, not through an academic "curriculum" that condenses the world into instructional packages, but through direct engagement with the environment. Holistic education nurtures a sense of wonder. Montessori, for example, spoke of "cosmic" education: Help the person feel part of the wholeness of the universe, and learning will naturally be enchanted and inviting. There is no one best way to accomplish this goal, there are many paths of learning and the holistic educator values them all; what is appropriate for some children and adults, in some situations, in some historical and social contexts, may not be best for others. The art of holistic education lies in its responsiveness to the diverse learning styles and needs of evolving human beings (Miller, n.d).

What Do Holistic Approaches Look Like in Practice?

Taking responsibility for development of a “whole child” however is a significant endeavor for any early childhood educator:  guiding students to finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to spiritual values such as compassion and peace.  Rather than be overwhelmed by the many varied ideals of holistic education, it is recommended teachers find opportunities (approaches) to implement the various elements of holistic education into their practice.   

An helpful example of this could be further exploration and extension of child’s interests, taking a small idea and unpacking it into many opportunities for learning: an interest in cars could be expanded into: where cars came from; the first wheel;  what types of cars are used around the world; what type of people use cars; understanding if and why their family uses a car; why other people use cars; how over use of cars can affect our health; what cars are doing to our environment;  alternatives to cars; new designs to overcome environmental impact etc.  This example shows us how an early childhood teacher can expand learning into all aspects of a child’s life including family, the environment, history, empathy and understanding. 

Another example could be offering art with pastels, exploring different artists in history, colours, how light makes colour, rainbows, how pastels are made, the earliest pastels made by indigenous people, their drawings and what they tell us about them, what other materials to draw on, people who use pastels from architects to street art, using pastels to explore our feelings and express our moods etc.

Finally another very important example is working with families.  Engaging families by inviting them to visit, speak, bring in cultural or work artefacts to share and participate in children’s programs fosters enormous sense of pride and connectiveness for children.   


Holistic approaches encompass, as the names suggests, a broad range of teaching goals and aspirations for children’s learning that extends well beyond academic learning into fields of social and emotional wellbeing.  While this can at first seem overwhelming, teachers can find the small opportunities in their day to day practice to incorporate and extend ideas that promote connection, community and wellbeing.


Find out more about LIFT and other early childhood management tools

This article has been written by Raise Learning,  providers of LIFT (Learning Involving Families & Teachers - an online programming and documentation tool) and other early childhood management tools.  If you would like to know more about Raise Learning or LIFT please visit our home page.   



Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations for the Council of Australian Governments (2009) retrieved 5/3/2012 

Department of education, Michgan (2001) “WHAT RESEARCH SAYS ABOUT PARENT INVOLVEMENT IN CHILDREN’S EDUCATION In Relation to Academic Achievement” retrieved 5/3/2012

Miller, Ron (n.d) “A brief introduction to holistic education” retrieved 4/3/2012 

Miller, Ron (2006) “ Path of Learning - Educating the Child’s “Inner Power”” retrieved 5/3/2012 

UNESCO (2002), “An Integrated Approach to Early Childhood Education and Care - Early Childhood and Family Policy Series n°3”, retrieved 4/3/2002

Comments (5):

Eva Maddison on

Planning for holistic means of engagement, parents and teachers allow the child to feel confident, and provide for the ability to master skills, as the “pressure” to attain specific outcomes are diminished. Through the use of open ended materials, parents and teachers offer the child the opportunity to explore, to ask, to wonder and grow with each and every experience.

Jean on

I would like to know if we can use this method for teens in teaching English.

sofi on

Thank you for information
I really appreciated.

supladita dhang on

Why teacher is holistic in nature ?

tc mazibuko on

Describe an activity that you can facilitate holistic development of children (ensure that there is intergration of all the domains

Leave a comment:

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Demonstrating Responsive Programming Using LIFT


Important Preface:

A brief note about 'cycles'

Before showing you how to link your observations to planned learning experiences in LIFT, we first need to explain how LIFT sorts and records learning experiences into 'cycles'. In LIFT, we use the term 'cycles' as the majority of teachers plan cyclically:  daily, weekly or monthly.   However,  it is important to note that we also understand that flexibility is paramount, therefore in LIFT you do not need to stick to any particular programming cycle and can vary the start and finish date of any 'cycle' to suit your individual teaching needs and curriculum. If you do not plan cyclically, it is probably more helpful for you to think of a cycle in LIFT as a grouping date against which you will record a number of experiences.  It is probably also helpful to note at this point that LIFT also allows further flexibility for you to only run certain experiences on certain days within a planning cycle.  These can be recorded against the day provided and/or in the instructions and notes of the experience. 

Understanding the meaning of being 'responsive'

Too often teachers confuse the requirement of providing a 'responsive curriculum' with 'emergent on the day' planning.  There is nothing wrong with 'planning in the now' provided it is implemented well, however equally there is nothing wrong (or less responsive)  with planning follow up experiences next week or even next month.  We believe that teachers should focus more strongly on being timely.  That is,  teachers need to respond to children's learning cues/needs and follow them up in such a way that is: 

- still effective (the original objective is still valid and the follow up learning is still meaningful); and

- is practical and allows teachers sufficient time to plan and prepare resources and activities that support that learning.

More often that not a timely 'follow up' will be to 'follow up' the learning immediately or in the next program.  However, there are times when a timely response might be linking a current observation to a future cycle weeks if not months in advance.  Here are some great examples of reasons why a teacher may wish to program weeks or even months in advance:

- it's winter (football season) and a father tells you that his son loves watching the one day cricket matches with him.  A great immediate response to this might be to put cricket on the current program but what about linking this up to the cycle in summer that corresponds with the first one day cricket match.  How amazing would it be to prompt sharing of this activity at this time. 

- it's currently March and a child who recently immigrated from India has just joined your centre.  You discuss with the child's family cultural issues.  The child's mother tells you that the child loves to make friendship bracelets from the 'Friendship Festival' celebrated in India in August each year.  Yes you could put friendship bracelets on the next program but creating a whole follow up experience in August would also be very special to both the child and their family.  

Retrospective documentation

While LIFT supports 'forward planning', there will be many times where you will observe and respond to children's learning with experiences on the spot.  In such circumstances you will be entering your planned experiences after you have already ran them.  While this always is challenging for teachers to keep their documentation as current as is practicable, this practice is not discouraged and we advise that teachers use complementary methods, such as brief hand written notes on their plans, to communicate modifications to their daily learning offerings.   Later you can use LIFT to describe in more detail reasons and reflections for changes and additions to your programs. 

Auditing & Review

LIFT allows educators to audit and review their work using a number of tools.  One tool is our observation auditing tool which counts the number of observations and how many were linked/followed up by a 'follow up' planned experience.  There are no hard and fast rules for how often this should be done, but as a general rule there should be evidence that it occurs regularly for all children.  An example of this might be to see at least half of the observations over the last 3 months have been followed up with planned experiences. 



Planning an experience following an observation

Step one: When entering your observation....

In the "Future Opportunities and Possibilities" make a quick note about an experience and if required and objective that you want to achieve.  Select the cycle you wish to follow up in.  You don't need to note this elsewhere to remind you to follow up this, these are automatically listed/ 'ready to use' when you open the cycle you have link to.

Step two: Use prompts from step one ("Linked Observations") to guide your planned experiences. 

After opening your program cycle. Click on the "Linked Observations' tab.  This will show all the observations and any prompts/objectives you noted that you wanted to follow up in your program.  We recommend that you review all the observations carefully first as it may be helpful for you to combine the needs of more than one child with the one experience.  

For example:
You wanted to do more "counting" activities for Mark, another dramatic role play activity for Sarah and do some more writing experiences with Tabitha.  A great follow up experience for all these children might be a shop play area where you could offer:
- writing of signs, orders and receipts
- labeling of pretend sales items
- pretend money
- dress ups and props such as aprons, baskets etc. 


LIFT is designed to be flexible.  We believe strongly that documentation should support the demonstration of linkage however also not to be too onerous on the teacher. Sometimes teachers may wish to explicitly link a child/child's observation to an experience, other times you may wish to provide a general note.  Here are two ways you can show linkage in LIFT.

1. Add an activity that directly correlates to a prompt/objective.  

For example in your 'future opportunities and possibilities' your write:   Provide a sand experience for Paul to extend on Paul's current enjoyment of this activity. If you were then to provide a Sand experience, no detailed explanation is required.  Another teacher or a validator can readily see the correlation.  

It is important to note that the connection should be obvious, hence had the teacher written "provide a sensory/construction experience for Paul" then it might be a stretch for another person to be able to readily make the connection/link to a 'sand play experience' and we would recommend using the methods described below.

2. Add an activity and link to a observation/child or multiple observation/children

LIFT prompts you to describe why you linked to an activity ("Reasons for this experience").  When creating activities you can choose to manual describe your links or to use the drop down menus to link to one or more observations/children.  

Before doing this it is important to note that linking to observations/children in LIFT takes time.  Normal LIFT forms take 4-5 seconds to load, however when linking to observations it takes approximately 20 seconds for each linked observation.  It is for this reason we recommend that you take a moment to think about how you wish to write up your 'reasons' to save any unnecessary wait time.  

1. Add activity with 'No linked observation' - use this as the fastest and quickest way to add an activity without linking an ob (4-5 second load time).  Write up links in the notes under "Reasons for this experience".
2. Linking to one observation: Add activity with with a linked observation (20 second load time)
3. Linking to more than one observation: Add activity as per point 1 and then "View and Edit" the observation to add multiple 

Step four: Evaluating a follow up experience

Sometimes we are prompted to provide a learning experience without individual learning objectives and hence in such circumstances a follow up to an individual observation is probably not required.  In this way, our general reflections provide sufficient opportunity to reflect on how an experience went.

However, sometimes we may wish to record how our learning experience went.  We can do this two ways.
1. Record a "Post Program Reflection' notes against the original observation.  
This provides the educator with an opportunity to quickly note how an experience went, particular useful if no further learning activities or follow up are required.  
2. Create an observation from a program reflection.  
We recommend this method as it provides opportunities for you to further extend learning which is documented in the children observation portfolio timeline. 
Through a click of a button in the Activities tab, you can select the activity you wish to create an observation from.  All the activity reflections and observations will automatically be added, including notes about the program.  You can then edit the reflection and customise for the child's observation you are adding.  You then edit the observation as you would normally, potentially providing another follow up learning experience.  In theory you could iterate a continuous loop of observe - plan - reflect to observation - plan ...etc...etc...

Extending a program or creating a follow up experience from a previous learning experience

Following up and extending experiences based on group needs, prompts and cues is also something teachers can easily do at anytime.  In LIFT you can link LIFT to previous experiences through the "Reasons for choosing the experience" notes area of LIFT.  LIFT allows whole experiences to be easily duplicated (Goto Activities tab to duplicate experiences).  

Using Google Drive with LIFT

LIFT Quality portal helps early childhood services easily manage communication, collaboration and linking to the EYLF.  Users can upload their policies, procedures, completed forms etc. and share them with other educators at their service and with families. 

Simply upload your document, categorise it against the NQS. 


LIFT also allows you to upload electronic web links to online document management services like Dropbox and Google Drive. The advantage of using these services is that they give users the additional flexibility to control sharing and editing of the documents.  For example, you can give permission to anyone to download and view a document as well as given certain persons additional privileges to edit a document. 

Here's an example of how you can use Google Documents to manage sharing of a Policy in LIFT. 

If you don't already have one, you'll need to create a google account.  Click here to learn more. 

Once you have set up your account, open google drive and upload a document.  Select the arrow to upload an existing document or create to make a new one from scratch!


Once you have uploaded the document, you can edit the sharing restrictions you have on your document by clicking the share button on the top right hand side of your screen. 






You can then allow the document to anyone who can access the link (it will not be published in any shared forums).








Once you have done this, then all you need to do is add other persons you wish to have editing rights to your document. 


When you are done, copy your link into LIFT by pasting into the weblink box instead of uploading a document.



















Top tips for 'educational leaders' using LIFT

Being an educational leader in an early childhood service is a hugely challenging role, particularly in light of changes to curriculum that have occurred over the last two years with implementation of the new National Quality Standard and the Early Years Learning Framework. 

National Quality Standard Professional Learning Program describes the educational leader as someone who not only posses great knowledge of early childhood theory, practice and research, but also who is observant of individual children and team member needs, backgrounds, strengths and weakness and is able to deliver a collaborative and mentored approach to managing issues.

So at the coal face what does that mean to you as an early childhood leader?  Below we have outlined some key tasks LIFT can help you to develop yourself as an early childhood leader while also helping you collaborate and mentor. 


Goal setting

Always on a path of continuous improvement, you need to work with your team to set the vision for your service and breakdown that vision into simple target and goals. Typically your vision statement will be your philosophy statement and you will want to continuously review and revise this.  In LIFT upload your philosophy statement into your service set up page. Click Setup, Service & insert your philosophy statement.

Now take out the key aspects of vision/philosophy statement and break them down into goals.  You will use these to link to your observations & programs.  In LIFT click setup, Add goals (or Goals if you want to edit and existing goals).  Make sure you goals are simple and easily measurable against.  Later you can review your progress against certain goals by doing an audit/search of observations that link to that goal.



Audit & Review

Take stock of current practice?  What are you actually doing?  What are you achieving?  This requires the educational leader to step back and take careful observations of practice. We recommend you document these observations in the Quality area of LIFT.  They can later be used to reflect or create actions from. Goto Quality, Add document.  You can link your audit, review, observation ‘Document’ to a particular quality element which you can later search for when reflecting overall about a particular quality standard or element.
We have also created an ‘Auditing’ page in LIFT where educational leaders can take stock of key ‘overview’ aspects of planning including:

  • Counts/Types of observation methods used;

  • Counts of observations with a follow up experience (demonstrating responsiveness)
  • Links to the EYLF (a broad look at what individuals, teams or even the whole service are focused on)
  • Links to various EYLF outcomes;
  • Participation of families (comments on observations).
  • Reflections against programs, including the type and content of critical reflection;
  • Reviews against different NQS practices or principles.


Take time to think about what you do, why you do it and what you could do differently?  Reflecting allows us to collect our thoughts and also allows us to share our thoughts with others. There are a number of ways you can reflect in LIFT:
- Include reflections about learning in observations (generally written by the person making the observation)
- Reflect against a planned experience (again generally written by the program leader)
- Write a general reflection in the Quality Area of LIFT.  In LIFT goto Quality, Add Document.  You can link your reflection to a particular quality element which you can later search for when reflecting overall about a particular quality standard or element. These can also be shared with families if you don’t hide them and they can also collaborate and comment on your reflections.
- Write an educational leader reflection against a planned experience.  This reflection, while created in the plans section of LIFT, creates a ‘Document’ in the quality area of LIFT.  This way you can always go back and search for those reflections and see any responses and further comments that might be made against them.  These are processed as ‘comments’ against those documents. These reflections are also emailed to a particular educator.  LIFT uses the email address that they registered with (eg. their username).

Take Action

After reflecting, you are likely to identify opportunities to improve.  In LIFT these actions are recorded as 'Tasks'.  You can raise an action/task from a document (eg. audit, reflection etc.) in LIFT by viewing that document.  Click Quality, Search documents, enter the criteria of your search, click Search, click on the right hand side of your chosen document “Raise task”).  Don’t forget that you also have the option of including that task in your Quality Improvement Plan.  When editing a task (Click Quality, Search tasks, Click right hand side “Details” of task to edit) you can choose “Include in your QIP” and this will post this action to your QIP.  



National Quality Standard Professional Learning Program - Newsletter 33: The educational leader  

Create learning stories using LIFT

A very popular observation technique: learning stories are illustrative narratives about children's learning which involves all the stakeholder who are involved and/or support children's learning, including children, educators & families. "Learning stories shows a child’s progress over time and tend to be a more engaging form of reporting. The stories also provide valuable information which can be used to establish strong links between home and the care environment, and provide parents with an insight into what happens when the child is in care" (Ryan, K. nd). 


Learning stories evolved from New Zealand's Te Whariki curriculum and over time have been simplified into three key questions:

1. Describe the learning
2. Review the learning
3. What's next (what will the stakeholders do to further support or enhance the learning)
Another technique typically used in learning stories is the recording of 'voices' of each stakeholder including:
- the child's voice
- the educator's voice
- the families voice
The LIFT observation method principally follows this pathway, allow users to flexibly report using language and style unique to the teacher.  Here is an example of a learning story that has been created in LIFT.  This learning story also has links to the EYLF, NQS & a program follow up!
It is important to note that learning stories are just that "a story" and the level of detail of it is entirely individual.  You could simply or add more detail to your learning story, depending on the focus of your story and the readability of the narrative. For your reference, here are some great online samples of learning stories I have found include: 
http://earlylearningstories.info/ - some of the best early childhood examples I have seen in this format. 
http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/figures/v9n2-perry/lukes-plan.pdf - some more great early childhood examples

Learning Through Routines

Key links to Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF)
- EYLF Principle 1. Secure, Respectful and Reciprocal Relationships
- EYLF Principle 2. Partnerships
- EYLF Practice 1. Holistic Approaches
- EYLF Practice 2. Learning through Play
- EYLF Practice 3. Intentional Teaching
- EYLF Practice 5. Learning Environments
- EYLF Practice 7. Continuity of Learning & Transitions
- Linked to all five EYLF learning outcomes 

What is a routine?

A routine can be thought of as any procedure, process, or pattern of action that is used repeatedly to manage and facilitate the accomplishment of specific goals or tasks” - (Visible Thinking, n.d)

Importance of Routines

Uncertainty and change is innately stressful for all human beings (Cooperative Extension Service, 1989).  Routines are important to everybody, but they are especially for young children as it allows children to navigate the continuous challenge of learning new things from the safe and comforting boundaries that are created by routines.  Gan Discovery (2002) outlines the importance of routines/patterns as emotional regulators to decrease stress, anxiety and conflict.  Gil (2010) extends on this further  and outlines how routines help integrate learning with an ‘organized connection’.  

Educator guiding toddler through clean up routine

Routines are important because they give children a sense of security and control over their environment. Children learn what to expect at various times in the day and as they begin to participate in these routines, they will experience a sense of control and satisfaction at being able to perform part of or all of the tasks associated with the routine.

Routines are also effective in managing negative behaviour particularly when it comes to dealing with transitions into new tasks. Routines allow children to emotionally prepare for changes that are to come.  For example, a child will know that certain things happen as he gets ready for bed and as he progresses through the routine, he will also know what is expected of him when the task is completed.

Some of the important skills children learn through routines include: self control, positive behaviour and social skills. Routines can even help strengthen the relationship between you and your child as power struggles are significantly reduced (Zero to Three, n.d.).

Learning Through Routines

Routines provide a two pronged approach to fostering learning:

1.       they provide learning within the routine itself and the specific tasks associated with the routine;

2.       through the process of generalization (i.e., establishing a frame of reference that can be used to learn other skills and concepts (Gil, 2010).

Routines provide a context for learning to take place. Routines help children learn how their world is organized and what they need to do in order to interact successfully in that world (Sussmen, 2011). For example, after they wake up they need to get dressed and have breakfast before getting ready to go to daycare. At daycare, they need to hang up their jacket, say good morning to the teacher and then they will have time for some free play for a while before they may later sit down together as a group. Routines will give each child a sense of continuity throughout the day as well as letting them know what to expect next.  Within routines children also learn methods associated with math and sequencing: used to follow an ordered sequence of activities, determine relationships between elements, count, and make simple calculations

Routines not only help children learn about their day, they can also help develop motor skills as they begin to practice the tasks involved with the routine. A child’s confidence level will also begin to increase as they become more and more successful at performing those tasks. Children may initially not be able to get dressed by themselves but they will slowly develop the skills necessary and will soon be able to accomplish the task on their own.

Getting parents involved not only in passing on key routines from home, but also sharing in key routines for your early childhood service, will strengthen the security and comfort children take from routines. 

Routines can also provide opportunities for little children to slowly increase their responsibility and care of self and it is important that families and educators work patiently together to strengthen children’s confidence to do this.

Social skills can also be taught through routines such as welcoming, saying goodbye, turn taking and group times.  Gill (2010) refer to this as ‘tactile and/ or visual modeling’: used when learning a new action in the routine or repeating an action that has not yet been mastered.    By teaching children what behaviours are appropriate and at what times, it can teach them how to start conversations and interact with other people (Sussmen, 2011).  Routines can give educators and parents a chance to practice conversations with their child as well as providing an opportunity for the child to initiate conversation. Children can inform educators and parents when it’s time for a routine to take place as well as what comes next in the routine.

Routines also teach children specific skills involved in the routine as well as skills that can be used in other circumstances (Rodriguez-Gil, 2010).  For example, a routine that is learned in a pre-school will be brought home and practiced there. If the expectation at the pre-school is that children arrive and immediately put their school bag away, this routine can be imported into the family home so that children will put their school bag away when they get home as well.

Routines can also have a powerful effect on language learning because of all the opportunities they provide excellent prompts for discussion. As educators and parents progress through the various daily routines, they can name the items that are being used in the routine, they can discuss each action as it is being done and they can discuss what comes next. Their child will begin to understand the vocabulary that is associated with the routine. Gill (2010) refers to this as ‘adapted communication’: used by the child and the communication partner as needed in the routine to anticipate, to name, to make choices and to have a conversation about actions, people, objects, places, physical sensations and emotions.

Making Routines effective

In order for routines to be a practical source for learning you need to make sure that you have enough time to take each task within the routine slowly and you need to be sure that you discuss each individual task with your child (Linden, 2000). You need to try and do the same thing the same way each time you do a routine and you should also try to use the same language to help reinforce language learning.  Take time out to write your routines down and discuss them which your colleagues, children and their families (Linden 2000).

You shouldn’t think of routines as tasks that need to be performed but instead as opportunities to interact in a meaningful way with your child. By talking, touching and interacting in other ways with your child, you can actually use daily routines to help develop and strengthen the bond with your child as well as providing the opportunity to learn a number of different skills.

Think of ways you can continue or leverage learning from a routine.  Here are some examples:

-          implement written literacy elements into a routine, by including words to label/describe routines, children can use the predictive understanding of their routines to learn new words;

-          use routine and maintenance times as opportunities to explore conversation and interaction with children such as during nappy change and meal times.

-          discuss routines with children and ask them how their routines could be changed, extended or improved;

-          look for opportunities to extend or challenge children in the routine, such as ways to take on more responsibility or complete more difficult tasks. 

-          Look for new routine opportunities which children and educators can use on a daily basis to explore, discuss question and investigate (Here is a link to some amazing classroom ideas for doing this).

Authors: Natalie Higgins and David Gregory

About Raise Learning

This article has been written by Raise Learning,  providers of LIFT (Learning Involving Families & Teachers - an online programming and documentation tool) and other early childhood management tools.  If you would like to know more about Raise Learning or LIFT please visit our home page.   


Cooperative Extension Service (1989)  Michigan State University ”Stress and Change” Extension bulletin E-2201, Home Economics Program retrieved 19/03/2012 from Stress and Change 

Gan Discovery (2002) “Child Care Routines - The Value and Importance” retrived 19/03/2012 from Child Care Routines

Linden, J., 200, Good Habits – Learning Through Routines, viewed March 14, 2012, from Good Habits Learning Through Routines

Rodriguez-Gil, G., 2010. Routine-Based Learning, reSources, vol. 15 no. 2, viewed March 14, 2012,   Routine Based Learning

Sussmen, F., 2011, The Power of Using Everyday Routines to Promote Young Children's Language and Social Skills. The Hanen Centre, viewed March 14, 2012, The Power of Using Everyday Routines to Promote Young Children's Language and Social Skills

Visible Thinking (no date) "Thinking Routines" retrieved 19 March 2012 from  Thinking Routines

Zero to Three, n.d., Love, Learning and Routines, viewed March 14, 2012, Love Learning and Routines

Promoting Diversity, Equity and Cultural Competence in the Early Years

Key links to Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF)
EYLF Principle 4. Respect for Diversity
EYLF Practice 5. Learning Environments
EYLF Practice 6. Cultural Competence
EYLF Outcome 1. : Children Have a Strong Sense of Identity
EYLF Outcome 2. : Children are Connected With and Contribute to their World


One of the contemporary issues facing educators and families today is raising children to become culturally competent and sensitive from a young age.  When interacting with people whose culture and background are different from their own, children need to learn how to respect and accept these differences, else they risk growing up into adults who contribute to problems brought about by discrimination.  Only by teaching children cultural competence can we hope to have a society based on mutual respect and acceptance.


Turning Differences into Opportunities

As an early childhood educator, how would you respond to confronting statements such as these: “Maria can’t really speak English well, can she? Is she stupid?” or even: “Michael says Keisha’s skin is so dark because it’s very dirty”.

Children are naturally curious about the people around them. They attempt to formulate a sense of their own identity by defining what makes them different from everyone else. Thus, a child will typically ask questions about observable characteristics like skin color, accent, or manner of dress. “Children are around two or three when they begin to notice physical differences among people” (Kupetz, 2012). For the most part, these questions are innocent and not motivated by any intention to offend or hurt.  It is therefore, up to the parents and educators to use these opportunities to send a fair and accurate message about each culture, so that children learn that these differences only makes a person unique, not inferior.

Take the case of Inigo, a kindergartener who recently migrated to Adelaide with his family. On his first day in his new school, his classmates noticed that he spoke English with an accent, and that his hair and skin was darker than most of his classmates. His teacher, instead of ignoring these observations or forbidding the students to verbalize them, explained that his hair and skin were darker because his parents had dark hair and skin too. She also explained that he spoke English with an accent because he spoke Spanish and was still getting used to English. She pointed out that there are different sounds of accents which mostly depend on where you come from, such as American accents, British accents, and even Australian accents. The educator may also find opportunities to extend an appreciation for Spain, including facts about Spain and Spanish people.  A quick check on Google could also lead to some fun fact discussions like the fact that there are no tooth fairies in Spain - instead, there is a tooth mouse named Ratoncito Pérez!

Addressing such observations and questions about differences is a proactive way to foster cultural competence. The teacher can maximize the potential for learning by helping students see each cultural encounter as an enriching experience. “The process of intercultural interaction, of contact between people from different cultural backgrounds and a readiness to learn from one another, is the real foundation for equality” (Balcock 2010, p.33).


Role Model More Than Just Tolerance!  Teach Enrichment from Difference

Understanding the impact of the environment children are raised in, including the child’s own culture, family, social and educational settings, is vital for both parents and educators who will need to work collaboratively to actively prevent development of bias in young children. Foremost to this is for the key adults in a child’s life to be sensitive to the fact that young children are always observing their behaviours, both good and bad.  Children base their concept of right or wrong according to what adults around them are saying and doing; they take adult behavior as cues for social expectations and norms (Wilson, n.d). It is for this reason that educators need to find numerous opportunities to display desirable behaviours. In practice this means that educators need to find ways for children to become familiar with, understand and if possible even experience joy from difference.  Families NSW (2011) recommends simple examples ways to embrace diversity within an early childhood setting:

·         Make a point of acknowledging where all the children in the group come from by simply hanging a map and tagging locations with the child’s name and country of origin.

·         Showcase a country each week or month and take the opportunity to invite parents to share words or phrases from their language, songs, music, food, traditional dance and costumes.

·         Celebrate culturally diverse calendar events throughout the year.

·         Display and make accessible multicultural and multilingual resources.

Cultural Competence - It’s Not Enough to Just Raise Cultural Awareness

Child Australia (n.d) argues that it is not enough to have cultural awareness, cultural knowledge and cultural sensitivity.  Instead educators need to implement a multi-dimensional approach which includes not just strategies to enrich through difference but also strategies to actively manage bias when it occurs. Here are some strategies to counteract bias:

·         When confronted, openly discuss and acknowledge difference

When a child points out that a certain person is different, he or she is merely making an observation, and not a malicious statement. It is therefore up to the educator to come up with a response that includes three important elements. First, the response should acknowledge that the observation is indeed valid. Second, the response should also explain the reason behind the observation and finally, the response should foster awareness towards a more respectful and accepting attitude.  In the beginning of this article, one of the statements that we cited was:

“Maria can’t really speak English well, can she? Is she stupid?”

Incorporating the three key elements of acknowledge, explain and awareness, a good response to this statement would be:

“Yes, Maria can’t speak English as well as you but that is just because it is not the language which she uses at home. In fact, because she can speak Spanish really well and is also getting really good in English.  Learning another language is difficult and she is actually very clever learning to speak two languages. You see, there are a lot of languages in the world, and each country has its own language. Maria just happened to be from a country where their language was Spanish. Did you know that Spanish and English both originated from Latin so there are some words that are very similar?”

·         Using creative means that encourage children to reflect on their own behaviour.

If a student comes up to you and blurts out: “Michael says Keisha’s skin is so dark because it’s very dirty”, simply responding “No, that’s not true” is not going to make children truly understand the fallacy of such statement. Instead, you need to come up with an explanation which their young logic can process. For instance: “Your hair is dark brown instead of blonde like Sade’s. Does that mean that your hair is dirtier than hers?” This response will help them understand that the being dark is not an issue of hygiene, and help remove the stigma attached to being dark-colored.

·         Responsibly intervening when bias-related incidents occur at home or in the classroom.

An adult who chooses to do nothing when a bias-related incident such as teasing or name-calling occurs is effectively endorsing such behavior. When you learn that such behavior has been committed, take the time to deal with it in a calm, non-punitive manner. In a matter-of-fact tone, simply formulate a response incorporating the key elements of acknowledge, explain and awareness. Make it clear that discriminatory behavior is extremely undesirable and will not be tolerated.

·         Equip children with techniques that will enable them to respond appropriately when they experience or witness discriminatory behavior.

By exemplifying model behavior about cultural acceptance, you are helping children in your care understand how to deal with discriminatory behavior. While this is good, take note that children may be unable to verbalize or formulate appropriate responses without guidance. If needed, you can sit them down (individually or as a group) and teach them how to politely respond to biased and discriminatory statements.

·         Get strategic

Understanding cultural influence in our environment requires educators to actively seek and investigate not just the influences of the child’s family, but also the influences within the service, the community and from themselves (NCCC, 2001).  This could be done through a range of ways including:

-          Team meetings and brainstorming;

-          Surveys and questionnaires;

-          Self assessment and review of systems, policies, procedures  and practice;

-          Other questioning and self assessments like: Are the basic needs for inclusion of all persons using the service being met? Does the service need to provide more help, fact sheets, information or other forms of support?

-          Discussions with families and collections of family information and if possible cultural artifacts.

-          Collating observations of children


Educators can ask themselves how highly services value diversity. Where are their differences? Are these differences physical?  Do these differences confront any persons within the service’s values, principle or ideals? What can I actively do to preemptively eliminate or reduce bias?

Promoting inclusion and cultural competence can often be very challenging and take a long time to implement into practice.  Hence it is recommend that educators create simple strategic plans that map out short and long term strategies for change and improvement.  This way all stakeholders can ‘move together’ towards fostering a culturally competent learning environment.



Authors: Natalie Higgins and Chyrstal Ventura 

About Raise Learning

This article has been written by Raise Learning,  providers of LIFT (Learning Involving Families & Teachers - an online programming and documentation tool) and other early childhood management tools.  If you would like to know more about Raise Learning or LIFT please visit our home page.   

 Further information and links for diversity, inclusion and cultural competence?

For more resources on promoting diversity and equity during the early years, you can the websites listed below or get in touch with various organisations dedicated to this cause. For instance, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) (link to www.adl.org) regularly holds workshops for teachers and families so that they can be better equipped with skills and tools for coping with multi-cultural issues.









Peter Baldock. 2010. Google Books. [ONLINE] Available at: Accessed 06 March 12.

Banks, J. A , 2010. Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives. 5th ed. Washington: AK Press.

Child Australia  Accessed 06 March 12

Families NSW (2011) Celebrating Cultural Diversity in Early Childhood Services  retrieved 7/03/2012 

Barbara Kupetz, Early childhood NEWS - Article Reading Center. 2012. Early childhood NEWS - Article Reading Center. [ONLINE] [Accessed 05 March 2012].

The Miller Early Childhood Initiative of A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute. 2012. The Miller Early Childhood Initiative of A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute. [ONLINE]  [Accessed 05 March 2012].

National Center for Cultural Competence (2011) The Role of Self-Assessment in Achieving Cultural Competence. The Cultural Competence Exchange, Issue 4. Retrieved 7/3/2012

Sue Wilson (no date) Fostering Goodness & Caring: Promoting Moral Development of Young Children retrieved 7/3/2012

Diversity in Practice tip sheet, retrieved 7 March 2013