Community engagement in Early Childhood Education (ECE) services is essential for providing quality care. The National Quality Framework (NQF) supports the need for services to build links and encourage children and their families to connect with their community.
Even in a regional area, it can take time to form links within the local community. That said, the benefits of those connections are immense. While the links for each service vary on the needs of the children and their families, they can also provide invaluable resources for Educators.
ECE services are a central figure in shaping partnerships that benefit children. By staying involved and contributing to the local community, Educators nurture a sense of belonging for children and create a network of support for children as they grow.
In this article, Centre Director, Astrid Cancrini from Petit Early Learning Journey Port Douglas shares with us how community involvement benefits their children and families with a recent example. We also reflect on:
- What is community engagement in early childhood education?
- Why it takes a community to raise a child.
- The benefits of community involvement in early childhood development.
What is community engagement in early childhood education?
A core element of the NQF and Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) is the concept of community. A sense of community is central to the development of a child’s belonging and identity and reflected in Petit ELJ’s philosophy: ‘Connection with community supports health and wellbeing’.
The NQF associates the value of community in Quality Area 1 for curriculum decision and in Quality Area 6 for supporting families and enhancing a child’s inclusion, learning and wellbeing. These elements are reflected in the EYLF’s Learning Outcome 2 – children are connected with and contribute to their world.
‘A sense of community plays a paramount role in supporting children to develop feelings of belonging and security,’ says Astrid. ‘Additionally, as children grow and develop, authentic relationships with the outer world help them to find their place, and lead them to understand shared values and how society works.’
While the concept of community has different meanings to individuals and centres, in early childhood education, community engagement involves:
- The ability to communicate information to support families, children and Educators.
- The development of partnerships to enhance learning and continuity.
- The collaboration of individuals and groups to provide resources and contribute to learning and development.
- The quality of those relationships and connections to achieve a shared purpose.
Educators involved with their local community are better positioned to relate to their centre’s children and families. They can give children learning experiences that are meaningful and relevant.
Why it takes a community to raise a child
Adapted from an African proverb, the saying “It takes a community to raise a child”, relates to how external groups outside the family nucleus impact a child’s learning and development.
Relationships with people influence the way a child’s brain develops. The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child believes that community relationships define who children are, what they can become, and why they are important.
The development of a local community within an ECE service should centre around the child. ACECQA identifies several groups and associations that make up a centre’s local community:
- Family or carers.
- Extended family.
- Other children that attend the centre.
- The centre’s team of Educators and support staff.
- Approved provider.
- Extended family.
- Other external educational professionals, such as Inclusion Support professionals and schools.
- Health services.
- Family support services, including parenting and playgroups.
- Cultural and faith-based groups
- Community places or location-based services such as transport, shopping centres or parks.
- Other people and organisations that share or support the learning and development needs of children.
At Petit Early Learning Journey, the child is always at the centre of our local communities. Placing the child first helps us to identify our community members.
Identifying local community members is an essential step towards achieving a shared purpose through connecting and collaboration. To encourage children to interact within their local community, Educators must lead by example to establish quality links and meaningful opportunities.
The benefits of community involvement in early childhood development
A centre’s community involvement has extensive benefits for all its community members, including the children, their families and our Educators.
Visible day-to-day relationships help children make connections with the world. Positive interactions:
- Generate a sense of belonging where children feel a part of their community.
- Create opportunities for children to learn how to influence, identify and integrate with their local community.
- Show children how the world works and the shared values of society.
- Help children to form their identity.
- Teach children how to approach challenges, build knowledge and thrive.
Families also benefit from local community involvement. For some families, their interaction with us is the first meaningful link to the broader local community. Community connections:
- Encourage a sense of belonging for families.
- Promote collaboration and information sharing with other family services and support organisations.
- Facilitate targeted support for families.
Our role as an ECE service is to build meaningful community connections with families. Educators can discover beneficial community connections by having genuine conversations with parents and carers.
Consultation with families and carers also assists us to identify the community links that already exist within a service, such as a parent who works at the local veterinary clinic.
‘We use a variety of strategies to build links.’ says Astrid. ‘I make it my priority to develop and maintain genuine and meaningful relationships with all our families, and our Educators do the same.
Through conversations with our families, we find out what their needs are, what support is needed, and where they can help. As well, we observe the children’s interests and extend on those.’
Community involvement also benefits our service and Educators by sharing information with specialist support services and encouraging professional development. Petit ELJ supports the sharing of knowledge with other Educators through our professional development workshops.
Community engagement example at Port Douglas
A recent example of community engagement at Petit Early Learning Journey Port Douglas brought together different members of the local community. To make the most of the opportunity, our centre and Educators collaborated with other parts of their local community.
‘At Port Douglas, we have a small but supportive community. Authentic and genuine relationships are the essential tools used to create an ongoing connection to our community.
Although we organise regular visits to the centre from different members of our community, such as the Police and Fire Brigade, our latest significant involvement with the community was during “Child Protection” week, where we went out into our local community to participate in a Family Fun Day.
For this event, we partnered with a local parent and child support group, as well as other early childhood education services in the area. It was an amazing event.
First, we had to organise a local bus to pick up the children and their accompanying parents and carers, from the different centres.
The event itself included: train rides, free food, music, pop up playgrounds and farm animals. The local fire brigade was also there. The children learnt about safety, and they had the opportunity to meet other children in the community. And all of this in a superb location.
Family Fun Day also supported our families by providing the opportunity for them to network with other families in our community. They also received information about free services available to families in Port Douglas including interest free loans, parent support groups and playgroups.’
Community engagement develops opportunities like sporting and cultural incursions. Being involved in local community events and celebrations is also an excellent approach for developing a child’s respect for diversity and knowledge of their community.
When Educators get involved and contribute to the local community, they promote the rights of the child. Their community engagement supports the shared goals for children’s learning, health and wellbeing.
Contribute to your local community with Petit Early Learning Journey
At Petit ELJ, we cultivate community both within and without our early childhood services. We encourage our teams to build authentic connections, contribute to community events and advocate for local issues that enhance our educational programs and learning experiences.
Our centre teams seek out and collaborate with local services, specialist supports and agencies to enhance the learning, wellbeing and happiness of our children and families.
Do you support a strong sense of community?