National Quality Standard 3 – Physical Environment

Quality area 3 looks at the services Physical Environment. It is broken into 3 standards (standard 3.1, 3.2 and 3.3) and 8 elements (3.1.1, 3.1.2 etc). Although there are 7 Quality Areas, this area is the one that a lot of services ask for assistance on the most. According to the latest ACECQA snapshot document, elements 3.3.1, 3.3.2 and 3.2.1 are the most difficult for services to meet. So what are these elements and why are they so difficult to meet?

Firstly, element 3.3.1 looks at how sustainability practices are embedded in a service. But most services have a water tank, worm garden and recycling bin, that’s enough right? Sadly, while all these things are a great start, the word embedded is key to meeting this element. An embedded practice means it happens every day within the service, as if it’s second nature. So often when we visit a service, we see children throw rubbish, food scraps and paper into which ever bin they see first. This is often chased up with an educator telling the child off for putting it in the wrong bin, followed by a look of confusion on the child’s face as if saying “what, I always do this”. Of course some children may be so engrossed in their play or busting to move onto something else that they mistakenly put it in the wrong bin, but the reaction from the educator is the give-away. An educator that embeds children in sustainable practices would more then likely remind the child what bin they put it in, reflect on classroom discussions or posters to the point that the child removes the rubbish and food scraps and places it in the correct bin. This might sound like a perfect world, but trust us it does happen and it’s a key sign that there is a culture of appropriate rubbish disposal embedded in the service.

Next, is what happens to the food scraps, recycling and rubbish at the end of the day? Is the food scraps composted or given to worms? If you answered yes, we ask again, is it really? It’s great to have a compost bin or worm farm, however the amount of times we find out that it’s not used frequently, tells us it’s there for looks and not teaching children sustainable practices. So get children involved and help them learn responsibility for their environment. Also, composting doesn’t have to happen on site. If you have not got the space for a compost bin, reach out to the families to maybe take it home, take some photos and bring it back in for the garden. Children are still engaged with sustainable practices and it’s also a great way to include families in the service. Get inventive and creative.

Now, we can’t move on until we explain that sustainability is not just dealing with rubbish. It is not just turning off the lights or the taps to save energy and water. My favourite part of sustainability is upcycling. Yes it’s the favourite word of the last 5 years. If you ever go on Facebook, you will see post after post of people upcycling everything (mostly wooden pallets and tires). One thing we tell every service is before you buy something, look at the learning benefit from the resource and see if you can make something to replicate the same learning outcome. Over the last 5 years there has been a spike in businesses selling “natural materials”. Even this statement makes us laugh. Selling materials that you find in nature. Now we not talking about resources, such as sold by Keeping It Simple, where the owner adds sturdy pieces of coloured glass and plastic to bits of timber to make beautiful resources. These are unique and add a different element to children’s play. We are talking about people selling cut up wooden disks and sticks for crazy prices. Having natural materials doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Try sourcing your own natural materials, getting families in to build things with the children, reaching out to local men sheds and the CWA to have an incursion. The opportunities are endless and more importantly the children are involved first hand, which helps them appreciate the resources more. We urge you to look over your sustainability policy and practices at your next staff meeting.

Moving onto element 3.3.2, we look at how children show responsibility and respect for the environment. There are several points discussed above that help meet this element, such as encouraging children to take responsibility for the rubbish and composting. However, this element is not just being respectful of the natural environment, but the classroom environment as well. Teaching children to be respectful of the classroom can be done in a multiple of ways, the simplest being encouraging children to pack away their resources when they are done. However, if you look at the cleaning jobs that an educator does on a daily basis, there is so much more children can help with. Having the appropriate resources can mean that children can be involved in a range of things to help show respect for the classroom. This may include, sweeping, weeding the gardens, washing up the craft resources, tidying the shelves and setting up display tables. Now we are defiantly not saying go military style, where all children stop playing to clean the classroom from top to bottom. In fact, in our opinion play trumps cleaning. However, there is a time when it has to be done, so incorporating ways to encourage children to help out where necessary, will help meet this element.

Finally, although 3.2.1 is the third area that is the most difficult for services to meet in this standard, we feel that it will be more beneficial for services if we discuss the entire standard. Standard 3.2 looks at how the environment is inclusive, promotes competence, independent exploration and learning through play. The first element in this standard discuss how the indoor and outdoor spaces are organised to engage children in play. There are several things to remember when setting up the indoor and outdoor environments. Firstly, not all children follow the same interests, so providing a number of spaces that provide different learning experiences encourages children to be more engaged, therefore limiting behavioural challenges. Secondly, the difference between the inside and outside environments are merely 4 walls. Offering indoor resources outside and outdoor resources inside, offer new challenges and learning objectives for the children. If this does not occur at your service, we recommend slowly introducing the concept to the children. Finally, the richest play may happen over 1 hour, 1 day or 1 week. Many times we see services completely pack up a space that children have been playing in. Talk to the children and if their game is continuing, look at ways to keep it set up. Don’t choose cleaning a space over children’s play.

The second element in this standard looks at how a services resources are provided and used by the children. Depending on the age of the children, we recommend having the resources displayed in a way that encourages them to get them as they need them. Inside resources should be displayed on low shelves or in baskets and free for children to choose as they need. If floor space is limited, resources could be displayed in baskets or tubs on higher shelves, with large pictures displaying the contents of the basket or tub.

Outside resources should be accessible to children throughout the day. If they are stored in a shed, then having them stored in buckets or milk crates allow educators to bring out the entire buckets for children to choose resources. It also helps with packing away, as children can place them straight back in the bucket and saves several trips to the sheds.

Furthermore, this element looks at the amount of resources you have, making sure there is an adequate amount for the children to use. This does not mean that services need to have one shovel per child. It simply means have enough that a large group of children can participate in a group game or play episode. There is a lot to learn for children having to wait their turn.

Finally, the last aspect of this standard is one that most educators struggle with. Element 3.2.2 suggests that resources be used for a range of uses. Whenever we visit a service, there is always one educator that says “shovels need to stay in the sandpit” or “dinosaurs stay on the dinosaur table, not the playdough table”. We encourage these educators to take a step back and think about these 3 things:

  • Is the child being safe with the resource.
  • What are they doing with the resource.
  • Why are they doing it?

Quite often amazing things happen when we trust children and let them be responsible for their play.

We hope you have enjoyed this newsletter. We love feedback, so please let us know what you thought about this topic.

If you would like to know more information about achieving Standard 3 or any of the National Quality Standards, please contact the team at First Years Early Childhood Consulting.