Exceeding NQS in Quality Area 3: Environmentally responsible (Element 3.2.3)

We’ve read over 1,000 pages of ACEQA guides, case studies and content (in September 2023) and have used this information to provide practical steps you can take to attempt to get a rating of Exceeding NQS for your service. We also provide an example weekly schedule for improvement, reflective questions and insights from ACEQA case studies.

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Practical Steps Towards an Exceeding NQS Rating in Quality Area 3: Element 3.2.3

Here’s an exhaustive list of practical steps to achieve an Exceeding NQS rating in the National Quality Standard 3.2, specifically for ELEMENT 3.2.3 ENVIRONMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE:

Element 3.2.3: Environmentally responsible The service aims to care for the environment and support children to become environmentally responsible.

What Element 3.2.3 aims to achieve:

  1. Services should help children develop an understanding and respect for the natural environment, emphasizing the interdependence between people, plants, animals, and the land.
  2. Children should develop positive attitudes and values by engaging in sustainable practices, observing adults modeling these practices, and collaborating with educators to show care and appreciation for the natural environment.

Practical Steps for Exceeding NQS Rating:

1. Embedded in service operations (Theme 1):

  • Ensure that sustainable practices occur consistently, frequently, and intentionally.
  • All educators should understand and implement these practices across all aspects of the program.
  • Align sustainable operations within the service with children’s learning about environmental responsibility.

2. Informed by critical reflection (Theme 2):

  • Engage in deep, regular, and ongoing analysis, questioning, and thinking about environmental practices.
  • Reflect continuously, both individually and collectively, to influence decision-making and drive continuous quality improvement.
  • Foster children’s capacity to understand and respect the natural environment and the interdependence between people, plants, animals, and the land.

3. Shaped by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community (Theme 3):

  • Actively seek input, guidance, and feedback from children, families, and the community regarding environmental practices.
  • Use this engagement to shape ongoing practice and foster a culture of inclusiveness and a sense of belonging for all.

Assessment guide for meeting Element 3.2.3:

  • Children should be:
    • Supported to appreciate and care for natural and constructed environments.
    • Encouraged to interact with vegetation, natural materials, insects, and animals in their habitats.
    • Participating in environmentally sustainable practices that are meaningful and relevant to the service context and community.
    • Given opportunities to increase their knowledge of and respect for natural and constructed environments.
  • Educators should be:
    • Developing environmental awareness and programs for ongoing environmental education.
    • Incorporating animals and plants into the program to support children’s understanding of ecology and the environment.
    • Sharing information and supporting children to access resources about the environment and the impact of human activities.
  • Documentation and Evidence:
    • Maintain documentation of children’s learning about environmental and sustainability issues.
    • Implement policies that promote children’s understanding of their responsibility to care for the environment.
    • Showcase planning documents that support children’s learning through investigation and exploration of the natural environment.
    • Display photographs and other visuals highlighting children’s understanding and learning of the natural environment.

By following these steps and ensuring that the practices are deeply embedded in the service operations, informed by critical reflection, and shaped by meaningful engagement with families and the community, your service will be well-positioned to achieve an Exceeding NQS rating for Element 3.2.3.

An Example Monthly Schedule

Ready to implement these practical steps in your service? Using the constraints of 4 hours per week to work on improvements, we’ve created an example schedule below.

Given the limited time of 4 hours per week, it’s essential to prioritize tasks and spread them out over the month to ensure steady progress. Here’s an example monthly schedule for an educator to work on improving their service based on the practical steps for achieving an Exceeding NQS rating in ELEMENT 3.2.3 ENVIRONMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE:

Week 1: Research and Planning

  • Hour 1: Research and gather resources on sustainable practices and environmental responsibility.
  • Hour 2: Review current practices within the service to identify areas of improvement.
  • Hour 3: Begin drafting a plan for implementing new sustainable practices and enhancing existing ones.
  • Hour 4: Engage in self-reflection on personal practices and identify areas for personal growth in environmental responsibility.

Week 2: Engagement and Collaboration

  • Hour 1: Reach out to families and the community through surveys or informal chats to gather feedback on current environmental practices and suggestions for improvement.
  • Hour 2: Analyze the feedback received and identify key themes or suggestions.
  • Hour 3: Collaborate with fellow educators to discuss the feedback and brainstorm ways to integrate it into the service.
  • Hour 4: Begin planning a workshop or training session for educators on environmental responsibility and sustainable practices.

Week 3: Implementation and Documentation

  • Hour 1: Start implementing one or two of the new sustainable practices identified in Week 1.
  • Hour 2: Document the implementation process, noting challenges faced, solutions found, and any immediate outcomes.
  • Hour 3: Review and update policies to align with the new practices being implemented.
  • Hour 4: Create a visual display (e.g., a bulletin board) showcasing children’s understanding and learning of the natural environment.

Week 4: Reflection and Review

  • Hour 1: Reflect on the changes made over the past three weeks, noting any observable impacts on children’s understanding and behavior.
  • Hour 2: Seek feedback from fellow educators on the new practices and any suggestions for further improvement.
  • Hour 3: Plan for the next month, considering any new practices to implement or areas to focus on.
  • Hour 4: Dedicate time for personal growth, such as reading an article or book on environmental education or attending an online seminar on sustainable practices in education.

This schedule provides a structured approach, starting with research and planning, moving to engagement and collaboration, followed by implementation and documentation, and concluding with reflection and review. By following this schedule, the educator can make steady progress towards achieving an Exceeding NQS rating in ELEMENT 3.2.3 over the course of a month.

Reflective Questions

Reflective questions are essential in guiding educators to think deeply about their practices, especially in relation to Element 3.2.3: Environmentally Responsible. Here’s an exhaustive list of reflective questions tailored to this element:

Understanding and Implementation:

  1. How do I currently integrate environmental responsibility into my daily practices and interactions with children?
  2. In what ways do I model environmentally responsible behaviors for the children in my care?
  3. How do the physical spaces and resources in our service promote environmental responsibility?
  4. What sustainable practices are currently in place, and how effective are they in achieving their intended outcomes?

Engagement with Children:

  1. How do I support children in understanding the importance of caring for the environment?
  2. In what ways do I encourage children to interact with and appreciate the natural world around them?
  3. How do I respond to children’s questions or concerns about the environment, and how can I improve in this area?
  4. Are there opportunities for children to lead or initiate environmentally responsible projects or activities?

Collaboration and Community Engagement:

  1. How do I actively seek feedback from families and the community about our environmental practices?
  2. In what ways do I incorporate the perspectives of families and the community into our environmental initiatives?
  3. How do I foster a sense of shared responsibility for the environment among all stakeholders, including children, families, educators, and the wider community?

Continuous Improvement:

  1. What challenges have I encountered in promoting environmental responsibility, and how have I addressed them?
  2. How do I measure the success or impact of our environmentally responsible practices?
  3. What resources or training might support me in enhancing my knowledge and skills in this area?
  4. How do I stay updated with current research and best practices related to environmental education and sustainability?

Future Planning:

  1. What are my short-term and long-term goals for enhancing environmental responsibility within our service?
  2. How can I better integrate environmental responsibility into our curriculum and daily routines?
  3. Are there community partnerships or collaborations that could enhance our environmentally responsible practices?
  4. How can I ensure that our practices are not only sustainable but also culturally responsive and inclusive?

Personal Reflection:

  1. How do my personal beliefs and values about the environment influence my professional practices?
  2. In what ways do I seek to grow and evolve in my understanding of environmental responsibility?
  3. How do I handle situations where my personal beliefs about the environment might differ from those of families or colleagues?
  4. What personal actions or changes can I make to further align with the goals of Element 3.2.3?

By pondering these reflective questions, educators can gain deeper insights into their practices, identify areas of strength and improvement, and develop a clear path forward in promoting environmental responsibility in line with Element 3.2.3.

Learning from ACEQA case studies

Let’s break down the practical steps taken by services in the provided case studies to achieve Exceeding NQS standards in Element 3.2.3, along with the reasons, tips, and estimated implementation times.

Case Study 1

Family day care educators working in the outer suburbs of the city provide diverse home environments, including the indoor and outdoor play spaces, to enhance the learning and development of the children in their care. The service’s coordination unit offers guidance and support for educators to consider theorists and alternative approaches to creating welcoming and inclusive play-based learning spaces. The unit also hosts a regular play session where educators share ideas, resources and engage in professional conversations.

  1. Regular Play Sessions with Coordination Unit
    • Reason: To share ideas, resources, and engage in professional conversations, enhancing the learning environment.
    • Tips: Schedule regular sessions, encourage educators to bring new ideas, and provide a platform for sharing resources.
    • Estimated Time: 2-3 hours per session, monthly.
  2. Fortnightly Home Visits by Coordinators
    • Reason: Engage educators in reflective conversations about the use of spaces, emphasizing continuous improvement.
    • Tips: Prepare a checklist for visits, ensure constructive feedback, and celebrate successes.
    • Estimated Time: 2 hours per visit, fortnightly.
  3. Collaboration with Early Intervention Teachers
    • Reason: To support children with additional needs and ensure an inclusive environment.
    • Tips: Establish connections with local specialists, invite them for sessions, and implement suggested changes.
    • Estimated Time: 3-4 hours for initial consultation, then periodic follow-ups.
  4. Development of a Strategic Inclusion Plan
    • Reason: To address barriers to inclusion and ensure all learning spaces are welcoming and accessible.
    • Tips: Collaborate with all stakeholders, review regularly, and ensure alignment with the service’s philosophy.
    • Estimated Time: 10-12 hours for initial development, then quarterly reviews.
  5. Incorporation of Sustainability and Environmental Responsibility
    • Reason: To promote sustainable practices and engage children in understanding the environment.
    • Tips: Introduce sustainable resources, engage children in gardening, composting, and other eco-friendly activities.
    • Estimated Time: Ongoing, with initial setup taking 5-6 hours.

Case Study 2

This purpose-built, community managed preschool / kindergarten is located in a regional town. The service team is committed to caring for the environment and to sustainable practice and this is reflected in their service philosophy, the educational program and daily practice. The service was built to face north, to take advantage of sunlight for heat and light. It uses solar panels and an Envirocycle system for the management of waste water.

  1. Development of a ‘Zero Waste’ Policy
    • Reason: To promote sustainability and reduce the environmental impact of the service.
    • Tips: Conduct waste audits, involve children and families in policy development, and regularly review practices.
    • Estimated Time: 8-10 hours for initial development, then periodic reviews.
  2. Use of Open-ended, Natural, and Recycled Materials
    • Reason: To encourage creativity, exploration, and sustainable practices.
    • Tips: Source materials from local businesses or donations, rotate materials to keep interest, and encourage children to bring in recyclables.
    • Estimated Time: Ongoing, with initial setup taking 3-4 hours.
  3. Engagement in Community Projects
    • Reason: To foster community connections, promote sustainability, and provide real-world learning experiences.
    • Tips: Partner with local organizations, involve children in planning and execution, and celebrate community achievements.
    • Estimated Time: Varies per project, typically 2-4 hours monthly.
  4. Introduction of an Open Shed Policy
    • Reason: To promote children’s agency, decision-making, and access to materials.
    • Tips: Ensure safety protocols, involve children in organization, and regularly review materials available.
    • Estimated Time: 4-5 hours for initial setup, then periodic reviews.
  5. Collaboration with Local Artists and Businesses
    • Reason: To enhance learning experiences, promote sustainability, and foster community relationships.
    • Tips: Reach out to local artists or businesses, invite them for sessions or projects, and showcase collaborative achievements.
    • Estimated Time: 3-4 hours for initial collaboration, then ongoing as projects develop.

These steps, when implemented with dedication and consistency, can significantly contribute to achieving an Exceeding NQS rating in Element 3.2.3.



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