Exceeding NQS in Quality Area 3: Inclusive environment (Element 3.2.1)

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 3.2.1

To achieve an Exceeding NQS rating in the National Quality Standard 3.2, specifically for Element 3.2.1: Inclusive Environment, you need to ensure that both outdoor and indoor spaces are organized and adapted to support every child’s participation and to engage every child in quality experiences in both built and natural environments.

Here’s an exhaustive list of practical steps you can take, based on the provided reference:

1. Embedded in Service Operations (Theme 1)

  • Organize and adapt both indoor and outdoor spaces to support every child’s participation.
  • Ensure that routine activities (e.g., toileting, nappy changing, eating, sleeping) promote positive interactions and opportunities for learning.
  • Provide safe shelving and storage areas for children to access age-appropriate equipment and resources.
  • Offer challenging elements in both outdoor and indoor environments that scaffold children’s learning and development.
  • Set up environments that offer both built and natural features and structures.
  • Facilitate the inclusion of every child in all daily experiences.
  • Encourage a free flow of activity throughout the day.
  • Support children to create their own games and experiences.
  • Maintain a relaxed atmosphere by using positive strategies to modify inappropriate noise levels.

2. Informed by Critical Reflection (Theme 2)

  • Engage in deep, regular, and ongoing analysis, questioning, and thinking about the environment.
  • Reflect on how the environment supports the diverse interests, preferences, and learning styles of all children.
  • Consider how flexible arrangements of furniture, equipment, and materials can encourage children to become flexible thinkers.
  • Reflect on how the environment supports positive relationships and minimizes distractions.
  • Continuously adapt and modify play materials to encourage each child’s participation and success.

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.
  • Involve children in the arrangement of spaces to increase aesthetic appeal.
  • Re-organize and re-set the environment with assistance from children to provide order and predictability.
  • Work collaboratively with family members, specialists, and resource agencies to support the inclusion of individual children.
  • Document learning programs that pay equal attention to planning outdoor and indoor environments.
  • Ensure that the statement of philosophy describes the service’s approach to inclusion.

Additional Considerations:

  • Ensure that both indoor and outdoor environments offer significantly different yet complementary experiences.
  • Provide environments that support positive relationships, allowing small groups of children to play and talk without undue distraction.
  • Make space available for both small and large groups to gather.
  • Ensure that environments invite open-ended interactions, spontaneity, risk-taking, exploration, discovery, and connection to nature.
  • For family day care, ensure that strategies are in place for children in residences without direct access to outdoor environments to have opportunities to access outdoor environments.

Remember, to be rated Exceeding NQS overall, all Quality Areas must be at least Meeting NQS, and four or more Quality Areas must be Exceeding NQS, with at least two of these being Quality Areas 1, 5, 6, or 7.

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 break them down into manageable chunks. Here’s an example monthly schedule for an educator to work on improving their service based on the practical steps provided:

Week 1: Assessment and Planning

  • Hour 1: Conduct a thorough assessment of the current state of the indoor and outdoor environments. Identify areas that need immediate attention.
  • Hour 2: Engage in critical reflection. Consider the diverse interests, preferences, and learning styles of all children. Document insights and areas for improvement.
  • Hour 3: Seek feedback from colleagues, children, and families about the current environment and potential improvements.
  • Hour 4: Draft a plan based on the assessment, reflection, and feedback. Prioritize tasks that will have the most significant impact.

Week 2: Physical Environment Adjustments

  • Hour 1: Begin with outdoor spaces. Ensure they are organized and adapted to support every child’s participation. Consider adding or adjusting natural features like plants, trees, and gardens.
  • Hour 2: Focus on indoor spaces. Adjust furniture and equipment for flexibility. Ensure safe shelving and storage areas are accessible to children.
  • Hour 3: Reflect on the changes made. How do they support diverse interests and learning styles?
  • Hour 4: Seek feedback from children and families on the changes made. Make note of any additional suggestions.

Week 3: Engagement and Collaboration

  • Hour 1: Plan a small group session with families and community members to discuss the service’s approach to inclusion and gather feedback.
  • Hour 2: Host the group session. Document feedback and suggestions.
  • Hour 3: Reflect on the feedback received. How can it be incorporated into the service’s approach?
  • Hour 4: Begin collaborating with specialists or resource agencies to support the inclusion of individual children. This could involve reaching out, setting up meetings, or researching available resources.

Week 4: Documentation and Continuous Improvement

  • Hour 1: Update the service’s statement of philosophy to reflect the new approach to inclusion.
  • Hour 2: Document learning programs that focus on both outdoor and indoor environments. Ensure they reflect the changes made and feedback received.
  • Hour 3: Reflect on the month’s progress. What has improved? What challenges remain?
  • Hour 4: Plan for the next month. Consider any remaining tasks or new initiatives based on the month’s reflections.

Remember, the key is continuous reflection and feedback. The educator should always be open to adjusting the plan based on new insights, challenges, or feedback from the community.

Reflective Questions

Reflective questions are essential tools for educators to critically analyze their practices and make informed decisions. Here’s an exhaustive list of reflective questions tailored for Element 3.2.1: Inclusive Environment:

Environment and Space

  1. How do the current indoor and outdoor spaces support every child’s participation?
  2. In what ways are the environments adapted to cater to the diverse needs of all children?
  3. Are there areas in the environment that are underutilized or overlooked? Why?
  4. How do the environments promote both built and natural experiences?
  5. What changes can be made to the physical environment to better support inclusivity?

Children’s Participation and Engagement

  1. Are there children who seem less engaged or participative in certain areas or activities? Why might this be the case?
  2. How are children’s diverse interests, preferences, and learning styles being catered to?
  3. Are there barriers in the environment that might hinder a child’s full participation? How can these be addressed?
  4. How do the environments support children’s autonomy and independence?

Feedback and Collaboration

  1. What feedback have I received from children, families, and colleagues about the inclusivity of the environment?
  2. How have I incorporated this feedback into my practice and environment setup?
  3. In what ways have I collaborated with specialists or resource agencies to enhance the inclusivity of the environment?

Materials and Resources

  1. Are the materials and resources accessible to all children, regardless of their age or capability?
  2. How do the materials and resources support flexible thinking and play-based learning?
  3. Are there materials or resources that could be added to better support inclusivity?

Routine Activities and Interactions

  1. How do routine activities, such as toileting, eating, and sleeping, promote positive interactions and learning opportunities?
  2. Are there routine activities that might be adjusted to better support inclusivity and engagement?
  3. How do the environments promote positive relationships and minimize distractions?

Continuous Improvement

  1. What improvements have been made to the environments in the past month? How have these changes impacted children’s experiences?
  2. What challenges or obstacles have I encountered in creating an inclusive environment, and how have I addressed them?
  3. How do my practices align with the service’s philosophy and approach to inclusion?
  4. What are my next steps in enhancing the inclusivity of the environments?

Professional Development and Learning

  1. Are there areas of Element 3.2.1 where I feel I need further professional development or support?
  2. How do I stay updated with best practices and research related to creating inclusive environments?
  3. How do I share my learnings and insights with my colleagues to promote a collective approach to inclusivity?

By regularly reflecting on these questions, educators can gain deeper insights into their practices, identify areas for improvement, and make informed decisions to enhance the inclusivity of their environments.

Learning from ACEQA case studies

Let’s break down the practical steps from each case study, their reasons for being of an Exceeding NQS standard, tips for implementation, and estimated time for each step.

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. Diverse Home Environments:
    • Reason: Enhancing learning and development by providing varied environments.
    • Tips: Collaborate with families to understand diverse needs and incorporate them into the environment.
    • Estimated Time: 2-3 weeks for initial setup and continuous adjustments.
  2. Regular Play Sessions:
    • Reason: Sharing ideas, resources, and engaging in professional conversations.
    • Tips: Schedule regular sessions, invite guest speakers, and encourage educators to share experiences.
    • Estimated Time: 2-3 hours per session, monthly.
  3. Reflective Conversations:
    • Reason: Continuous improvement by reflecting on the use of spaces.
    • Tips: Use open-ended questions, encourage educators to share challenges and successes.
    • Estimated Time: 1-2 hours bi-weekly.
  4. Engaging Specialists:
    • Reason: Tailoring the environment to support children with additional needs.
    • Tips: Collaborate with early intervention teachers or specialists to get tailored advice.
    • Estimated Time: 3-4 hours per consultation, as needed.
  5. Strategic Inclusion Plan:
    • Reason: Addressing barriers to inclusion and promoting full participation.
    • Tips: Engage with local Inclusion Agencies, involve all educators in the planning process.
    • Estimated Time: 1-2 weeks for initial development, with quarterly reviews.

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. Sustainability Focus:
    • Reason: Reflecting the service’s commitment to the environment in daily practices.
    • Tips: Incorporate sustainable practices like composting, rainwater harvesting, and using solar panels.
    • Estimated Time: 1-2 months for initial setup and integration.
  2. Community Projects:
    • Reason: Engaging with the community for maintenance and conservation efforts.
    • Tips: Collaborate with local councils and community groups for joint projects.
    • Estimated Time: Ongoing, with specific projects taking 1-2 days each.
  3. Zero Waste Policy:
    • Reason: Reducing environmental impact by minimizing waste.
    • Tips: Conduct audits, set up recycling stations, and educate children about waste management.
    • Estimated Time: 2-3 weeks for policy development and implementation.
  4. Use of Open-ended Materials:
    • Reason: Supporting exploration, creativity, and self-directed learning.
    • Tips: Incorporate a variety of materials like pebbles, shells, and recycled items.
    • Estimated Time: Ongoing, with periodic reviews and additions.
  5. Collaboration with Local Experts:
    • Reason: Enhancing learning experiences by leveraging local expertise.
    • Tips: Engage local artists, woodworkers, or other experts for collaborative projects.
    • Estimated Time: Varies per project, typically 1-2 weeks for planning and execution.

Remember, while these steps provide a guideline, the exact time and approach might vary based on the specific needs and resources of your service. It’s essential to continuously engage with educators, families, and the community to ensure the steps align with the service’s goals and philosophy.



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