Dec 11

Survival tips for Christmas stress


Survival tips for Christmas Stress Early Childhood Education

I’m thinking how impossible it is to shop at this time of year without hearing Christmas jingles in every store.  It’s all about being merry, happy and bright…right?  Well if the only thought that Christmas conjures up for you is stress, stress and more stress, here are some good tips for surviving...

Let go of expectations

There is no such thing as the perfect Christmas; no matter how much social media would have you believe is possible with a bit of effort on your behalf. So if you’re feeling the pressure to ‘get it right’ by finding the right gift or cooking the perfect Christmas meal, try to let go of those expectations.  When your focus is on getting everything ‘perfect’ it’s hard to relax and have fun and you’re setting yourself up for stress.  

Don’t lose your sense of humour

We’ve all got a difficult relative or two.  When getting together with friends and family, stay away from topics you know will lead to heated discussions. Don’t react, but rather think about how you can contribute to making the situation harmonious. If you have to spend time with VDP’s (very draining people) smile and reward yourself later with an extra chocolate.

Go for a walk

If you are feeling pressured and starting to let things get to you – get out in to the fresh air by yourself. Even a short walk will help you let go of tension, clear your head and give you some distance.  Also you need the exercise if you are going to be eating that extra chocolate.

Remember to breathe

Take a few minutes, more if you can, sit quietly and take some deep relaxing breaths.  The more time you take out of the business around you, creating short spaces to just be still and breathe, the more relaxed you will feel and better equipped to cope with the silly season. Remember the best gift you can give to those around you, is a less stressed you.

By Lyn Stephenson - Holistic Counsellor and Stress Management specialist

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Nov 15

8 step system for handling difficult conversations


8 step system for handling difficult conversations early childhood education and care workshops Melbourne

Whether it's with a parent, one of your staff or a colleague, some conversations are difficult or uncomfortable.  Especially when emotions are involved!  Follow these 8 steps and with practice, these interactions will become more manageable.

(We've also prepared a printable version of these 8 steps to share at your service. Click here for the free checklist.)

1. Don't ignore the issue

Don’t ignore the problem, situation or issue. Deal with it as soon as possible so that the problem doesn’t become worse. But if you are feeling a strong emotion, allow this to calm first so you can think and communicate it clearly.

2. Plan ahead

Think about how you will approach the conversation. Talk it over with someone you can trust first if you need to. If you don’t already know, check what is your service’s policy and process for resolving difficulties or conflict with families or staff.

Although it may be tempting to just write a quick note or make a phone call, face to face communication will usually have the best results when it comes to challenges. In face to face interactions, both verbal and non-verbal communication methods are used and it’s easier to guage the other person’s reaction and engagement. This will be especially important if you are communicating with a parent or staff member from a different culture or language background.

Think about where it would be best have this conversation. You’ll need somewhere that is uninterrupted and private. And plan when it would be best to have the conversation - morning, afternoon etc.

And be prepared for an emotional reaction - allow/invite a support person to attend if you think it would help

3. Outline the issue

When the time comes, start the conversation positively and professionally.  Manage own emotions, notice how you are feeling, stay calm and focus on issue objectively. 

TIP: There are mixed opinions about using a “hamburger” or “sandwich” conversation method where you start with a positive (eg. something great the child does), then follow up with the difficult issue and finally close with another positive (eg. and your child also does that). Experiment for yourself but our advice would be to keep the positive sections brief and check  that you’re not just using them to try and distract, avoid or delay the real issue at hand.

Stick to the facts - focus on the issue rather than the person. If it’s an issue regarding a child, focus on the child’s perspective. Use “I” statements eg. "I know we are both concerned about John biting other children" or “I really want to find a way to solve this”.

4. Listen

Listen to the other person - ask questions and for their perspective.  Approach the conversation as a two-way sharing of information. “Would you be open to finding other ways to approach this?” “What works at home when this behaviour occurs?”  Summarise what they say to ensure that you’ve understood what they said.

Keep an open mind, be honest, professional and respectful as you listen.

5. Reach an agreement

Now that you know the other person's point of view, reach an agreement as to the next steps and what things will look like when the issue is solved.

Partner with the parent or other person to develop a plan together. Look for ways to strengthen your relationship or partnership rather than competing with the other person.

Find the areas that you can agree on or agree to work on. Eg. We both agree that we don’t want John to bite other children. If we were to try this strategy, would be something that you could try at home too?

If not, acknowledge the difference in opinions and ask what the other person would be willing to try. Eg. "We both agree that arriving late to work is disruptive to everyone else. I know you’ve said that you don’t want to set the alarm on your phone but what would you willing to try?"

 If this doesn’t work, agree to both go away and think about it and make a time to come back with other solutions for discussion or to meet another time with someone else who could help resolve the issue.

End the conversation positively and professionally, confirming the next steps.

6. Follow up and check if resolved

Follow up by taking any action that you agreed to.

Check that the situation has improved or has been resolved eg. Fazad is now bringing healthy food for snacks or the staff member is working more positively with other educators.

7. Keep communicating

Keep the communication channels open - check back in with the other person. Is the agreement or plan working? Does anything need to be adjusted?

Acknowledge improvements. 

If the plan needs to be changed, repeat the process of putting the new plan into action and checking back for the results.

8. Reflect

Reflect on the conversation - what can you learn from this experience? Would you approach a similar conversation in the same way? Did you learn something that you would try next time? How did you feel before, during and after the conversation?

Even when there is no issue or problem, work on getting to know the families, your staff and your colleagues. Building and strengthening these partnerships and relationships through regular conversations can really help.

Additional Resources

At Excellence Matters, we can help you and your team with difficult conversations through a workshop run at your service at time that suits you. We can also provide one to one consulting or coaching for Centre Directors, educators or other staff members. Click here to contact us for a no obligation discussion.

Additionally, you may find these resources useful:

  1. A free short course for managers from Fair Work Australia on difficult conversations in the workplace.
  2. Article from Kids Matter “Effective communication between families and early childhood staff”.
  3. Video from ECA Learning Hub. This is part 3 of a series called Talking About Practice: Partnerships with families and is the topic of challenging conversations and tensions with parents.
Nov 08

10 actions Centre Directors must take to build teamwork


10 actions centre directors must take to build teamwork

For centres and services to be effective and provide a positive working culture, teams need to work well together. As a Centre Director, you are the leader who sets the tone for the way that your team works together. Here’s 10 actions to take to promote teamwork, reduce conflict and ensure that your service is a place where your team wants to work:

1. Be a role model

It almost goes without saying but as a leader, the educators and other staff are watching and listening to what you do. If you practice what you preach in regards to working well with others, your team will learn from you and follow your example.

2. Communicate well

Consistently be clear, honest, respectful and transparent in your communication with your team. This applies to all types of communication - in person, by email, on the phone, by text and at meetings.

3. Induct new staff members well

Providing a thorough induction and orientation for new people to your team takes time and effort but is necessary when it comes to having a well-functioning team. This mentoring will assist the new person to be productive more quickly, reduce misunderstandings and help them fit into the existing team more quickly.

Download a list of 50 Budget Friendly Team Building Activities for Early Childhood Services

4. Listen

Be aware of the team dynamics by listening and being aware of what is happening. Be observant and ask questions especially when problems arise so that you identify the real issues rather than making assumptions.

5. Make your expectations clear

Do not leave your team guessing in regards to policies, procedures, decisions or the requirements that you have in regard to the team culture. And then follow the mantra “inspect what you expect”. To put it simply, if you expect that something is done in a certain way or by a certain time, check that it has been done. If it hasn’t been done, reset the expectations and repeat until things are running smoothly.

6. Provide team building activities

These can be a mixture of formal and informal activities. Examples are team meetings, social events, celebrate birthdays and occasions.  

Click to get a free copy of our 50 Budget Friendly Team Building Activities for Early Childhood Services

7. Encourage everyone to contribute

Value each educator and staff member by asking for their opinion and giving them the opportunity to contribute to making decisions where possible. In meetings, encourage the quieter team members to join in and add their perspective by asking for their opinion. Encourage more experienced or more vocal staff to be respectful and to listen when others speak or have input in some way.

8. Look for project opportunities

Sometimes team members who have difficulty working together and are often in conflict each other, can develop a new appreciation for each other professionally (and even personally) when they work on a task or project together.  Examples might be making changes to the environment, reviewing a policy or planning a social event. This can also be an opportunity for staff who don’t normally work together to do so.

9. Promote a learning culture

Build professional respect between team members by encouraging them to share what they’ve learned. Have they read something that would be useful to another educator or the whole team? Or has someone attend some training and found out about a new resource or some new information? These professional conversations are positive topics and build bonds within teams.

10. Resolve conflict

Finally, conflict is something most of us would rather avoid but as leaders, it is your role to help your team when a problem arises. Set expectations within your service about how conflicts are to be resolved. Learn to recognise when you need to step in, remember to listen, give each person a chance to be heard, gather the relevant information, assist with the development and selection of solutions, trial the solution, review it and if the conflict is not resolved, repeat the process.

Great teamwork is not achieved in one day so don’t give up, be persistent and determined and try one action at a time. Finally, don’t forget to praise individual staff and the entire team when you see them working well together!

If you need assistance with the teamwork in your service, we’re here to help. Click here to contact us.

Oct 26

Early Childhood Professional Development – What It Is and Why It Matters


Early Childhood Professional Development - what it is and why it matters

We all know that professional development is important for us individually and collectively as teams in our services.This article covers the basics and goes further to help you harness the benefits of professional development by answering some frequently asked questions:

What is professional development?

Sometimes we have a preconception about professional development and assume that it is another term for a workshop or training course but it goes beyond that.  Professional development is actually the continuing process by which early childhood services and early childhood professionals individuals improve their skills and knowledge. Often professional development also crosses over to personal development as well, they are closely related. The end goal of professional development is to improve the quality of education, care and programs that we provide for children and their families.

What types of activities or resources are suitable for professional development?

Professional development needs to suit the needs of each service and individual. Here are some activities and resources that you could consider:

  • Workshops - in house or external
  • Short Courses
  • Accredited Qualifications
  • Conferences
  • Podcasts
  • Webinars
  • Videos
  • Online Training Modules
  • Professional conversations with early childhood peers and leaders
  • One to one mentoring or consulting
  • Read books, professional websites or online resources
  • On the job training
  • Staff meeting discussions
  • Visits to other early childhood services
  • Reflection
  • Research
  • Professional associations
  • Networking - in person or online
  • Coaching programs
  • Guest speakers

Why is professional development important?

Asides from the obvious need to continually improve the quality of our program and provide high quality education for children, the early childhood sector experiences constant change and growth. These changes mean that we need to be adaptable and to continually learn and improve. Importantly, professional development is not only the way we learn but the way we can gain the support we need professionally and personally.

What are the benefits of professional development?

It would be hard to list them all but here’s some of the benefits:

  • Keep up to date with regulations, theories and research
  • Improves staff retention reducing the need to recruit and induct new staff
  • Be a lifelong learner and model lifelong learning for those around us
  • Create a service or workplace where staff are confident and experience a sense of purpose in their work
  • Be able to capably and professionally contribute to the development of your own practice and that of your service
  • A strong sense of personal and professional satisfaction
  • A deeper understanding of the value of the education that we provide as individual practitioners and as services
  • Ongoing motivation and enthusiasm to keep developing ourselves and others

What is the director or manager’s role in professional development?

Leaders in services play an crucial role in developing their teams and making sure that they have the required skills and knowledge. Directors role model attitudes and cultures around professional development, they create professional development plans for themselves, individual practitioners and their service, they budget for professional development and they create rosters that allow time for professional development. Most importantly, directors plan so that the strategies and learning from professional development activities is actually implemented and informs and improves the service.

Find out more

If you’d like more information about professional development or need help planning professional development for your service, contact us here at Excellence Matters.

Excellence Matters Early Childhood Music Children Brain Development
Oct 12

Music and Movement in the Early Years


Read how an experienced educator broadened the use of music with children

Kerry S, an educator in long day care shares how she changed her approach to using music in her room.....

“Variety is the spice of life!” This phrase is used in relation to many aspects of a person’s life. From our choice of evening meal to a holiday destination, new and varied experiences make life more interesting. Music is no different.

As educators, we are in the wonderful position to share a diverse range of music with children. Just as we provide opportunities for children to experience a variety of food at meal times (we don’t just serve Vegemite sandwiches) we can provide opportunities to interact with many genres of music.

A number of years ago, I realised that my own children were coming home each day singing the same songs over and over. A short conversation with their educators informed me that they were being “fed” a bland diet of Wiggles, Hi5 and Playschool everyday. At home, my children were used to interacting with an eclectic collection, ranging from Mozart to Metallica, Cliff Richard to Cold Chisel, Hi5 to Hip Hop and everything in between.

This got me thinking about the way I was using music at work myself. I realised that, I too, was “feeding” children a bland diet. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Wiggles, Playschool etc. however, there is so much more out there that we can tap into and explore. I found that children, families and educators were only too eager to share their musical interests when asked. I found I had children that loved show tunes, some loved cultural music and another who knew the words for every AFL team theme song! My co-educators and I made a conscious decision to bring music to the foreground of our program. No longer to just add to the background “noise” and more than just a few simple songs at group time.

Not all of the music/songs children enjoyed were suitable for listening to in an early childhood service. Some songs may have great musicality, use of instruments etc. however, the lyrics may be quite offensive. A bit of research and I was able to locate suitable substitutes. For example, Lou Bega’s “Mambo No.5” was covered by Bob the Builder, and Baha Men recorded “Who woke Snow White up” for Disney, in answer to their own “Who let the Dogs out”. With the introduction of these songs, as well as many more, I had children joining music experiences in a way they hadn’t before. A heavy metal/screamo version of Incy Wincy Spider had children grabbing their air guitars and rocking out. Educators, too, seemed to enjoy the new variety of music and movement experiences.

Movement experiences were a great opportunity to introduce cultural music, which lead to learning more about the world around us and our place in it. A Maori Hakka, an Irish Jig and an Italian Tarantella and we were all off on a world tour. Children were actively engaged with the music in the room, moving, singing, playing instruments and each interacting in their own way.

Music and movement is a superfood for the brain.  Active engagement in music and movement experiences has a holistic benefit to children’s development. Children practice and extend their speech, social skills and motor development. Imagination and creativity stretch and minds grow.

Plato was credited with saying “music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything”. I challenge all educators to not hide music in the background of the room, but to bring it to the front and let it live.

Excellence Matters Early Childhood Professional Development Workshops Resources Consulting Melbourne Fathers Day Crafts Arts Activities for Children
Aug 22

20 Quick & Easy Creative Father’s Day Ideas for Children


It's time to organise Father's Day craft activities for the children so that they can give a gift handmade with love to their Dad. Here's how to do it the quick and easy way.

We've handpicked projects from around the web that will save educators planning time, can be quickly be prepared, will be fun, are budget friendly and are mostly made with items and supplies that you will already have available. And of course there's something for children of varying ages including babies.

1. Guess Whoooo Loves You Owl Card

Everyone loves owls and this one includes lots of creativity with moving wings, pieces to be cut out, gluing and can be decorated using a variety of mediums including paint and markers.  Click here for the instructions.

2. Best Dad Award Ribbon

Plenty of paper cutting, folding, writing and decorating in this award ribbon for Dad....and very few supplies required.  Click here for the instructions.

3. Fish Handprints

This clever project turns handprints into fish. Once again there's only basic materials needed for this card or picture. Click here for the instructions.

4. Facts about Dad tie

This idea will prompt children to think about their dad and could also be decorated with many different art mediums before writing in the answers. Click here for the instructions.

5. World's Best Dad Award

The picture quality isn't the best on this one but it's a great variation of the award theme for dads but this time using a paper plate and lots of glued on bling.  Click here for the instructions.

6. Love You To Pieces Frame

What a good way to use up those jigsaw puzzles that have lost a few pieces or just purchase a cheap one to use. Of course the frame could be decorated with anything you have available. Click here for the instructions.

7. Tape Resist "I Love Dad" Canvas

Tape, paint and canvases from the 2 dollar shop, it doesn't get much simpler than that.  We love the personalised inclusion of a handprint too. Click here for the instructions.

8. Handprint Tree

This tree could be made by children of all ages with some very basic supplies - it could even be decorated with flowers or other embellishments. Click here for the instructions.

9. Icypole Stick Roll-up Card

This personalised card made from icy-pole sticks can be made as large or small as you and the children like and only requires a few basic supplies that you probably already have at your service.  Click here for instructions.

10. Footprint or Handprint Lion 

Here's a clever use of footprints and finger/handprints.  Change the words on the cards if you like.  Click here for the instructions.

11. Heart and Handprint Card

Such a simple but meaningful and quick, budget-friendly concept for children of all ages. Click here for the instructions.

12. Terrarium in a Jar

This is one project that may require some extra preparation and supplies but it was too cute not to include here and we especially like the addition of the photos of the children. Click here for the instructions.

13. You Rock Card

This is a card and a pet rock all in one and that doesn't require special supplies. You can give children many art medium choices for decorating this gift for their dad. Click here for the instructions.

14. Lolly ties

If a bright and colourful craft is what you're looking for, this could be the one. Click here for the instructions.

15. Superhero Keepsake

This clever handprint and footprint superhero combination could easily be turned a card or a picture using a canvas board or a simple frame. Great for babies and young toddlers. Click here for the instructions.

16. Salt Dough Plaque 

This quick and easy project is a great way of recording babies' hand and foot prints in a way that dads will want to keep forever. This project is also very budget friendly and requires little preparation. Click here for the instructions.

17. Rocket Card - Love You to the Moon and Back

We like the inclusion of fire made out of yarn in this project which adds an extra level of skill and creativity for older children. Click here for the instructions.

18. Suncatcher Jellyfish

Whilst not a traditional Father's Day project, we like the technique and the colour.  This is something that dads could have displayed all year round. Click here for the instructions.

19. Sunshine Noodle Cards

This card or picture is simple and tactile (and good for dads as well as mums) - you can't help but smile when you look at this project. Click here for the instructions.

20. Things I Love About My Dad

This would be ideal for older children - a great way to combine drawing (and possibly writing) with their own special thoughts about their dad. Click here for the instructions.

We hope you enjoy this collection of Father's Day activities. Let us know on Facebook or in the comments below if you used any of the ideas in your service.