Effective learning in early childhood education?
The impact of the ECE ICT PL Programme: A synthesis report
This report provides an overview of the impact of the Early Childhood Education Information and Communication Technologies Professional Learning (ECE ICT PL) programme, 2006–2009.
Author(s): Ann Hatherly, Dr Vince Ham and Laura Evans, Report for the Ministry of Education.
Date Published: August 2010
This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box). To view the individual chapters please refer to the 'Sections' inset box.
Chapter 2: Engaging with Communities
Community understanding of children's learning
The wider world of family and community is a fundamental part of the early childhood curriculum and is mutually supportive of the well being of whānau/families, local communities and neighbourhoods. Making children's learning experiences visible ensures that parents and whānau gain an understanding of those learning experiences, which in turn empowers children to become self-directed learners.
Families should be part of the assessment and evaluation of the curriculum as well as of children's learning and development. Parents and caregivers have a wealth of valuable information and understandings regarding their children… Children's learning and development are fostered ifthe well being of their family and community is supported; if their family, culture, knowledge and community are respected; and if there is a strong connection and consistency among all the aspects of the child's world. (Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 30-42)
During the research process, many services investigated methods that were incorporated into the curriculum. This helped contribute to:
- forging, enhancing and maintaining links with the family/whānau and the wider world, in order to make children's learning visible
- giving children increasing opportunities to see themselves as valued members and contributors of their community.
There is an abundance of research suggesting that meaningful relationships between services and families contribute to the quality care and education of young children and equally, that parental understanding of their child's learning experiences is more enhanced when the learning has been made visible through ICTs (Hughes & MacNaughon, 2001, DeMarie & Ethridge, 2006, Boardman, 2007, et al).
Services focused specifically on developing relationships with family/whānau to convey children's learning to parents and the wider community, with the aim of making children's learning visible and to give parents/whānau an understanding of their child's learning progress. These relationships were often one-way and required little or no response from the parents/whānau, but offered them a deeper understanding of their child's learning through the visible nature of the communication using ICTs.
Services clarified that making children's learning visible for families involves more than creating a display of images of children's experiences. The practice of making children's learning visible actually entails creating documentation that represents children's thinking processes and explains their progression of learning, so it can be conveyed to parents in a comprehensive medium they can access and understand.
More than just play
When families are transitioning into early childhood education, much of the time is taken up with administration and management requirements and often the important aspect of the curriculum is overlooked. Presenting children's learning experiences to parents/whānau in formats that have been created using ICTs, such as photographs, learning stories and DVDs, makes learning visible and provides parents with a comprehensive understanding of how their child is learning through play.
Making learning visible
Services found that the sharing of visual documentation, such as photographs and video footage was effective at helping give families/whānau a better understanding of their children's learning. The investigations illustrate that the creation of photographs and movies using digital equipment also helps teachers to develop relationships with the children and to gain a better understanding of what interests them. Children become competent and confident users of ICT tools, such as digital cameras, and often request to take equipment home so that they can share and record learning experiences with their families/whānau.
Having noticed Faith's interest in the camera and acknowledging the skill she had developed using it within the Kindergarten, we responded by asking if she might like to take the camera home. When the camera came back there were photos of Faith and her brothers and sisters, and a much-loved cousin, "baby Jordan". We downloaded the photos onto the computer in the main room and ran them as a slide show… About a week later, Mum came in and saw the photos and explained that they were very special to the family, so we made some prints of the photos to take home. (Maraeroa Kindergarten report, p.16-17)
The visual nature of these documents and online tools encourages parents and whānau to spend time viewing their child's learning experiences, stimulating conversation between parent and child, and reinforcing learning experiences at home.
Saw Harry had been playing with slime at KIDSPACE. Teacher had been using tactile words to describe the experience. This allowed us to use the same words at home leading to strengthening his language skills.
(Parent blog comment, KIDSPACE report, p.14)
Feedback from parents and whānau demonstrated they were able to achieve an understanding of children's learning through viewing the documentation. The visual nature of photographs and videos recorded on DVDs and blogs, illustrates to parents how their child is progressing and the language used to respond incorporates key visual expressions, such as see, watch and illustrate. It is the visual nature of documented learning experiences, created using ICT tools, that enhances parental and whānau understanding of children's learning; and having an insight into their child's encounters at kindergarten eases any anxieties or concerns they may have had.
"The DVD is awesome and is a great profile addition that really enables you to see what they get up to."
"I can see the pride he has in showing his DVD."
"…it illustrates more clearly the actual process of certain activities/play sessions, how outcomes were achieved."
"I can see that he plays with more than just one or two children that he talks about…"
"L enjoyed seeing himself on the computer and wanted to see more."
"B loved watching his DVD and showing it to us and his Grandparents."
"I can see how much fun and joy he is having and it makes it more of a reality and I am really proud to watch him learning."
"It sometimes is hard for me to visualise how he learns stuff and the DVD makes it easier to understand the context it's in."
(Parental feedback, Mayfield Kindergarten report, p.7-12)
One Playcentre found that as well as making learning visible, it is also important to make the philosophy and ethos of the centre evident to ensure that parents fully understand the context their child is learning in. ICT tools were used to create posters that parents could access while visiting the centre to enhance their understandings of the benefits of mixed age settings.
Parental feedback indicated that displaying the poster ensured this:
… parent community understands the positive values of mixed age sessions. In particular, older children developing empathy, compassion, consideration and nurturing of younger ones and that older children can learn to look after younger members which brings out the disposition of responsibility.
(Atawhai Playcentre report, p.7-15)
Helping families with English as an additional language to understand children's learning
Language and cultural differences can create additional stresses for families whose first language is not English. ICT tools have created a method of conveying children's learning experiences that families with English as an additional language can understand. The creation of a DVD to communicate service information to families has seen positive results, with parents commenting that the DVD is:
…more helpful than the brochures [because of] …voice prompts and listening, rather than reading…Great!
(Parent, Sunshine Kindergarten report, p.13)
Parental/whānau understanding of their child's learning is of particular importance to children from families with English as an additional language because it ensures that children feel valued and confident about their learning experiences and they settle quickly into the learning environment. Bridging the language gap helps to ensure that children have a sense of belonging, this in turn ensures they have the confidence to explore their environment and investigate learning opportunities.
Tian Yi arrived in New Zealand at the age of three years speaking no English. He initially started in the afternoon session attending three afternoons accompanied by his Grandfather. The team used the usual strategies to establish a relationship of trust so the he could get a sense of well being and belonging. Initially his Grandfather, who also had no English, would stay with him.
Although there is some merit in this strategy we often find it can delay integration into the programme as the child continues to be very dependent on the grandparent limiting interactions with teachers and peers. After discussions with Mum, (who works full time), Grandfather slowly separated over a period of a few weeks and was able to leave Tian Yi alone at kindergarten. Initially Tian Yi kept to himself and the team would endeavour to spend time with him daily using appropriate picture books, language prompts and lots of body language in an attempt to engage him in the programme.
Tian Yi was then introduced to the digital camera. His excitement was obvious by the smile on his face and the amount of photos he took. We seem to have had a break through. There had been a particular group of children that Tian Yi gravitated to on most days. Unfortunately his lack of English and confidence made this challenging.
Critiquing his photos I realised that one boy in particular featured several times. I decided to use a photo story, mainly to support his English, giving language to activities and names of the other children…
The laptop was set up on the porch with a microphone attached and Tian Yi was encouraged to investigate. One of the first photos was of a boy called Bailey. Tian Yi, pointed excitedly and after a few stumbled words said Bailey…friend!" This came as such a surprise as he often appeared frustrated around Bailey and we had mistaken his frustration for dislike.
During the voice recording, several children came over to have a closer look. Tian Yi was suddenly the centre of attention. The photo story was played over and over and I sat back to observe the reactions. Because Tian Yi was smiling and laughing, his peers did the same. One little girl seemed to gain a deeper understanding of Tian Yi's level of English and repeated the narration from the photo story and directed it to Tian Yi and said "Good boy!" Tian Yi's popularity increased overnight…
This software gave Tian Yi such a powerful voice and clarified in some instances his understanding of English and our misunderstanding of his intent. For example, his desire to have Bailey as a friend, not a foe! From that day on the two went on many adventures together and the team were truly amazed at how quickly Tian Yi had accommodated the English Language. In this instance, technology was the enabler for Tian Yi to communicate and gain a sense of well being and belonging.
We showed the first Photo Story to Grandfather when he came to pick Tian Yi up that day. The very next day he bought Tian Yi's Grandmother in and pointed to the computer. On viewing the photo story, their body language indicated such a high level of delight and gratitude that I was a little overwhelmed. Grandfather kept shaking my hand and saying thank you. The following morning Tian Yi's Mother, Vallen, dropped in to view the photo story. Her English is reasonable but she works full time and we had only ever seen her once before. She was so grateful that his English was developing.
"We only speak Mandarin at home…We have been very worried about his learning English."…
After the success of Photo Story, Grandfather started to come early to pick up Tian Yi but looked for helpful jobs to do around the kindergarten. He offered to cut the lawns, he fixed a broken part of the fence, washed dishes, swept floors. He often watched the teachers working with the children and then was observed doing the same with Tian Yi. This was observed one day when I had just made a calendar with a child who had less than 20 odd days until he was off to school. Grandfather then sat with Tian Yi and made a calendar working alongside his grandson learning the numbers together.
During this period, Grandfather and I had several significant conversation about his life in China from his youth, conscripted into the army, through to married life and being a humble 'worker' (as he called it) through to coming to New Zealand. I felt privileged that he wished to share his journey with me.
(Tian Yi, Sunshine Kindergarten report, Appendix 2, p.1-6)
Many services felt that their increased use of ICT in documentation resulted in better parent/whānau understanding of children's learning progressions through everyday experiences. It also highlighted the role of play in children's learning. Hightened parental/whānau interest was largely attributed to the capacity of ICT to tell a more visual story through photographs and video, and was found to be particularly powerful in instances where English was an additional language.
Children often shared the ICT-created documentation with their families and this gave parents a clear idea of the benefits of play activities that their child was engaged in.
While enthusiasm for the ability of ICT to communicate understanding of children's learning is in many cases justified, it also requires a caveat. Making children's experiences more accessible and real to families/whānau through digital technology is not in itself a guarantee that they will understand or appreciate the learning that is taking place. The need for teachers to be clear about the learning that they are aiming to encourage and astute about articulating this is as important as ever. Therefore, in this context of making learning visible, digital images are best viewed as an enhancement not a substitute for the written word.
Improving dialogue and connection with communities
Creating a reciprocal dialogue with parents, families, whānau and the wider community enhances opportunities to develop children's learning through opportunities for sharing, communicating and collaboration.
Observations and records should be part of two-way communication that strengthens the partnership between early childhood settings and families.
(Ministry of Education, 1996, p.30)
The research undertaken by the services involved in this project aimed to investigate how ICTs could be utilised to further enhance communication links with the wider community, and to determine if a new communication platform could elicit meaningful relationships that would improve children's educational outcomes.
Several methods of communication were used to create links and develop relationships with the wider community, but the most contemporary and perhaps one of the most successful was the creation of service and individual blogs. This Web 2.0 facility offered services an opportunity to store, revisit and share children's learning digitally and securely, exploiting a variety of mediums including photographs, video footage, voice recordings, text and children's learning stories, which were created using a range of software, eg PowerPoint, Kid Pix, ArtRage and Comic Life.
The foremost reason for services choosing to use a blog is because it creates the opportunity for readers to respond. It is not simply the process of sharing children's learning that is significant, but that parents can contribute to their child's learning through posting comments and adding stories, pictures and videos of learning experiences that occur outside of the traditional learning environment. As well as creating blogs, services also chose to communicate and share children's learning through e-mail, sending DVDs and learning stories home, and creating wall displays of children's photographs and printed learning stories to promote parental discussion at the service.
Some services took their investigation a step further than just making children's learning visible by seeking a reciprocal relationship where parents/whānau, teachers and children were able to interact freely, sharing experiences and events that occurred within the service and beyond. This was intended to not only strengthen existing relationships but to create a dialogue that is meaningful and supportive of children's learning outcomes through their emergent curriculum. Research questions were varied and broadly investigated how services could improve and develop relationships, with specific questions considering how a service blog can foster closer relationships with families and the wider community.
All of the studies that focussed on building relationships with their community through ICTs found that using ICTs to create new opportunities for communication enhanced and developed relationships with family and whānau.
We are able to talk to the kids about what has happened that day, show them pictures, then stories start, they explain everything.
(Parent, KIDSPACE Early Learning Centre report, p.17)
Creating digital documents of children's learning experiences that can be shared via a blog, wall display or e-mail has given parents and whānau the opportunity to be involved in their child's learning process and enabled them to understand how ICT can be used for social, educational and cultural purposes. After viewing the documentation supplied by the services, parents often felt reassured that their child had settled into the early childhood setting and were at ease with the effortless way that they could engage in dialogue with the service and their child.
The global nature of the Internet means that children can share their experiences with people important to them worldwide. Manaia Kindergarten, for example, found that their service blog was accessed by many grandparents, both here and overseas, who "appreciated us posting on the blog to enable them to play a part in their grandchildren's early childhood learning" (Manaia Kindergarten report, p. 20).
One child with developmentally delayed muscular growth, wanted to share the sewing she had painstakingly created throughout a session with her Grandfather in England. To communicate her efforts and show her Grandfather his name sewn with a love heart and flower, she wanted to post pictures of her work,
and her doing the sewing on the blog. The next day her Grandfather had seen the pictures, shared the blog story and address with relatives, and commented on his amazement at her wonderful work and incredible generosity. Five other viewers, including friends and family in England responded to the little
girl, along with her physiotherapist in New Zealand who was able to see her skills in action in an authentic setting and respond with encouragement.
(Manaia Kindergarten report, p16)
The ability for family and whānau to connect with their child's learning encouraged them to document stories from home, which the child could share with the service. Such practices allowed children to see that their home life and service life were equally valued and respected.
Joel is a wonderful, quiet three-year-old boy. He loves to create, tell stories, and share his experiences from home. Joel socialises well with all teachers and children although he has found a select few 'best friends'. Joel will often come to Next Generation in the morning with his Mum, Michelle. Together they will find an activity to get involved with. Most often they will create with the play dough together. Joel and his family have really become involved in the blogging world that the centre has created.
Joel started off by helping teachers select photos, put together stories and captions for the centres daily diary. Occasionally Joel would talk into the microphone, telling a story about a specific image captured. As Joel became more confident with this task, he also became more vocal.
On the occasions that Joel had contributed to the centre blog, Michelle would leave a comment for the teachers to publish. One evening the teachers held a workshop for parents who wanted to know more about blogs and e-portfolios. Michelle came along. Then Joel got chicken pox!
Joel really wanted to show his friends what he looked like but was unable to come to the centre. So Michelle and Joel put together some photos and a story onto Joel's e-portfolio to share with everyone at Next Generation. Wow!
Michelle has started making use of free programmes that the centre has recommended so that she can add photos and stories about things that Joel may want to share with his peers. These have been put onto Joel's e-portfolio and Joel has offered to share these memories with his peers
Through the e-portfolio Joel has the opportunity to share two very important parts of his life, home and centre life, with his friends, his family and his extended family.
(Next Generation Childcare report, p.9)
Collaborative learning environment
A number of services talked of families continuing similar experiences and discussions at home after viewing a particular learning episode that their child had been involved in at the service. Equally, there were examples where a posting on a blog had encouraged parents to come in and contribute at the service.Our intention has always been to encourage parents to contribute to their children's learning in the kindergarten. The blog has made this easier for many families. It has "blown us away" that parents have enriched our Kindergarten programme by being so involved through the use of our blog, in the every day kindergarten experiences. An example of this is the community's interest in fishing. The children's play has reflected this interest and they have shared this on the blog. Parents have noticed this interest on the blog and taken up the opportunities to contribute their knowledge and expertise in fishing through comments and by volunteering their skills at Kindergarten as a result. Children's interests have been challenged and extended through parent's involvement in the blog.
(Manaia Kindergarten report, p18)
Giving parents access to children's learning through online documentation offered parents the opportunity to add feedback to the service through children's e-portfolios and blogs, developing a collaborative piece of work that both home and service could share and contribute to. Collaboration of this nature was often thought to be facilitated because of the immediacy with which these 'any time, any place' online tools allowed responses to be made.
Hayden, told a teacher all about his chickens at home. His knowledge of the chickens was extensive, however he couldn't remember what the chicken food was called. This was all captured on video, evaluated and posted into his e-portfolio. Later that day Hayden's Mum, Robyn posted to his e-portfolio. She was at home, and had videoed the chickens showing Hayden the chicken food and also talking to him on the video, reminding him what it was called so he could tell the teachers. After thinking about Mum and hearing her talk to the video Hayden started to miss her, so he phoned her for a chat. Again the conversation was captured on video and posted. Hayden has revisited these amazing videos often with both his parents and the teachers, cementing the learning in a meaningful way for him.
(Rotorua Girls' High School Childcare Trust report, p. 16)
Services that established blogs and e-portfolios all spoke of the need to work closely with parents during the set-up stage, and thereafter as new families entered the service. Finding out what ICTs families had a home and responding to some parents' concerns about Internet security issues, particularly when images of their child were being used, were an important aspect of developing blogs and e-portfolios. However, they were also tasks that staff were willing to commit to because they could see the benefits in terms of collaboration. After attending cybersafety workshops themselves, some teaching teams held tutorials to ease parents' concerns. Some services also offered workshops to assist in improving parents' technical knowledge and skill. Once the e-portfolios and blogs were set up and parents could see the benefits for their children, then services found that parents felt comfortable to participate in the project.
L just loves looking at the Blog and seeing all the children and things that have happened, she has noticed that she is not on them and tells us that she wants to be, so can I change the permission sheet and allow her to be put in the stories, that will make us all happy.
(Blog post from a parent, Greenwood Kindergarten report, p.16)
Those services that made extensive use of blogs and e-portfolios found that children understood the purpose of creating and sharing their learning progress and often requested to include items of interest to them. They seem to be encouraged and excited by the notion that there was an audience 'out there' who would read and see what they did. Children often requested to use the digital or video cameras to record their learning progress independently, with the intention of sharing this process with the wider world. Children took ownership of their learning and, in collaboration with teachers, made decisions about what learning experiences they wanted to explore and share with the wider community.
Since the one-week snapshot, of e-portfolios, Sophie's has developed her own culture of documenting her learning on her blog. She has videoed her work and talked to it, explaining what she has made and all of the important details that contribute to the complexity of the work. She then moved onto interviewing herself on video about her experiences with her mouse Lewis, and requesting that this be put on her blog. Sophie has gone from strength to strength in contributing to her e-portfolio, and role modelled this form of documentation and self-assessment to her peers. Sophie has a clear understanding of the purpose of her blog.
(Rotorua Girls' High School Childcare Trust report, p.18).
Services reported that using ICT for communication helped to build reciprocal relationships with family/whānau more quickly, and offered the opportunity for the child's voice to surface through parent and teacher documentation.
The goat visit
Grasslands Kindergarten said…
We had a goat visit on Tuesday. Renee naturally enjoyed this experience! Our wee animal/nature lover.
Blogger Sandra said…
Yes I can imagine Renee enjoyed the goat's visit. She is very much like her mother and loves animals. Did you know though that her Dad has taken her pig hunting (really a walk in the bush for the dogs) and she thinks she is a hunter now!
Grasslands Kindergarten said…
We can well believe it!!! lol Ally.
Renee's comment on pig hunting:
I like pig hunting. I went pig hunting with dad and his name is James but you know that. Thomas James is his name. We went at quarter past 8 but we couldn't go and see any pigs cause they weren't up. The dogs go fast.
Grasslands Kindergarten said…
Renee that was quite a story you shared with me…I just love your imagination and the way you describe things. Ally
Blogger Sandra said…
Thanks for that version of the pig-hunting story. We have a little girl at this kindergarten who has been duck hunting and her parents put a story about it in her portfolio. (Grasslands Kindergarten report, p.9)
Creating a shared dialogue was found to be particularly useful for services working with babies and toddlers. ICT supplemented the vital face-to-face communication with visuals that helped parents to see their child's experiences more clearly. Services reported that this additional facility for communication enabled the expression of ideas that would not otherwise have been articulated. In one service (Tots Corner), teachers found ICT helped them to engage in a reflective dialogue about uncomfortable situations. The learning story below was emailed home to a parent and resulted in the parent reflecting on how she could support her son's learning experiences at home.
As Hamish makes his way over to the big outdoor area, he takes with him the ride along car that he has seemed to claim as his own! Toddling around, before noticing other trucks he likes the look of, he ditches the car to make a break for the trucks.
Time goes on and after a wee while he remembers 'his' ride on which by now another child is having a turn. Charging over there, with nothing else in mind but claiming his property, he yells and cries at them expecting immediately to "get it back".
As the child seems concerned at the intensity of Hamish's demands, he gets off to give the car back to Hamish. At this time I intervened and explained to Hamish that he will just have to wait his turn.
Hamish your determination and strong mind sets you upon achieving your intensions. This definitely showed me that obstacles, such as older children do not seem to intimidate or hold you back, as you get right on in there stating what is "yours".
With our guidance and support we have persevered to build on your knowledge of taking turns and sharing with your friends. Your authority towards favourite toys is very strong and sometimes it's either your way or no way! In the end you tend to give in, realising that things aren't always going to go your way.
Well as time goes on, there will be pathways you will come across and social skills like the ones mentioned that will be of great use to yourself.
Teachers; Hanna and Kate
Hamish we like that you are 'determined' and if this aspect of your personality is channelled correctly (as your teachers are already doing), it will stand you in good stead in the future. We all have to learn that we can't always get what we want; although I know that sometimes Mummy wants to give
you the world so that you never want for anything. However, in doing so, Mummy is doing you a huge injustice by not channelling your determination in the appropriate way. Dad is a lot better at this and perhaps Mummy needs to learn from him and your teachers how she can guide you better. We look forward
to seeing the changes in your behaviour reflecting a more sharing attitude with toys etc as you learn to deal with your 'determined' spirit!
Love Mummy and Dad
(Tots Corner (Babies and Infants) report, p.20-21)
As well as allowing for collaboration with families, many services forged links with other early childhood/kindergarten services and local primary schools, creating reciprocal professional relationships. This link was of particular benefit for children about to start school as they were able to see pictures and videos of their school and communicate with their prospective teachers, which eased their transition into the school environment. This was valuable in rural services, where schools are not in close proximity. The ability to visit school blogs, or to chat over a Skype connection created sustainable and tangible links with feeder schools for some services.
One local new entrant teacher has been instrumental in leaving encouraging comments for our children and has used our kindergarten blog as a tool to get to know children who will be starting school. This teacher is the driving force for her school blogging journey and it has created reciprocal relationships between the new entrants' class and the kindergarten children. Recent blog posts on both blogs share stories of the new entrants' class coming over to kindergarten to read stories to our children.
(Manaia Kindergarten report p22)
Services reported that creating links and forging reciprocal relationships with parents/whānau and the wider community using ICT worked best when developments happened over an extended period of time, giving the opportunity for trialling these before implementing them fully. That said, using ICTs for this purpose was found to be viable and sustainable. Teachers have remained committed to developing their proficiency in using ICTs to build reciprocal relationships and have assisted parents with their skill development to ensure that families are able to continue to contribute to their child's learning by connecting experiences and learning from home. These new interactions were not used instead of other forms of communication, but were utilised in addition to other methods (such as book portfolios) and served to enrich the service, its relationships with the community and the children's learning experiences.
… ICT has extended the ability to connect relationships and establish communication lines, which in turn has extended children's learning, and their experiences and parents have been more involved and influenced in children's experiences establishing responsive and reciprocal relationships.
(Thames Early Childhood Education Centre report, p.22)
Currently, educational transition is defined as the process of change that children make from one place or phase of education to another over time.
(Fabian & Dunlop, 2006, p.3)
Young children experience transitions from home to service, from service to service, and from service to school. They need as much consistency and continuity of experience as possible in order to develop confidence and trust to explore and to establish a secure foundation of remembered and anticipated people, places, things, and experiences.
(Ministry of Education, 1996, p.46)
Sustaining smooth transitions is important for children's well being and learning. It can be critical for determining children's future educational success. Previous writings suggest that the success of the child's experience of early transitions will make a difference to them in the initial stages but it may also have a more long-term impact and influence subsequent educational transitioning experiences, therefore highlighting the importance of successful early transitions.
Two services made the use of ICTs to ease transitions for children and their families the main focus of their research, with one addressing transitions into the early childhood service and a second concentrating on transition from the service to a school setting. There were also other incidental examples of ICT being used to support transition. A hospital-based medical care service had a secondary focus on facilitating transitions, and considered how to use ICT tools to make transitions from a neonatal unit to a medical care unit easier for children and their families. Several other services discovered that their application of ICT resources assisted with transition processes into, between or out of the service, although this was not necessarily a component of their research question.
Using a digital camera to facilitate transitions
A range of ICT equipment was utilised by services to ease transitions but the digital camera was one of the most frequently used tools to assist with difficult transition periods.
The digital camera is small and simple enough for young children to master quickly and easily, enabling them to take photographs of things that are important to them, both at the service and at home.
The images, featuring artefacts, people and places of importance to the child, were shared via e-mail or printed in individual portfolios, or displayed on the wall. Teachers noted that some children's anxieties diminished when they were able to access these images and carry them around.
The digital camera was utilised in a variety of ways to ease the transition process and teachers discovered that the camera was not only of benefit to the children who were having difficulty in settling into their new environment, but it was also of interest to children who settled immediately. One service found that although all children enjoyed using the digital camera, it was those children who found mixing with large groups difficult who benefited the most. The same service also indicated that using the digital cameras was of particular value in helping children who speak English as an additional language to settle, as the images became 'a way in' to shared conversations about things that the child knew about or was interested in.
The children often took cameras home and this initiated parental interest in the learning process and helped the child to feel more at ease about attending the service. The children brought the photographs of their home and family to the service and printed them out, put them in their portfolio or viewed them as a slide show. Children were able to refer to these images at times of stress and this process seemed to calm and reassure them. Children and teachers also took photographs of learning experiences that occurred whilst at the service and this was reassuring for the parents as they could clearly see that their child was happy.
Transition into Kindergarten can be a difficult time for children and their parents and whānau, as everyone adjusts to the significant change that is involved. We had often used the camera to gather some images of home for the child's profile book as a means of creating some conversation starters. It wasn't until Faamalele and her family joined us however that the true potential of using the digital camera to ease the transition process became clear.
Settling into the completely unfamiliar environment of Kindergarten was a challenging process for Faamalele and her family. Saying goodbye to her Mum (Susana) or Dad (Manao) was very difficult and would often require her parents to literally hand Faamalele over to the waiting teacher. With lots of physical and emotional support Faamalele was able to work through this, to the point where she would leave her parent willingly but clearly very upset. As the week passed, it became obvious that Mum & Dad were also struggling with saying goodbye and leaving their cherished daughter in such an upset state, even though they understood that she was cared for and supported through this difficult adjustment.
In the second week, Faamalele began to feel comfortable to occasionally move away from her support figure, and begin exploring the environment for very short periods before needing to return to 'touch base'. To reinforce Faamalele's growing sense of trust that "I'm ok in this place", and to reassure her parents that she was beginning to feel comfortable enough to explore the new (physical and social) environment, Jeanne decided to take some photos of what Faamalele chose to do one morning. She then showed them to Manao when he came to pick her up that day. As he stood with another father they looked at the photos together, smiling and speaking softly in Samoan. The other father then showed Manao his son's profile book, and this appeared to be reassure Manao somewhat.
The next morning as Faamalele's Dad prepared to say goodbye, he pointed her towards the puzzle that had featured in the photos from the day before. With support, Faamalele said goodbye, then together they went and printed the photos out (and laminated them and clipped them together onto a ring), so that Faamalele could carry them around with her. Faamalele's response to these images was almost instantaneous - she left the physical comfort of a teacher and walked around the Kindergarten freely, carrying her photos and initiating brief discussions about them. She also decided to make another 'ula' for her Mum, as she had been photographed doing the day before in one of the photos. The ring of photos were Velcro-ed into her profile book, which she then took home to share with her family.
The next day, Faamalele explained that she had shared the book with her brothers & sisters, and her Mum & Dad. Her Mum said they had all looked and talked about the photos. Later, after Mum had left and Faamalele sat with Jeanne, a great conversation was sparked (and shared with several other children) about Faamalele's brothers and sisters.
At this point, Jeanne suggested Faamalele take the camera home to take some pictures to share with us. Back came the photos of her family, and the slideshow was projected onto the whiteboard. An audience grew and Faamalele excitedly shared her photos with us her teachers, other children, and her Mum when she arrived to pick her up. As the days passed, Faamalele continued to carry around her rings of photos from both home and Kindergarten, but the need to draw on them for emotional support lessened, and they became more of a tool for sparking conversation. A quote from Jeanne "It felt like the 'walls' between home and Kindergarten were coming down!" Using the powerful images to create a tangible item that Faamalele could (literally) hold onto in times of stress/upset, assisted us to bridge the 'divide' between the familiar and unfamiliar.
(Maraeroa Kindergarten report, p.13-14)
When a child transitions into a new educational environment, it may not just be the child that feels apprehensive. Parents and whānau are naturally keen to see their child settled, happy and participating in the service's programme, and teachers believed that having parents/whānau feeling confident and optimistic about leaving their child could help alleviate the child's anxiety in cases where this was an issue. Services found that some parents' concerns were eased by showing them images and video footage of their child engaged in learning with others. As part of their action research, Kidsfirst Kindergarten (Trengrove) interviewed parents about the impact of welcoming stories made using ICT and sent home soon after a child started. Feedback on this practice included,
"Honestly, I don't think it made a difference either way to C, but it made me feel much more comfortable about leaving my child at kindy. Thanks for the reassurance."
"My children usually settle very well into new environments but Toby was a cause of concern to me because he has been very reluctant to attend preschool. He generally cries and clings and talks all week of not wanting to go. Given this, I was THRILLED with how happy he was at kindy, how eager he is to go and how comfortable he is when I leave!"
(Parents' comments, Kidsfirst Kindergarten [Trengrove] report, p.8-10)
Creating a DVD to ease transitions for the child and the family
Two services trialled the development of DVDs to facilitate transitions. At Otatara and Lucknow Kindergartens, a DVD that was given to families to watch prior to their child attending the service proved to be a particularly useful resource for affirming and extending connecting links. The DVD helped children and their families to feel comfortable with the routines, customs and regular events of the kindergarten. Families were able to watch the DVD together and in some cases they fed back that they had watched the DVD several times. The DVD gave children an understanding of what they could expect before they even attended any sessions and this made the experience seem more recognisable.
At the beginning of the term Mason started into morning sessions. He hadn't been to a pre-entry session, but on his first day he came up and asked when he would be able to use the hammers - 'you know', he said to me,' like on that thing you gave Mum at home'. He again referred to seeing it at home when he asked to work in the carpentry area again the next day.
(Teacher, Otatara Kindergarten report, p.11)
Parents explained that watching the DVD improved their understanding of the daily routines at the service and helped them to explain to their children what they could look forward to doing there. Parents also felt that introducing the teachers on DVD made them feel more assured about knowing what was expected of them in making it an easy transition for their child. Furthermore, they felt confident to approach teachers with any further questions or concerns that they had about their child attending the service.
"The DVD showed many things the kindy is strong in, introducing using te reo, the technology, healthy eating focus, independent discovery. It's great!"
"It introduced kindy to our child (who loved watching it) and gave insight to the parent who didn't visit in person. I liked the frames showing lunch, learning and interacting with the teachers (and the singing)."
(Parents' comments, Lucknow Kindergarten report, p5)
"The personal touches, talking about yourselves was nice and for a first time parent, very important."
"We liked the introduction of Kim and Michelle as it made us feel as if we 'knew' them a bit better."
(Parents' comments, Otatara Kindergarten report, p.11)
Easing transitions into school
A handful of services investigated how ICTs could be used to familiarise children with their new school before they begin attending and therefore ease the transition to school process. Kids at Play gave cameras to families going on school visits as part of their intention to make learning more visible through using ICT.
We give the camera to the families to take photos when they visit their new classroom. These photos come back to the centre to be printed so the child can show them to everyone and paste them in their books. This practice helps a transitioning child to view their moving to school as a positive experience and also involves their parents in the process.
Lucknow Kindergarten trialled the practice of creating a 'transition to school DVD' for individual children. This included a number of learning episodes collected over the course of the child's time at kindergarten and a summary of his/her strengths and interests. Although one primary teacher welcomed this resource, the Lucknow teachers concluded:
Generally feedback from New Entrant Teachers was mixed. Our understanding from this was that a request from us to view the resource only adds another task to a primary teacher's already very full teaching day. We felt our goal for it to encourage positive transition a little ambitious and stopped production of this brief Transition DVD. Instead, this Transition chapter has merged with the child's full leaving Digital Story. Now this can be viewed as the final chapter on the leaving DVD. We continue to promote this final chapter for sharing with their school teacher and classmates.
(Lucknow Kindergarten report)
At Waiuku Kindergarten, ICT tools were used to create booklets that incorporated important images and information about the new school. The booklets incorporated key features of the school environment, such as the toilets and the water fountain as well as pictures of the children's new teachers. The children were able to access these booklets at any time and they often shared them with other children and their families to familiarise themselves with their new school. Children often used the books to reinforce previous visits to the school by telling teachers what they recognised from these visits. Whereas previously the service had only considered a transitioning process for children soon to start school, the school booklets gave younger children the opportunity to prepare for future transitions.
Dominic is off to school shortly and he has been on several school visits and is taking a keen interest in the transition processes. Here he is photographed looking at our school booklets with Raymond who is going to school the following year. Dominic is the initiator of this activity, and he has his particular school's (Pukeoware) booklet.
(Learning Story, Waiuku Kindergarten report, p.11)
Using Skype to create links with the new school
Some services found that Skype was a practical tool that allowed children to develop virtual relationships with a new entrant class and/or a new entrant teacher, as well as offering the opportunity to continue friendships that had already been established in the early childhood environment. Using video and Skype, children were able to see some of the school environment and talk to their future school friends.
Services using this tool for transition purposes reported that the children enjoyed the social aspect of the communication and requested to speak to previous kindergarten children, but also learned the names of other children who would be in their new class. This method of communication helped children to gain an understanding of school and class activities.
Although Skype was deemed to be an effective tool for helping children to become familiar with their new school, some teachers argued that it was not necessarily sustainable due to technical and timetabling issues between the schools and service. However, these teachers said that it was evident that the children found talking to their new school exciting and they wanted to continue these Skype relationships.
Today I was sitting down with Raymond, and we were talking about letters and school. Raymond remembered back to when he had Skyped with Room 10, and said, 'I want to do that talking with Dresyn'.
(Teacher's observation, Waiuku Kindergarten report, p.15)
Creating a blog for transition
At Waiuku Kindergarten, children posted learning stories about their school visits on the service blog and teachers discovered this was beneficial to the children as it opened up communication, developed links between the service and school and extended the transition time for children. The children's blog posts indicated they had an understanding of the transition to school process and the fact that comments could be added at any time meant that the service could continue facilitating the transition process once the child had begun attending school. Families were also able to contribute to the blog by adding comments and collaborating with the child to post stories about school visits and the first days at school, prompting conversation about the transition process.
After Spencer's learning story was posted it received comments from a previous friend from kindergarten, his Principal at school, and his relatives overseas.
(Waiuku Kindergarten report, p.16)
Easing hospital transitions for children and families
Families who are discharged from the hospital neonatal unit have almost an 80% chance of being readmitted into emergency care or medical care. Hospital staff created a DVD, using Moviemaker, which was screened to groups of parents as part of their discharge transition process. The DVD gave parents information about the journey of readmission to emergency care or medical care and prepared them for the likely impact of hospital on young children.
The team trialled the DVD with parents and then made some amendments to ensure that the information suitably prepared parents for the transition process and that their fears and misconceptions were alleviated. The DVD is now used as an integral component of the neonatal transition process and parental feedback indicates that the DVD is helpful for parents facing this difficult transition.
Showing the DVD in a group setting promotes discussion/support amongst families, it also gave the opportunity for parents to be parents in an unfamiliar environment.
"Practical information (e.g. about the ambulance and phone) encouraged independence of being a parent."
"Every parent should see this DVD and do the visit - I'm going to tell them all."
(Parents' feedback, KidzFirst Children's Hospital: Medical Care Unit report, p.21)
Prior to the ECE ICT PL programme, some services did not have a consistent transition strategy in place and often operated on an ad hoc basis. The professional learning programme has offered the opportunity to reflect on current practice, comparing it with what had been done previously. For some, this led to a shift in teacher thinking and helped them to align their practice with the principles of Te Whāriki.
While few services used ICT to facilitate transitions as the main focus of their investigation, those that did generally found benefits in doing so. In particular, ICT afforded the ability to create useful resources - photo collections, DVDs and booklets - that helped children and their families gain a sense of familiarity about a new environment before they began attending. Another advantage of using ICT was that children other than those being targeted for transition often got involved and so the whole process of transition became more fluid and integrated in the service programme. Where resources were made available on DVD and shared with families, the opportunity for children's preparation for transition was able to continue at home as well as at the service.
While the services believed that ICT added value to transition to school processes, they also pointed out that this value rested on the schools being willing and able to receive and use the information well. Services found this was not always the case.
As one said in their recommendations:
...realise that these relationships are dependent on personalities and therefore open to change, using even the most innovative ICT to enhance transition is no use unless teachers - school and ECE - place value on transition processes. (Waiuku Kindergarten report, p21)