Judy Kynaston – National Project Manager, KidsMatter, Early Childhood Australia

 

The early childhood service community includes children, families, educators, other staff, as well as services and people in the wider community. 

 

A positive sense of community exists when everyone has a role to play and is valued for who they are, and when we experience positive, responsive and caring relationships, with everyone working together in meaningful ways through participation and shared decision making.

 

A positive sense of community within an early childhood service is also essential for good mental health and wellbeing in young children.

 

Catharine Hydon – Early Childhood Consultant

 

The notion of community in early childhood services is very important.  It's become much more understood in terms of quality practise than ever before I think, and this is good news for us because in fact we're not a service that is isolated from the community, we're well and truly in it, and in some places, small communities for example, what happens in that early childhood service is absolutely connected to the wellbeing of the whole community.  So a really good sign of practise, of strong practise in an early childhood setting, is indeed a service that in the first place sees the community as being part of it. 

 

Dr Luke Touhill – Early Childhood Consultant

 

I think it’s really important with a sense of community to start with the centre itself.  I think we sometimes think of community as always being about reaching outside into the wider community, and that’s certainly important, but I think there’s a lot that can be done, firstly creating a sense of community within the service.

 

Anne Stonehouse - Early Childhood Consultant  

 

We often—when we talk about sense of community in services—we often think of relationships between educators and children and educators and families, and sometimes families and other families, but a sense of community, I’m not sure it can exist unless among the staff and the educators there’s a sense of community, there’s a sense of welcome—the same things we say about families, but that every staff member needs to feel welcome, valued, accepted for who they are, that feeling of, ‘I can be myself here,’ that sense of, ‘We support each other when things don’t go well, we celebrate achievements when things do go well, we can resolve conflicts,’ because there will be conflicts and tensions when you’re doing work as intense as caring for and educating children. 

 

Tracey Simpson – Early Childhood Consultant

 

Early childhood services can plan for developing their community.  It’s not just about the service, it’s about the people within it, and the history and stories that go with their service.  So they can take time to plan around what they know, what they don’t know about their particular community, and then gradually grow as a community themselves with that knowledge and by including everyone in the planning. 

 

Catharine Hydon – Early Childhood Consultant

 

Early childhood services who are beginning to think about the community that they're part of often feel a bit daunted by that.  Who do we ask?  Who are the people that we talk to get to know our community?  For me I think it begins with the families because they are members of that community in various ways.  So obviously in your ongoing and initial conversations with families, asking them about community might be a really good step in the right direction to see what is their community, how do they think about that, but also early childhood educators have lots of different opportunities and access points to find out what's going on in the community. 

Tracey Simpson – Early Childhood Consultant

 

For families it’s a space where they can connect with different families, it’s a space where they can be respected for who they are and improve their own sense of who they are and that that’s important.  So it’s win, win, win if we have that sense of diversity and acceptance in any service.

Dr Nicole Milburn – Clinical Psychologist and Infant Mental Health Consultant

 

A community supports good mental health in children by good communication within the community.  Having a shared narrative about something.  So in an early childhood centre it might be a shared narrative about the way we do things, the way we are with people, how respectful or how we play, the rules that we have, those sorts of things.  Sharing those sorts of things with the families then includes the family in the community of the early childhood centre and so the child then is known in the community, known by a range of people.  Being known by a range of people is helpful for good mental health because that then helps the child know themselves and gives a good strong sense of identity.

 

Catharine Hydon – Early Childhood Consultant

 

It’s about doing it because they think that community's important for children and that understanding is growing, and particularly in relation to the Early Years Learning Framework that identifies a strong outcome about being connected to your community and understanding what that is, what your community's like, and of course for very young children the community is very immediate, it's their own immediate family and the things that they do in their local community, go to the shops, going to the park, all those different things that happen. 

 

But as children get older their community sense expands to include many things that offer fantastic opportunities. 

 

The other thing of course, as lots of educators I know will say there's nothing going on in our community, there's nothing happening, it's just a very ordinary suburb, but I do think looking beyond the four walls of your service, just to be aware and mindful about what's going on you, will notice things that are interesting.  Also you could ask the children.  The children often have a very strong sense of what's going on.  They'll notice things that perhaps you don't notice.  They'll notice that a new shop is being opened or they'll notice that something is changing, the park is being redone or whatever it is.  So positive changes and sometimes challenging things that are happening in communities children will be aware of. 

 

We are foolish if we disconnect ourselves from community because we don't serve the children who we work with well by not helping them to understand that they are a part of a community because what we know is that that will last those children for a very long time into the community and if they leave our early childhood services feeling that they are a connected person and that there are people in that community who can help them if they get in trouble, and they also know that their families are part of a community and that there are differences in that community which are beneficial and important and most importantly I think in the context of contemporary early childhood education we see it as an opportunity for children to feel that they can be active participants whose voices are heard. 

 

Dr Luke Touhill – Early Childhood Consultant

 

So I think when you build that sense of community people are, I mean it sounds trite, but they’re happy to walk through the door.  And I think if you can get people happy to walk through the door and bursting to come in in the morning, that’s half the battle won.  And I think you get that sense when you walk into a service where there is a sense of, strong sense of community.  It’s hard to put your finger on it, but there’s a feel to it, and you walk in that door and you feel like, “This is a place I want to be.  This is a place that seems friendly, it seems welcoming”.  You maybe don’t even know why that is the case, but there’s something about it that makes you feel you want to be there.