The Collective: Little Scholars' educational initiative
If you have a child at Little Scholars, you’ve likely heard of ‘The Collective’ but do you know what it is? We thought it might be time for an explainer!
Little Scholars School of Early Learning’s The Collective is a service-wide, multi-faceted educational initiative, designed to enhance each child’s learning and development and best support educators’ time spent with children.
The development of The Collective is based upon early childhood pedagogy. Children are provided the time and space to explore, imagine, create, problem solve and develop social groups and guided to find their individual learning journey. The Collective allows for educators to have freedom in how they document and plan for children. This supports a strength-based approach with our team and highlights individual skillset of our educators and value the multiple voices being heard, embedding a collective response to children’s learning.
Humble beginnings and a pizza box
Understanding the demands of documenting processes, Little Scholars wanted to create a streamlined approach to the educational program across all our campuses. The intention was to demonstrate quality over quantity, foster children’s growth, and develop them to become successful citizens and critical thinkers. This curriculum approach also supports educators to adopt theory and put it into practice. Educators, through observations of children’s play, conversations and their interactions within their environment, explore what the child might be thinking. This is then the beginnings of the planning process within our collective curriculum.
Alice Micklewright, campus manager of Little Scholars Burleigh, with her team, came up with the idea of The Collective and led its early development.
“I wanted to look at curriculum for a while because there were a lot of things that we felt were just kind of there but didn’t feel like they had a place, so streamlining that focus was good.”
“We had a lead educator meeting one night and we talked about how the educators were feeling in general, and some of the comments were just like ‘I feel like I spend more time writing things down than I do with children.’ They are still with the children most of their time, but when you’re feeling like you’re trying to focus on something else and not giving the whole attention to something and being present, it can be really unsettling.”
That was at the peak of the pandemic crisis, according to Alice, and her team became cognisant that what they were doing in the moment was far more important than anything else.
“The first conversation we had, we looked at what we were doing and wrote down notes on the back of the pizza box – ideas about why we’re doing what we were doing, what the processes were and what we felt didn’t really fall within the planning cycle appropriately for it be conducive to having good outcomes for everybody involved.”
“We really started The Collective off the back of our Engagement Initiative – that’s the one day a month we have with no documentation of photos, no technology. It was purely based on educators getting back in touch with engaging with children and not focusing so much on some of the perceived pressures that have come about in the sector in terms of things like families’ expectations on photos being received, and the amount of documentation that sometimes can spiral. It is a regulation for services to demonstrate planning toward an educational program for children. We wanted a streamlined approach to guide our campuses to set the benchmark to support and engage.
“It’s really been child-driven on the focus of what we want to do,” she says.
Melanie Excell, Operations Manager for Little Scholars, agrees.
“When we started this process, we gathered information from a variety of different perspectives – including families and children, and professional training and resources,” Mel says.
There was a vast amount of training for educators to understand new processes.
“At its core, it’s really been just trying to pare back what we were doing to deliver quality curriculum for children, that supports their outcomes and their developmental needs, to generate a stronger culture of critical thinkers in terms of children and educators,” Alice adds.
Weekly, rather than daily, detailed written updates are now sent to families, allowing educators to focus more on being with children. Families still get photos daily to see what their child has been learning and enjoying that day, but learning outcomes, routines, links to Early Years Learning Framework and research are saved for the end of the week, and individual child updates are sent out termly.
“Sometimes you find that services will continue to add a lot of documentation [about each child] and to try to meet the needs of the framework and the standards, when it can be a lot simpler and child focused,” Alice says.
Reflection in action
The critical reflection component of the curriculum is most important, according to Alice.
“Everything we do really needs to have a purpose, a thought behind it and a reason why we want to engage in it that way, and then involving the children in that process and the families as well.
“If you look at the planning cycle in the National Quality Framework (NQF), you gather information from an idea or interest that children have, engage the children in what they’d like to do moving forward and analyse the information you’ve gathered, plan for it, then reflect and review is the whole cycle.”
For example, educators might look at children who are engaging in an activity and would consider it across developmental milestones and outcomes what they think the children are trying to achieve. In a nursery, where early learners can’t yet speak, educators might observe a child picking up resources and putting them into a basket and taking them back out, a learning behaviour known as a schema.
“Children are exploring all of these different concepts every day, even though you may not realise because they’re playing and it’s natural for them to do that,” says Alice.
The use of open-ended questioning with children supports the understanding of their play and helps gain a child’s perspective as opposed to an adult’s agenda.
The planning comes from what educators talk about in the moment, and educators act on what they’ve gathered, followed by a review at the end, where they decide if they activity worked well or didn’t, and if it didn’t, questioning why – were the children just not interested in that topic anymore, and is there a reason why?
Communicating with families
Little Scholars produces individual learning journeys for each child that highlight significant milestones and achievements to their development whilst in our care. Various modes of documentation record the learning identified through the child’s participation in our program.
Little Scholars sends out the personalised mid-year assessments to the families and then the end of the year they’ll receive a transition letter which wraps up their child’s journey, acknowledging achievements and progress in their studio.
“One of the other points we highlighted when we started reviewing the curriculum, is that we wanted to educate our families that what we were doing. We know that there’s a lot of electronic information available as well, but the value of that face-to-face conversation and relationship with staff and families, is important too,” Alice says.
The Collective allows for educators to have autonomy in how they document and plan for children. This supports a strength-based approach with our team,” according to Susan Cooper, group pedagogical leader for Little Scholars. “It highlights individual skillset of our educators and value the multiple voices being heard, embedding a collective response to children’s learning.”
Alice says it’s still a process that Little Scholars is undergoing.
“Ultimately, it’s important that we have educators here who feel stable and like they want to contribute and that they are getting recognised for the things that they’re doing, and we believe The Collective does that.”
Jae Fraser, founder of Little Scholars agrees. Little Scholars wants to ensure educators feel seen, heard and valued, because our educators’ passion for our children and their education is why we’re delivering exceptional educational play-based programs.
“We really care about and listen to our teams, so when they are feeling pressured due to significant amount of paperwork, we act,” says Jae. “It’s all about the educators and the children, so if we can achieve amazing outcomes without all the unnecessary paperwork, and children and educators are interacting and engaging in really meaningful ways – this is what we need to focus on.”