Elly Susie and Natasha’s story

At Koala Children’s centre the children are divided into two groups. Each group comes twice a week. In each group, large numbers of children were running. Now it’s normal for children to run at the beginning of the year, but we still had massive groups in both sessions that would run and run and run, and it was all that they were doing. It was more or less their only form of interaction with each other. We could see that they had their reasons, their need to run, but they weren’t moving on, they weren’t doing really anything else. We wanted to give them some different and new experiences and build their repertoire of play.

We did a lot of forensic investigating and trying to work out what was driving the children to want to do this. Were they seeking connection? Was it their play? It took a lot of delving into and trying a lot of different ways of capturing data to actually work out what was going on.

So we videotaped the children and then we interviewed them and showed them the tapes. If we hadn’t gone down the line of questioning that we did, we probably wouldn’t have worked it out. Without the project, we don’t think we would have allowed ourselves to spend so much time actually reflecting and formulating the questions and really gathering a collection of focus children. We would have still done it, but it just sort of put into play the systems that we could use to focus ourselves, rather than it being more, not ad hoc observation, but it probably wouldn’t have been as targeted. And it was a whole staff approach to the problem—everybody.

We had seven focus children. One was an Aboriginal child, some others were Australian-born and very much strong in their home culture. So we interviewed one child and he was watching the video that we had made of the children running and he was saying ‘Oh I’m playing Hello Neighbor, I’m playing Hello Neighbor’. And we asked, ‘What’s that? I’ve never heard of that’. And he told us, ‘It’s this game and you know there’s a knife and there’s blood’, and all this stuff which was quite horrifying to hear. And the child couldn’t’ articulate if it was a game or a show, he just said it was something he’d seen.

So then we came back and shared this, ‘Look this is what this child has said. What is Hello Neighbor?’ We had no clue. So we ended up in the office literally Googling it. And then we watched the little YouTube snippet and the penny dropped.

So we questioned the rest of the children. Then suddenly we noticed all the children saying they were either playing something they’d seen on TV or in a game or on YouTube. And we all sat down and watched the videos. So we became more attuned to the different language of these games and shows, and now, when we watched them run, you’d pick it up, you’d hear little tiny pieces of it throughout their play and realise, okay they’re playing PJ Masks, or Hello Neighbor. And we would have never known before because the words had no meaning to us. So one of the early videos we made of the running, the child was repeating the words Hello Neighbor but we didn’t make that connection, because we’d never heard of it.

So once we understood, we then used the children’s interest as a vehicle for their other learning, to extend what they were engaging in, and in a range of different settings. We divided the children into groups, and each group had at least one child who liked to run. For example, with the PJ Mask group, we actually sat down and watched it together. And we’d pause it and focus on a character, and we’d ask them to tell us all about it. We said, ‘You actually have to teach us because we don’t know’, and some of the children that wouldn’t really engage before, we couldn’t them to stop talking, because they were experts in that area.

So we became more attuned to what they were doing through their play. You could discuss with them characters in their game and the setting, and you could support them in developing a more extended play scenario. For example, one of the children, his engagement just absolutely skyrocketed. He was a child who really didn’t come inside at all and, if he did it, would be a little bit of block play, a little bit of a flit from different construction experiences and then straight back outside. He was at occasional care for a full year before he came to kindergarten, so he was very familiar with the space and very familiar with a lot of the other children. But in terms of his engagement and the variety of experiences that he engaged with, it was very, very limited. And, from the information we could gather, he spent a lot of time on screens at home. But when we started to value what he knew and what he was interested in and connect that to experiences here, his interest in different experiences and different areas of the kindy really improved. He has been engaging in a range of table-top experiences. We think his whole demeanour has really changed. And his confidence, his overall sense of wellbeing and the way he is as a learner has changed. He’s a lot more confidant and a lot happier and more open.

So the children who like to run have definitely engaged in new learning in different experiences that they weren’t doing independently even with encouragement or involvement. And we’ve definitely noticed particularly a few of them have become really engaged in their learning, quieter table-top sort of experiences but as well as their running.

Teacher 1: I definitely feel like I’ve kind of evolved in my practice through this project, but I think the main thing for me is actually taking the time to learn about the children’s life-worlds. And being a new educator, it was really empowering for me to sit down with the children and parents and actually have a good chat about their lives. We see them two days a week for seven hours, and you know they have a whole life out there that we don’t know about or we get limited information on. It does centre things a bit more, it has really opened I think opportunity for parents to share more with us. We were valuing it too.

Teacher 2: As part of the research we had parent interviews and I found that really eye-opening. And hearing about what this child does at home and what he engages in and then coming back in the room and seeing that happening. But I think it’s good reflective tool. So for me, I think that will be a big takeaway practice that I will use in my future teaching.

Teacher 3: I think one of the opportunities was actually having that space and time away from the centre to actually be able to put your academic cap on rather than your teacher cap, rather than your routines. And go back to the way of thinking that we did at university and to actually draw back on that and then apply it.

I think most of the other staff were on board, apart from the data collection. Everyone was on board conceptually, absolutely. But we wanted to collect a lot of data and we weren’t able to just do that ourselves, so I think that was uncomfortable for some staff, coping with the competing demands of whatever else they had to do in their day. We would normally do two or three videos on a daily basis anyway, but for the action research we were filming ten-minute blocks four times a day. And then sometimes something really interesting would happen and then you’d video that as well. We’ve got some really great data and we can tell you what percentage of the day the children were running; it’s very scientific. We’ve got lots of quantitative data to back this up.

We worked pretty hard in the data collection, but it is just one of the most important things that you need to do. Because otherwise you can just have your idea: you know—but how do you know? It’s skewed, it’s biased. So we did qualitative and quantitative research. We wanted to do that. And then we sat down and did ridiculous amounts of quantitative data analysis. Every child’s percentage of running time has decreased apart from one, and every child’s percentage of time inside has increased apart from one. I don’t know how statistically significant it is.

I think it was an amazing opportunity just step out of the teaching hat and put on the researcher hat for a little bit and I think it’s really influenced us here and everyone else’s practice. And going to the workshops, it was great being able to see other sites and what they’re doing and what sort of issues they have too. It was really interesting to see. That’s always the best part for teachers, talking to people.

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