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Reflections Magazine : Reflections Magazine Issue 54
Background and the beginning Nanbaree Child Centre is located in the Sydney CBD in a high-rise building. We do not have open windows or access to any outdoor space and as it is in an office building, the centre is not purpose built. There are many challenges with the physical layout of the centre that cannot be changed. However, despite the drawbacks, we are able to see the positives of being in this unique space. We are never affected by weather and are able to use the space all day everyday. Being in the city, it is also a benefit that we are indoors so we are not exposed to the smog left by heavy CBD traffic. At the start of 2013 when I became Centre Director, the simulated outdoor space consisted of synthetic grass and soft fall, a sandpit, large bright coloured waffle blocks and a jumping balance beam. There were some small learning areas set up but there appeared to be little thought given to making these areas interesting and aesthetically pleasing. There were a number of other resources and pieces of equipment available but it seemed that educators were not motivated or interested in setting up an engaging outdoor environment. The overall feeling was that the outdoor space was not as important as an indoor space and was primarily a place for children to run. The attitude of the educators was to use the simulated outdoor space as an easy 'escape' where children could be wild and where educators did not need to engage with them. My feeling was that the physical environment was ordinary and that we needed to make it extraordinary and unique. The vision Everyone in the team contributed to a vision. We needed to be able to see a direction for what we wanted the environment to be like. Some changes were to happen immediately, but I also provided a timeframe of 12 months to allow for long-term changes to take place. The development of the simulated outdoor environment is an ongoing journey that will always be adapting and changing depending on the educators and children who attend the centre. As Rodd (2006: 26) states, "vision provides direction for and sustains action in the team, can boost morale and self-esteem and acts as a buffer against stress during periods of change" . Throughout the journey, we have met regularly to discuss and reflect on what we have achieved and changed. There are also consultations with families about what they want to see in the environment and children are involved in the process as it is essentially their space, their learning and working environment. The required changes The first change was the introduction of natural resources and plants into the environment. The bright coloured plastic resources needed to be replaced with natural resources and equipment to reflect an outdoor environment. Large wooden logs were brought in and children were instantly attracted to them. Large garden boxes and plants were also purchased. As it is an indoor, air-conditioned environment, research was carried out to ensure that the correct plants were purchased for the environment. The planting out of the garden boxes involved the children and families who were encouraged to bring a plant in to add to the garden boxes. Edible herbs and vegetables were included for children to pick and graze on throughout the day. There was such a great sense of ownership and community surrounding these new garden boxes. As we have a unique indoor/outdoor space, educators needed to read and research on how to engage children in physical play that encourages the use of gross motor muscles. In addition, because the space is shared between the two to three year room and three to five year room, educators needed to communicate with each other, to discuss and share, and to develop a communal sense of ownership and responsibility for the space. Sustainable practices needed to be explored, discussed and promoted with children and families. Room routines needed to be developed to allow for flexible use of indoor and outdoor space across the centre. Overall, staff needed to understand and accept that change is inevitable and that critical reflection of the environment and practices is essential in order for continuous improvement (Rodd, 2006). The benefits of this change There are many benefits of changing the physical environment. The first, and most important, is children's increased engagement. This means fewer incidents and injuries, fewer behavioural problems and happier and more engaged children and educators. REFLECTIONS • GOWRIE AUSTRALIA • AUTUMN 2014 - ISSUE 54 9
Reflections Magazine Issue 53 Summer 2013
Reflections Magazine Issue 55 Winter 2014