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Let's get out of here! A story for everyone who's ever wanted to take children beyond the safety gate.

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Su Garrett and Lauren Kenny of the Annandale Explore & Develop service in Sydney’s Inner West take their organisation’s name seriously: both regular and spontaneous outings and excursions away from the service are a key element of their educational program. They frequently take walking trips to the shops, to the local park, or plan transport to other Sydney sights such as the art gallery. This is the first of three articles Su and Lauren are sharing with Amplify! readers about how they manage so many outings and excursions at their 56 place service. They hope their experience might help other educators to build excursion planning into their ‘normal’ program.

A culture of getting outside the gate

Philosophy

Our philosophy is based around our values of Inclusion, Trust, Belonging, Play and Knowledge. Our culture of taking children outside the gate sits with the value of belonging; children belong to their community. At the 2016 ECA conference Carla Rinaldi discussed children as capable citizens. Children should be in environments that foster learning and allow them to be who they are. This, in turn, teaches children about society and making connections with their community and the world.

We are a 56 place early childhood education and care service, catering for children aged between birth and 5 years. Our community is an inner-city suburb, with a main street, small shopping strip and several local playgrounds and parks.

Parent Engagement and Education

Children who attend our service are local and often local families see our children in the community. As a part of our orientation process and information to families, we talk about our excursions so families can understand the benefits and why we value taking children outside of the service.

We ask each family how they feel about their child going on excursions, and we respect their opinions and choice about their child’s involvement. We also always make parents welcome to join us on excursions if they can. Most parents are very supportive and love the idea of their children journeying outside the service with us, however every family is different and there are a number of reasons that some will choose to withhold permission for outside trips. This is particularly evident in our Bilby Room for birth to two year olds, where the children’s age is usually the reason their parents don’t want them on excursions.

To allow our Bilby children to get ‘outside the gate’, we asked our families if any of them had prams that they didn’t use anymore, and that we could borrow. We now have two double prams and a single pram to use with the younger children.

In the past we have found that when families decide that excursions are not right for their child it is usually because the child is young. These families will see photos and stories about the excursions in our newsletters and posts and eventually a conversation will take place. It might be  initiated by educators who note that the children is asking to go with their peers, or initiated by the family when they observe how experienced our educators are in managing excursions with the child’s peers.

In this way we are able to come to a mutual decision that everyone is comfortable with, in their own time.

Two Types of Excursions

1 Regular or spontaneous outings

We step out the gate as often as we can as there is so much to explore, see, discover and experience. These regular and spontaneous outings are in our local area and are usually walking excursions. There are so many opportunities on these excursions that strengthen children’s sense of belonging!

As part of our enrolment process families who agree to excursions for their child must provide written permission and this is in the form of an ongoing permission form, which is valid for 12 months. Our ongoing excursion form contains a matrix of information for families to complete and to read about the excursions.

2 One-off or regular excursions

Our one-off excursions or regular excursions are where the children go much further. These types of excursions require transport which is usually on a public bus. Specific permission is also required from families in a detailed permission form about the excursion (they aren’t covered by our ongoing permission). As per the Education and Care Services National Regulations, these excursions must be planned with at least two weeks’ notice.

The Possum (preschool) children are using natural materials in their art, this includes creating a number of birds.  So when the educators saw a number of fallen palm fonds in the street across the road they suggested that we might collect some for our art, since birds like to live in trees. A group of children went out especially to collect the palm fronds – they were located only about 50 metres from our service, we have about 10 of them and the children have created beautiful trees with them and have wrapped them in wool.

 

Risk Assessments & Procedures

It is absolutely vital to have thorough policies and procedures for your excursions, including risk assessments, but please don’t let that put you off!  When we create our risk assessment, we work closely as a team to ensure we are covering all areas – it makes the work more enjoyable too. Towards the end of each year we review all our risk assessments and update them for the coming year.

Children are involved in making the decisions of where to go, what to do and how to get there.  They are also involved in occasional discussions about risk and how we can stay safe and enjoy our outings.

The ongoing excursion permission form for outings in the local area we mentioned earlier includes an Excursion Matrix that lists all the local places we will walk to.

Risk assessment matrix

Information in the matrix includes:

  1. Location
  2. Benefits/experiences the children will gain
  3. Educator to child ratio
  4. Activities children will be participating in
  5. Distance we will go from the service/route travelled/transport
  6. Water hazards

Procedures

  1. We check staff ratios for the excursion and for those remaining at the service.
  2. We check the weather and we don’t go out if it’s too extreme.
  3. The Responsible Person on site gives permission for the excursion to go ahead.
  4. We collect the excursion bag, which contains the children’s and educators’ contact information, medical supplies, hygiene supplies.
  5. We add any equipment and technology: usually we take pens, paper, clip boards, and an iPod.
  6. All children must wear name tags with the service contact information.
  7. All children must have appropriate clothing, shoes, and hats.
  8. Children and educators are signed out of the service.
  9. An information sheet is posted at the service about where the children have gone on the excursion.
  10. The excursion team have a walkie talkie and at least one fully charged mobile phone with them at all times.

Reviewing excursions

After every excursion we complete an evaluation form. This is not an onerous job and we value the process highly as it is important in identifying areas for improvement for future excursions, or any other changes that may need to be made or considered in the future. This saves us time, too, when preparing and updating our risk assessments as we constantly gather new information and can build it into the process. Children are also consulted in the review process. What did they enjoy most? What would they do differently next time?

 

Next week:

Walking trips and local outings.

 

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Su Garrett and Lauren Kenny

Su Garrett is the Approved Provider and Nominated Supervisor for Explore & Develop Annandale. She has been in this role for 4½ years and has worked in early childhood for 16 years. “It is my goal to provide an environment where: the needs of the children at the priority a, they have time to play and interact with their peers.” We provide an environment where educators are valued as key in the scaffolding of children’s learning. Ensuring that children and educators are connected with our community is vital to building meaningful partnerships.Lauren Kenny is the Educational Leader at Explore & Develop Annandale. She has been in this role for 4½ years and has been working with children and families for the past 15 years. “I am passionate about children being visible in the community and making connections to real life experiences that further support their learning”.

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9 thoughts on “Let's get out of here! A story for everyone who's ever wanted to take children beyond the safety gate.

  1. Hi,
    I love the idea of having all local excursions on one form.
    I was wanting to know a little more about the spontaneous excursions. When you get families to sign the permission slip does it state that you will always have a minimum ratio of educators to children eg If you decide to take only four children with one educator rather than the whole group. Or do you have a range of scenarios for each local excursion?
    How spontaneous are the excursions? I was thinking you would still need to let parents know the day before or at least on the day?
    Thanks for your time

  2. Hi Karin

    We do a 12 month ongoing excursion form each January and it is also included in enrolment forms for children who start throughout the year. It has an attachment for families that contains all the regulatory information; as you said it ratios etc. It includes many different places that we will go out, and we will have more about that in our article this week. We have a rule of always taking 2 educators with the group in case of emergency.

    The excursions can be very spontaneous, children are signed out and back in and documented through Kinderloop so sometimes families find out that the children have been out when they see Kinderloop or via the sign out process.

    Happy to answer any questions

  3. Our 14 month old daughter currently attends Explore and Develop Annandale with Su and Lauren as part of Bilbies. We love and fully support their approach to getting the children out into the community and the outdoors. We believe that these types of excursions promote learning and knowledge whilst having a bit of fun and adventure. We also enjoy the follow up and photos that they put up for us to see afterward. We are always consulted and informed about the excursion which makes us feel very comfortable with the excursions. It is a great initiative and hope more take it on board!

    Thanks Su and Lauren!

    1. That is great to know, Jeff. These articles have certainly prompted a lot of other services to consider how they could make excursions a more common part of the children’s day!

    2. Hi Jeff
      Thank you for your taking the time to write these words. We aim to support the development of the children but I love that you feel that we are keeping you in the loop as well. I’m really glad that we chose to survey all the families in the Bilby room about this topic so that you are deciding the direction of the program with us and the children.

      Both educators and children are benefiting from the excursions and I am happy to see them going from strength to strength.

  4. A story that rings true with our ethos on getting outside the gate, we do it as often as we can with as many children as we can. Just a comment on the notes though. At a compliance visit we were made aware of the need for ratios on our regular outing notes which form part of enrolment and re-enrolment information. This even includes ‘the block’ next door which we have annexed to our playground but which is not yet part of our licensed premises. Imagine if you will an inconspicuous gate that leads to a wonderland and wide open spaces that is fully fenced. The block is used every day and sometimes all day so the solution was to put a maximum of 39 children (our licensed numbers) and our usual number of staff (8). We included the minimum of one to four as well and thought we had it organised. Our next assessment visit involved another problem with the note in that we had not detailed the length of time we would be on the block! An easy solution I thought would be to put 10.5 hours (our usual day) and a minimum of one minute, nope. We have permission to take the children to the block for three hours and then we have to bring them all back and go on the excursion again!!! I am in the process of having it licensed but wow, how do I explain the forest at the back of the block….

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