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
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:
- Benefits/experiences the children will gain
- Educator to child ratio
- Activities children will be participating in
- Distance we will go from the service/route travelled/transport
- Water hazards
- We check staff ratios for the excursion and for those remaining at the service.
- We check the weather and we don’t go out if it’s too extreme.
- The Responsible Person on site gives permission for the excursion to go ahead.
- We collect the excursion bag, which contains the children’s and educators’ contact information, medical supplies, hygiene supplies.
- We add any equipment and technology: usually we take pens, paper, clip boards, and an iPod.
- All children must wear name tags with the service contact information.
- All children must have appropriate clothing, shoes, and hats.
- Children and educators are signed out of the service.
- An information sheet is posted at the service about where the children have gone on the excursion.
- The excursion team have a walkie talkie and at least one fully charged mobile phone with them at all times.
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?
Meet the author
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”.