By CELA on 12 Nov, 2018

Preschool Graduation

Last week, Danielle Bopping shared part one of this two-part reflection + advice article about the practice of early learning graduation ceremonies.

In the first part, Danielle set the context for graduations through the ages and the dressing up – for adults and children – that accompanies them. That article looked at the what, where, why and when of early learning graduations.

This week, she looks to meaningful inclusion of children’s voices in developing an end of year celebration, and examines how big a part families really do play in the much-discussed ‘expectations’ for graduations.

Read on, and tell us what you think in the comments below.

Voice \ˈvȯis


an agency by which a point of view is expressed or represented

Ask yourself

When you consider staging a graduation event, where are the children’s voices throughout the occasion and how are they demonstrated? How do you give them the agency to express their thoughts?

Danielle Bopping, right, in graduation regalia.

Firstly, we can talk to the children about what they know about celebrations and ask them if and how they would like to celebrate the end of their time at preschool and the beginning of their new adventure starting school.

Ask the children

In such a conversation with my preschool class recently, the answers were diverse.

They ranged from wanting to sing their favourite songs, to having cupcakes and treats, wearing special clothes and having blue, red and white streamers, balloons and coloured smoke (this child is a Roosters rugby league supporter and that’s what happens at the game!).

One child suggested a piñata, another said she would like to bake, and another just wanted to make sure there would be time to play outside.

These are the things that are important to them. Even the playing outside is significant when you consider that they spend so much time in that space and soon they will have to move on and play in a new, unfamiliar playground.

We listened carefully and also explained that we may not be able to do everything they suggested. It has been the act of including them in the conversation and creating a space to hear their thoughts that has been significant.

And listen

It is also appropriate to consider if what we are planning is really a representation of the learning that has been occurring all year, or rather a mad rush to learn new songs, words, dances for the event.

We need to remember that if it is a celebration, it should be fun!

Let’s not assume that it is fun for all children. Will a graduation event become a chore of songs, words and dances that have to practiced and practiced causing stress and, most likely, boredom to both the children and the teachers?

Is it the children’s voices that are being represented and heard throughout the celebration or those of their teachers bowing to the pressures of parents’ expectations and what they think is cute?

Are we even sure this is what parents do expect? It’s easy to pin these things on parental expectation when in fact we created the expectation for them in the first place by saying this is ‘what we do’.

The art of persuasion

How do we, as educators, approach opposition to thinking about graduation differently?

One of the most important aspects of our work is critical reflection to ensure best practice and to demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement.

It is easy to get caught up in the sentiments of tradition. Feeling comfortable with the ways things have always been done can also contribute to decision-making about activities such as graduation.

As with all aspects of our practice it is important that we stay up to date, relevant and informed about what is considered best for our children and what is appropriate to the context of individuals, class groups and your service.

To do this, we must ask questions or ourselves, of our families and of course our children.

On reflection, some services may realise they have created, over time, a certain level of expectation with regards to what parents anticipate seeing at events like graduation.

Understand the answers

To develop an understand the answers to these questions, educators should be guided by the principles and practices of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and the National Quality Standards (NQS) which echo both the ECA Code of Ethics and the United Nations Rights of the Child.

These standards and philosophies pay particular regard to the themes of respecting children’s agency, ensuring consultation and collaboration with children and families, and seeing children as capable and confident individuals who are able to positively contribute to the world around them.

Another key component of our role is to act as advocates and not just for the children that we educate and care for, but also for our profession. This means we often must educate the families in our service and the wider community as well.

On reflection, some services may realise they have created, over time, a certain level of expectation with regards to what parents anticipate seeing at events like graduation.

Parents matter too, but how?

We then can feel obliged to satisfy the parents. After all, they are our clients too. The questions we need to ask ourselves are, Is this the best I can possibly do for this child? and Am I doing what is best for the child, or am I doing what the parent wants?

You can add to this, How sure am I that we haven’t inadvertently created the parents’ expectations? and What can I do to explain to parents that we want to choose a different path for their children this year and into the future?

The National Quality Framework tells us that we are required to work in partnership with families, to build reciprocal relationships with them and ensure we inform and consult with them about their child’s learning and development.

This does not mean we ignore our experience and knowledge as early childhood professionals, acting in the best interests of each child, in order to please the families.

It is our role to consult with families and inform them and educate them as to why we have decided to critically reflect on practice and review previous traditions or practice.

When you choose to agree to something you KNOW is not in the child’s best interests, just because a parent wants it, you cease to be an advocate for the child.

“Educators, recognise that the statement “but the parents love it!” is NOT an adequate defence of poor quality pedagogy.

– Anne Peters, 2018

Where to now?

Decisions around graduation and end of year celebrations, like any events that are held throughout the year, are individual to your service. If they are important to your service community, they deserve to be acknowledged.

The principal message is to ensure that decisions about these celebrations are based on collaboration with children and families and have included critical reflection from educators.

Whatever the result, don’t do it just because it’s what you’ve always done before!

Read part one here.

References, parts one and two

Additional reading

Meet the author

Danielle Bopping

Danielle’s early childhood career began in 1997 when she completed an Advanced Diploma of Child Care Studies. Over the last 20 years, she has worked in a variety of early childhood settings, with children aged 0-12 years, in Australia, England, Ireland and Thailand. She recently completed a Bachelor of Education (0-5) years, the Adv. Dip of Community Sector Management and a Cert IV TAE. Currently she works part-time as a preschool teacher and teaches the Cert III and Diploma of Early Education and Care to foreign language students.

About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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