In Poland there are no specific legal regulations defining what constitutes high quality ECEC provision for children up to the age of three (the discourse refers mainly to the formal and technical conditions of the services). Therefore there have been several bottom-up initiatives undertaken across the country in order to elaborate guidelines for professionals working with the youngest children.
In this post we would like to present a framework of the recently developed set of guidelines Quality from the Beginning. Care and Education Standards for Children below the age of 3 (najmlodsi.org). The process of the document development was initiated by an NGO Comenius Children’s Development Foundation, one of the oldest and well-known organisations in Poland working to improve the quality of ECEC provision and its accessibility in rural areas. Elaboration of the guidelines lasted for a year and involved about 20 experts for example local policy makers, academics of different specializations, ECEC professionals, architects, dieticians. The document is divided into ten parts, each focused on a different area of the settings’ work. For each of the areas a set of quality standards and indicators was elaborated based on research findings, legal regulations, experts’ opinions and experiences (‘good practices’). The set of guidelines was created as a reflection tool for professionals, not as an evaluation instrument.
Ten areas identified as crucial for shaping children’s day-to-day experiences in the setting:
1. Foundations and values
All those working in the organisation, despite their individual differences and personal worldviews, should operate in a common value system concerning children. A clear vision of the child, its rights and the mission of the service will enable parents to choose the right place for their child.
2. Competences of the staff
The competences of those working in the organization are of key importance for the quality of care and education provided to children. In order for staff to be able to build valuable relationships with children and effectively implement a pedagogical programme, they need to ensure their personal development – including not only knowledge and skills, but also awareness of emotions and needs, the ability to name and express them. Training and supervision should take place as part of staff working time, but not as part of working time with children.
3. Pedagogical work
Every child should get the opportunity to engage in (play) activities of interest that allow for discovering, creativity and giving meaning. In doing so, every child should be able to choose who they interact with within the activity (they may decide to engage on their own, with other children or with supportive adults) as well as the level of their involvement. Educational programme of an organisation and the way of its implementation should take into account children’s interests, their developmental stage and current disposition.
4. Everyday situations
Everyday situations are repetitive activities that are part of the daily routine (hygiene, sleeping etc.). They provide a framework for other activities that take place in the setting. The character of everyday situations creates the culture of a given place, builds its unique atmosphere. The way they are organised is of key importance for the development of young children, as it concerns satisfying the first-rate physiological and emotional needs. Hence, children’s sense of security, the quality of experiences and development depend on it.
Food and drinks satisfy the basic physiological needs of children, so it is unarguable that every organization should pay a lot of attention to them. The area of nutrition presented in the Quality from the Beginning standards is divided into two sections (according to the age of children) because of the wide variation in infants’ and toddlers’ needs. Moreover, attention is paid to the conditions under which meals should take place, recognizing that a calm and good atmosphere during the meals is essential for the children’s development.
Adaptation to a stay in a setting is vital for the child’s development. Research shows that adaptation is stress-related and the way the adaptation process is conducted has an impact on the level of cortisol (stress hormone), and thus on the child’s general psychological well-being as well as functioning in the setting. An improperly conducted adaptation process may even endanger the child’s health. Therefore, it is extremely important to support children during this process and devote them as much time and attention as they need.
7. Cooperation with parents
Cooperation between staff and parents should have a partnership character and be built on a shared understanding of the decisive role of parents and family in a child’s life. The exchange of information between parents and staff is essential and should take place in an atmosphere of openness and trust. The staff should support parents in fulfilling their parental responsibilities and take into account their views on the functioning of the institution.
8. Space arrangement and equipment
It is very important that the arrangement of the space is consistent with the pedagogical approach adopted by the organisation. The indoor and outdoor space ought to be safe and should optimally support children’s development enabling children to act independently, as well as together with peers and adults, according to their current needs and interests. Arrangement of the space should be simple, without unnecessary distractions.
9. Safety and health prevention
Taking care of children’s health requires taking preventive measures and ensuring safe conditions of their stay in the setting. This requires defining preventive procedures and responding to situations of risk to the health of children and staff.
Management defined as creating conditions for the operation of the facility – especially professionalisation of educare services and support of the employees’ individual professional development. The management (e.g. management team, pedagogical supervisor) is responsible for quality management and external promotion of the organisation. It is their determination, openness, consistency and readiness to undertake changes that determine high quality of the services provided by the organisation.
Which of the areas do you consider the most important in order to provide children with valuable experience in a crèche? Share with us your opinions and experiences!