‘Learnings’ from the ‘Top End’ – Bringing Back Inspiration from the ECA Conference in Darwin.


Sunrise over The Darwin Convention Centre

Last week, the Early Childhood Australia National Conference was held in Darwin.  The overriding theme of the conference was: “This is Childhood – Pedagogy and Practice in the Early Years”. From this theme there were four underlying themes and these were: Inspire, Imagine, Create and Discover.  The ECA conference brings the Australian early childhood sector together for four days to learn, share, and connect with like-minded professionals all working incredibly hard for the children of this country.  Travelling to Darwin with my colleagues from the Little Scientists was incredibly special.  Under the guidance of ‘Little Scientist’ Sibylle –  I even learnt how to separate pepper from salt with a balloon! On each day of the conference, many early childhood educators visited the Little Scientists booth to learn why STEM is so important to integrate into the early childhood environment.


img_3228At this conference, I was able to listen to three of the keynote speakers as well as a number of inspiring, informative and thought provoking paper presentations.  It was a highlight to listen to Heike from the Little Scientists present her paper titled: ‘Boosting STEM Skills in Early Childhood’ and to see the growing support for the Little Scientists in the Early Childhood sector. Now, back in Sydney, I have had time to sift through the numerous pages of notes that I jotted down to share with you some snippets of insight and inspiration for your practice.


Re-Imagining Childhood – Professor Carla Rinaldi

The first Keynote speaker was Professor Carla Rinaldi. Carla Rinaldi is a key figure in the educational movement and philosophy of the Reggio Emilia schools in Italy.

The title of the presentation: ‘Re-Imagining Childhood’ set the scene for the conference through the idea that ‘education’ is seen as a way to “…construct a dialogue with life”.  Essential to this dialogue is the relationship that is formed with each child and the concept of ‘citizenship’. The message that we are here to support children to be aware that they are “…citizens of the world…” was a strong one. This, in practice, means that we ask how early childhood services can be places that support children’s rights through the values and ideas we hold about children’s strengths and abilities.

Carla emphasised how important it was for educators to understand both individual and shared values because these are seen as an essential element of early childhood practice.  She said: “Good Practice is the highest expression of values.” However within this idea of recognising the values that we hold, and to be who we are – as individuals – we need a connection with others. It is in recognising the ‘otherness’ (or differences)  in a relationship that we form our personal identity and therefore our uniqueness.  Asking the question: “Do we create a channel of communication between these differences” is a starting point for understanding this concept in action.

The Circle of Love: Marte Meo Information on Supporting Development in Daily Interaction Moments – Maria Aarts

Marte Meo is a film-based interaction analysis programme that was developed by Maria Aarts through her work as a specialist in a child psychiatry institute in the Netherlands.

For this keynote, the message that came through strongly was the importance of giving space in the interaction between the caregiver and the child.  A number of video examples were shown that illustrated interactions between parents and their child.  In these examples, Maria described how the parent waited before moving quickly to correct a child and that by ‘giving information’ rather than a ‘correction’ was a more effective way to allow the child to learn from the experience.  In this view,  the adult is like a ‘translator’ in the space.  There were also some valuable insights about the way that we interact with parents and families.   The key one was to start working with parents from where they ‘are’ at present not where we want to take them.  Maria also spoke about the aspect of guidance.  Here, providing the space for the adult to ‘follow the child’s lead’ was important rather than the child ‘following the adult’.

If you are interested in reading more about Maria Aarts and the Monte Meo approach the following website is a useful resource: http://www.martemeo.com/en/About-Marte-Meo/FAQs/

Nature Pedagogy: The Art of Being with Nature, Inside, Outside and Beyond – Claire Warden

Claire Warden is a well-known and leading figure in the nature kindergarten movement.  There were many inspiring highlights from this lecture such as stories told from Claire’s practices working with children, educators and families in the area of nature pedagogy.  One of these issues was the contradictions that can often form around bringing nature into the early childhood environment – especially in regards to risk.  According to Claire, the whole area of ‘risk’ in early childhood is important to consider and reflect on.  The potential for risk to become subjective can take away the opportunity for children to authentically explore their natural environment. One really interesting element of learning that I took from Claire Warden’s presentations was to consider how we are able to be authentic with our documentation. Some key points that I wrote down here were:

  • To use all the languages that children use and not to change these languages.
  • Floor Books are a way to capture the dialogues of the children in the learning environment they are seen as ‘holders of memory’. The following link provides more detail about the use of  floor books in early childhood: http://www.clairewarden.com/publication.cfm/ID/8
  • The importance of ‘metacognition’ in the process of documentation meaning that documentation is a ‘process driven’ thing – a learning tool for the children.
  • How do children get involved in their documentation? According to Claire: “…Children are the stakeholders” “…therefore we need to stop being precious about what our documentation looks like and remember that children need to be part of it…” An example here was given where the children at Claire’s kindergarten help the educators to cut out and choose the photographs that go into the floor book – if a picture is not perfectly cut out this is not an issue because it is reflective of the child’s learning process.

A final thought that came through Claire’s discussion was the importance of the child’s voice in the process of assessing risk in an environment.  When we undertake a risk assessment we need to assess the risks but also the benefits of the activity that we are reviewing.

A final question that sat with me for some time was the following:

Does your environment have an aspirational quality to it?

For more information about Claire Warden,  her website is inspiring and useful.


There were many rich ideas that were shared through these key note lectures of the ECA Conference – so many that this is just a ‘taste’ or an introduction. The themes, ideas and messages from the conference will be shared in future posts on this blog.  Your comments and ideas about these are welcomed as a way to engage with an ongoing reflection about what these themes mean for our practices of working with children and families.

The Little Scientists Team at ECA, Darwin


Posted By Jessica Horne-Kennedy 

Quality Management and Compliance Coordinator at FROEBEL Australia

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