Effective communication is an essential aspect of maintaining a safe environment. Early childhood professionals need to be able to communication with children, colleagues, families, management and other professionals. Earlier we discussed that for effective communication to occur, the language used must be appropriate to the target audience.
Within the Education and Care Services National Law Act 2010, which came into effect 1 January, 2011, is a nationally approved Early Years Learning Framework such as Belonging, Being and Becoming or My Time, My Place.
‘The Early Years Learning Framework describes the principles, practice and outcomes essential to support and enhance young children’s learning from birth to five years of age, as well as their transition to school.
The Framework has a strong emphasis on play-based learning as play is the best vehicle for young children’s learning providing the most appropriate stimulus for brain development. The Framework also recognises the importance of communication and language (including early literacy and numeracy) and social and emotional development’
COMMUNICATING WITH CHILDREN
Did you know that children understand spoken language before they have mastered it themselves? Children can understand more words than they can say.
Children are not naturally aware of safe and unsafe environments. They must learn what is safe and unsafe and this is where the early childhood professional can step in. While children should not be responsible for maintaining their own safety, they can become aware of safe play and how to modify their play to maintain their own safety.
Children require careful guidance and a reminder of play rules to assist them to learn about safe and unsafe play. Repetition and opportunities to practice will reinforce safety factors to children.
- Toddlers often have no reservations or fears and will jump into experiences head first (sometimes literally!). While allowing toddlers to maintain their natural curiosity and exuberance, early childhood professionals must explain and demonstrate potential safety risks to them in developmentally appropriate ways.
- Preschoolers are a little more capable of understanding the reasons for safety warnings, although may have trouble remembering or implementing them at the time of need.
By limiting children too much, early childhood professionals may restrict the child‘s self-esteem and independence and possibly frighten the child, while allowing them to take too high a risk is unsafe.
The way that children interact with each other can often be a safety risk. For example, think back to an incident in your service when a child had been injured. Were any other children involved in this incident? Chances are that there were. Children will push, hit, kick, bite or throw things that may cause injury to other children.
Just as we alert other early childhood professionals and adults to hazards which may be present within the environment, so too should children be alerted to such hazards and the risks they present.
Alerting children to hazards can assist them to understand the concept of ‘danger‘ and actions that they need to take to ensure their own personal safety and wellbeing.
Communication with children can include facial expressions, body language, discussions and use of signs or pictures.
Methods which would allow you to communicate hazards and risks to children may include the following:
- Use gestures – hand signals such as the stop can be effective methods of communication to use with children, especially if the child is young or does not speak fluent English.
- Use simple words – words such as ‘broken‘ or ‘stop‘ can alert children to hazards.
- Use simple instructions – instructions such as ‘we need to sit on chairs’ or ‘the pencils are to be used for drawing’ can positively set limits for children.
- Use verbal communication with more reason – communications such as ‘We will have to take this bucket out of the sandpit because it‘s broken. I‘m worried that it might scratch somebody’.
- Ask questions – by asking children ‘What do you think might happen if we leave this bucket in the sandpit?’ or ‘What may happen if we climb on the beam without a mattress underneath it?’ can prompt children to think about their own personal safety and the hazards that can cause harm.
- Use demonstrations and verbal communication – for example, while role modelling the safe use of scissors, early childhood professionals can explain that ‘Scissors are very sharp and are used to cut paper. You have to look after them very carefully and put them back in the container when you have finished using them.’ Reinforcement of safety will encourage children to think like you.
When communicating with children to redirect undesirable behaviours, it is important that you focus on the desirable behaviours rather than the undesirable behaviours. Rather than ‘DON‘T RUN’, it is more appropriate and often more effective to say ‘You need to walk inside’ or simply ‘walking feet’.
Remember that just because you have explained hazards to children and have developed children’s ability to identify hazards within the environment, it is still the early childhood professional’s responsibility to keep the environment safe.
HOW CHILDREN OF DIFFERENT AGES PLAY – AND SUGGESTED STRATEGIES FOR SAME
Birth to one year
Few incidents are caused by other children as they engage in solitary play, unless the injury is caused by an older child during mixed age grouping or by an older sibling.
- Simple words (such as ―uh uh‖) and facial expressions (such as frowning or smiling) can be used to teach children about their actions; for example, a frown if they bite your shoulder while holding them.
Note: Solitary play is independent play where the child plays alone.
One to two years
Children still engage in solitary play but also engage in onlooker play and it‘s the start of parallel play. One to two year olds cannot share, nor should they be expected to share as language is very limited. Biting is common at this age due to limited language and frustration, as is pushing or hitting others to get toys.
- Simple words and gestures can be used to express your concern for their style of play. For example, placing your hand up and saying ‘Bill, you need to give it back to Fred.’
- Plan individual and small group experiences as large groups are not appropriate for this age.
Note: Onlooker play is when a child watches others playing. Parallel play is when children play side by side with similar toys.
Two to three years
Children are well and truly into the parallel play stage and are entering the associative play stage, although egocentricity is still typical. Children have more developed language skills than they did as toddlers, but finding the right word ‘in the heat of the moment‘ is very difficult and biting and tantrums are common. Children can begin to share but still need reminding and gentle guidance.
- Reminding children to ‘use their words‘ and explaining the needs of other children will help children to engage in safe play. For example, ‘Bob, you need to tell Jack that you don‘t like being hit. And Jack, Bob‘s arm is feeling sore now.’
Encourage children to treat toys with care and use them only as intended.
- Larger group experiences can begin to be implemented, but keep them short. Short attention spans may lead to restless children, and a restless child may disrupt others, causing aggressive behaviours.
Note: Associative play involves children playing the same types of games without any organisation or rules.
Four to five years
Children have passed the associative play stage and have entered the stage of cooperative play.
Children now begin to understand the feelings and needs of others and display less egocentricity, although there are still some traces of it. Children are familiar with the expectations of how to play appropriately and sharing is commonplace now, although it is usually used to favour themselves. Often-heard phrases include ‘You have to share’ or ‘No, you‘ve had your turn’.
Children at this age engage in vigorous outdoor experiences and like to take risks, such as climbing higher than their friends on the climbing equipment. Boys, in particular, will engage in fast running games and rough and tumble play.
- Group discussions about expectations on behaviour and social rules. For example, ―Yes, we need to share the toys so we all get to have a turn‖.
- Timers or other methods of alerting children to how much time they can spend with the resources before having to sharing them. For example, the computer might have a ten minute timer so when the time has wound down, the child can give another child a go. A roster system may also help with this.
- Explain other people‘s needs so they can learn about other people‘s feelings and perspectives.
- Discuss safe outdoor play and explain that other people may use the yard, perhaps younger children, so care needs to be taken during running or ball games.
- Children can be encouraged to notify early childhood professionals if they identify hazards, such as broken equipment, a fallen branch etc. Remind children not to touch the hazards but to alert an adult.
- Children can manage longer large group sessions; however, monitoring is essential to ensure behaviour is appropriate between children.
Note: Cooperative play is when the children engage in organised play with ‘the rules’.
When explaining rules for safe play to children, it is essential that it is explained it developmentally appropriate terms and in ways that do not frighten the child. Simple explanations can be given that are relevant to the child or the context that the child is in.
COMMUNICATION WITH COLLEAGUES
Ongoing communication with your colleagues is essential. You should never leave a supervision station without communicating with a colleague to ensure the area is covered during your absence. Lack of communication can place people at risk of harm.
You communicate with your colleague through:
- writing notes
- writing in a communication book
- using hand signals and body language
- using safety signs
- completion of forms such as administration of medication forms and incident reports.
SIGNS, SYMBOLS AND POSTERS
A picture can replace a thousand words! Use of signs and pictures is an effective way of communicating a warning for a hazard or providing an outline of a process. In children‘s services you will see posters outlining the recommended hand washing procedure, or you may see a poster outlining the recommended process for changing a nappy.
Manual lifting posters are also displayed in a children‘s service outlining the recommended procedure for lifting. By discussing the meaning of such signs and visual symbols with children during their play or mat sessions, children can begin to develop an awareness of the meaning of danger, hazards and risks. Having signs accessible in your room for children to use may also assist them in communicating hazardous play activities with others.
For example, when a child is using climbing equipment inappropriately during outdoor play time, other children may wish to take a stop sign over to the child in order to inform the child that their play is dangerous.
By encouraging children to identify hazards and risks within the environment, they will be more likely to inform you about unsafe practices they have come across, thus making your task of supervision easier and more effective.
Write the message conveyed by the sign, and where you would be likely to see the sign.
All occupational health and safety (OHS) forms are legal documents and may be requested when accidents or incidents are investigated by external agencies in the event of legal proceedings.
It is vital that all reporting methods and documentation relating to accidents and incidents is completed accurately. We must ensure that we follow service policies and procedures when doing so.
Reports identifying accidents or incidents may be in verbal or written form and can include any of the following reporting methods:
- Memos: Memos can be quick reminders warning of potential hazards. For example, staff may leave a memo reminding co-workers not to use a certain piece of equipment as it is broken.
- Report forms: These are specially-designed forms created by the service as part of its commitment to managing workplace hazards
Some health and safety documentation you will see in a children‘s service can include:
- hazard, incident and injury reports
- administering of medication forms
- indoor and outdoor checklists
- sunscreen checks
- fridge temperature checks
- evacuations drill forms.
Accident/Incident Reports are required whether outside medical attention is sought or not. They are required to be completed upon any injury/accident to any stakeholder – children, staff, visitors and contractors.
Whenever you are required to complete an accident or illness form, the most important factor is accuracy. Information you report may be required to effectively treat a child in the case of a serious injury or may be used to improve the quality of the service.
Guidelines to use when recording and reporting accidents and incidents are:
- Only write factual information.
- Never assume details, as they may be incorrect.
- Include details of the exact location of the issue or incident. If it is a potential hazard you are reporting, a drawing a diagram or map may assist in this task.
- If a piece of equipment is the cause of an incident and it has been removed, you must document this on the incident report as part of the action taken.
- If a child or staff member injures themselves, the exact part of the body must be documented, that is, “left pointer finger” rather than “finger”.
- Always include the date and time the incident occurred or the hazard was identified.
When completing an Accident/Incident Report for a child, the report should include:
- the child‘s name
- the child‘s age, date of birth and room
- the date and time of the accident/incident
- the location of the accident/incident
- who witnessed the accident/incident
- what happened – an outline of the cause of the accident/incident
- what injuries were sustained
- the first aid that was administered and who completed this task
- ways to minimise the accident/incident from recurring
- who was contacted and if any further first aid or medication was sought parent/s signature
- staff signature
- signature of witness.