Reflective Practice in Childcare

Promoting reflective practice in childcare

By practising reflective practice in childcare situations, educators are able to involve themselves in a process of ongoing learning that involves deep thinking, honesty, a willingness to view particular situations from all angles and a commitment to improve.

Actively encouraging reflective practice provides a framework for the caregiver to carefully consider their care giving activities and to help them to grow more sensitive to the individual and group needs. The whole aim of reflective practice is to foster improved quality care giving. Ideally caregivers will become more responsive and sensitive in their activities.

Providing a culture that encourages reflective practice not only helps the caregiver to grow individually but helps to foster better communication with other caregivers and parents.

Typically, teachers and caregivers who have been involved in reflective practice will display improved outputs in the following characteristics.

  • Are able to critically analyse their reactions to children’s actions and understand why they react in specific ways
  • Display greater curiosity about children’s play habits, creating greater commitment to pay close attention to play activities
  • Improved documentation of children’s activities and conversations
  • A greater willingness to share stories about children’s development with parents and colleagues
  • Greater willingness to seek professional literature about childcare subjects
  • Looks to create new play and learning opportunities by positively changing the environment to stimulate these activities.

What is reflective practice?

reflective practice principles being written on a whiteboard by a white adult male

As Kids Kinder caregivers are well aware, reflective practice is a process that can be undertaken either individually or in a group that involves:

  • Analysing a particular event and looking at it from every angle
  • Honestly assessing positives and negatives arising from that situation
  • Actively monitoring both pedagogy and curriculum with a view to promoting continuous improvement
  • Listening to the viewpoints of others and learning form their experiences
  • Ensuring that the process is ongoing and not done on an ad hoc basis.

The importance of a reflective cycle

As reflective practice can help a caregiver to improve their overall performance in a number of areas including developing individualised care programs, developing a closer relationship with families and being able to work with cultural differences and creating more meaningful care giving routines, it is vital that a cycle of reflective practice be adopted to ensure that reflective practice becomes part of the ongoing childcare program.

It is therefore important to encourage caregivers to identify appropriate times within their normal working routine to start practicing reflective practice. Some times that may be appropriate depending on the particular environment may include:

  • Rest or sleep times for toddlers and infants
  • Prior to families arriving
  • After families leave the session
  • Regular staff meetings can be structured to include reflective practice sessions
  • Curriculum planning sessions
  • When kids are immersed in daycare games under the supervision of other carers

A reflective cycle will usually include defined steps such as observation, documentation, reflection and planning. These steps work best in an environment that is encouraging and supportive.

How does critical reflection improve your teaching?

caregivers working with young white children in a childcare facility

Ultimately, the goal of reflective practice in childcare for teachers is to gain a better understanding of teaching and learning to improve the teaching practice,. Reflective practice can provide tangible improvements in the following areas.

  • It helps to identify and overcome barriers that may be impairing an individual child’s ability to learn effectively. 
  • Encourages innovation, by forcing the teacher to stop, think things through and then put a plan into action. This process helps the teacher to identify and implement innovative ways to encourage a child’s development.
  • Helps to solve problems by focusing on improved outcomes and encouraging the questioning of assumptions and methodologies. Reflective practice can help to break through what would otherwise seem to be intractable problems.
  • Helps to gain a better perspective of individual children’s abilities and strengths
  • Promotes greater self awareness

Your teaching will be improved if you look to integrate reflective practice into your daily routine. This may take some thought to make work for you but the benefits are well worth the effort. It may well be worth experimenting with various techniques and practices to see what works best for you. Each teacher will find their own method and will hone that method over time to best suit their needs.

While individual reflective practice is certainly beneficial, group and team reflective practice sessions can help to get better overall results. Brief daily reflective sessions combined with occasional longer sessions provide excellent opportunities for peer to peer learning, collaboration and shared experiences.

An additional opportunity to improve your teaching practice is through the process of observing each other. The observation process allows opportunities for positive feedback as well as identifying areas that may need a little more work

Examples of Critical Reflection in Childcare

Daily reflection in childcare needs to follow an inquiry cycle process. The process follows this broad path.

  • Being alert and aware of events that require deeper analysis either on an individual or group basis. There are many events that occur on a daily basis that do not require reflection. However, being alert to what is happening is the first step in the critical reflection cycle.
  • After identifying specific concerns the next step is to reflect upon the situation and analysing it to gain a deeper understanding of what occurred and why,. It is important that all aspects of the situation be considered. Analysis can be improved by seeking advice from others and researching specific topics to gain a deeper understanding.
  • Taking considered action in response to the reflection. This action more likely than not will be done collaboratively with other parties such as parents and/or colleagues.
  • An assessment of the results of the action taken – again this will most likely be done in consultation with other parties.

An example of how this might work in practice could run something like this:

  • An alert carer may notice that a young child is reluctant to separate from their mother one morning. This behaviour is out of character for the particular child and the carer decides that the incident is worth further analysis and reflection.
  • The child’s mother is approached – there may be any number of instances why the child behaved the way that did – some might relate to one off family type events and no further action being required, others may involve deeper issues – such as the father being called away for work commitments.
  • Depending on the specific trigger that caused the child’s behaviour, the carer may deem it necessary to take further action – in the case of the child being separated from their father it may be appropriate to arrange for a photo of the father to be placed somewhere where the child can see it. They could also perhaps engage in reassuring conversation to assure the child that their father would be home soon.
  • Consistent monitoring of the child’s emotional state combined with regular consultation with the mother will help the carer to assess whether the child is adapting to and coping with the circumstances

Weekly reflection in childcare would involve a more general assessment of all developments over the past week, identify critical areas and form strategies to address them.

Conclusion

Reflective practice is a useful tool for early childhood educators and carers. There are many useful resources available to carers at the Early Childhood Australia Learning Hub. The resources cover a wide range of strategies and situations.

Not only does reflective practice help to improve the day to day management and education of preschoolers, it serves as a vital aid to the ongoing professional development of the educator. Used effectively, reflective practice assists educators to recognise their strengths as well as their weaknesses and to develop a greater understanding of their role in early childhood development.