Critical reflection is one of the best ways early learning providers can consistently improve their service and provide the best outcomes for children.
As parents, how can we find childcare services that take time to reflect on their behaviours and attitudes? And why exactly is this technique so important?
This article will give you all the answers you need.
What is critical reflection in childcare?
Critical reflection is a technique that helps individuals and organisations analyse their own thoughts, teaching practice, values, and attitudes. It is part of the Australian Government’s National Quality Standards (NQS) and the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), where it is described as “closely examining all aspects of events and experiences from different perspectives”.
We can look at critical reflection as an extension of critical thinking. The approach invites us to approach our innate beliefs and ideas from varied points of view.
For effective critical reflection, childcare educators can ask key reflective questions like:
- Why did we respond to this scenario in this way?
- What went well, and what didn’t go well?
- Should we change, improve, or continue this practice?
- What knowledge base do we have about this child?
- Did we focus on inclusion and diversity when making this choice?
- How did I feel when this happened?
Critical reflection goes hand in hand with evaluation and recording. For example, in response to these key questions, educators could record their answers in a communication book to be shared with families or the service’s leadership team.
The process must be ongoing and meaningful to benefit from critical reflection. The best way to achieve this is through a culture of reflective practice, where childcare providers consistently and respectfully discuss differing views.
Why is critical reflection important in childcare?
Critical reflection and reflective practice plays an essential role in helping childcare providers assess and improve their service. It is also crucial for achieving the best possible outcomes for children.
Here are some key reasons why critical reflection is so important in childcare.
Ensures development of necessary skills
Assessing and questioning decisions, current practice, and programs is crucial for the development of skills educators need to succeed, including:
- Communication skills
- Decision-making skills
- Patience and understanding
Identifying areas for personal growth and professional development starts with asking the right questions, such as:
- Where can I improve?
- In which areas am I struggling?
- Where do I need extra guidance?
- Can I implement changes?
- What will these changes look like?
Educators can create a concrete, followable plan for skill improvement by answering these questions. Sharing these questions and answers with other educators can identify other areas for continuous improvement and help leadership teams plan meaningful training sessions.
Educators better understand their own practice
One of the key benefits of critical reflection and reflective practice is its ability to help educators better understand their processes and everyday practices. Rather than follow directions without understanding their importance or purpose, educators can identify the genuine value of each decision.
Seemingly endless and ever-changing theories go into the process of designing early childhood education programs and curricula. Critical reflection helps link theory and everyday practice, revealing areas for purposeful change.
For example, educational theorists such as David Kolb believe children have unique learning styles and adapting to these styles is essential for achieving positive learning outcomes. By asking critical questions like ‘does this child prefer to watch or do?’ and ‘is this child benefiting from hands-on learning?’, educators can identify how this theory applies to real-life situations.
Enriches learning for children
Perhaps most importantly, critical reflection is a powerful way to aid children’s development and enrich children’s learning.
As highlighted in the ACECQA Quality Support Program Toolkit, strengthening programs through critical reflection helps educators provide ongoing quality experiences for children, focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
It is also an essential step in discovering children’s interests. For example, when a child plays with a particular toy, educators can observe how the child reacts during and after the play session.
According to early childhood research, interest drives attention and engagement. Evaluating a child’s behaviour can help educators tailor services to their needs, enriching their educational experience.
How does critical reflection guide early learning?
Critical reflection is also essential in guiding a child’s early learning experience effectively. Let’s discuss how.
Engages higher-order thinking and learning
Higher-order thinking describes the ability to think abstractly, see the world from multiple perspectives, and use logic. It is essential in making important decisions and solving difficult problems.
Bloom’s Taxonomy is one method used to describe strategies for higher-order thinking. It is presented as a pyramid with the following skills from top to bottom:
You’ve probably noticed there are a lot of similarities between these skills and critical reflection skills, especially the evaluation, analysis, and understanding portions. These abilities are vital for maintaining children’s learning and a successful childcare service.
Reflective practice helps educators develop these skills by prompting them to:
- Think abstractly and conceptually,
- Apply teaching strategies to new tasks,
- Understand their thinking and learning strategies,
- Relate new knowledge to previous understanding.
Promotes creative practice
Creative practice involves developing, mastering, and applying skills we use in our creative work. For early childhood educators, this covers artistic, intellectual, social, and technical creativity—and it’s an essential skill for success as an early childhood teacher.
Creativity is essential for everything from solving problems to making traditionally ‘boring’ activities exciting and fun.
Reflective thinking promotes creative practice by encouraging educators to devise new ideas and consider alternative possibilities. It also expands creative understanding by involving perspectives and suggestions from other people.
Helps educators understand children’s learning
Understanding how children learn is crucial for delivering high-quality education.
No two children learn in the same way. Each individual has unique strengths, abilities, and interests, and nurturing these innate skills is the best way to help children succeed.
By asking questions about children and reflecting on how they respond to education, an early childhood educator can identify which approaches work well and which might need improvement.
Unlocks valuable teaching insights
Drawing from the above point, reflective practice is also the key to unlocking valuable insights about teaching programs and practices. It is a powerful way to reveal educational ‘gaps’.
For example, by asking questions like…
- Who is advantaged or disadvantaged by this approach?
- What philosophies and theories shape my practice?
- What’s not working and why?
…educators can identify spaces where particular children may be ‘missing out’ or not gaining as much value from their teaching. Educators can then reflect on and discuss these insights with their team, finding ways to ensure every child feels supported and understood.
How educators can implement critical reflection in childcare
Implementing critical reflection and reflective practice in childcare is a simple method with invaluable results. Referring to the EYLF and NQS and answering some important questions is the best place for educators to start.
Important questions to ask
A critically reflective childcare service will encourage educators to ask questions such as:
- Can I identify areas for improvement?
- What will it look like if I implement a change?
- How did I feel about this activity?
- How can I use my feelings to motivate change for myself and my team?
- Why does this rule exist?
- How can I further each student’s ongoing learning?
- How can I track my progress towards aspirations and goals?
When team members continually ask questions like these, they pave the way for a critically reflective culture and, in turn, significantly better outcomes for children.
Key elements for a reflective culture
Melinda Miller of the Queensland University of Technology identified five key elements of a critically reflective childcare culture. It’s a good idea to look out for these elements when searching for a service for your child.
Direct teaching is one of the most important elements of building a critically reflective childcare culture. It involves educators working together to support reflective practice in an explicit way.
Early learning services can do this by providing educators with toolkits and resources about critical reflection. As a parent, you may be able to access these resources on request.
Modelling involves displaying critically reflective behaviours to encourage other educators to do the same. Early education professionals with experience in reflective teaching can help newer staff members learn how to apply the same techniques.
Melinda Miller describes collaboration as an essential part of critical reflection because it opens up multiple ideas and perspectives. This collaborative approach isn’t limited only to educators, but is open to leadership teams, children, families, and professionals.
Physical spaces and resources
A critically reflective childcare service will have physical learning environments designed to encourage reflection. These spaces could include noticeboards, meeting rooms, or materials like journal articles, texts, and communication booklets.
Effective reflective practice involves dedicating time to thinking, questioning, and evaluating. Childcare services can achieve this by planning regular team meetings and encouraging educators to take time to reflect throughout the day.
Finding a critically reflective childcare service
Finding a critically reflective childcare service is easy when you know what to look for. A childcare centre’s NQS rating is the best place to start, since critical reflection is a key part of the Educational program and practice quality area.
Beyond NQS, it’s also a great idea to look at recommendations, reviews, and each centre’s educational program.
With Space’s online childcare database, you can quickly review local services’ NQS ratings, reviews, and other essential details. Start your search here to find the best service for your child.