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'Catching the waves: Innovation in early childhood Education' - review by Beryl Overall

Beryl Overall
Year published: 

Catching the Waves is the title of a collection of stories from six early childhood education centres located throughout New Zealand, chosen as Centres of Innovation in the first round of a project which is part of the New Zealand Government's ten-year plan for early childhood education (ECE): Pathways to the Future/Nga Huarahi Arataki (Ministry of Education 2002).

In this plan, under the strategy 'Establishment of, and reflection on, quality practices in teaching and learning; comes the action: 'Establish six Centres of Innovation on a three-year cycle to showcase excellence and innovation in ECE'.

Early childhood centres were invited to submit applications describing practices which they considered to be innovative and different in the implementation of the early childhood curriculum in their centres. A selection process followed, which took into account the quality of the programmes being offered, and the willingness and ability of the applicants to take part in action research and the sharing of their experiences with the early childhood education community. The successful centres were awarded additional funding for three years by the Ministry of Education for these research and dissemination activities.

The first six Centres of Innovation were selected in 2003; three in Auckland, and one each in Napier, Wellington and Christchurch. Each of the centres had its own unique character and was responsive to the needs and interests of its community, while working within the Early Childhood Curriculum Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 1996). Each had its particular model of practice to further develop and research, with support from a range of professional and cultural sources.

All the centres which were selected had many of their children coming from diverse cultural backgrounds and speaking languages other than English at home. This fact alone, and the practices and reflections of the educators around the topic, give this book an up-to-the-minute relevance, especially when supported by references to a range of research evidence in the areas of bilingualism, second language acquisition, and cultural identity. It was fascinating to follow the links between the above, and the dawning and building of strong relationships amongst the teachers, children, families, whanau and wider communities. These relationships are forged in many ways, with an emphasis on sharing the achievements and learning of children. The centres reported using an imaginative range of media, such as photographs, artwork and video, enabling all families to be included and contribute to the assessment and celebration of their children's progress, regardless of language or cultural differences.

Anne Meade is the editor of this booklet, and has provided an excellent introduction describing the intent and process of the Centres of Innovation programme, and the conception of this publication. She has also contributed a concluding summary, drawing out some common themes from the programmes, and discussing possible implications for the wider world of ECE, as well as educational leadership. I found this most helpful as my interest in each new narrative had the effect of blotting out the one before, and the links were not always immediately obvious.

This booklet is likely to be read worldwide by followers of New Zealand's forward-looking ECE system, and I wonder whether some difficulties may be encountered with the language, both jargon and New Zealand/Mäori words, and also the naming of people who would not necessarily be known to readers.

Do read this book. There is learning here for anyone who is involved or interested in education at any level. The commitment and energy of the adults shines through on every page, a long with their honesty in reflection on their day-to-day practice, and openness to new learning. Shared learning experiences are woven throughout, along with an explicit respect for children as competent and active participants in their own learning. As with Te Whāriki itself, much of the content could be related to all stages of life. The principles of respect, reflection, support, leadership, responsiveness, and courage to change and improve are relevant to everyone. The writers of these narratives are to be congratulated on 'doing it all'- alongside their regular work programmes. They have put a great deal of thought into their narratives and used apt examples where relevant.

I will be re-reading this booklet to make sure I didn't miss anything.