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A Glossary of Early Childhood for Families

Early childhood education can sometimes be a mystery for families in terms of the language we use, what we do in centres and why. This glossary will help you to understand the early childhood education sector and centre life.

Sector language

What this means

Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA)

The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) is an independent national authority that assists governments in administering the National Quality Framework (NQF) for children’s education and care. ACECQA works with the Australian and state and territory governments to implement changes that benefit young children, monitor the consistent application of the Education and Care Services National Law, and support the early childhood education and care sector to improve quality outcomes for children. ACECQA is an independent national authority based in Sydney. It is guided by a governing Board whose members are nominated by each state and territory and the Commonwealth. The Board is accountable to Education Ministers.

Assessment and Rating

Education and care services are assessed and rated by their state and territory regulatory authority. Services are assessed against the 7 quality areas of the National Quality Standard. Services are given a rating for each of the 7 quality areas and an overall rating based on these results. To learn more, visit: https://www.acecqa.gov.au/assessment/assessment-and-rating-process

Co-constructed curriculum

A dynamic process in which what is taught and learned in the curriculum is negotiated by children and educators, rather than being wholly directed by the educator. A co-constructed curriculum ensures children are involved in directing their learning goals, along with their educators. It is the role of the educator toprovide resources and opportunities, and with older children to question to promote deeper thinking and extend ideas as knowledge is co-constructed.

Code of Ethics

The Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics is a set of statements about appropriate and expected behaviour of early childhood professionals. Designed especially for early childhood education and care environments and based on the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1991), the ECA Code of Ethics reflects current pedagogical research and practice, providing a framework for reflection about the ethical responsibilities of early childhood professionals who work with or on behalf of children and families in early childhood settings. To read the Code of Ethics, visit: http://www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/ECA-COE-Brochure-web-2019.pdf


Children learn about consent from infancy. For example, when we verbalise to a baby what we’re about to do when moving them or changing their nappy, we model the habit of seeking consent from others before we act. Permission-seeking is one component of respectful relationships and learning about early protective behaviours which can be modelled to children from infancy. When working with children in services, it is important to model consent within the boundaries of a duty of care. For example, if a toddler responds with “no” when an educator seeks permission to change their nappy, there is a duty of care to ensure a soiled or wet nappy is changed within a suitable time frame. Educators will re-direct the question to offer alternatives such as, “would you like to bring the car or the giraffe when we change your nappy?” to ensure appropriate caregiving occurs, while still demonstrating permission-seeking behaviours in the first instance.


Curriculum in early childhood education and settings equates to everything that occurs over the course of the day, including arrival and transition from home, everyday routines, content taught and learned, the design of the learning environment, educators’ pedagogies, the flow of the day, and documentation of children’s learning and development. Curriculum in early childhood education is holistic and attends to the whole child; their capabilities, strengths and needs.


Documentation is the culmination of observations, planning and reflections on practice. It is a requirement of the National Quality Standard for services to collect documentation on children’s learning and development and the quality of the educational program. Documentation is recorded for multiple purposes including communicating a child’s learning and development with families. Educators record documentation to establish each child’s individual strengths, needs and interests and to build on their prior learning. Documentation creates a record of the educational program and demonstrates accountability and professionalism within programming and planning at the service.

Early childhood education and care

Early childhood education and care refers to the holistic development of a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical abilities in a way that meets each child’s needs, to build a solid and broad foundation for lifelong learning and wellbeing.

Early childhood education

Early childhood education refers to the component of early childhood education and care that is focused on brain development and cognitive growth. It involves qualified educators and teachers planning experiences that help children learn while they play.

Early childhood planning cycle

An early childhood planning cycle enables educators to make connections between observations with analysis, planning and reflections to inform the daily program. Clear connections between observations, planning and reflections ensures documentation is meaningful and not collected randomly or without purpose.

Early childhood profession

The early childhood profession is sometimes labelled as an “industry”, with “workers” who care for young children. Centre-based services afford both education and care, with children engaged in a quality educational program. The label “industry” suggests services produce a product and are run like factories. Sector or profession are more appropriate terms to describe the complex and precise work of educators and teachers in early childhood education and care settings. The term professionals is used within sector because educators and teachers are bound by a Code of Ethics which provides a set of statements about appropriate and expected behaviour of early childhood professionals aligned with the broader teaching profession.

Early Years Learning Framework (E.Y.L.F)

Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (E.Y.L.F) is an approved learning framework under the National Quality Framework for young children aged Birth-5 years. As the first national learning framework for the prior-to-school sector, the E.Y.L.F is based on national and international evidence as to the importance of early childhood in the life span. Developed in 2009 under the auspices of the Council of Australian Governments, the Framework assists educators to provide young children with opportunities to maximise their learning. Five learning outcomes, along with quality principles and practices underpin the Framework. An update of the Framework is currently underway, with the purpose to ensure the document continues to reflect contemporary developments in practice and knowledge, while supporting all educators to best meet the learning and development needs of each child.


An educator in an early childhood education and care setting holds a Vocational Education Training (VET) qualification. Qualifications range from trainee to Certificate and Diploma level. The National Quality Framework sets out the minimum educator qualification requirements for working with children kindergarten age and under in long day care services. At least 50% of educators within a service must be Diploma level qualified or higher. All other educators must hold or be actively working towards an approved Certificate III level education and care qualification.

Educational Leader

The Educational Leader is a pedagogical leader required for every early childhood education and care setting. The Educational Leader supports the quality of the educational program and is responsible for guiding and developing educators’ and families’ understandings about play-based learning and the significance of the early years in the education continuum for children. The Educational Leader has an influential role in inspiring, motivating, affirming and also challenging or extending the pedagogy and practice of educators.

Emergent curriculum

Emergent curriculum is responsive to children’s ideas and interests and is meaningful and engaging for each child. An emergent approach to curriculum has a strong theoretical background, is inquiry and play-based, and responsive to children. In an emergent approach, educators respond to observations of children, build upon their strengths and scaffold their learning. It requires professional knowledge, planning for learning, and a focus on progressing each child’s learning and development towards the learning outcomes outlined in the Early Years Learning Framework or state-based learning guideline for kindergarten. Planned learning programs are flexible and responsive to the spontaneous and emerging interests of children and serve to seize key ‘teachable moments’. Children and educators co-construct knowledge within an emergent curriculum through play, discovery and learning.

Flow in children’s play

Flow is a state of concentration and engagement that can be achieved when engaging in an experience or completing a task. For young children, flow in play is achieved when their skill level is challenged but does not exceed them, meaning they remain fully immersed in what they’re doing and experience joy and internal reward from the experience. The leading researcher on flow is Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Csikszentmihalyi explains how happiness and levels of engagement in tasks can shift by introducing flow. In early childhood education settings, flow can be achieved when appropriate environments, resources, time and space are available for children to become immersed in experiences that interest them.

Kindergarten Transition Statement

As part of the kindergarten program, teachers prepare an end-of-year Transition Statement which is provided to your child’s school. The transition statement provides a snapshot of your child’s knowledge, skills and dispositions for learning across the learning and development areas of the state-based learning guideline for 3–5-year-olds. Kindergarten teachers develop the statement from a strengths-based perspective and draw from observations and formative and summative assessments of your child’s learning and development recorded across the year.

National Quality Standard

The National Quality Standard (NQS) sets a high national benchmark for early childhood education and care services in Australia. The NQS includes 7 quality areas that are important outcomes for children. Services are assessed and rated by their regulatory authority against the NQS and given a rating for each of the 7 quality areas and an overall rating based on these results. Within the 7 quality areas, there are 55 elements of practice against which centres are assessed and rated. To learn more, visit: https://www.acecqa.gov.au/nqf/national-quality-standard

National Quality Framework

The National Quality Framework (NQF) is Australia’s system for regulating early learning. In 2012, a new quality standard was introduced through the NQF to improve education and care across long day care, family day care, preschool/kindergarten, and outside school hours care services. The NQF includes the: National Law and Regulations; National Quality Standard; Assessment and Quality Rating Process; National Learning Frameworks. The major benefits for families and children include improved educator to child ratios; educators with increased skills and qualifications; approved learning frameworks; and national registers for transparent information on educators, providers and services.

National Regulations

The Education and Care Services National Regulations (National Regulations) support the National Law by providing detail on a range of operational requirements for an education and care service. To learn more, visit: https://www.acecqa.gov.au/nqf/national-law-regulations/national-regulations


Educators record observations of children for multiple purposes. Observations are a record of children’s experiences, with the analysis of learning and development focusing on children’s capabilities. Observations focus on individual children and groups of children and may represent a moment in time or be written as a culmination of what was observed over several days or weeks. When interpreting children’s learning and development from an observation, educators draw from child development research and literature on what and how young children learn. Observations of children inform the program as they highlight to educators children’s developmental capabilities and learning progress.

Learning Story

Some digital documentation platforms label observations of children as Learning Stories. This type of observation is written in a narrative style and tells a story about what the child or children were doing. Learning stories are one form of observation educators use to record children’s experiences and interpret their learning and development.


Pedagogy is how you teach – or the art and science of teaching. Pedagogy incorporates a philosophy for teaching and learning, along with approaches to curriculum and teaching strategies. In early childhood education, pedagogy informs how educators respond in moments of teaching and learning with young children. For example, educators may employ scaffolding, whereby they provide temporary guidance and support as a child develops independence with a skill. Direct teaching is used when teaching a child a new skill, while modelling is used to support children to learn by watching more skilled others. Choices in pedagogy are linked to intentional teaching. Educators are intentional in their practice when they are aware of and make appropriate professional judgements about which teaching strategies to use in moments of teaching and learning and why.

Play-based learning

Play-based learning is a common term used in early childhood education and care. Play-based learning is largely child-centric, but it is not without intention or educator input. In play-based learning programs, children actively engage with people, environments, resources and materials to make sense of the world. When playing, children are organising, constructing, manipulating, pretending, exploring, investigating, creating, interacting, collaborating imagining and negotiating. Play promotes children’s holistic development (physical, social, emotional and cognitive) and is essential to how young children learn. Within a play-based learning program, educators guide and extend play, encourage deeper thinking and promote opportunities for children to transfer their knowledge and skills across play spaces and experiences.


Quality programs in early education and care services are developed to support and guide children in all areas of their learning and development. The program is informed in part by families and community as it reflects children’s experiences, strengths, culture and identity. Educators’ observations of children and analysis of their learning and development informs the program which builds on children’s ideas, interests, thinking and capabilities. Planning can look different across services and even within a service due to differences in programming for children in different age groups. The program is recorded digitally and/or on paper or in journals and shared with families. Families can view the program to understand the ways educators plan to build on children’s ideas, experiences and progress as learners.

Queensland Kindergarten Learning Guideline

The Queensland Kindergarten Learning Guideline (QKLG) describes a set of five learning and development areas that align to the five broad learning outcomes identified in the Early Years Learning Framework (E.Y.L.F). The QKLG is a state-based learning guideline that supports teachers’ professional practice in Queensland. The Guideline provides specificity for children’s learning across the year before starting school. It provides a framework aligned to the E.Y.L.F and is designed to support teachers to plan and implement quality teaching and learning.


Ratios are the number of educators working directly with children, based on the ages and numbers of children in a service.

Routines and Rituals

Routines in early childhood education and care settings often bring into play the “care” component. Routines include nappy changing, bottle feeding, mealtimes, rest times, arrivals and departures. Routines help children to understand that the world is a sensible and organised place and cue children into what happens next or in a sequence across the day.

Rituals form part of routines and are unique to individual children, groups of children and educators, and individual centres. Rituals are inviting, special and meaningful and a way of doing something “in this place”. For example, for a baby and educator, the routine of nappy changing may involve the ritual of singing a favourite song together or choosing a preferred toy to take to the nappy change area. For toddlers, the ritual of collecting cutlery from the kitchen, chatting to the chef, and then helping to set the table for lunch gives added meaning to mealtimes. For older children, a birthday ritual of setting the table for lunch with your favourite objects or decorations gives additional meaning to the celebration. Rituals are formed when we ask … who is this routine for? When children are at the heart of everyday routines, special and meaningful rituals become possible.


A teacher in an early childhood education and care setting holds a 4-year Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood) degree, Master of Teaching (Early Childhood) degree, or an equivalent degree approved by ACECQA. Services must engage or have access to an early childhood teacher (ECT) based on the number of children in attendance at the service. A government approved Kindergarten program can be offered in a long dare care setting and is designed to support children’s participation in quality early childhood education. The program must be delivered by a bachelor-qualified teacher to receive and use the ‘kindy tick’ to promote the kindergarten program as government approved.


Transitions are times in the day when children move or change from one experience or environment to another. For babies, this could include from feeding to sleeping to playing. For older children, it could include from playing to eating. Transitions support the flow of the day and should not be rushed. Children are active participants in transitions and engaged in decision-making. Allowing time for children to make the transition is important, along with minimising transitions to avoid interrupting play or children needing to adapt to different people or environments. Across the year, transitions also relate to changes between age groups, transitions from home to centre, and kindergarten children’s transition to school.