Jen Jackson, Early Childhood Program Director, Centre for Policy Development, and Associate Professor of Education Policy at the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University, explores evidence use in early childhood education and care.
Young children playing in early childhood setting

Early childhood educators and teachers already use evidence in their practice. You create evidence every time you plan a program, observe children learning and reflect on what to do next. Great early childhood educators and teachers are constantly ‘researching’ within their own services, discovering more about the children, their families and what makes a difference to their learning. Regardless of their role or qualification, early childhood educators and teachers often have an innate curiosity about what excites and engages children. This means most are natural researchers – just like children are themselves!

There are many names for researching in your practice. The Educators’ Guide to the EYLF calls it ‘inquiry’, and describes the process of asking questions, gathering evidence, taking action and then evaluating the results. Questioning and evidence-gathering are also important components of critical reflection, which is part of the National Quality Standard.

Great educators and teachers also look outside their own services and find other evidence to help improve their programs. Whether you’re a new or experienced educator or teacher, you can get curious about what other people have done or written and start using their ideas to enrich your practice. You can find other evidence in many places: in libraries, online (from trusted sources) or from government websites.

So how do you make the leap from collecting evidence about children within your own program, to drawing on the array of evidence around you? The amount of evidence out there can feel overwhelming at times, but experienced researchers have a few tricks for making it manageable:

  • Focus on a question that you’d like to answer. Exploring evidence on children’s learning might be overwhelming, so try to narrow it down to what you really want to know. Your question will help you decide quickly if the evidence that you find is useful for you now, or if it’s better to save for another day. But of course, stay open to accidental discoveries while you’re searching!
  • Pick your favourites. Most researchers have favourite sources of evidence that they keep going back to, which they know are relevant and reliable. You might have favourite websites, documents, writers, blogs, chat groups or journals that present ideas in ways that are useful to you. Don’t forget to look outside your comfort zone sometimes too, to challenge yourself.
  • Stay curious and reflective about conflicting ideas. Research doesn’t always deliver answers. It can sometimes become a process of ‘knowing what you don’t know’. If you find that your question has multiple answers, be curious about why. Which answer sounds right to you? Can you use observations in your own service to help you decide which is most relevant to your practice? Discussing conflicting ideas with colleagues is also a great way to keep learning. Early childhood practice is complex, and there can be many ‘right’ answers in different contexts.

Always remember to be critically reflective about what you read or hear and decide if it’s relevant for your service. Research is not just about making discoveries, but about having conversations and creating new questions to explore. Be creative in applying new ideas and collect your own evidence of their usefulness.

About Jen Jackson

Jen Jackson leads the Early Childhood Development Initiative at the Centre for Policy Development and is also an education policy researcher at Victoria University. Jen has over 15 years’ experience in education policy and research, including in early childhood education and care (ECEC), schools and tertiary education. Jen was a Lead Assessor for Victorian ECEC services when the National Quality Standard was introduced and has undertaken a wide range of ECEC policy research, including completing her PhD on ECEC workforce development.

Now what?

AERO has developed Standards of Evidence and a Research Reflection Guide to assist educators and teachers to work with evidence.