Outside School Hours Research Hub

Vignette 1 – The Restaurant

Isabel was outside in the loose parts area watching and supervising groups of children play. The loose parts area is populated with re-usable objects like boxes, tyres and construction materials that children can move, arrange and use in multiple ways to create their own play experiences. Isabel was keeping an eye on a number of activities, each initiated by different groups of children.

She was watching the play to ensure everyone was safe, but also to take note of the sort of play that was happening and the different children involved. Isabel was invited by one child to be a customer at a restaurant that they had constructed with their friends. Isabel was excited to be invited into the restaurant and play alongside the children. When she was in the play space, she was captured by the detail present in the children’s play.

The children had created different areas of the restaurant including a reception desk with a phone, the dining area, a kitchen and even a staff room. Children took up a variety of roles including chefs, waiters, managers, receptionists and musicians that entertained her while she ate. Isabel noticed that there were multiple narratives being constructed in the children’s play that surprised her with their complexity and detail. “This is awesome”, she thought. In one narrative, a staff member was being disciplined by the manager and fired for eating on the job.

This resulted a hiring process where children were interviewed to become waiters. One aspect of the play that captured Isabel was that the children took on a variety of roles in the restaurant. The children often played out these roles in ways that aligned with their normal personalities.

However, she also noticed that some children would take up roles that differed from how they usually conducted themselves. One child, who was usually quite reserved was transformed when she became the restaurant manager with responsibility for sacking a waiter.  

Isabel engaged in reflection throughout this experience. She realised that how she responded to the children’s play was important. She was careful when eating at the restaurant to join in the play, but also not take over, allowing the children to retain their ownership of restaurant and the play it contained.

She also realised that this amazing, detailed play experience was created by children, and that her role was more in the background to allow it to continue.

Outcome 1: Children and young people have a strong sense of identity

In this vignette, Outcome 1 was supported in multiple ways. By being able to adopt a range of roles in the restaurant, children were able to construct their own identities through a shared experience with other children and young people, and educators. The experience allowed children to experiment with different identities and social roles. Taking up different roles allows children to develop a better sense of themselves and others.  

The educator, Isabel supported Outcome 1 by organising the environment in a way that promoted small and large group interactions. She observed the children’s play closely before being invited to the restaurant which allowed her to respond sensitively, allowing the rich activity to continue. Isabel realised that one of her main roles in this play was to step back and allow children to direct the play. Trusting children to control the play experience contributed to their sense of competence and confidence. By stepping back, Isabel allowed the children and young people to feel safe, secure and giving them confidence to explore and learn.  

Outcome 2: Children and young people are connected with and contribute to their world 

In this vignette, Outcome 2 is supported in a variety of ways. Isabel allowed the children to take control of the play space and form their own groups. When children and young people participate collaboratively in everyday experiences like the restaurant, they have opportunities to contribute to decisions, and learn to live interdependently. This child-directed experience provided children the opportunity to develop their capacity for independence and self-direction. They were able to cooperate with others and negotiate different roles and relationships within the play.  

This activity builds connections between the school age care setting and the local community. Isabel and the children were able construct their own understandings of a restaurant setting. The children drew upon their own life experiences but were also able to construct new meanings and experiences.  

This activity also re-used existing materials such as boxes, construction materials and old telephones. When educators encourage the use of recycled materials they involve children in reducing waste and embed economic and environmental sustainability in daily activities. This activity helps children to develop an awareness of the impact of human activity on environments and the interdependence of living things.   

Outcome 3: Children and young people are confident and involved learners

The experience described in this vignette contributes to children and young people becoming confident and involved learners. The activity was open-ended and directed by the children, providing them with opportunities for independence, self-direction and collaboration. To create the restaurant, the children had to construct a physical space and replicate a social environment familiar to some in the group. This gives children and young people the confidence to experiment, explore and to try out new ideas and theories. In constructing this play experience they use processes such as exploration, experimentation, collaboration and problem solving.  

The open-ended approach to play adopted by Isabel provided an environment that was flexible and resources that encouraged children to use their imaginations. The children were able to manipulate resources to investigate, take apart, assemble, invent and construct their own play space. This allowed them to experience the benefits and pleasures of shared exploration of new ideas.   

Outcome 5: Children and young people are effective communicators 

The programming approach adopted by Isabel supports children and young people to become effective communicators. The service provided children with open access to interesting, engaging resources that they could use creatively under their own direction. This provided space for children to exchange ideas, thoughts, questions and feelings. This collaborative activity allowed to be respectful listeners and thoughtful contributors. Isabel was also present in the play experience to model language, participate in, and respond to children’s communication. The diverse range of capabilities and interests of children in this activity meant that they could practice communication with others who communicate in different ways.  

The construction aspect of this activity provided unique opportunities for children to utilise their numeracy capabilities and life skills. Construction activities require children to use and develop mathematical skills. This activity also included a range of life skills relating to the preparation and service of food, but also workplace communications. This was a rich, child-directed activity that allowed children to develop communication, numeracy and life skills in an enjoyable and fun way. Positive attitudes and competencies in literacy and numeracy are essential for children and young people’s disposition for life-long learning.   

Invitation: OSHC Research Study

We want to understand what OSHC educators know about children’s mental health and how they currently help children with emotional and behavioural needs.

If you are an Australian OSHC educator who works with primary school-aged children, we invite you to take part in our study.