More tamariki to learn self-regulation skills through play

Issue: Volume 102, Number 15

Posted: 16 November 2023
Reference #: 1HAdkJ

An evidence-based programme which uses play to help tamariki develop important self-regulation skills is undergoing a significant expansion across Aotearoa. The expansion will allow the programme, ENGAGE, to be taken into 1,830 early learning services across the motu. An important part of the expansion is making sure the programme is culturally responsive, and enabling the development of an online space where kaiako can connect and learn.

ENGAGE develops motor skills through play.

ENGAGE develops motor skills through play.

The expansion of ENGAGE is about more than just growing the programme – it’s about ensuring as many tamariki as possible can learn vital self-regulation skills, says Jimmy McLauchlan, kaiwhawhanake pakihi (chief development officer) of Mission Methodist South (MMS).

Enriched tamariki relationships and environments that are easier to manage are just a few of the benefits kaiako have seen after delivering ENGAGE.

The programme, developed by Associate Professor Dione Healey at the University of Otago, has been delivered by MMS to just over 300 early learning services in three regions over the last two years.

Thanks to funding from the Ministry of Education, over the next four years MMS will be able to offer crucial top-up support to 915 centres – including those where ENGAGE is already delivered. In addition to this MMS will be developing the Network Hui space, enabling kaiako to connect, grow and learn.

Jimmy says rolling out the programme nationwide was always the vision.

“Ever since we started offering it to services, we’ve always had more demand for the programme than we’ve been able to meet. So, having these numbers now and having the ability to go into multiple regions helps us to meet that demand, which is great.

“ENGAGE is just a really important vehicle for sharing these skills, passing on this knowledge and supporting people to embed it,” he says.

Top-up for support delivery

Jimmy says ensuring early learning services are offered top-up support following the delivery of ENGAGE is crucial to making sure long-term uptake of the programme.

ENGAGE games are simple, fun and require minimal resources.

ENGAGE games are simple, fun and require minimal resources.

He says research shows that around 18 months after professional development or evidence-based programmes are delivered, things start to dwindle – even when the initial delivery is successful.

“It’s not the same for every approach, but generally the evidence says that you often will benefit from doing a little bit of a booster.

“We’re really conscious of that, especially in the early learning sector because in the last few years there have been a lot of challenges for centres around staffing and retention of staff or turnover of staff.”

Jimmy says the support delivery is very responsive to the needs of each individual centre.

“There are some centres, and we’re already finding this, we might be revisiting them after a couple of years and they are really humming, you know? The team is pretty much the same, they’ve embedded all the techniques, they’ve put their own spin on things.

“They don’t need a lot from us, but they might have one or two small questions, or they might want to test a couple of ideas with us. So, in that case, it would just be a top up.”

However, Jimmy says other services may have experienced a big change in personnel and therefore need more support.

“They’ll probably still be doing some ENGAGE, using some ENGAGE games and techniques. But we might go back and do another workshop with them, and then we might do a series of follow ups. So, in some cases it’ll be a sizable chunk of support.”

Jimmy says during the first year of the rollout, MMS is working with its facilitators and kaiako to refine what’s required in terms of top-up support and what that might look like.

He says it’s important that supporting kaiako is a relational exercise, not a transactional one where the organisation comes in, tells kaiako what to do, leaves, and never comes back.

ENGAGE games are simple, fun and require minimal resources.

ENGAGE games are simple, fun and require minimal resources.

“The sector is busy and dynamic and at times it can be chaotic. People come and go and as those people come and go, they may take knowledge and enthusiasm with them.

“Because we’re really trying to invest in supporting a generation of tamariki and building up the skills of a whole generation of kaiako, we really want this to stick,” he says.

Network Hui connects kaiako

The expansion of ENGAGE also allows MMS to develop its Network Hui space.

Scarlet Mollan, MMS kaimatapaki matua (communications lead), says when facilitators start delivering ENGAGE, teachers are invited into the online space. It allows them to connect with other kaiako around the country and learn from each other, while also learning about other topics through sessions held by facilitators.

“It’s empowering them to continue learning about ENGAGE through a variety of different lenses. And it’s free to attend, they’re all just invited to attend if and when they want to. The response we have had from kaiako is extremely positive, there’s a lot of demand for it.”

Scarlet says the sessions are interactive and kaiako are encouraged to ask questions. Some of the sessions to date have been on principles of psychology, neuroscience, te ao Māori and te reo Māori and other topics relevant to ENGAGE.

“It expands their community of practice. They’re introduced to other kaiako who are maybe passionate about the same things. I guess it’s just an opportunity for them to step outside of their normal centre routines and be offered a bit of an expansion,” she says.

Jimmy says MMS is hoping to develop the expansion of peer-to-peer sharing and learning.

“We really want to strongly encourage getting teaching teams and kaiako to capture examples of their own practice or to really highlight something that they’re proud of.”

Jimmy says some of the best and most innovative ideas come from small teaching teams who’ve done some problem solving for their local context. He says MMS wants to encourage more kaiako to document those things.

“I think kaiako really enjoy learning from and sharing with other kaiako. Hopefully it’s documentation that’s helpful for them and then for the programme. It’s capturing all these little bits of magic that we can share and just keep building up our kete of examples.”

Better self-regulation skills predict more positive life outcomes.

Better self-regulation skills predict more positive life outcomes.

The importance of self-regulation

Jimmy says MMS first became involved with ENGAGE because the organisation was interested in the potential life-long benefits for supporting self-regulation skills.

The importance of these skills was highlighted in The Dunedin Study, which assessed the self-control of more than 1,000 people during the first decade of their life and then examined their health outcomes, wealth outcomes and criminal conviction history at age 32.

“These sort of self-regulation skills in the first few years of life were the best predictor of adult outcomes for their thousand study members,” Jimmy says.

“These simple self-regulation skills were accurately predicting a whole range of outcomes from physical health, mental health outcomes, employment, education outcomes, people’s relationships, people’s life satisfaction, economic outcomes – everything really.”

MMS saw an opportunity to take an evidence-based programme like ENGAGE – which was already effective on a small-scale – and adapt it for delivery in early learning.

“We know these skills are really important to how our lives unfold as adults, but also we know that if we support these skills in the preschool years, and we support them by intentionally playing games, then we can give them a significant boost.”

Making a difference

Jimmy says ENGAGE is conceptually simple and adaptable to accommodate a diverse group of people in different settings.

MMS train and support kaiako to play intentional games that develop self-regulation skills across three domains: emotional (feeling), cognitive (thinking), and behavioural (doing skills).

“The games themselves are familiar to many people. They’re commonly known games that don’t require any real expensive resources. Things like hide and seek and foursquare and snap and cards, cups memory. You know, games that many people have actually played.”

“It’s not highly prescriptive. We obviously have core content that we cover and we’re very careful about making sure that we’re checking for understanding and checking that core concepts are covered. But the actual delivery itself is very much based on ‘what does each individual team need from this and how can we be supporting them over time?’”

Scarlet says she has received a lot of positive feedback about ENGAGE from kaiako.

“I think the things that mostly stand out to me when you talk to the kaiako about it, is that it makes their teaching practice throughout the day easier. The environment is easier to manage, tamariki with more complex learning needs are easier to manage, their behaviours are easier to manage.

“They see tamariki peer relationships being enriched. I think the kaiako can see the future impact that ENGAGE is going to have on the children they look after, which is really rewarding for them.”

Tamariki can build on their peer relationship by playing games.

Tamariki can build on their peer relationship by playing games.

Culturally responsive

Jimmy says ensuring the delivery of ENGAGE meets the needs of diverse communities is an important part of the kaupapa.

Some of the goals MMS has to make sure they are meeting those needs include:

  • Aiming to offer ENGAGE to all Pasifika early learning services over the next four years.
  • Developing kaupapa Māori and te reo Māori content for ENGAGE. This includes translation work, developing partnerships with kura, and piloting ENGAGE with some Māori-medium services.

Multicultural Playgroup Project – MMS have also undertaken a pilot project where ENGAGE was delivered in some Auckland-based playgroups for refugee and migrant communities to test and learn how the programme may be incorporated and beneficial here.

“The first principle is that self-regulation skills develop within a cultural context. Self-regulation is something that’s universally important for people living healthy and fulfilling lives, but self-regulation skills and the way we understand them have subtle differences culturally,”
says Jimmy.

ENGAGE provides a really strong foundation for MMS to be able to work with various parties to broaden that base.

“This is so if you’re approaching ENGAGE from a
te ao Māori perspective, or you are encountering ENGAGE having just arrived in the country as a recent migrant or former refugee, you can find something in that kete that resonates with your culture and find a way of taking that kete and making it work in a culturally relevant way for you,” he says.

MMS wants ENGAGE to be as inclusive as possible. Jimmy highlighted that it’s extremely important the organisation works collaboratively and in partnership with different communities – which they have already started doing – and that they don’t predetermine what ENGAGE might look like for different cultures, or whether it is even needed.

“I think as we go through this four-year rollout, we’ll have an ever-expanding set of resources that are culturally responsive, and also more facilitators with different cultural expertise and different cultural competencies,”
he says.

“It’s super exciting because as we go around the country you meet all these people with these amazing skills and these amazing deep connections into different communities.”

Kaiako are empowered through ENGAGE to see the positive impact they can have on children.

Kaiako are empowered through ENGAGE to see the positive impact they can have on children.

Early learning services interested in ENGAGE can sign up here link) or email to register or request more information. 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:42 am, 16 November 2023

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