YMCA Canberra has a very clear mission statement. They work from a base of Christian values to provide opportunities for all people to grow in body, mind and spirit. Coupled with their vision to have a community which is connected, inclusive and resilient, it is easy to see that the children who spend time in one of their 25 services, ultimately experience positive outcomes.
With 12 Outside of School Hours Care services, 5 Early Learning services, and 8 vacation care programs, Canberra YMCA won 3 awards at the ACT Gala Awards Night in 2019. Receiving awards for Best Educational Program Birth to 3 years, Best Educational Program 2 to 5 years and the Marigold Award, YMCA Canberra can rightfully celebrate the quality educational outcomes they provide for the children in their services.
With a vision to have a community which is connected, inclusive and resilient, the teams at YMCA Canberra wanted to improve their connections and communications with families and to improve the process of documenting children’s learning.
With every learning service having a different approach to documenting children’s learning and experiences, this certainly allowed for individuality, however, there was no uniformity and no set standard per se. The different styles of documentation were mainly paper-based, and if educators transferred between services, they would have to adjust to new “styles” and systems of documentation.
On a mission to find a digital documentation platform that met their needs, the teams at YMCA Canberra had a small list of criteria they were seeking to find in their platform of choice:
- Simple to use
- Meeting the needs of their staff, families and the assessor’s criteria in terms of documentation
- An interactive solution that would encourage families to engage with their children’s learning
- A product that kept everything in one place
After deciding to trial Storypark, the educators quickly found they were able to easily track the learning journey of individual children with a few clicks of a mouse. The ability to link observations with previous learning experiences and documentation enabled the staff to observe how activities and experiences developed over time. They also loved the support and customer service provided to them as they navigated through their transition to solely recording children’s learning on Storypark.
“Using Storypark has allowed us to directly share with families the learning journeys of their children. On another note, not many families were aware of our documentation process before going digital with Storypark. It has allowed us to connect them into what we do daily.”
We asked Matt Balken, OSHC Area Manager & Space Squad Coordinator, about the differences Storypark has made for their learning communities. Matt shared with us “The fact that we now have one documentation style across all of our services has made it easy for educators to work at multiple services and instantly be able to contribute to a developing story. The entire documentation process has been neatly streamlined, which has allowed our educators more time on the floor to participate in activities with children. Staff have a better understanding of children’s development and also the importance of tracking their development and learning.”
The children have been supported to develop their own agency in terms of the documentation of their learning. They have input into their own learning stories and are able to reflect on and track their own progress. Using video, audio, photography and written observations offer children the means to follow their own learning journey in many ways.
It is not only the educators and children who have experienced positive differences. Matt tells us that by sharing snapshots of their child’s time as it is unfolding at YMCA, means that parents can extend upon these experiences as soon as they arrive for pickup. Rather than saying “how was your day? What did you do?” the educators are hearing parents say things like “I saw that you made an incredible painting today!” The connection between educators and families has also strengthened, educators are finding that families are now sharing what they have been doing at home and on holidays, which informs decisions around the services learning program.
From a business perspective, Matt tells us that being able to connect families to Storypark means that they are able to provide a more comprehensive and well-rounded experience for all members of the learning community. As a network, staff are able to share with each other, learning from each other, and most importantly, support each other across all of their services. “We are able to continually improve together, as we are constantly in communication with each sector.”
Being innovative and creative problem solvers, Matt told us of one way that the children and educators are working together to document their learning. Using hi-vis vests, they become “Storypark Crew”. This idea came from a desire to have children contribute more to their own documentation. “We were getting lots of feedback from families questioning digital documentation, and the implication that staff would be constantly using devices to document. Thus when the “Storypark Crew” vests are worn, this indicates that they are using devices for documentation purposes. It also allows the children to be involved more.”
Looking to the future, the teams at YMCA Canberra envisage that Storypark will allow better connections with wider family members, particularly those living overseas and wanting to be better connected with their young relatives in Canberra.
“We aim to find ways in which we can collaborate and share Storypark within the schools we operate in. To open up and improve all avenues of communication to provide better outcomes not only for the children but also for the families and schools.”
When asked what he would say to others thinking about using Storypark, Matt tells us “The ease with which Storypark allows us to connect with our families, children and services has been fantastic. Storypark as a company is incredibly supportive and customer-focused.”
As a community, profit for purpose organisation, YMCA has served the Canberra community for over 75 years. They are a charity organisation governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. YMCA Canberra is a member association of the National YMCA of Australia. They work closely with other YMCAs around the country to provide a voice to lead change through representation and advice to government.
Matthew Balken works as the OSHC and Space Squad Manager at YMCA Canberra. With 20 years of working with children, he previously was a student at Disney University and worked with the Walt Disney Company.