This article originally featured in The Age ‘Creating Lifelong Learners’ Feature on Saturday 24 July 2021.
Deciding on an ELC can be difficult for parents who naturally want their child to thrive in a school that shares their values. At the Melbourne Girls Grammar (MGGS) Early Learning Centre, staff place the learner at the centre of everything they do.
Sarah Gill, Executive Director of Junior Years and Early Learning, says: “Choosing an Early Learning program is an investment in your child’s future that sets them up for success at school and beyond.”
There are three key areas which MGGS believes parents should consider prior to deciding on an ELC.
“Firstly, parents should look to find a program that ensures the experiences each child will be exposed to will lay the critical foundations for learning that we know are going to catapult them into future years when they attend school, ultimately giving them the confidence, resilience and knowledge base to achieve future goals and ambitions.”
The ELC program at MGGS is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to learning, with educators aiming to develop curiosity and entice their learners to think critically about the world around them. Children form strong relationships with their teachers, allowing them to feel safe to explore, experiment and make mistakes.
“We encourage the children to take ownership of their learning”
Sarah Gill, Executive Director, Early Learning and Junior Years
MGGS believes that another key area parents should consider is how a school prioritises literacy, numeracy and STEM within their ELC learning environment.
“We are all aware of the importance of developing early numeracy and literacy skills as soon as the child is capable of understanding concepts and principles inherent to these foundational skills,” says Gill.
“Intentional teaching methods are tailored through ‘play’. This serves as a platform to ignite a child’s interest in literacy and numeracy.
“We encourage the children to take ownership of their learning and the play-based program allows educators to both extend and support the developmental learning needs of each child. Our holistic approach provides each child opportunities to develop their skills across all domains and our children are encouraged to challenge themselves to be the best that they can be.”
True to the Reggio Emilia philosophy, MGGS sees the environment as the third teacher, and emphasis is given to laying the foundation for creating environmentally responsible adults. The recent development and creation of a kitchen garden gave ELC students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the inquiry process – seeing the garden develop from the beginning through to the setting up of a market stall where they sold produce to their families. The girls researched suitable plants, drew diagrams, made signs for the plants, and tended and weeded the garden before eventually harvesting the produce. These seemingly ‘simple’ tasks facilitated the girls’ development of their inquiry skills, motor skills, literacy, numeracy, and creativity.
The third element that MGGS believes is critical for parents to consider when deciding is the qualifications and expertise of the ELC team.
All the ELC’s lead educators are qualified kindergarten teachers, having obtained a Bachelor of Education (Early Learning), while many also have the extended teaching qualification such as K-6.
“This level of qualification is critical to each child’s experience as staff are equipped to recognise and support the unique developmental needs of each child,” says Gill.
“They are facilitators and co-researchers in the learning journey and together the children and their teachers construct inquiry projects that are meaningful and contextual. As lifelong learners themselves, our educators inspire critical and creative thinking by careful and astute questioning that encourages the learner to delve deeper. Our educators carefully monitor and support each child to enhance her capabilities and extend strengths in particular areas. It is this approach that enables each young learner to grow intellectually, socially, and emotionally and be prepared for the first year of school – when the next stages in literacy, numeracy and the broader curriculum are encountered.”
MGGS believes that there are also many advantages to choosing an ELC that is in a school-based setting.
“There is access to sporting facilities, science labs and learning with older peers. Perhaps, most importantly, there is a smoother transition to Prep as the environment that they are moving into and their future teachers are already familiar to each learner,” says Gill.