I have worked for Mission Australia Early Learning Services (MAELS) for the past 15 months & although this may sound somewhat like an advertisement for their services, it is simply a sharing of the journey undertaken by this organisation to ensure continued improvement in their provision of care & education of young children.
MAELS are at the forefront of change in the early years education sector in Australia. Having taken over management & ownership of several ex ABC centres it has been a long, slow process of developing their own identity & reputation amongst society & local communities. More can be found out on their recently launched website: http://maearlylearning.com.au/
Part of the process is a move back towards more natural learning environments. having inherited some quite sterile & artificial environments from ABC. A few centres have already had their outdoor areas rebuilt.
An example is Shell Cove, south of Wollongong.
A remarkable change from plain artificial grass from one corner to the other.
This is much more inviting & conducive to meaningful learning as well as encouraging respect for the environment.
There is potential to influence more than the children though. By providing such beautifully natural & diverse environments it can enable parents to think about the many ways their children learn through engaging with the environment around them. It can also challenge educators to reconstruct their own attitudes, often long held, about the role the natural environment plays as teacher rather than simply somewhere to place toys & where children can play.
This is a fundamental ideal of the Reggio Emilia approach to children's learning. If we can provide stimulating and authentic environments that engage & challenge children then half our job is already done for us by this very effective third teacher. However, providing a natural setting is only the beginning. The layout of physical spaces both indoor & out should be constantly reviewed to ensure they continue to inspire, motivate, challenge & invite children.
Well done Mission Australia. You are laying the foundation stones of a pathway to excellence in the education & lives of young children & their families.
A special thank you to Mission Australia Early Learning Services, Shell Cove for allowing us the use of photos of their revitalised outdoor playspace.