A culture of engagement has always been a big part of our centre culture with a number of existing connections within the community. However, a couple of years ago we started thinking about ways to extend our connections even further within our local community and beyond. As early childhood educators, we recognised the need that engagement of children within the local community has a significant impact on their development and sense of belonging and identity. As stated in the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (2009), “children learn about themselves and construct their own identity within the context of their families and communities.” (p.20)
We also acknowledged our unique demographics and the fact that quite a few of our children do not have extended family members living close by. We understood that more links with our community would give children opportunities to learn, grow and develop their understanding of not only their immediate surroundings but the outside world in general and ways society works.
Educators were looking forward to this ongoing project too, as they wanted to develop stronger links with the community and gather valuable information and resources to support children’s learning, and also extend their own knowledge and expertise in this area.
Two of our biggest ongoing involvements started by simply going to visit Bowen Road Primary School Principal and Barrington Lodge Elderly Home Manager. This one small step created what we could call a ripple effect!
Connection with the school provided the children with opportunities to access a Launching into Learning Program once a week, the library and gym and use of the school oval and playgrounds. All these activities have provided children with numerous new opportunities to learn and discover through play, to investigate and wonder, but also prepare for more structured environments and the transition to school.
Children attending the school also visit our service and read books to our ‘little learners’. This has not only benefited the children at the centre, but the older children have also gained increased self- esteem and confidence through this experience. We call this program “Little Readers” and it has been underway for three years.
The Centre’s engagement with Barrington Lodge started with a simple phone call to their manager. We then met and discussed project purpose, benefits and risks, activities, resources, legal requirements, interest of the parties that would be involved (Barrington Lodge residents and centre family surveys) and implementation plan.
The day arrived for starting our amazing visits. The intergenerational program was so popular amongst the children that we had to make a roster of who was visiting each week, as we could only take a limited number of children at one time, due to not overwhelming the space for the residents. Activities range from art and craft to gross motor and social fun experiences. We just recently had a ‘Little Olympics’ competition between children and residents; that was so much fun!
Children look forward to the visits and a child commented one day:” Hidajeta, we are going to visit grandmas and grandpas today, but they are not my grandmas and grandpas, but they are!”.
Our ‘grandmas and grandpas’ also come and visit us occasionally. They recently visited us during Families Week for our Families Afternoon Tea. The tears and laughter, cooperation and communication are priceless.
Another amazing connection is with the Tasmania Symphony Orchestra (TSO). This started with a casual chat with a parent who works at TSO. We discussed that the children’s exposure to classical music today appeared minimal and taking into consideration the benefits of a diverse range of music experiences to children’s learning and development, decided that we could partner to give children another amazing opportunity to experience wonder and learn about the instruments.
We have been fortunate that their Community Engagement Officer at the time was thinking of ways to involve preschool children in the TSO. We met, and ideas started to flow. Next thing I know, we were on the bus, visiting TSO for the first time. We had enough seats on the bus, so we organised with the Lady Gowrie Campbell Street Centre children and educators to be collected on the way and be part of the experience.
We were lucky that the conductor from Sydney was coming down to Tasmania for rehearsal and was happy to have us there, whilst the orchestra was rehearsing before the show. Just imagine those little faces lighting up as the music started! After they finished we were given the opportunity for children to sit with orchestra members and touch and feel the instruments. The rest is history. We have been to quite a few TSO performances with the children and have been able to utilise the special discounts offered to our organisation, Lady Gowrie Tasmania.
Everyone benefits from community engagement. It starts with one small step!
By Hidajeta Vlaskovac
Centre Manager, Lady Gowrie Bowen Road Child Centre