Since ELTHAM College opened its doors in 1974 the Early Learning Centre (ELC) has been a part of the school. Director of Early and Junior Years, Sonia van Hout says: “I believe [the ELC] was started from the beginning because of community interest – there was a strong sense of parents wanting something for their families within the local area, which was coeducational independent schooling, so from the beginning they had families who were interested in having their children attend three-year old and four-year-old programs.”
The ‘blended’ curriculum, which contains both structured and unstructured play, project based elements, and an overlay of weekly specialist sessions in music, library and perceptual motor programs (PMP), aims to develop resourcefulness, confidence and resilience in the three to five -year-old children.
“For us, the most important attribute would be a great self-image and a sense of confidence that they can risk take and seek out the adults in their environment if they’ve got questions or need help resolving conflict,” says Sonia.
ELC coordinator Jo Dowling says: “There’s a lot of opportunity for children to play and experiment and to collaborate with other children. We facilitate a range of open-ended experiences for them, but we also offer project based work, which gives them the opportunity to delve more deeply into a certain topic, project or question that may have arisen from the children’s own interest. It can also be something the teacher may have an intention of sharing with them.”
The perceptual motor program helps develop the children’s physical skills including spatial awareness, balance, rhythm and coordination. And while research has shown that PMPs help children in academic areas such as writing, it’s in ELTHAM College’s Bush Adventuring Program where the benefits of the program really shine.
“I noticed that the children have been able to use the skills that they’ve learnt in PMP when they tackled climbing a challenging log,” says Jo. “They used a certain way of shuffling along that they were originally taught to use when crossing a beam in the gym, so it was great to see how they can transfer those skills to real life situations.”
The nature based education program is a core component of ELTHAM College’s ELC curriculum – and this theme is carried into the older year groups. “It continues right through and is a very important area of the college’s future opportunities, such as environmental sciences which we continue to develop,” says Sonia.
“There’s a commitment to exposing children to the concept of sustainability, and so we have veggie patches and recycling in the ELC, but on a regular basis the children spend time in our environmental reserve where they really explore their surroundings.
“The nature based education is not just for school, it’s for life and gives that degree of sympathy with the environment – which we hope will mean they become sympathetic and more sustainably practicing people as adults – but also for their own wellbeing to connect with the environment and to have those times of quiet solitude, or to help a friend cross a log or to discover the joy in a puddle – that is something we feel very committed towards – that it is every child’s entitlement to have a component of a nature based education within their early learning experience.”
Sonia says a key element in the success of early learning programs is the quality of the teachers. “To have staff who are committed professionals and who take a real interest in their own professional learning and learn along the same journey with the children.”