Nestled among buildings that look like they have grown from the lush natural environment is Mia Mia Child and Family Study Centre.

On the day of our team visit to Mia Mia, it is a cold day with a grey blanket of drizzly rain. But immediately upon entering the building, a natural warmth hits the team. On the wall are a series of images and documentation from the recent Reconciliation Week celebrations. Children, educators and Elders together. The whole place feels warm and friendly.

We are greeted by director and founder of Mia Mia, Wendy Shepherd. 

“22 years ago, the story of Mia Mia began,” explains Wendy. “It was decided that the Institute’s Waverley Child and Family Study Centre Preschool was to be re-established on the Macquarie Campus as a long day program,” says Wendy, who is a Lecturer at Macquarie and has been a k-2 teacher, preschool director and consultant.

Mia Mia and Reggio Emilia in Australia has a long shared history. At the time of developing Mia Mia, information about Reggio Emilia appeared in early childhood journals. It was the ECA Conference in 1991 in Adelaide that galvanised the connection to the ideas of the Reggio Emilia early childhood programs. It began with Jan Millikan's presentation and continued with regular visits by Janet, Wendy and Angela, and the message from Reggio of the rights of the child, which the Mia Mia team have found to be so affirming.

“With the rights of the child uppermost in our mind, when we began, we established attendance patterns at Mia Mia that were in children’s best interests, sharing the idea with families that Mia Mia was a foundational educational experience for children and not a workplace solution.” Wendy Shepherd.

As Wendy takes us on a guided tour of Mia Mia, her passion and commitment to excellence in early childhood education is clear. As we explore the learning spaces, Wendy explains the collaboration at the heart of Mia Mia. “This opportunity to re-imagine a long day program was embraced with the express desire to ensure children were at the centre of each decision to be made,” says Wendy.

At the physical centre of Mia Mia is the kitchen. While we spoke to Wendy, two children peeled carrots, while chatting to the cook of 21 years, Nancy. “Collaboration with the architects and designers about the environment enabled us to share our philosophy and values about learning spaces,” describes Wendy.

As an integral element of the Institute’s teaching program Mia Mia employed degree qualified early childhood teachers for each classroom group, regardless of the children’s ages. While we were on our tour, we were able to explore the multipurpose observation rooms. Here we see how natural and artificial light provide a truly unique learning space. This is coupled with how the team employs the new and the old in learning. The rooms are full of life; children engaging with art materials, some are building a tower with recycled cups, more playing with the dress up resources.

As we move into the outdoor area, we see that the outdoor area is a lush learning space that combines the natural and built with subtle ease. “We have also had an Outdoor Early Childhood Teacher for the past seventeen years,” says Wendy,  “ For each learning space, indoors and out we developed a child focussed, life lived, theory based, play curriculum, with great ratios and a learning community that regards families as our significant others and an expectation for families to regard us as their significant others.”

One of the unique goals of the centre is to have parents actively involved. “We advocated with families to require family friendly work policies in their workplace as we needed them also in our program,” says Wendy with confidence, “sharing the responsibilities for orientation and exchanging information about the children to better inform our practice has been paramount.”

As we circle back around to the kitchen, the walls have examples of children’s learning with the documentation, Wendy describes the vital roles the families have in the professional development of the team of educators. “We have included families in our discussions about professional development for staff and our families enrol their children, fully aware that our staff are continuing their learning and as they qualify they are encouraged to stay on in their new role,” says Wendy. “We now have two teachers in the preschool room and two more teachers to graduate in one and two years, time.”

Educational Experience would like to pass on our thanks to the team at Mia Mia and particularly Wendy for her time to guide us and to help build our knowledge of an early childhood program in Australia and their appreciation of the educational project of Reggio Emilia.