“For our children, kindergarten is an adventure.”

Emma Larsen, director and educational leader, Avenel Kindergarten

This July we want to share unique stories from rural and regional Australia. Life in rural and regional Australia is distinctive; there is no place like it on earth.

In our first feature we travel to Avenel, Victoria, a small town on the old Hume Highway, about 130 kilometres north of Melbourne. With a population of around 1000, Avenel is like many towns in Australia; built on community groups, sport and around local schools. One of these schools, Avenel Kindergarten, has a rich history. Here we found director and educational leader Emma Larsen, the State and National winner of the Educational Experience Rising Star 2015 award at The Australian Family Early Education and Care Awards.

Emma believes that Avenel is the perfect place for a child to grow up. “Avenel Kindergarten is a place where children, families, educators and the wider community work together,” says Emma. “Our aim is to create a safe, stimulating, sustainable and nurturing learning environment that responds to the needs of all and recognises individuals as life-long learners.”

Once a month the kindergarten hosts a Chat & Chew afternoon. Families are encouraged to bring a plate of healthy food to share and to stay for about an hour after the end of the kindergarten session to enjoy a cup of tea and a chat while their children play. We have had a huge response- we even had to purchase more coffee mugs!

 

 

 

 

The built and natural environment plays a vital role in every child’s learning. “We provide an indoor – outdoor program that allows for extended periods of uninterrupted play and acknowledge the integral role of the natural environment,” says Emma. The holistic approach of the kindergarten is reinforced by the natural environment. “Natural materials and children’s interests drive learning and discovery; through play and the provision of open ended experiences, children are encouraged to explore, create and invent,” explains Emma.

The importance of physical space for enriching learning experiences is vital to Avenel Kindergarten. “We are bordered on one side by a paddock full of sheep and spend a huge amount of time watching, drawing and painting pictures of the lambs in springtime and on the other side is the local football oval. We are also blessed with an enormous outdoor play area, another advantage of rural living.”

Being in the Goulburn Valley means that the children at Avenel Kindergarten have a broad range of local industries on hand to enhance learning. “We have an orchard of fruit trees, a chicken run and a vegetable patch that are used regularly in cooking experiences, helping children to develop a real understanding of where their food comes from.”

We asked Emma about some of the unique experiences of children in Avenel and it came back to the community. “In a regional community, particularly an agricultural one such as Avenel, children are given a real opportunity to connect with plants, animals and the world around them, in an authentic and meaningful way,” says Emma.

This sense of community is central to everything that Avenel Kindergarten does. “The sense of community and ability to foster a sense of belonging is the biggest advantage that children in rural communities have,” highlights Emma. “As a community run kindergarten, we are able to invite people who live in and around our township to take part in our kindergarten program and to really make a valuable contribution to the early childhood education of our children.”

The importance of community, collaboration and physical space has fostered a partnership between the Kindergarten and local Primary School. Emma has been fundamental in the success of this partnership. “I am lucky enough to be able to work in collaboration with our local primary school in order to ensure the children of our community are given the best opportunity to thrive.”

The ongoing connection offers quality professional development for Emma and access to years of educational experience. “I am often found to be attending staff meetings and professional development sessions with my counterparts at Avenel Primary School”. The ability for the groups to work together to enrich learning has seen Emma and Kate Phoenix, the foundation teacher at Avenel Primary School planning, implementing and evaluating a transition to school program, beginning with a “back to kinder” experience for the preps and culminating in the kindergarten children spending a full literacy block and lunch time with their primary school peers.

Avenel has faced many of the challenges that come with living in a rural area. The isolation isn’t a barrier, but another challenge to be overcome. As Emma explains, technology has been a huge part of the educational vision. “The use of technology plays a huge part in alleviating the isolation. Goulburn Regional Preschool Association is the cluster manager for 14 early childhood services over an area of hundreds of kilometres, making the concept of meeting in person to be extremely challenging,” says Emma. “However, our strong staff network are in constant communication via email, phone calls, Skype and even a Facebook group, allowing for a strengthening of bonds and sharing of ideas.”

About Emma:

My name is Emma Larsen and I am 23 years old.  I am currently the early childhood teacher at Avenel Preschool where I facilitate both the four year old funded kindergarten program and our three year old fun groups.

During my fourth year of a BEd. Early Childhood & Primary at ACU in Ballarat, I was selected into a program managed by the Country Education Program. This program placed student teachers into classrooms in country areas– I was lucky enough to be placed at Nagambie Kindergarten, as well as spending time in several other schools in the area. I instantly fell in love with the area and community.  Fortunately, a job appeared at Avenel Kindergarten for the 2014 year and I have never looked back.

I am absolutely passionate about children’s literacy and firmly believe that children learn best when they are in a play-based, indoor-outdoor program where they are given opportunities to take risks and are treated as unique and competent learners.

When I’m not teaching, you’ll find me reading a book, attempting yoga, or enjoying dinner and a glass of wine with friends. 

About the Awards:

The Australian Family Early Education and Care Awards celebrate outstanding contributions in child care. They aim to encourage Australians working in all sectors of early childhood education and care to aspire to excellence. Learn more here.

Educational Experience has been a proud sponsor of the peak awards for the early years education sector, the Australian Family Early Education and Care Awards for 7 years.