$60,000 over two years
It takes a village to raise a child and this saying is being put into practice very effectively for the children and families of Rosebud West on the Mornington Peninsula, using an evidence-based approach to early childhood learning.
As part of a community renewal project in Rosebud West – now Capel Sound – a commissioned report found the area was within the band of highest disadvantage across the state with some of the factors being single parent families, low educational attainment and a lack of infrastructure and employment opportunities.
Eastbourne Primary School Principal, Stephen Wilkinson, and his colleagues at Seawinds Childcare Centre and Rosebud Kindergarten were also experiencing the outcomes of some of these issues; children arriving at preschool and school without the skills to successfully learn.
Educational research identifies the fundamental importance of learning in children’s first years of life, and that children who start school (and kindergarten) with developmental delays are at significant risk of underachievement in school.
“There is some correlation for kids in low socioeconomic households who don’t experience books being read to them; their oral language doesn’t develop as well before school, so they are not coming to school with the basic preparation. They have a lower number of words,” Stephen said.
“We had noticed for many years we had no influence over the children who were arriving at school under prepared for their prep year.”
Armed with this knowledge, Stephen was determined to see if his community could take action in an attempt to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
The aim of the Rosebud West Children’s Early Years Literacy Project was to improve the long-term educational outcomes and wellbeing of children living in the area. It was developed as a collaboration between Eastbourne Primary School, Seawinds Community Hub, Rosebud Literacy Village and the Mornington Peninsula Shire.
Using the evidence-based Abecedarian approach to learning, the focus was on building the capacity of educators, parents, carers, volunteers and service providers to understand the developmental needs of young children and to provide an appropriate learning environment for children to gain the skills they need for future learning; to arrive at school ready to learn.
To see the Seawinds Kindergarten and Early Learning Centre in action is to gain a small insight into how the program works. It’s about a more structured approach to the everyday – reading, caregiving, play, language, asking children to describe what they are seeing and doing and focusing on the interactions between children and the people around them.
Stephen says “the preschool staff had to realign their teaching practices but after seeing the results in a short time, realised how great the program was for their children. They were also assessing children which was something they’d never done on such a consistent scale.
“School teachers did the course with the preschool staff but were doing many of the requirements within the program already; conversational reading and language games. The school also had a parent engagement officer and a wellbeing program to assist parents. We also changed some teaching strategies to accommodate the program.
“Teachers, parents, carers, volunteers and other service providers are all working together to create this environment,” Stephen said.
“Influencing parents in an early intervention sense is paramount to making this program even more successful.
“Evaluation using the Ages and Stages Questionnaire has enabled teachers to see each child’s development along elements such as gross motor, fine motor, communication, problem solving and personal/social development.
“The high number of volunteers allowing one-on-one support and interactions with each child is the most important activity in the ‘school readiness’ of children,” Stephen said.
With over 300 children aged between six months and five years engaging with the project over the past three years, the work has also been externally recognised, with the Seawinds Kindergarten and Early Learning Centre named State Winner for 2017 for Early Childhood Service of the Year.
The Ross Trust supported the initial training of 34 community groups including teachers, preschool staff, and child and maternal health personnel, as well as providing resourcing to employ a coordinator for the program and play group leaders.
“The resourcing we’ve been able to bring together from a range of funders and different parts of the community has made an enormous difference.
“It makes me smile when we get data that shows our vulnerabilities decreasing and that kids are coming ready for school – they have greater maturity, emotional and social readiness and ability to cope with big changes.
“When we started this, naturally there were some doubts and doubters but now everyone has embraced it. It’s about the whole community not just the school. We see it as an education precinct.
“Knowing the program is research based and has had unbelievable results in the United States, it is great to see other communities embracing it now too.”