Play-based learning flourishes in St Mary’s new Early Learning Centre

Jane MurphyBroome Advertiser
Principal Coby Rhatigan with students in the new early learning facility.
Camera IconPrincipal Coby Rhatigan with students in the new early learning facility. Credit: Broome Advertiser/Jane Murphy

A Broome primary school has become home to an exciting new early learning space, aimed at encouraging young children to learn through play-based teachings.

St Mary’s new Early Learning Centre consists of two state-of-the-art buildings which serve as the kindergarten and pre-primary classrooms complete with built-in cubby holes, child-sized doors and indoor windows which keep the spaces bright with natural light.

It’s not only the indoor space that fosters a child’s imagination.

The facility is built around an open grassed area decorated with colourful play equipment and shaded by tall trees.

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Both indoors and outdoors, the students are encouraged to learn through their interaction with the environment and other students — a method of learning inherently play-based.

St Mary’s principal Coby Rhatigan said this concept was an important goal in the planning process.

“We designed both these spaces as a trauma-informed child-led space that could be really flexible on delivery,” Ms Rhatigan said. “Hence, the open doors and the little nooks. So it’s quite targeted in a play-based way.”

The planning for the new Early Learning Centre began in 2015.

Broome-based architects Engawa were pulled in shortly after to transform Ms Rhatigan and her team’s ideas into a formal blueprint.

Ms Rhatigan told the Broome Advertiser the architects had her bush-bashing early on, tying pink tags around trees she wanted to keep.

“Now that I see the space, I understand what I was doing it for,” she said. “They’ve been able to weave the buildings with the natural environment.”

Large trees provide shade for much of the area and have been proven to encourage the imagination of the students.

Janenell Kennedy, assistant early learning principal, said she has seen the children having picnics under the trees.

“Yesterday, there were three little children sitting under one of the big trees having a little picnic and I thought, ‘that’s exactly what we hoped for’,” Mrs Kennedy said.

“It’s an environment like this, where lots of thought has gone into the way that the children are able to access the space, not just the indoors but also the outdoors.”

Ms Rhatigan added: “We talk about the environment as the third teacher.

“The people and the environment really nurture the kids.”

Each classroom is capped at 25 students to ensure the teachers can offer each student the best possible support.

Several times a day, the kids are able to choose which activity they approach.

The children can play dress-ups with their friends, an activity Ms Rhatigan said teaches them the value of sharing early on, while others make shapes in trays of sand, an activity based on their recent project on Yawuru culture.

Aboriginal learning assistants are present in each classroom to ensure First Nation students have access to culturally appropriate teachings.

“The centre is about all students having a sense of belonging,” Mrs Kennedy said.

“Having that early success within the school setting sets them up with the foundations for a really strong future.”

Both the principal and assistant early learning principal believe the new space captures everything necessary to prepare children for schooling while maintaining their independence and imagination.

“It offers education on a next level for families in Broome,” Mrs Kennedy said.

Ms Rhatigan added: “We very much have a philosophy of allowing children to have some freedom to explore, but then to also be able to come to a mat and get ready for learning as well..

“It combines the two, it create a balance.

“We’re so blessed to have this incredible space, the quality of staff, the community and the parents in partnership with us.”

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