Finalists of the 2019 Victorian Early Years Awards

Congratulations to the finalists of the 2019 Victorian Early Years Awards.

Category 1: Improving Access and Participation in Early Learning Award

Word Play

by Moreland City Libraries

In partnership with:

  • Merri Health
  • State Library Victoria
  • Public Libraries Victoria

A partnership between Merri Health and Moreland City Libraries, Word Play is a dynamic literacy learning model focused on supporting newly-arrived migrant families with low English literacy.

Following a successful pilot in 2018, Word Play now runs weekly at Fawkner Library. The program focuses on fun songs, games and books, with an emphasis on families learning together. Separate adult-focused sessions with a literacy librarian and reading buddy are also available for parents/carers.

Evaluation findings revealed significant improvements across all program objectives, including children's English literacy and school-readiness, and the capacity of parents to support their child's learning. Overwhelmingly, respondents said that Word Play helped them to improve their own English.

Koorie Champions Network Group

by Wodonga City Council

In partnership with:

  • Local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group led by VAEAI
  • Maggie Coates - Dhuduroa Traditional Owner

Building on its successful efforts to increase the enrolment of Aboriginal children in preschool programs, the Wodonga Council early years unit is supporting their early years professionals to gain a deeper understanding of Aboriginal culture.

The Koorie Champions Network Group was formed by Wodonga Council and its partners to give professionals a way to gain knowledge of Aboriginal culture. The network then explores how it can be integrated into daily classroom practice. The group has evolved into a cultural immersion experience where learning is gained through workshops, activities and excursions with guest speakers on topics that are culturally significant. This allows participants to develop a deeper understanding of traditional practices and this knowledge can be enshrined into preschool curriculum.

Since the introduction of the Koorie Champions Network Group in 2017, preschool enrolments by Aboriginal families have risen significantly in the area.

Delkaia Aboriginal Best Start

by Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Cooperative

In partnership with:

  • Babaneek
  • Horsham Rural City Council
  • Wimmera Southern Mallee Local Learning and Employment Network
  • Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Limited
  • Koorie Engagement Support Officers
  • Horsham District Kindergarten Association
  • Koorie Preschool Assistants

Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Cooperative has improved outcomes for Aboriginal children and families in the Horsham and surrounding shires through the Delkaia Aboriginal Best Start program.

The Delkaia Aboriginal Best Start facilitator worked with service providers to develop and implement change ideas to make their services culturally safe. In one example, Blue Bird Child Care Centre spent time building relationships with the Black Cockatoos Aboriginal playgroup families and staff. The information gathered was then used to make Blue Bird more culturally safe. Blue Bird saw a 500% increase of Aboriginal children enrolments as a result.

Since the launch of the program, surveys have shown increased Early Start Kindergarten enrolments and 100 per cent participation in the maternal child health 18 month Key Age Stage visits.

Category 2: Supporting parents through evidence-based practice Award

Smalltalk at Brimbank - In Languages other than English

by Brimbank City Council

In partnership with:

  • Growing Brimbank – In partnership with Brimbank Council, Mitchell Institute of Health & Education at Victoria University
  • Parenting Research Centre

Smalltalk is a set of evidence-based parenting strategies that parents can use to enhance the home learning environment for their children from birth to school age.

With nearly half of its population born overseas, the Victorian Government funded Brimbank Council to provide Smalltalk at playgroups eight years ago to support children's learning and development and connection to other local early years services. Today the program is delivered in 16 multicultural groups in languages including Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Burmese and Chin.

The Smalltalk @ Brimbank program has been a tremendous success with improved outcomes for children and families across a number of criteria, including better and more frequent interactions between parents and children; increased confidence in parents; and higher levels of connection between families, the community, and local services.

Sound Partnerships: Promoting partnerships with families for the teaching of phonics

by Rosanna Golf Links Primary School

Rosanna Golf Links Primary School has improved the reading skills of its Foundation children through the Sound Partnerships program. The program works by teaching children letters, sounds, reading and spelling explicitly, synthetically and in a systematic and cumulative manner.

Families are central to Sound Partnerships. The program views parents and carers as active educators in inclusive, three-way partnerships with staff and children. Parents are empowered through being given access to learning intentions and resources that allow them to understand and reinforce classroom teaching at home. Family knowledge is further built through information nights and sharing information with other parents.

The program has yielded excellent outcomes. Reading ability in Foundation students has improved significantly and many parents have reported a growing love of reading at home.

Parents Early Education Partnership (PEEP) 

by Tomorrow Today Education Foundation

In partnership with:

  • Benalla Rural City Family Services
  • Benalla Rural City Maternal and Child Health
  • Benalla Health
  • Benalla P-12 College
  • Benalla Library
  • Benalla Preschool Partnership
  • Ride Avenue Preschool

The Tomorrow Today Education Foundation delivers Parents Early Education Partnership (PEEP) in Benalla to improve outcomes for local children. PEEP originates from the United Kingdom, specifically for families experiencing disadvantage to support them as their child's first and most important educator. Parents/carers commit to attending at least one term of a weekly facilitated playgroup, in which songs, rhymes, stories and creative play are used to promote pre-literacy and numeracy skills. Children and parents also use this opportunity to socialise with other families.

The program is a collaborative, community effort, with more than 60 partners, referrers and volunteers playing a role in its creation and delivery. During 2018, 15 sessions were delivered per week, attended by 222 families with 290 children.

Category 3: Creating Collaborative Community Parterships Award

Balnarring Preschool

In partnership with:

  • Boon Wurrung Foundation

 Balnarring Preschool advocates a culture of learning in natural environments and consciously connecting children to the land.

Since 2010 the organisation has been introducing First Peoples world views into its practice and community, carefully guided by Elders from the Boon Wurrung Peoples, on whose land the preschool stands.

First Peoples perspectives are now incorporated into all areas of the daily curriculum, allowing children to learn and explore the Boon Wurrung language, stories, songs and dances.

In 2015 the Bundjil Nest Project (BNP) was established, extending the learning that was occurring at the preschool to other local services, including schools and early learning centres. In 2018 the Balnarring Preschool held a festival celebrating and honouring First Peoples Cultures.

The popularity of these initiatives–and the high level of enrolments–demonstrate the success of the program.

Let's Read Wimmera

by Wimmera Southern Mallee Local Learning and Employment Network

In partnership with:

  • Hindmarsh Shire Council
  • Horsham Rural City Council
  • West Wimmera Shire Council
  • Yarriambiack Shire Council
  • West Wimmera Health Service
  • Wimmera Regional Library Corporation
  • Wimmera schools and kindergartens
  • Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Cooperative
  • Horsham Sports and Community Club
  • The Smith Family and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

Let's Read Wimmera was established in 2014 to improve children's literacy across the Wimmera community. A Let's Read partnership was set up in each of the Hindmarsh, Horsham, West Wimmera and Yarriambiack Shires to deliver the Let's Read program.

The program delivers support, books and resources to families at four key ages and stages Maternal and Child Health checks. Families receive the resources and support for their babies at four months, 12 months, 18 months and three and a half years from Maternal Child Health Nurses. More than 7,440 Let's Read resource bags have been distributed to families through the program.

Australian Early Development Census 2018 data shows the number of children developmentally vulnerable in the language and cognitive skills domain has reduced in the Wimmera community since the program was introduced.

Super Koorie Kids Bush Playgroup

by Willum Warrain Local Gathering Place

In partnership with:

  • Morington Peninsula Shire

Super Koorie Kids began in 2016 as a culturally welcoming Bush Playgroup for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families, at the local Aboriginal Gathering Place in Hastings.

The aim was to create an opportunity every week for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to be immersed in their culture and learn in a caring environment, surrounded by kin.

The first two years of the program ran as a collaboration between Willum Warrain Aboriginal Gathering Place and the Mornington Peninsula Shire. Two facilitators worked together to provide Koorie cultural knowledge and early childhood expertise.

The success of this model allowed members of the Willum Warrain Bush Playgroup to take ownership of the program. As of 2019, Super Koorie Kids is run by three current parents who are also engaged in further professional development in the early childhood field.

The program is now operating autonomously with an increased weekly attendance and positive feedback from participants.

Category 4: Promoting Children's Health and Wellbeing Award

We Love Stories

by Banyule Community Health

In partnership with:

  • North East Healthy Communities

We Love Stories is a community literacy campaign that engages families and organisations in West Heidelberg through book making and social media as the starting point for system-level change.

As a community that experiences high levels of disadvantage and trauma, children living in West Heidelberg are at increased risk of low literacy, making them vulnerable to poorer mental, physical and social health across their lifetime.

Banyule Community Health’s We Love Stories program brings the community together to improve literacy outcomes for children through a Collective Impact model. 

Books are made, printed and then celebrated by children and parents/carers within existing early years’ settings. This process supports positive attachment and oral language development between children and their parents/carers, so children can develop the skills they need to learn to read.

The process is documented on social media to amplify community voices, enabling families to share their successes and literacy ‘know-how’.

The success of the program has been seen in the high level of engagement with local families and early years’ settings, and the launch of the program’s four books in 2019.


by Good Samaritan Catholic Primary School

In partnership with:

  • Hume City Council
  • DPV Health
  • Foundation Health
  • Community Hubs Australia   
  • North West Melbourne Primary Health Network

Nearly a fifth of students at Good Samaritan Catholic Primary School were developmentally vulnerable in two or more domains, according to data from the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) in 2015. Eighty-five per cent of students at Good Samaritan are from non-English speaking backgrounds, including many refugees who fled Iraq.

To support their students and families, the school created the ASPIRE project. The project provides earlier access to a range of early childhood education care, health and development supports for children who are disadvantaged and developmentally vulnerable.

ASPIRE has facilitated a dialogue between school staff, parents and allied health and medical professionals that has increased the capacity of the school to deliver better services. The project has helped parents to understand the range of services they can draw on and significantly increased the rate at which the school identifies and addresses areas of developmental and wellbeing needs for children.

Babaneek Booboop Early Years Project

by Djerriwarrh Health Services  

In partnership with:

  • Kirrip Aboriginal Corporation
  • Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency
  • North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network
  • Western Health
  • MacKillop Family Services
  • City of Melton
  • Moorabool Shire

The Babaneek Booboop Project launched in 2017 with the aim of promoting the health and developmental outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 0-8 in the City of Melton and Moorabool Shire.

The project has supported Aboriginal families to navigate, access, and engage in a wide range of services including health services, education and cultural connection and capacity building. The project has also promoted the role of parents and carers by acknowledging them as the first educators of their children. The strength and resilience of parents and carers is also acknowledged and their ability to navigate services independently is supported and cultivated. 

The program has been a success. More than 60 families and 100 children have been supported in their engagement with local child health and early education and care services. The number of Aboriginal children enrolled in early start kindergarten in Melton and attending Maternal and Child Health key ages and stages visits and allied health services has also increased.

Category 5: Continuity of Early Learning Award

BY FIVE: Wimmera Southern Mallee Early Years Project

by Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Partnership

In partnership with the following groups from 15 towns in the Wimmera Sothern Mallee region :

  • Maternal and Child Health Services
  • Supported Playgroups
  • Childcare Centres
  • School Early Years Teams
  • Health Providers
  • Integrated Family Services
  • Local Government

The BY FIVE Wimmera Southern Mallee Early Years project is a place-based community collaboration.

The project aims to dramatically improve outcomes for children by the time they reach five years of age. Teams working in the 15 townships are supported to undertake practitioner inquiry projects to implement change ideas; covering streamline enrolment, speech screening, enhancing links between services, planning 2 years of education before school and improving transitions with child focused consultations.

The complexity of working across 15 towns, where no two places are alike, is recognised with coordination strategies, activating local expertise and commitment.  This improved the flow of existing resources and upskilled local community members.

BY FIVE is already improving outcomes for children and families by enhancing access, quality and participation in early years services, and engaging more families earlier in a child's life.

Connecting Dimboola

by Dimboola Primary School

In partnership with:

  • Horsham & District Kindergarten Association
  • Dimboola Community Playgroup
  • Uniting Wimmera

The Dimboola Community Playgroup has led the creation of a comprehensive directory of services and resources for families and professionals in Dimboola.

The directory includes a broad range of predominantly health and welfare-related services, activities, clubs and online resources. It can be accessed at places where families engage in early learning activities.

To develop the directory, the project team consulted broadly with local professionals including a Maternal and Child Health Nurse, family support worker, playgroup coordinator, long day care staff, kindergarten and school teachers.

The project aims to achieve better outcomes for children by empowering families and enabling professionals and adults who work with children to actively invest in a child's success.

Introduced in May 2019, the project has already received positive feedback and is being used by professionals and families.

Walking from one room into another room

by Keysborough Primary School

In partnership with:

  • Darren Reserve Kindergarten

Walking from one room into another room is a partnership between Keysborough Primary School and Darren Reserve Kindergarten. The project team decided to improve the transition from kindergarten to school for local children by developing a shared curriculum and a suite of new initiatives.

This approach was designed to support the developmental journey of children and help them build skills in the use of oral language, curiosity, confidence, creativity, commitment and cooperation.

The project team has noticed significant improvements since beginning the project. Children are more comfortable learning in school and parents are better informed about what to expect during the transition. 

Category 6: Early Childhood Teacher of the Year Award

Leanne Mits

from Pope Road Kindergarten, Blackburn

Leanne has an unwavering commitment to early childhood learning and is dedicated to providing children with a rich and rewarding educational experience.

Her practice combines current teaching skills with broader thinking of what early childhood education means and the importance of children's formative years.

She believes strongly in connecting children with the history, culture and stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and has led development of the kindergarten's Reconciliation Action Plan.

Leanne's commitment to early learning has evolved through progressive thinking and continued research. This year she began her Masters in Early Childhood Education.

Sarah Hubbard

from Robyn Jane Children's Centre

Sarah believes in implementing innovative programs that inspire and excite children and connect them with nature and the broader community. 

She views the environment as an integral part of a child's learning journey and believes this extends beyond the four walls of the classroom. She has led the kindergarten's adoption of the 'Bush Kinder' program and is currently collaborating with the children in the creation of a community garden.

The children have also visited 'Friends of the Helmeted Honey Eater' and planted 250 new plants to help create a future habitat for this critically endangered bird.

Sarah has helped create smooth transitions to school by building connections with the local schools and inviting prep teachers to visit the kindergarten.

Category 7: The Emeritus Professor Collette Taylor Excellence in Educational Leadership Award

Windsor Community Children's Centre

Windsor Community Children's Centre's approach to educational leadership is consultative, evidence-based and innovative.

The curriculum is based on a framework that promotes each child's growth across five learning outcomes and involves action research. Within this framework, flexibility is provided so that the needs and interests of the children can mould the curriculum into different directions.

The teaching practice of the centre uses a multidisciplinary approach and the support of external services. Theories of attachment, scaffolding, inquiry and kinship are used to underpin decisions about teaching and learning. There is a focus on brain development and the impact of trauma on the brain, and the Classroom Assessment Scoring System observational instrument is used.

The centre values the uniqueness of every child and uses contemporary teaching practices to support and empower their sense of agency.

The Geelong College

Geelong College is committed to the highest quality early learning for children from early childhood education through to Year 3.

In 2019, teachers and educators from the early learning centre and the Junior School have been undertaking a professional learning project together. Learning projects have included audits of technology use across the Junior School, an audio-visual representation of the 'Hundred languages' using children's many expressive arts, and sharing numeracy experiences and teaching strategies.

The project has drawn an enthusiastic response and has allowed early childhood educators, early childhood teachers and primary teachers to work together and improve their understanding of each other's learning environments.

City of Ballarat Children's Services Practice Guide for Educators in Action

City of Ballarat runs two long-day care centres with sessional kindergarten, an occasional care service, family day care and a creche.

In identifying a need to improve their approach to professional development and work together more closely, staff from each service formed a working group and developed a Practice Guide.

Launched in 2018, the Practice Guide outlines seven practice priorities–linked to pedagogical practices outlined in the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework–that guide their approach to delivering improved early childhood education.

Questions for reflection in each practice priority area assist educators to continually improve on family centred practice, partnerships, equity and diversity, responsive engagement and a holistic approach.

The improvement of intentional teaching practices is an integral part of the Practice Guide. This is demonstrated particularly through three key areas: interacting for learning; being inclusive; and creating learning environments.

An Education and Engagement Leader works across the services, providing guidance around the development and delivery of high-quality educational outcomes in an environment of continuous improvement.

Thank you to all nominees

This year we would also like to acknowledge all nominees who took endless hours and commitment to submit their application to such a prestigious awards for the early childhood sector.

Thank you to all for your time, effort and dedication in submitting applications and or nominations.

See below for all 2019 Victorian Early Years Award nominees.

Category 1: Improving Access and Participation in Early Learning Award

  • Bass Coast Specialist School
  • BeeBeeKidz Playgroup
  • Birchip Kindergarten
  • Cire Services Incorporated
  • Crest Chrilden's Sanctuary - Dandenong
  • Crib Point Primary School
  • Early Childhood Management Services
  • Glenelg and Southern Grampians Local Learning and Employment Network
  • Golden Plains Shire Council
  • Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Organisation
  • Gowrie Victoria Broadmeadows Valley
  • Merri Health
  • Moonee Valley City Council
  • Mornington Peninsula Shire
  • The Smith Family
  • United Way Glenelg
  • Wodonga City Council
  • Yooralla

Category 2: Supporting parents through evidence-based practice Award

  • Brimbank Council
  • Centacare Ballarat
  • Greenwood Scoresby
  • Kids Plus Foundation
  • Melton City Council
  • National Council of Jewish Women of Australia Victoria
  • Playgroup Victoria
  • Rosanna Golf Links Primary School
  • The Smith Family
  • Tomorrow Today Education Foundation
  • VICSEG New Futures



Category 3: Creating Collaborative Community Parterships Award

  • Balnarring Pre-school
  • City of Ballarat
  • City of Greater Geelong
  • Early Childhood Management Services
  • Maroondah City Council
  • Mornington Peninsula Shire
  • Morobe Street Child Day Care Centre
  • Playgroup Victoria
  • Save the Children Australia
  • Tarneit North Kindergarten
  • West Wimmera Shire Council
  • Wimmera Southern Mallee Local Learning and Employment Network Inc



Category 4: Promoting Children's Health and Wellbeing Award

  • Banyule Community Health
  • Baringa School
  • Belgrave Heights Christian School Early Learning Centre
  • Biala Peninsula
  • Bonkers Beat Music Kinder
  • Centre for Early Education
  • City of Monash
  • Clarendon Children's Centre
  • Djerriwarrh Health Services
  • Evesham Road Preschool
  • Good Samaritan Catholic Primary School
  • Niño Early Learning Adventures
  • Our Lady of Lourdes Out of School Hours Care
  • Play Move Improve
  • Upper Murray Family Care
  • Wyndham Vale Montessori Centre



Category 5: Continuity of early learning Award

  • Cranbourne West Primary
  • Dimboola Community Playgroup
  • Keysborough Primary School
  • Uniting Wimmera



Category 6: Early Childhood teacher of the year Award

  • Pope Road Preschool Association
  • Robyn Jane Children’s Centre
  • Centre for Early Education
  • Niño Early Learning Adventures



Category 7: The Emeritus Professor Collette Taylor Excellence in Educational Leadership Award

  • City of Ballarat
  • FROEBEL Australia Limited
  • Lang Park Early Learning Centre
  • Niño Early Learning Adventures
  • The Geelong College Early Learning
  • Windsor Community Children's Centre Co-op



Winners will be announced at the awards ceremony, Tuesday 22 October at the National Gallery of Victoria.