Winners of the 2020 Victorian Early Years Awards

Winners of the 2020 Victorian Early Years Awards have been announced!

In announcing the winners today, seven organisations and one individual early childhood teacher have been recognised for their achievements and contributions to improving the learning and development of young children and their families.

Category 1: Improving Access and Participation in Early Learning

Awarded for an initiative that promotes access, ongoing participation and engagement in early learning, particularly for families experiencing vulnerability and/or disadvantage.

Curious Young Minds Early STEM Literacy Program – Ardoch

Ardoch’s Curious Young Minds Early STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Medicine) Literacy Program is an initiative developed with the support of Deakin University to improve literacy and learning outcomes for children in their early years. The program is evidencing real success in the development of children’s STEM literacy and skills and is creating greater access and participation in early learning, particularly for children experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage.

The Curious Young Minds program aligns with the engineering, designing and making aspects of the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework curriculum. Sustainable resource kits that encourage creative play and inquiry-based learning are introduced to early years centres by trained volunteers.

Since starting in 2017, the Curious Young Minds program has been delivered to 39 early years centres across Victoria, reached 1176 children (aged 3-5), mobilised 98 trained volunteers and significantly lifted children’s STEM literacy levels and outcomes.

Category 2: Supporting Parents to Build their Capacity and Confidence

Awarded for an initiative that supports families, parents and carers to feel confident and capable in their parenting role, and recognises their role as the first and most important teachers in supporting their child’s learning and development.

Caring Mums

The Caring Mums program is a confidential, non-denominational and free service providing emotional support to pregnant women and mothers of newborn babies.

Offering a holistic approach in the field of child development, the program is addressing the needs of not only the child, but the emotional and physical wellbeing of the mother.

Caring Mums was officially launched in 2012 with 27 mums and 24 volunteers. Since then, they have responded to more than 500 mothers and trained over 140 volunteers. Volunteers come from a range of backgrounds and from a broad age range. As experienced mothers themselves, the program’s volunteers bring validation, encouragement and normalisation to a woman’s experience of pregnancy and early motherhood.

In 2017, an external evaluation of Caring Mums clearly demonstrated that women who participated in the program have decreased feelings of depression, isolation and anxiety, and increased confidence in their parenting skills – outcomes that lead to the greater empowerment of women and a healthier environment in which children can develop.

Category 3: Creating Collaborative Community Partnerships

Awarded for an initiative that promotes collaborative practice to support and demonstrate positive outcomes for children and families.

By Five – Wimmera Southern Mallee (WSM) Specialist Paediatric Support Partnership (SPSP)

The Wimmera Southern Mallee Specialist Paediatric Support Partnership (SPSP) is significantly improving health and wellbeing outcomes for children in the local community by embedding specialist expertise within the local primary care services that families trust and use every day.

A collaboration between local Maternal Child Health providers and the Royal Children’s Hospital, the research-based initiative ‘By Five’ responds to 2018 Australian Early Development Census data that exposed a growing gap in the school-readiness of rural children compared with urban children.

The SPSP initiative extends to over 50 health, education and family service providers working with families with children, as well as the Department of Education and Training, Department of Health and Human Services and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

Everyday practice currently sees many rural children referred to specialist services for health and development issues that could be resolved locally. The SPSP’s innovative shared care initiative is successfully connecting specialist expertise with local primary health providers via digital health, improving the confidence and capacity of primary health services to solve complex care issues in partnership with families.

In partnership with Yarriambiack Shire, West Wimmera Shire, Buloke Shire Council, Horsham Rural City Council, West Wimmera Health Service, Uniting Wimmera, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Royal Children’s Hospital.

Category 4: Promoting Children’s Health and Wellbeing

Awarded to an initiative that is improving health and wellbeing outcomes for young children.

Early Years Body Safety Superstars – Body Safety Australia

Launched in 2015, Early Years Body Safety Superstars (Superstars) takes a whole-community approach to child abuse prevention, working with children, parents and educators to ensure the collective understanding and implementation of body safety for children. Through age-appropriate song, storytelling, activities and role play, children cover ten key learning objectives including Assertive Communication and Body Autonomy.

Evaluations indicate Superstars is improving outcomes for children and families by enhancing their ability to recognise and respond to inappropriate situations.

Superstars applies innovative approaches to increase a child’s ability to disclose if they have been subjected to abuse and is increasing adults’ confidence to take action in protecting children from further abuse.

Highly skilled facilitators use a trauma-informed and intersectional approach to support parents/carers to model consent and body safety practices in the home, improving the understanding and recognition of child sexual abuse and grooming behaviours. Delivering online and in-person support for regional and rural communities, the program is reaching the most vulnerable families in the state.

Category 5: Continuity of Early Learning

Awarded to two or more early childhood services, schools and/or other organisations that support continuity of early learning through successful transitions.

Buddy Reader Program – Leopold Child and Family Centre

In 2019, the Leopold Child and Family Centre initiated an innovative Buddy Reader Program linking the children at Jellyfish Kinder with Leopold Primary School students and the Leopold Library Grade 5 children were buddied-up with the kindergarten children as they would go on to be their buddy in the following year at school. The program had the Grade 5 children visit the Kindergarten weekly for a session followed by a walk to the local library with their buddies. Nicknamed ‘Jellypold’ by the children, the program is easing the transition of early learners into school and making a positive impact on children and their families. As well as improving children’s literacy, a greater focus on improving relationships and wellbeing has developed – for the kindergarteners and their buddies.

In partnership with Leopold Library and Leopold Primary School

Category 6: Early Childhood Teacher of the Year

Awarded to an early childhood teacher who demonstrates evidence-based innovation and exemplary practice in early childhood education, and making a significant contribution to the development and delivery of high-quality early childhood education programs that improve learning and development outcomes for children.

Josette Nunn

At the Yarram Early Learning Centre, kindergarten teacher and educational leader Josette Nunn has developed a unique educational philosophy based on an interweaving of contemporary early childhood theories and practices, and the ‘fabric’ of a place Through this approach, Josette designs learning programs that include the heritages of the children, families and community. By emphasising the importance of the community, Josette refers to the area surrounding the Yarram Early Learning Centre as being “surrounded by a tapestry of possibilities”, and through her teaching encourages children and families to immerse themselves in their community.

Josette’s demonstrated ability to create inclusive and engaging environments for early years learning, recognises the diverse nature of children’s learning styles and knowledge. Engaging children’s curiosity and ability to learn through discovery, she is giving agency to children’s voices and fostering their ability to explore and grow in understanding in ways that meaningfully engage their local environment and community. In addition, Josette is enthusiastic about not only furthering her own professional development, but that of her colleagues and peers as well. In her current position as the kindergarten teacher and educational leader at Yarram Early Learning Centre Josette has provided inspiration through her role-modelling and encouragement, and she continually challenges her colleagues to strive for excellence.

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

This award is presented to an early childhood service that has supported its educators and teachers to use intentional teaching practices to achieve improved outcomes for children and their families.

Haileybury Early Learning Centre

At Haileybury’s Early Learning Centre (ELC) the leadership team base their approach to learning on what children know now and are ready to learn next, using evidence-based practices to inform differentiated learning approaches and to measure their impact, ensuring exceptional learning outcomes for all children.

Place-based education, kinship, culture and language in early years education is an important focus for the education leaders at Haileybury’s ELC. Embedding values of sustainability and evidence-based inquiry into their early years learning program, they are developing innovative age-appropriate assessment tools and enabling teachers to inform approaches to further children’s language and literacy skills.

Working with their education team, Haileybury’s ELC leadership undertakes a trial and review approach to new initiatives to ensure ongoing continuous improvement. Professional learning and mentorship have also significantly improved the quality of educators’ teaching practices and learning outcomes for children. A recent research project initiated by a team of educators resulted in the co-creation of a book about sustainability and sustainable practices with four to five-year old children.

The Minister’s Award

The Minister’s Award is a special commendation that has been selected from the pool of finalists across all seven categories and selected by the Minister of Early Childhood.

Special Kindergarten Program – Royal Children’s Hospital Education Institute

In April 2013, the Royal Children’s Hospital Education Institute (RCHEI) introduced a funded kindergarten inpatient program at the Royal Children’s Hospital, facilitating their engagement in early learning for four-year old children hospitalised due to illness, injury, or for children experiencing disadvantage and adversity.

In partnership with families, enrolled kindergarten programs, hospital medical and paramedical staff and cultural organisations, the program is continuing to provide high-quality learning opportunities to children who have limited to no access to community kindergarten settings due to ill-health, vulnerability, disadvantage or hospitalisation.

With challenges presented by coronavirus (COVID-19), the program adapted to become completely virtual. Two highly skilled early years educators are committed to implementing an all-encompassing virtual learning environment and ensuring that children and families feel adequately equipped to access the online early years content. Uploading daily lessons and activities designed to encourage self-discovery, the program is nurturing children’s autonomy and wellbeing, and decreasing isolation issues for many children and families – both in the community and while in hospital.

The RCHEI Special Kindergarten Program is improving access to education and the participation of children in hospital and post discharge by supporting early learners and their families during and after their hospital experience.