What does a HESTA award do for our winners after they take their trophy home? For 2014 HESTA Early Childhood Education and Care Outstanding Graduate Sonya Nedovic, it’s bought a ticket to new horizons for the children in her care.
Sonya was recognised for transforming wards at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital into warm, engaging learning environments for young children with chronic health conditions, who might otherwise miss out on vital kinder education.
And in late 2017, her $10,000 prize money from award sponsors ME – the bank for you – took her to Bologna, Italy, home of the Reggio Emilia approach to learn more about inclusive, community-centred early childhood education practices.
“Their approach is all about building communities,” Sonya explains. “That’s really pertinent to my work at the hospital because, given the clinical nature of the surroundings, it is essential I make learning spaces inviting and stimulating.
“I visited kindergartens in Reggio Emilia and discovered new ideas to set up exciting environments for children to learn in. At the Loris Malaguzzi centre in Reggio Emilia, I learnt more about ways to present opportunities for art education to children."
Speaking their language
“Many of our kindergarten children communicate through art, especially when they are new to the hospital and trying to find their feet in our kindergarten program.
"Art can be a real ice breaker and make children feel more relaxed and at ease in their new surroundings. And art created in hospital is also a great way for children to communicate their work back to their kindergartens in the community.
“I also attended seminars at the European Early Childhood Education Research Association conference in Bologna, which discussed innovative ways to document children's learning, including using child-friendly language so that learning is visible to the child. This will enable the kinders and schools to which children transition after treatment to see a clear picture of the child's learning and goals in our program. It will also help children remember their learning journey and contribute to meaningful discussions.”
Sonya used the remaining prize money to share these valuable insights with her colleagues in the community.
“I also ran an education session for teachers from community kinder services to share what I’d learnt. The main benefit is to raise awareness of the importance of quality early childhood education for these kids, because many of them slip under the radar.
"It’s important we advocate for them; even though they’re unwell, they deserve the same great opportunities to learn.”