Little Beacons is a finalist in the 2018 HESTA Early Childhood Education & Care Awards' Advancing Pedagogy category.
The team from Pakenham, Victoria was recognised for their ‘Early Explorers’ program and camp for four to five-year-olds, which encourages children to explore the outdoors and learn about Aboriginal culture.
Based on the Scandinavian ‘Forest Preschool’ approach, the early explorer's program provides children with uninterrupted time to play in the outdoors and explore nature.
As part of the program, children and parents have the opportunity to attend an overnight camp focused on increasing environmental awareness, learning about Aboriginal culture, building resilience and introducing children to outdoor education.
"Beaconhills College allows both children and educators to explore their passion," says Head of Campus Vicki Reid.
"Our reflective practices mean there is constant review and improvement. This allows all staff, children and families to contribute, to build aspiration in being a leader in early years’ education, to deliver a centre of excellence.
"We have an opportunity to have a ‘Big Idea’ and watch it grow and develop. Who would have ever thought a camp for 4 and 5 year olds was possible? And who would have thought it would be so successful that the community would want to expand the program? It is a very unique place where learning is fostered through the natural curiosity and interests of children.
"Having children as co-contributors, mastering their own engagements and behaviours and demonstrating both resilience and freedom of expression is a very exciting environment to work in."
During camp children take part in activities including nature walks and bush painting, and benefit from building closer relationships with their peers, teachers, and parents. The opportunity to explore wetlands and habitats, climb trees and play outdoors means children are supported to take risks and overcome challenges, ultimately increasing their confidence and supporting their personal growth and development.
Vicki says the centre is thrilled to have been named a finalist in this year's Awards.
"This is an amazing opportunity to be part of such a prestigious award," she says. "It allows us to the highlight the importance of children’s connection to the environment, sustainability, Indigenous culture and being on Country.
"It also allows us to share our story in the hope that it may inspire others to consider what is possible for young children in their own communities."
If Little Beacons takes out top honours in this year's Awards, Vicki has big plans for the program's future.
"The prize money would allow for a number of areas to be developed. It would enhance planning and development of a conference in 2019 for early years professionals across Australia. It would provide opportunities to take early years educators out on Country during the conference.
"We could engage support from Indigenous elders, teachers and organisations; provide enhanced opportunities for more educators to participate in camps; develop video footage to capture what is possible, through the eyes and voice of children, parents and educators - and make this more broadly available.
"It would also enable us to extend research already undertaken in collaboration with Harvard University, Dr Flossie S.G. Chua, David N. Perkins and Daniel G. Wilson called 'Finding Our Roots in Leaves.'
"We want to demonstrate that children are capable learners and to share their ideas and views about their world."