Holistic approach to early education

The existing house at Nature’s Atelier, ready to be remodelled into an Early Learning Centre. Photo: Gillian McAuliffe.

A planned new and alternative Early Learning and Childcare Centre was approved recently by the Busselton Council, and construction will commence in the following weeks.

The centre, Nature Atelier, takes a holistic approach to learning and aims to educate children beyond the standard academic curriculum.

Nature Atelier is located on a diverse 16-hectare property on Rendezvous Road, Vasse, which features a winter creek, blue gum forests and animal yards.

Facilities will include a bush kindergarten, before and after school care, as well as long day and holiday programs.

Founder and director Gillian McAuliffe said the centre would provide an eclectic mix of the best of early childhood practices including Reggio Emilia, Nature Education, the engagement of creative and scientific learning and the emerging science of brain research.

“This is a different aspect of the children’s learning. It’s about being responsible citizens, learning about how to care for nature, each other and themselves within an environment which is calm and brings wonder, joy and questions every time they go into it,” she said.

The children will have the chance to learn from the natural environments of the property, interact with animals, work with wood and clay, and develop skills in the garden kitchen, she said.

Parenting author, educator and resilience specialist Maggie Dent supports this style of learning, saying we need to shift our focus away from formalised education in early years and allow children to develop through play-based learning.

“Play based learning is so important because without it we are hindering children’s cognitive and psychological growth and development, as well as their ability to function as social being,” she said.

“Play is how we learn everything about living in this world.”

The centre will be based on an ethos of sustainability, aiming to teach and promote this lifestyle, while modelling it through the operations of the centre.

This includes using cloth nappies, package free lunches, planting vegetable gardens and using composting toilets.

Mrs McAuliffe said any materials from the property which could be repurposed or up-cycled during construction would be used.

“We want to be as close as we possibly can to zero-waste,” she said.

Despite some objections from the public, City of Busselton officers recommended to councillors the proposal be approved.

City of Busselton’s director of planning and development services Paul Needham said the objections mainly related to potential amenity impacts which were mostly in the form of noise or traffic.

“Those impacts were, however, not considered as significant by city officers in making our recommendation to the council,” he said.

Construction and development will continue over the next three months with hopes to open the long day and holiday programs by September 2018, with the bush kindergarten and before and after school care commencing in February 2019.