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By Jade Glen

 In a few short weeks, the children at Lilydale Lakeside Children’s Centre will be moving up the road in Jarlo Drive, to their new, state-of-the-art centre at Box Hill Institute’s Lilydale Lakeside campus.

The Integrated Children’s Centre will be a community hub: offering Long Day Care, three and four-year-old Kindergarten programs, a Maternal and Child Health Centre (moving from the current Lilydale site) family services, a playgroup, and the provision of a toy library.

Centre Director Carol Ong has played a key role in the new building’s design. With 25 years’ experience in Australia and internationally, and as a trainer at Box Hill teaching the next generation of educators, she is passionate about early childhood education.

“One of the best things about this Centre is the beautiful outdoor space,” she said.

“There is an engineering zone, with mud patch and sandpit, a water pump with pebbles, and all different terrains. We’ve even got a cubby house and tricycle track.

”There is also a communal space that has been designed for the children of all ages, allowing them to play with their friends, siblings and carers.

Ms Ong said hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) learning was a key feature and focus of the Centre, enabling the children to learn and grow through play and activities. It promoted and developed their natural curiosity, problem solving and critical thinking skills.

“To parents it might look just like play – but it is hands on STEM learning, and when we articulate that to the parents, they really value what we do here. It is so important because zero to five-years-old is where it all happens,” she said.

Lilydale is also unique in its Primary Caregiver approach – assigning each educator the responsibility of a small group of children in their room, rather than having a room leader responsible for the education of every child.

“In some centres, all the educators are busy caring for the high needs children at once. Then those that are independent and settled can just go under the radar for the whole day, just doing their thing and nobody actually spends time with them.

“Whereas here, if I’ve got a small group of children, I can make sure that every child will be attended to. At the end of the day there is somebody accountable to the family – this child’s learning and care has been taken care of.”

The Centre also has two Mandarin-speaking educators, giving children early exposure to a second language.

“It’s not about acquiring a second language – it’s about listening to different sounds and different intonations so when they go to primary school, their ear is attuned and it is easier to learn,” Ms Ong said.

”It is such an important time in a child’s development. If you give the child enough opportunities during this early period, you really open up their minds in terms of learning and flexibility, and it can make their primary schooling so much easier.

“That’s my passion. I love watching children learn and grow, observing their play and why they do things the way they do.”

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