There are roughly 1,500 people on the Waite campus – from students to professors, technicians to human resource managers, and even volunteers. They work and study across a range of campus partner organisations.

This series of articles will introduce you to some members of the Waite community – who they are, what they do, and why it matters!

Interview by Emma Aspin

Two of my grandparents were teachers, and whenever I was asked what I wanted to do when I grew up… I answered that I was going to be a teacher!

I’ve been the Director of the Waite Campus Children’s Centre (WCCC) since December 2018. I wanted to do this interview because I feel there’s a need to spread awareness about WCCC across the campus. We’ve had a few places open up recently, combined with a couple of people coming up to me and saying “I had no idea the children’s centre was even here”, so it’s time for that to change!

Our priority of access goes to the children of staff and students of the University of Adelaide, but also all of the other affiliated organisations on campus. So CSIRO, SARDI, the AWRI… you name it. We also offer places to the local community as vacancies occur. Sometimes it’s easier for parents who work in the city to have their children attend a centre closer to home. Or, if they work on campus, location wise it really couldn’t be better.

We have parents who come and spend their lunch break here, and some who work so close that they can hear their own child laughing. We are a Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace so there’s a huge benefit for mothers who want to come and breastfeed. Plus, Waite is a beautiful environment to spend your time in, both as an adult and a child!

I have a Bachelor of Teaching in Early Childhood Education, and a Bachelor of Education. I began working here whilst I was still studying many years ago, with the under two’s age group, and I’ve pretty much been here ever since! It was really valuable to work and study at the same time; applying what I was learning at University to my practice with children’s education.

The day to day running of the centre has to be very organised, as there’s a lot of legislation and regulations we need to adhere to, to ensure we are sufficiently compliant. That’s part of one of my biggest achievements this last year I think – just keeping up and filling the boots of the ‘Director’ role to take care of everything that happens behind the scenes. It’s been a very steep learning curve!

In the years leading up to becoming Director, I was mentored by Kaarin Wilkinson. She was the founding director and was here for 25 years – so she truly had a wealth of knowledge and helped me prepare for this role as well as helping to develop my passion for early years education.

In the years leading up to becoming Director, I was mentored by Kaarin Wilkinson. She was the founding director and was here for 25 years – so she truly had a wealth of knowledge and helped me prepare for this role as well as helping to develop my passion for early years education.

That’s really why I’m here; to help nurture the education and focus of children in the years before school. The first three years in particular are critical for children’s brain development. We focus on strength based learning, so we can build on what the children can already do, instead of using a standard checklist and ticking boxes… because let’s face it, everyone learns at their own pace, and has different learning styles.

As there’s up to six educators per room, we all develop strong and secure relationships with the children who come here. It is much more than just ensuring the children’s needs are met; we can focus on their education and social skills too. Everyone here is passionate about what they do. Even our chef, Grace, puts so much love into her food; it’s super healthy and delicious, and mealtimes are an awesome part of each day!

Mixing with other children is invaluable at this stage in a child’s life. We have children as young as three months old coming here who are able to experiment with their social interactions and learn the valuable life skills of successfully interacting with others. Yes, we have the routine events like dishes and washing, but we also provide an enriching and stimulating environment with a diversity of children present that you won’t find in a home setting.

Our large sensory garden, known as ‘Pilyabilyangga’, or ‘the butterfly place’ is quintessential to WCCC. In the rooms, you have to tidy up the toys at the end of the day. But outside you can return to play where you left off and reduce that feeling of being ‘monitored’ by adults. Here, the children can really express themselves and their creativity. A while ago, the children built a tepee out of loose branches and foliage, it’s still here today! We also have a fire pit where we regularly cook lunch and snacks, and plenty of native flora and fauna to explore, so children can build an understanding of nature and a sense of pride and responsibility to care for that space.

We have a strong focus on teaching children to look after the earth and encourage sustainability. Kaarin actually started this concept many, many years ago and it’s still a strong aspect of our curriculum. If we can get sustainable living deeply embedded into what children understand now, then it will really make an impact further down the line. It’s important that they learn that right from the word go. This varies from asking the children to switch off the lights or look after their toys to minimise waste, to having our huge solar panel system on the roof and rain water tanks that feeds all our plumbing systems. It’s great because these actions make the centre into a little community in itself and one that is really working towards reducing our impact on this earth.

Meanwhile, something I’d like to do more is having the children experience all areas of the Waite campus and community, especially the outdoor areas. We’ve been down to the beautiful rose gardens before, the next step would be exploring the Arboretum. The children are really keen to learn more about nature – they loved doing the National Bird Count last year! In fact, many of them are interested in some way with science.

What we teach children is based on their current interests; for around six months last year the children were obsessed with germs! They did a mould growing experiment and were just fascinated with the results. The experiments were extremely basic; we just rubbed some pieces of bread in different locations, then put them in sealed bags and watched what grew. Even something so simple could start a little thread of interest in a child and then who knows what they could grow up to achieve.

It would be super to find a microscope that could let the children have a closer look at the world. Thinking about it – there would be plenty on this campus, it’s just a case of knowing who to ask. The children get so excited by science and that world is right on our doorstep! Since the campus is already full of people with amazing skills and knowledge, we should really be tapping into that. If anyone would be keen to do a short demonstration, tour of facilities or even a mini experiment with children one afternoon that would be awesome! 

About the Author:

Emma Aspin is a second-year PhD student from the UK with a passion for science communication. Upon arrival to the Waite, Emma was astounded by the diversity of workers, students and scientists across the campus and knew that there were some great stories to be told! As well as having some fun, the column is a great opportunity to discuss your work and have a chance to reach the public or even future collaborators.

If you would like to be featured in the column and have time to chat to Emma sometime, drop her an email:

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