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Learning playfully: Canberra Early Learning

Jessica Schumann

Traditionally, preschool has been a packed lunch; blanket for nap-time and an armful of artwork come home time at the end of the week. But one local early learning centre is turning early childhood education on its head and embracing more than just the children in its care.

“Canberra Early Learning’s (CEL) model of teaching is a little different from the norm,” says Donna Bush, General Manager of Canberra Early Learning Centre.

“Our philosophy focuses on creating opportunities for children to live, laugh and learn in a nurturing, safe and stimulating environment that will inspire curious minds.”

Where the traditional mainstream model of early education has involved teacher-directed learning (where the teacher holds the knowledge and gradually dispenses it based on the ability of students), today’s preschool learning is becoming much more child-centred in the classroom. Children are offered a variety of learning experiences as we move away from ‘group learning of the same thing at the same pace’.


Water Pump

FYI: This is a sponsored post by Canberra Early Learning.


Preschool is a desirable essential in children’s education, and children develop and learn more in their first five years than at any other stage of life. Learning is, after all, a natural process and children’s play is a fantastic context for learning.

Donna says that we’re definitely seeing a shift in the way early learning centres; preschools and long day care operate and educate babies and children.

“For a long time, long-day education and care centres moved towards minimising risk for children with plastic toys and soft fall but things are changing,” she says. “These days we try to create a natural environment for our children.”

This includes incorporating and teaching sustainability within programs such as Bush Kinder held in the best classroom of all — nature. For a set time each week all the children, regardless of the season, head outside to immerse themselves in nature and the ‘living world’ without access to any toys, digital technology or man-made distractions.

Says Donna, “The Bush Kinder program helps to develop resilient, confident children and enhance not only learning experiences, but also positively influence children’s health, growth and development.


“It plants the seeds for their understanding of sustainability and conservation.”

In a city with a rich multicultural mix and surnames like Smith, Brown and Jones no longer the majority, Donna believes that inclusion and cultural appreciation is essential for early learning programs. One way they’re integrating this is through a very unique and culturally diverse menu, prepared daily for the children.

“The menu is designed by a qualified chef who works within our Crace service,” says Donna, “where we’re moving sugar out and incorporating lots of lentils, chickpeas and slow braises. All our menus are assessed by Nutrition Australia too.”

With three centres across northside (Yerrabi Ponds – Gungahlin, Crace and soon to open Springbank Rise ), Donna insists on recruiting an experienced team that reflects the diversity of children in their care.


“Children are, by their very nature, accepting individuals. Exposing them to a range of cultural experiences early in their lives encourages them to grow into tolerant and open-minded members of society.”

But while most parents feel the guilt of enrolling their child(ren) into day care or early learning programs and the pressure to do the right thing, Donna says it’s about making the family feel comfortable and not forced.

“We enrol families not children,” she says, “which means we actively work in achieving collaborative relationships through active communication and consultation with parents.” This extends from hearing about important family holidays to encouraging parents to write a learning story about their child at home, or coming in to teach chefs make traditional food items and cultural celebratory meals.”

Boy sitting

Through their encouragement of playful learning in natural and diverse environments, Canberra Early Learning are an example of the old adage of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’.

Canberra Early Learning Services offer early education and care for children 6 weeks to 5 years. CEL also offer a dedicated Pre School Program (4 year olds) run by an experienced early childhood teacher. For more information visit the Canberra Early Learning Centre website. Enrolments for the Springbank Rise Centre scheduled to open 1 June are now being accepted.

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Jessica Schumann

A 'rambling ranga' at heart, Jessica Schumann is a bubbly, creative social thinker who thrives on words, social media and an innate knack for sharing stories. When she finds the time to write, Jessica seeks out the beauty in change and the essence of human condition. Varied and diverse in nature, her writing delves into the enviable world of people, travel, food and culture. When you can't find her in a nook writing, just follow your nose and you’ll soon find Jessica indulging in her other passion – cooking – or curled up on the couch with a good book in hand. You can find her over at More about the Author