Early Start expansion seeks to close the gap and engage with communities
Just in time for its fourth birthday, the University of Wollongong’s Early Start program will be expanded to support families in the Illawarra region to access early intervention and support to enhance child development.
In the weeks leading up to the milestone celebration, those working within the program reflected on the achievements of the past 12 months, including welcoming more than 125,000 visitors to its Discovery Space, a purpose-built, hands-on learning space, and supporting 2,300 children in engagement centres throughout regional and remote New South Wales.
Matt Ball, Early Start’s Volunteer and Community Programs Coordinator, outlined that the program is working with community groups to ensure no one misses out on early education and support, targeting groups who face barriers in accessing support.
Many parents and families, he said, had restricted access to support and advice to ensure their children have the best start in life. Sometimes, Mr Ball said, finances, discriminatory practices, social isolation or transport issues prevented families from being able to access services such as early childhood education and care (ECEC), or playgroups.
In 2018, Early Start welcomed their third community playgroup, Rainbow Families. Rainbow Families playgroup member Jasmin Lassilla appreciates the opportunity to meet and support families like hers.
“I love having our playgroup at the Discovery Space,” Ms Lassilla said.“The support and interest from the staff and volunteers makes me confident it’s a safe, welcoming and inclusive place.”
Early Start also links with organisations outside of UOW, including Family Services Illawarra, Barnardos and Illawarra Aboriginal Cooperation to give parents and children a taste of the Discovery Space.
Mr Ball described the “box full of tricks” he takes with him into the community:
“We’ll read a book about binoculars and let the kids make themselves a pair of binoculars. On some days we’ll do a puppet show.”
As well as providing a community service, Early Start is making an impact in the community with research outcomes.
Recent research based highlights include the development of World Health Organization guidelines for healthy eating and movement, the launch of a project that explores the development of learning and memory in babies, and the release of a series of apps that help educators track children’s learning, development and wellbeing. UOW Associate Professor and Early Start Researcher Bridget Kelly also had the privilege of addressing the Senate on the power of junk food advertising.
An official birthday ceremony will take place at UOW Early Start Discovery Space today, 24 May, at 10.30am. Early Start benefactors Chris and Barbara Abbott will be here to celebrate the day with children, families and the community.
Superhero celebrations will continue from 9am to 4pm, Friday 24 May to Sunday 26 May.
For more information about the Early Start program, please see here.