Emma McGarrity, Little Scientists Project Director
The Sector > Quality > Professional development > In conversation with Little Scientists Project Director, Emma McGarrity

In conversation with Little Scientists Project Director, Emma McGarrity

by Freya Lucas

June 08, 2023

Little Scientists Australia, an initiative of FROEBEL Australia, is a not-for-profit professional development program for early childhood educators and teachers, supported and funded by the Australian Government through its Student Support Package. 


Through the program, hands-on workshops combine inquiry-based learning with age-appropriate STEM exploration and encourage daily scientific exploration with children aged between three and six years.


We recently caught up with Little Scientists Project Director Emma McGarrity to learn more about her role, and what’s on the horizon for Little Scientists in 2023 and beyond. 


Drawn to ECEC through parenting 


Prior to joining the Little Scientists team, Emma had spent nearly 10 years working with not-for-profit political advocacy organisation GetUp!, managing many of GetUp’s largest political and electoral mobilisations and digital communications quite a change from the world of early childhood education and care. 


After becoming a parent to Fin in 2019 and Malik in 2021, like many parents, she went through the process of trying to navigate childcare arrangements in order to return to work. 


“It’s been a profound and transformative experience for me to have children in early childhood education,” she said.


“Prior to having children, I had no sense of what early education involved or meant. After more than three years of having a child in care, I still regularly get teary driving away due to the sheer gratefulness and awe I have for the educators who care and teach my babies incredible life skills and knowledge every single day.”


“Early childhood educators have one of the most important jobs in our society and I am passionate about contributing to a sector that is generally very underpaid, under-recognised, and under immense amounts of stress,” she said. 


“Early childhood education intersects with so many social justice issues, like economic inequality and gender inequality and contributing as best I can in this new role and at Little Scientists gives me a great sense of purpose.”


Transferable skills


Political advocacy and campaign work may seem miles away from ECEC, but for Emma, many of the skills have been transferable.

“I’ve been surprised by how similar my day-to-day work is at Little Scientists compared to at GetUp,” she told us. 


“I’m a project manager at heart, and managing things like national election days and volunteer training conferences has turned out to be not so different from managing a team that provides STEM professional development nationally via a network of Head Trainers and Local Network Partners.”


Being able to connect and support people to invest in new experiences, and in themselves, has been a core aspect of both roles, she continued. 


“As a not-for-profit, Australian Government-funded initiative, Little Scientists has a laser focus on supporting and empowering early childhood educators by providing workshops that build real STEM skills and confidence,” Emma explained. 


“Just like at GetUp, my work still centres on connecting to people as individuals, helping them to overcome barriers, and empowering them to reimagine what they perceive as their own limitations.”


Exciting time to be involved


Coming to work alongside ECEC at such an exciting juncture in the profession has energised Emma. 


“It feels like, as a society, we’re finally starting to see the beginning of early education being respected and recognised as critical to the development of our children and our society,” she said. 


“Not only that, but the importance of commencing STEM education in those earliest years is starting to catch on. Little Scientists connects those two worlds of early education and STEM, so we’re in a really important position.”


A day in the life 


The Little Scientists team is a small one, and in a broad sense, each person involved manages a main area of the organisation. 


“Every morning we come together (either in-person on our office days or remotely via Zoom) for a morning priorities check in, where we each rattle off our priorities for the day,” she explained, “then it’s back to work.”


“Because we’re a small team, our work has strong interconnectedness and it’s not uncommon to find us spontaneously engaged in a vibrant discussion about the pros and cons of a particular way we do things or brainstorming a project we should tackle in the future.”


The team is made up mostly of new members, so one of the core aspects of Emma’s role is to support and provide clarity for the team. 


“Nothing is more important in any workplace than the staff and team culture, so supporting and connecting with my team is my highest priority everyday,” she said. 


“Beyond that, my role is about providing strategic oversight and strategy development to make sure Little Scientists is on a pathway to reach as many educators as possible across the country and that our workshops are not only meeting their needs, but are providing them with genuine joy and enrichment.”


What’s on the horizon? 


The main priority for the team at present is to condense all 10 in-person workshops from 7 to 3.5 hours. This, Emma explained, will not only make it easier for educators to attend, but it gives Little Scientists the opportunity to thoughtfully review and optimise all of its workshop materials and content. 


“This work involves reviewing workshop content and condensing it into 3.5 hours, then running a pilot of that workshop, running an evaluation of that pilot, then making changes and finalising all workshop materials and content,” she explained. 


“Following that, we then run an online training update for our Local Network Partner trainers who are trained to deliver the 7-hour version of this workshop topic. The training update brings them in on the changes we’ve made and skills them up on how to deliver it in the new format. It’s a huge and worthwhile undertaking, and we’ve received overwhelming feedback so far from educators and trainers who’ve participated in our pilots.”

To learn more about Little Scientists in the lead up to National Science Week, please see here.

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