There’s something afoot at the Carlton Learning Precinct. The Gowrie Victoria early learning centre and kinder, which only opened two years ago, is working to transform its outdoor space into a natural haven that inspires curiosity and imagination.
Gowrie Victoria, which operates six services across Melbourne, is renowned for its strong focus on natural materials, all-weather play and connection to Country. The integrated learning centre, which shares a building with Carlton Primary School, runs an indoor-outdoor program every day, rain or shine, allowing children of different ages to access the central outdoor space any time.
Centre manager Alistair Gibbs said the outdoor space at Carlton Learning Precinct was not as established as some of the other sprawling gardens at Gowrie’s services. “It’s encouraging us to think a bit more creatively, about how we can connect with our philosophies and utilise what we have in the space,” Alistair said.
This creative thinking can be seen throughout the outdoor play area in the use of rocks, sand, timber and recycled materials. A garden bed for growing vegies has been crafted from an actual old bed frame, filled with soil. Native plants are dotted throughout the area and a shared alleyway along the side is lined with pot plants.
The outdoor area is one of the main learning spaces and allows children to flow between the different rooms and mix with different age groups.
“Each of our spaces has an open-door policy,” Alistair said. “The children can move between the rooms and connect in the outdoor area. The alleyway offers a quiet space for anyone needing a break. It’s a place to reconnect with that sense of self.”
An emphasis on materials foraged from nature is evident throughout the service and offers a great opportunity to explore connection to Country as part of Gowrie Victoria’s First Nations Perspectives Program.
“The children in our care are gaining the foundations for respect and kindness and understanding what that looks like through social interactions and culture,” Alistair said.
Carlton Primary School, located on the first floor of the hub, has a football field and playground, with a leafy corner that the early learning centre uses for its bush classroom. “There are lots of trees, benches and native plants here, and we can access that space at any time,” Alistair said.
A connection to Country is reinforced through everything from the resources available to discussions about seasons. Even the rooms have been named after native plants chosen by the children.
“The children are really involved in sustainability, whether it’s creating edible spaces or using natural materials the land has offered us as part of their play,” Alistair said. “Everything we do at the service and in the community, we bring that connection back to nature, back to land.”
Gowrie Carlton Learning Precinct currently has places available for three and four-year-olds.