Griffith’s Tallowwood childcare centre hits 30-year milestone

Bev Olsen (left) and Caitlin Deakes have been the only two directors of the Tallowwood Childcare Centre which has been officially open for 30 years this week.
Bev Olsen (left) and Caitlin Deakes have been the only two directors of the Tallowwood Childcare Centre which has been officially open for 30 years this week.

Bev Olsen retains fond memories of the day the Brisbane Broncos sang ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’ under the Tallowwood Tree. How such a precious moment came about is equally as important to her as this part of the story is invested in a program that stands the test of time.

The inaugural director of the Tallowwood Childcare Centre had been playing with the children — as per usual – when she wondered out loud if league stars like Alfie Langer, Kevin Walters and Peter Ryan might pop down from nearby ANZ Stadium to say hello.

“So we all went into the office and I rang the Brisbane Broncos and invited them to visit us,” Bev says. The answer was an emphatic yes, and soon Bev and the children were writing letters to their prospective guests.

It’s a delightful story from 1997 which captures an ideology that had been integral to the business since it first opened its doors at Griffith University’s Nathan campus in 1987.

“From day one we grew the environment by seeing it from a child’s perspective, looking through the eyes of a child,” Bev (left) says. “As teaching director, my major role was with the children. I was left to develop the program in this way.”

The ideology was embedded in the ‘Open Structured’ program initially developed by Bev, and updated to become the ‘Indoor/Outdoor’ program by Caitlin Deakes when she became the centre’s second director in 2004.

Determination championed

The determination with which Bev and Caitlin — the centre’s only two directors to date — have resolutely maintained the innovative program will be championed this week at celebrations to mark the 30th anniversary of the centre’s official opening.

“Developing attachment relationships is central to the children being confident, capable and competent learners,” Caitlin says. She explains that while parents anticipate and expect a focus on children learning letters and numbers as part of early childhood education, there is also important consideration given by educators to the social and emotional sides of the childhood educational experience.

“These are vital in the development of self-regulation and resilience in young children,” Caitlin says. “Children need to feel safe and secure as part of the program. We need to know the children (to do our job), therefore they need to have that trust in us.”

Caitlin was also appointed educational leader of the nearby Boronia Early Childhood Education Centre in 2012. By this time, the childcare centre at the bottom of the hill had become something of a Griffith institution, growing from the three rooms which initially housed seven staff. Today it is a modern childcare precinct with 12 full-time educators and casual support.

Moving with the times

In an industry which has endured and enjoyed some radical change since the turn of the century, Caitlin Deakes has been determined to move both the Tallowwood and Boronia centres forward with the times at every suitable opportunity. The children there, for example, gain an early understanding of the concept of sustainability.

“We already educate children about recycling through worm farms, composting, water conservation and recycling items for creative expression,” Caitlin says. “We’re also excited to be working with the Griffith University Eco Centre which has partnered with US recycling powerhouse Terracycle to increase recycling at Griffith.”

Eyes of educators on the future

This kind of progressive thinking has also led to the centres’ involvement in action research, an initiative that keeps the eyes of educators on the future. Carried out in consultation with the children, their families, educators and researchers, this information-gathering project shapes the framework of early learning curricula and future courses of action in this important space. Caitlin highlights two key action research projects, ‘Take Play off the Endangered List’ and ‘Standing Up For a Natural Childhood.’

“By reflecting on the data, we are able to develop a strong sense of what’s needed in an ongoing learning community,” she says. “This helps children to develop a range of skills and processes such as problem solving, inquiry, experimentation, hypothesising, researching and investigating. They can then adapt what they have learned from one context to another as confident and involved learners.”

A partnership with a Japanese school has brought Japanese students to the centres as part of another collaborative project that reaches beyond the Griffith community.

In addition, the connection with Griffith also offers Caitlin and her team the exciting potential for artists in residence and Indigenous elders to share time with the children through links with GUMURRII and Queensland College of Art.

“We provide an education platform that sets children up for life.”