Preschool in a box connecting remote learners

Located 100km south-west of Bourke, the small outback town of Louth is home to four preschoolers who are now learning and connecting with children from across the state thanks to the creativity of the Dubbo School of Distance Education.

Since March 2022, teachers at the Dubbo School of Distance Education (DSODE) have been delivering preschool remotely to children in Louth, on Wongaibon country.

Over the past 6 weeks, teachers at DSODE have been working with a preschool supervisor at Louth Public School where two local children attend twice a week, as well as two children who attend virtually from their homes 70km out of town.

DSODE regularly sends resource packs to its preschool learners, which it calls ‘Preschool in a box’, containing a range of age-appropriate activities including books, puzzles, games and gross motor equipment.

“Within each box, we also send a resource book with a range of activities in a program format that the supervisor will run with the children,” said DSODE preschool teacher, Justin Ayling.

Whilst not being in the same room as their pre-schoolers, the DSODE teachers incorporate elements of the Early Years Learning Framework including Quality Area 1 through their child-centred programming and responsive practice.

“The supervisor will share their observations and feedback with us which then drives the programming for the next lot of activities, just as you would in a face-to-face preschool,” said Justin.

The DSODE Assistant Principal (Preschool to Year 6), Jenny Ballhausen, said their focus is on giving children the same experience they would have at a physical preschool.

“We are a real preschool as much as possible in a distance education context,” Jenny said.

“Preschool in a box contains everything you could reasonably expect to find in a preschool except for large play equipment and another child to play with.”

Teachers in Dubbo also hold daily Zoom lessons in which Louth’s pre-schoolers talk and play with other children enrolled at DSODE from across the state.

“The children love playing dress ups on Zoom each week and sharing stories about going to the beach on the weekend or about new lambs being born,” Justin said.

“One of the best things about the Zoom calls is that kids get to see other kids from all different parts of NSW.”

DSODE also collaborates with Broken Hill School of the Air on Wednesdays for “Outback to Ocean” Zoom classes involving distance pre-schoolers from both schools.

“It gives them more opportunities to meet children in different situations to themselves and encourages them to wonder about the whole world,” Justin said.

“It’s what you’d imagine if you walked into a preschool - it’s loud, fun, there’s so much happening,” Jenny added.

Louth Preschool is one of three new flexible preschool programs across the state, which includes Ivanhoe and Pooncarie.

The flexible preschool programs aim to deliver quality early childhood education in very remote towns with less than 10 preschool-age children who would otherwise not have access to a service.

“We’re so excited for children in remote communities being able to have a preschool education,” Jenny said.

“So much learning happens in the 0-5 years. Just because a child lives in a remote community, why should they miss out?”

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