Mobile preschool leaves lasting impact
Serving regional and remote towns on NSW’s Mid North Coast, Flying Fox Mobile Preschool builds strong community connections wherever it goes.
16 June 2023
Flying Fox Mobile Preschool is constantly changing to meet the needs of the communities it serves on the NSW Mid North Coast. Part of Wingham Preschool located on Biripi country, the travelling preschool has been operating across the region for approximately 28 years. Over this time, the service has been responsive to population changes in the areas surrounding Wingham, shifting where it operates based on where education and care is needed at any particular time.
The mobile service currently spends one day a week in each of 5 communities in the region, where children often do not have access to any other early childhood education services.
“Some of the children do attend the service multiple days a week,” director of Flying Fox Mobile Preschool Donna Stirrup shared. “They might travel to one regional area and then to a neighbouring community on a different day because they're happy with the service and want to access it more.”
Building confidence and connections
Flying Fox mostly operates out of local primary schools, where children have access to the learning environments, outdoor spaces, technology and library facilities. Children are invited to be a part of school events and activities, including Colour Run Day and Commonwealth Games Day. These interactions allow the service and its little learners to build strong relationships with the local schools and communities. They also allow children to become accustomed to the environment and build confidence as they prepare to transition to school (Element 6.2.1).
Flying Fox’s preschoolers also venture beyond the school grounds when educators take them on outings and excursions. Donna explains that although the towns they visit are small, the team finds opportunities for the children to connect with their community, such as attending local events.
Some places Flying Fox Mobile Preschool visit have community carts where people leave fruit, vegetables and other items to share with the community, Flying Fox Team Leader Kylie Saville said. The service has garden plots at a few of these venues, which the preschoolers help tend to. Any fresh produce the children gather goes back onto the share cart for others. They also collect seeds from the carts to plant, grow, harvest and later return to the share cart before starting the cycle again.
Despite spending much of their time out on the road, the Flying Fox team work closely with other educators and service leaders at Wingham Preschool and its playgroup.
"Our staff meetings and training are together. We have an educational leadership team who are across the three services." Donna said. "You learn so much from the experience and talents of other staff members, so the fact that we can work as a united team enriches our service to meet the varying needs of the community."
Relationships support health and wellbeing
Supporting and building strong relationships with families (Element 6.1.3) is another priority for the Flying Fox Mobile Preschool, especially in recent years when the region has been deeply impacted by drought, bushfires, floods and COVID-19.
Donna shared that the service has developed partnerships with non-profit organisations Royal Far West and 54 Reasons to support preschoolers and families experiencing anxiety and trauma following these challenging times. The team also has longstanding relationships with other support services and health professionals, including therapists, who they can connect families with to support their parenting and wellbeing.
A few years ago, Kylie continued driving to and setting up the mobile preschool in an area where there were active bushfires to provide a sense of normality for local early learners. “In those little regional communities, it was hard going for them,” Donna reflected. “The preschool program and our staff were the consistent positives in their lives.”