Neil Gorring – ‘Every child has the right to play’

Uniting Preschool Grafton’s service director Neil Gorring has been making a difference in the lives of children, families and communities for 30 years, from Newcastle to Grafton, and all across the sunlit plains of the Australian Outback.

A man wearing a light green jumper is standing and smiling at the camera. A white name badge sits on the left hand side of his chest with the name Neil in black text. A man wearing a light green jumper is standing and smiling at the camera. A white name badge sits on the left hand side of his chest with the name Neil in black text.
Image: Neil Gorring is committed to play-based learning and sharing how beneficial it can be in a child's development.

Neil has always felt a strong sense of purpose in his work. His mum was a family day care educator, and he learnt about the magic of play-based learning from an early age.

“I saw how meaningful and purposeful play can be for a child’s development,” he said.

Neil began his journey in early childhood education and care (ECEC) at the University of Newcastle. He worked at a long day care service on the campus after completing his early childhood teaching degree.

Since then and through his 30-year career, Neil has worked as an educational leader, a TAFE teacher in ECEC, a mobile preschool director, and gained a Master's degree in early childhood education and care. He is currently the director of a preschool in Grafton.

While there’s a lot to juggle, Neil is trying to create a culture that makes systems and regulations more accessible and puts the focus back on play-based learning.

"But I will always defend the right and the need for children to play, and to inhabit play, and to play for as long as they can.”

ECEC across the state

In 1998, Neil became the director of a mobile children’s service based in the remote town of Wanaaring in northern NSW. He and one other educator covered an area the size of Tasmania, with 5,000 kilometres of travel every month.

“It was basically a 4-wheel drive packed with resources,” Neil said.

“We’d visit someone’s property for a day, and all the children within 100-kilometre radius would come to visit and learn.

"Other times we’d try to line up with health programs or big community events.”

The experience taught Neil to be comfortable with the unknown, and to embrace outback life in his interactions with children and the community.

“I had to use my teaching toolkit with what was around. At that time, there was so much social isolation in remote far western NSW. The mobile children's service was an opportunity to bring people together.

“And it's experiences like that that show you every child has a right to play. Everyone’s equal.”

Today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders

Throughout his 30-year career in the sector, Neil has benefitted from great mentoring and support to help him develop as a leader and educator.

“I’ve always had the support of my colleagues and was lucky to be mentored by many great educators early in my career.

“I’ve also been able to glean a lot of wisdom from my colleagues.”

Neil notes that male educators have a great opportunity to be positive role models for children. He’s noticed a growing acceptance of males working in the industry, and that more people are excited about the opportunity to be involved in supporting children in their early years.

“As a director now, I think it’s a gift to be able to give the children at our service good memories of their time in ECEC. A good start on their learning journey.

“Every day I’m reminded that it’s not about me. It’s all about these young people. Giving them support, helping them grow. Today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders.”

Learn about the role of play-based learning in early childhood education and care.

Children learn through play. When children play, they are exploring, taking risks, engaging their imagination, solving problems and learning about themselves and where they fit in the world. Quality early childhood education and care services create environments that encourage children to engage in play-based learning experiences that help them learn and grow.

Well, today, we have the cafe. So the children were learning about taking turns. They were reading recipes, making cakes. They were entering orders, taking orders. They're mimicking what their parents are doing, what they're seeing out in the community. In this type of play, we're really focusing on building lifelong skills for the children. We want them to have a good understanding of numeracy, of literacy, social skills, communication skills, and really just building them up so that they can be the best that they can be in their life.

You know, some parents might think, oh, you know, our children just play all day? Where does the learning come in? But the play that occurs here is actually very, very carefully planned. It's intentional and it's very, very purposeful. Some of the skills our children are learning in the mud kitchen include collaboration, negotiating roles, being imaginative, and being creative.

At our our preschool, we believe that technology is a powerful tool for learning. So at the moment, our children are learning Arabic through the Ella app. And we utilize the expertise of our children and our families to teach us how to pronounce the words correctly. We want our children to learn that there are different languages, there's different cultures. We want them to appreciate and accept these differences.

These are just a few examples of how quality early childhood education and care experience can teach children important skills that will help them now and into the future as they transition to primary school and beyond.

To find out more about preschool and quality early learning experiences, visit the New South Wales Department of Education's website.

This profile is part of our ECEC Spotlight, where we shine a light on passionate, excellent ECEC professionals as well as services, programs and initiatives from around NSW. If you have a story, we would love to hear it! Contact us through this simple nomination form.

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