Preschool dream comes true for Lord Howe Island kids

The community of Lord Howe Island today celebrates the official opening of its first preschool. Natassia Soper reports.

Two students colouring in at a desk. Two students colouring in at a desk.
Image: Lord Howe Island preschool students Harlow and Coco drawing at a table.

After years of delays due to the pandemic and its remote location, families are finally benefiting from the establishment of Lord Howe Island’s first preschool.

Lord Howe Island Community Preschool Inc is giving children on the island access to high quality and affordable early childhood education, providing them with opportunities enjoyed by children on the mainland.

The Minister for Education and Early Learning, Prue Car, congratulated the Lord Howe Island community on its official opening today.

“Access to early learning sets children up to thrive when they begin school, and children from this beautiful island community deserve access to the very best start in life,” Ms Car said.

“This preschool will provide certainty for the young families of Lord Howe Island, and I wish the centre every success.”

The preschool is one of the most remote preschools in New South Wales, sitting 600 kilometres off the mid north coast in a town with a population of 300 people.

It includes an indoor early learning space and outdoor play area that can accommodate up to 20 preschoolers aged from 3 to 5 years. There are currently seven children enrolled and two more expected to start this term.

The preschooler’s families are the first on the island to receive government fee relief to access 600 hours of preschool a year – or 15 hours a week.

Two students inside a teepee. Two students inside a teepee.
Image: Students Kaia and Oscar having fun inside a teepee.

Parent power and passion

A volunteer group of parents first announced their vision for a preschool on the island more than a decade ago, after struggling to find care for their young learners.

NSW Department of Education Secretary Murat Dizdar said the parents had made their dream a reality with the assistance of government funding.

“This is a major milestone for the volunteer group of parents to bring their vision to life and ensure their children enjoy the same opportunities as kids on the mainland,” Mr Dizdar said.

“We know early childhood education and care is the most effective way to lift lifelong outcomes and it sets the foundation for future wellbeing and success.”

Overcoming the unique challenges of COVID-19, weather, delays importing materials and availability of tradespeople, the preschool finally opened in November 2023.

Director of the volunteer group and local mother Rachel McFayden spearheaded the push for a preschool, after seeing kids would start primary school without access to play-based early childhood education and care.

The parents used the Dubbo School of Distance Education online preschool and had a kinder house but wanted a permanent preschool for more structured learning.

“We would work different days so we could all take turns looking after each other’s children,” Ms McFayden said.

“It was a lot of pressure, knowing the kids were disadvantaged and not as ready when starting school.

“The children now have the ability to learn and be ready for school; parents are able to work and there is relief knowing they are being well cared for and looked after.”

Mr Dizdar said the research was clear that children who participate in 600 hours of preschool are more likely to start school equipped with the social, cognitive and emotional skills they need to engage in learning.

“We want to give our kids on Lord Howe Island – and in all parts of the state – the best start in life and the ideal preparation for big school,” he said.

The NSW Government awarded Lord Howe Island Community Preschool Inc $560,000 to help build the service.

A teacher with two students reading on a mat. A teacher with two students reading on a mat.
Image: Staff member Eva with students Oscar and Kaia reading on a mat.
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