Lawn Life: Guiding the future of early childhood education

Guiding the future of early childhood education

Monash Life | Thriving communities | 2 minute read

The early education partners reunite on the Lemon Scented Lawns at Clayton to talk about the value of listening.

Vanessa Field (Master of Education, 2015) is big on listening. In fact, as director of Melbourne’s Springvale Service for Children (SSC), it lies at the heart of her teaching practice and essential to the way she engages with parents. It’s also a big part of her approach to mentoring Dr Kulsum Yonzon (Doctor of Philosophy, 2022), who she has worked with for more than 10 years to develop effective strategies in early education.

We first met when I came to Monash from Nepal in 2012 to study for my Master’s in Early Childhood Education.”

“Vanessa had no hesitation in putting me in charge of the playgroup at the SSC; the trust she bestowed on me really built up my confidence, and she’s been a mentor ever since. And it’s just so exciting to be back at Clayton with her – our first meeting face-to-face in more than two years!”

Vanessa Field and Kulsum Yonzon in motion walking on the lemon scented lawn Monash Clayton
Vanessa and Kulsum walking across the Lemon Scented Lawns at Monash University's Clayton campus.

Vanessa has long worked closely with Monash, through guest lecturing, collaborating on research and mentoring pre-service teachers such as Kulsum. The University brought the two women together, and they have since forged an enduring relationship as both friends and colleagues.

“As practitioners, we weave in and out of each other’s lives,” says Vanessa. "When you have that connection, it’s like family – you can always reach out, even if you haven’t spoken in a while. There’s a lasting trust.”

Following that initial playgroup role, Kulsum soon moved into an educator position at SSC before becoming a kindergarten teacher. It was a quick progression – but an obvious one for Vanessa. “I had a mentor who once said that my role as a leader was to help others succeed – it’s not about making me look good,” she says.

While Kulsum has since left the SSC – she’s now in her own mentoring role, working with educators and teachers at G8 Education – she has very fond memories of her time there. “I’ve been to so many centres but never experienced anything like Springvale – community is at the heart of everything they do. It’s been eight years and I still talk about it!”

After completing her Master’s, Kulsum returned to Nepal, where she helped establish several model early childhood centres, sharing her skills and Monash connections with local communities. Before long though, she was back at Monash to complete her PhD, focusing on how children learn through play, particularly through STEM-related concepts.

Once you touch imaginary play, that’s when the higher-level executive functioning and learning starts."

This idea of play is a key focus at SSC, which also provides a range of integrated early childhood services for its community. Vanessa says it’s a deceptively simple concept. “You have to be able to provide play experiences and unpack the children’s thinking around scientific and number concepts,” she says. “It takes a very unique style of teaching, because you have to be prepared to listen.”

These first-hand experiences have made Vanessa an invaluable support for Kulsum: “It wouldn’t have been possible to do my PhD without that help and guidance,” says Kulsum. And even after more than three years of an intense workload, she is excited about future research projects. “I want to garner more experience here and give whatever I can, because I’m very grateful to Monash and the mentors I’ve met.”

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