Early childhood educator at St John’s Co-Educational Junior School, Catherine McCann, has worked with young children for the past 16 years. She gets enormous satisfaction from watching them grow and develop and helping to prepare them for ‘big school’.
> Tell us about St John’s Co-Educational Junior School and your role there.
St John’s Junior School caters for children from the age of three years old (Transition) right through to Year Six. I am the Transition 4 teacher. Our Transition program provides children with a nurturing introduction to ‘big school’.
My role is a very exciting one; I get to work with wonderful families, staff and children. I am also able to see amazing growth and changes in the children. In the early childhood years children are learning so much about themselves and the world around them. My main role is to work in partnership with parents to establish a program of development for the children within our care.
The children in Transition have the opportunity to explore the larger school environment in a safe and secure way. We are very fortunate to be able to establish relationships with staff and children from the upper classes. This year we will be further developing our peer support program for our children in Transition to help them settle into kindergarten next year.
> Tell us about your background. Have you lived in the area for long?
I grew up in Barellan, a village in the Riverina, and went to University at Charles Sturt in Wagga Wagga. I have lived in Armidale since 1994, with a seven-year stint in Brisbane. We have been back in Armidale since 2003. Our two boys, Noah and Byron, both attend St John’s and Andrew, my husband, runs WEBCESSITY, a web design and software development business in town. Armidale is a wonderful place to live – it has so much to offer a growing family.
I have had the pleasure of working with children for the past 16 years and have worked in long day care centres, preschools and special schools, as well as in early intervention. I have also had the opportunity to teach at TAFE. I have worked with some very talented people and have been able to draw ideas from their training and experience.
> What is it about working with young children you enjoy, and why did you choose it as a career?
I have always enjoyed working with children. I am very fortunate to be able to work in an area that I love. I really enjoy seeing the natural wonder in children, their excitement in simple experiences and the fun that they are willing to have. It is a pleasure to watch their skills develop over the year and to see them becoming more independent. It is also wonderful to see children begin to work together on a project of their own choice.
> How important is early childhood education?
Early childhood education is extremely important. Early childhood is the bedrock of education. And as we all know, a strong foundation provides a solid base for future development. Children are learning so much in the early childhood years. It is very important that children are provided with a warm learning environment that builds confidence, encourages risk taking in learning, encourages choice, builds independence, fosters creativity and enthusiasm.
One of my primary goals is to encourage children to use the learning environment productively and for children to see themselves as capable learners – as individuals who are developing skills and understandings that will enable them to make sense of the world and how to succeed in it. I see the environment that we set as a second teacher within the room.
The way our room is set up affects the way the children learn. Our room is set up so that it has defined play and work spaces. It also provides the children with opportunities to work alone, in a small group or in larger groups. We provide experiences daily that encourage children to work together, solve problems, share, take turns and collaborate with one another. I believe that children also learn through imitation and that teachers need to act as positive role models. I base much of my program on a portfolio that has been developed for and by the children.
> What is it about St John’s Transition that sets it apart from other preschools?
We have fantastic resources. Our room is very large, which makes it perfect for Armidale’s cold winters. If it is wet or cold outside we are still able to provide the children with large muscle experiences. We just bring in the moveable equipment from outside and allow the children to get moving. And we have access to the NEGS library, as well as the St John’s resources.
The children also have specialists who visit our room each week. Rowena Tall visits us three times per week for music lessons. Rowena is a very experienced music teacher; she is also aware of appropriate practice for preschool children. Rowena’s songs and experiences are interactive and lots of fun.
Rick Hatch will visit for pottery sessions in terms two and three. His sessions really get little hands working and creative minds thinking.
Helen Evans, a local author and story teller, visits fortnightly. She provides the children with interactive and stimulating stories.
St John’s is also in the process of setting up a ‘sensory gym’, which will be used by the children in Transition and some of the other St John’s classes.
St John’s is a small school that has a wonderful community feel to it. Parents are always welcome in our room and transition staff value the input from parents.
> Any plans for in Transition in the future?
We have big plans for our playground/garden area and are in the process of developing a plan and gathering the resources required. We will be setting up a sensory garden, a wooden walk way and a paved area. We believe that the children can learn so much from the outside environment. It does not just have to be an area for children to burn up some energy. The outside area can be used as an extension of the indoor learning area.
> What about your life outside the classroom – anything interesting on the horizon?
Actually, some of my girlfriends and I will be climbing Mt Kilimanjaro next year. We will be visiting the school of St Jude’s in Tanzania while we are there. Gemma Rice, a former teacher here at NEGS, established the school. We aim to raise money for St Jude’s over the next 10 months, so be on the lookout for some of our fundraisers. We are also asking businesses and individuals to fill a box (copy paper box) with school supplies that are required by the school.
> Thank you Catherine.