Grey Ward Children's CentreGrey Ward Children's Centre

History of Grey Ward Children's Centre

The Grey Ward Free Kindergarten

The Grey Ward Free Kindergarten, as it was initially known, was opened on August 5th 1908, by the Kindergarten Union of South Australia (KUSA). The name Grey Ward is derived from its location in the council ward of Grey. The Grey Ward Free Kindergarten was originally located in the hall behind the Draper Memorial Church in Norman Street (between Gilbert and Sturt Streets) under the direction of Ellen Amy Burgess. It was established 2 years after the first free Kindergarten, known as the Franklin Street Free Kindergarten, which was located in a small cottage at 214 Franklin Street. The Free Kindergartens, including Grey Ward, were purposely located in run-down, inner-city, working-class areas, as KUSA believed that children of all social classes could benefit from early educational experiences; however they concentrated their attention on the poor with their motto 'Each for All, and All for Each'. KUSA strongly believed that this was where the need for action was most urgent.

The emphasis therefore, in the Free Kindergartens, was on physical, educational and social curriculum, where each child received a daily intake of biscuits and milk and had regular medical inspections. Cases of malnutrition and dire need were specifically catered for by providing food and clothing. The Grey Ward Free Kindergarten catered for children aged 3-6 years for 5 mornings per week. The afternoons were purposefully allocated for teachers to undertake visits to the homes of enrolled and prospective students. These visits enabled the teachers to support families in matters relating to health, hygiene, nutrition and general child welfare.

Before the doors of the Grey Ward Free Kindergarten were opened for the first time, there were 35 children waiting outside. By the second day it was full, with the quota being forty children. Over the next few days many others came and were disappointed when told that there was no room for them. Before too long the Kindergarten had a waiting list of 25 children. Children would come and wait asking 'Isn't there room yet, Sister?'.

Friedrich Froebel's theories on children's play and learning, specifically the 'gifts' and 'occupations', dominated the curriculum of the Grey Ward Free Kindergarten and the other Free Kindergartens established by KUSA. Froebel's philosophy of 'gifts' were intended to give the child new universal aspects of the world, were suited to a child's development, led to discovery and gave insight. The 'gifts' included shape, number, extent, symmetry and proportion. The 'occupations' were the materials for practice in certain skills, such as plastic clay, wood-carving, weaving and paper folding, that were used to lead to invention and give the child power. In 1919, the Grey Ward Free Kindergarten's curriculum was reorganised along Montessori lines. It was purposefully the last Free Kindergarten to adopt the philosophy of Maria Montessori as it acted as a control site used for philosophy and practice comparisons for new college graduates.

Grey Ward Nursery School

During the 1920s a new thought was emerging in kindergartens, which was to offer longer hours and take younger children. As the Grey Ward Free Kindergarten was in need of new premises, KUSA felt that this was a perfect opportunity to trial Adelaide's first Nursery School. In February 1937, the Grey Ward Free Kindergarten was relocated to Selby Street behind the existing Lavis Free Kindergarten, and re-opened as Grey Ward Nursery School under the direction of Kathleen Mellor. The difference between the two services, was that the Grey Ward Nursery School catered for children aged 2-5 years with an all day programme. The extensive programmes and increased length of the sessions saw the attendance rate at Grey Ward Nursery School increase significantly to 95%. Even though the Grey Ward Nursery School was KUSA's first purpose built Nursery School and the location was chosen as it was conspicuous for its extent of poverty and poor housing, by 1940, due to the effects of the Depression and the visible advantages of the Nursery School approach, four of KUSA's Free Kindergartens became Nursery Schools.

Consequently in February 1943, after mounting pressure from various social groups, the Commonwealth Government initiated a programme for the provision of adequate day care of children of working mothers. The philosophy was to reduce the amount of juvenile crime resulting from the war years, where children were being left unsupervised. Under this programme, organisations with some experience in child care were invited to open their centres for 12 hours daily from 7am. Grey Ward Nursery School was one of KUSA's first such centres along with the Lavis Kindergarten and Keith Sheridan, now known as Halifax Street Children's Centre and Pre-school. Between these three sites there was only a total of 25 places and these filled within the first week of opening.

Grey Ward Children's Centre

Due to location and the sharing of the KUSA philosophy, Grey Ward Nursery School and the Lavis Kindergarten forged a close working relationship. During school holidays, many of the children from the Lavis Kindergarten would spend time at Grey Ward Nursery School accessing more days and longer hours. Both sites would split the cost between them. The relationship became so strong, that by July 1974, motions were made to join Grey Ward Nursery School with the Lavis Kindergarten. A government grant of $200,000 was made available to the Lavis Kindergarten to do so and by November 1976, the idea of 'Grey Ward Children's Centre' was born and the facilities were built at it's current location at 253-257 Wright Street. The previous Grey Ward Nursery School building was not retained, as it was considered to be in KUSA's best interest to sever ties from the West End Baptist Mission who owned the land where the building was situated. The fees for the new Grey Ward Children's Centre in 1976 were: i. full day - $13.00 per week ii. half day (+ meal) - $7.50 per week iii. half day (- meal) – no charge iv. after school only – no charge with the above to be halved in cases of absences exceeding four days.

Grey Ward Children's Centre Inc.

Initiated by a review of integrated services in mid-1992 and an investigation into the Commonwealth Bowen Formula style of funding for the child care component, the Olsen state government made movements to change the funding arrangements to Grey Ward. At this time there was found to be only three Centres currently funded by this formula – Grey Ward, Margaret Ives and Keith Sheridan (now Halifax Children's Centre and Pre-School). Under the advice of the Minister for Education and Children's Services, the Honourable Robert Lucas, Grey Ward Children's Centre was moved to community management and funded under the Commonwealth Child Care Act (1972). Families and friends of Grey Ward Children's Centre, Margaret Ives and Keith Sheridan, fought hard for many years to prevent this, as they felt that the quality of education would decrease and the cost would increase dramatically, but they were unsuccessful. During this time, many feasibility studies were undertaken and it was decided that in order to remain viable, Grey Ward needed to become licensed for children under two years of age. By 1996, Grey Ward Children's Centre became an incorporated organisation, catering for children from 6 weeks to 5 years of age, integrating Long Day Care with Kindergarten. The Centre now operates on 100% parent fees and receives a block grant to support the integration of the Kindergarten.

The Future

Grey Ward Children's Centre retains its reputation for quality learning programmes, environment and philosophy. It prides itself as an inner city centre with a very large natural outdoor play space. The Management Committee, made up of parents and staff, currently has 18 employees and prides itself on it's dedication to early childhood. The Management Committee actively works towards employing only qualified staff and maintaining small group sizes, to enhance children's well-being and ability to form successful relationships. The Centre's curriculum is made up of the principles of inquiry based play, which is guided by The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia, Belonging, Being and Becoming as well as the philosophy of Professor Ferre Laevers and Dr Louise Porter. Today's Grey Ward community is made up of families working in the Adelaide CBD who are professional/semi professionals and the children of the Grey Ward community go to schools all over Adelaide. Some past students of Grey Ward have come back to the Centre and enrolled their own children. The staff and Management Committee are proud to be a part of the Centre and will continue to actively contribute to Early Childhood Education in South Australia for years to come. For more information about the Centre please contact 8231 9195.

Compiled by Elke Jesdinsky – Director 1999-present.