Scratch the proverbial skin of most early-childhood trained teachers and you’ll find someone willing to fight tooth and nail for young children – in particular, their rights to sound, developmentally-appropriate learning experiences in the formative years of their lives.
It describes Lil Gwyther perfectly. Lil was well-known in Queensland as a passionate reformer in early childhood classes (kindergarten and pre-school to Year 3). She was also a primary teacher, then an early childhood advisory teacher who turned into a full-time activist.
During the 1980s and 1990s, she campaigned for the rights of young children to have an education firmly-centred on their needs, and appropriate to their development. She was also my mum-in-law, and influenced my decision in the 1980s to train as an early-childhood teacher.
She talked regularly to education journalists, spoke at many schools and colleges, wrote numerous letters to the editor, she was on the local ABC radio every week with a talk-back show where many parents rang in with questions about their child’s development and their concerns for what was happening to those children once they entered primary school.
She stirred up several Education Ministers and other politicians, had morning tea with Senator Flo Bjelke-Petersen to discuss the problems of children starting school too early (which incidently, Lady Flo agreed with because of her personal experience), and badgered various Education Department heads (Lil outlasted several).
Most succumbed to her charm and her passion about the benefits of regarding each child as an individual and not trying to “fit them in the same box of teaching”. But of course, the biggest battles were against those who handed out government money to support education.
One of Lil’s favourite pieces of advice to parents ended with the words, Don’t ask if your child is ready for school – ask if the school is ready for your child. Many a time in Brisbane people have told us about Lil’s contribution to their lives by saying,
It was Lil who convinced us to give little Johnny (or Janey) another year of pre-school. And thank goodness we did!
Lil loved children and she remained passionate about early childhood education until her early 90s when Alzheimer’s disease stole away her fine brain. In true Lil style, she fought it with fury until the end.
We wanted to do something in Lil’s name to continue her work and her commitment to Early Childhood Development Principles. We were also concerned about the current push to ‘formalise’ education in the Queensland Prep classes (and it’s not just in Qld), and the move to downgrade play-based activities for learning. Early childhood educators who believe in developmental principles are dismayed about this move and fear future consequences for children.
So to celebrate her life and to help keep alive the principles she worked so hard for, Ross, David and I bequested a substantial amount of money in Lil’s name to the Early Childhood Studies Unit, at the Faculty of Education (Queensland University of Technology).
Numerous friends and supporters who knew Lil and her work donated and continue to donate money to the LIL GWYTHER AWARD, as did the Faculty of Education (Early Childhood) itself, the Queensland Teachers Union, the Early Childhood Teachers Association, Early Childhood Australia and many others (full list of donors here).
The prize money is part of an Award that will support and encourage graduate early childhood teachers to be ambassadors for developmentally appropriate and child-centred teaching once they go into the workforce.
As well as a cheque for $1000, it includes membership to the Early Childhood Teachers Association, Early Childhood Australia and the Queensland Teachers Union. The amount of money donated will ensure The LIL GWYTHER AWARD will continue to be an annual event for many years to come.
This week, the inaugural prize for 2010 was awarded to Anne-Maree Hansen.
Anne-Maree completed the Bachelor of Education (Preservice Early Childhood) course with a grade point average of 6.4.
Her lecturers and the principal of her prac. school record, Anne-Maree demonstrated an outstanding teaching, engaging learners in an individualised program. She skilfully implemented the Early Years curriculum and other school systemic initiatives. Her behaviour management strategies were appropriate, effective and reflected the Early Years philosophy of the school … a worthy recipient of this award.
The Gwyther family thank the QUT Education Faculty and the staff of the School of Early Childhood, in particular, the Head of the School, Professor Ann Farrell, and Dr Gail Halliwell, another passionate supporter of early childhood education. Our gratitude also goes to the generous donors, both big and small.
We wish Anne-Maree all the very best for her future career as an early childhood teacher. Lil’s spirit and passion is sure to go with her.