Sunrise Thornbury

A Second Sunrise Preschool in Melbourne, Australia

By Didi Ananda Nirupama

Although this preschool and long day care service project has been operating since May 2016, the structure and furniture still feels new. The facility has a natural feel both on the inside and in the playground, with plenty of green plants, small trees and bush. It is a peaceful space with a beautiful vibration, more like a “Didis house”, according to Kai, a 3 year old new child and his mum.

The Premises

The front of the building has a typical Victorian style but on the inside it has had a complete makeover and looks very different from kindergartens in the area. The layout of the building is unique and was well-thought out. The classroom has two skylights that brighten it during the day and the building is powered with solar energy.

Sunrise is a preschool for 3 to 5 year-olds, with an operating capacity of 22 children a day. The children’s tables were custom made. They are 3-segment tables with wheels and can be shaped into an S, can be used in three different corners for independent play, or can be used in a circle with a big plant in the middle. They are practical, beautiful and useful for all types of activities. I am happy that we that had the furniture made according to our preference and taste.

We strive to use only natural and ecologically-friendly materials for all indoor and outdoor activities.

The playground has two small Weeping Birch trees that are popular with the children for play. They hide behind the weeping leaves and have so much fun around the bush area. There are 5 citrus fruit trees on the property. The big lemon tree gives us an abundance of fruit all year round.

The Program

The children arrive between 8 and 9am and play freely until morning circle, which starts at 9.15am and ends at 9.35am. Kinder teachers setup the classroom with a focus on the theme that they prepare during planning. They are given 2 ½ hours daily for planning. Often the children choose to play outside. We encourage them to spend more time outdoors for health reasons.

We have 4 qualified kinder teachers and 3 educators. The classroom has a number of different setup corners for children to play in. These include a book corner with a couch, a light panel corner, a sensory feel setup corner (slime, playdough, sand, arts and craft, manipulative toys etc) and a lego table.

We commence morning circle by reciting the “Acknowledgment of Country”- acknowledging the traditional owners of the land followed by songs like “Good morning Dear Earth”, “Let all the children waken” (from Didi Ananda Mitra’s Circle of Love book, 1986), “Quiet Place” and many others. This is followed by kiirtan and meditation. We set up a tiny round table with candles and flowers in the middle and two deserving children will be asked to blow out the candles when morning circle finishes. Some of the other things that we do are weather forecast, ‘what day is it today?’ and the children share an exciting event that happened with them over the weekend.

This is followed by morning tea and free play until around 10.30 when group time is called to prepare the children for a trip to a park. We are so fortunate to have several small parks nearby.

If the weather permits, we go to a park every day and return by noontime for lunch. Sometimes we have lunch at the park. We also have a sports instructor teaching the children how to play different kinds of sports and how to follow rules in sports. This happens in the 4th term as children grow bigger and stronger and would require proper instruction to advance their interest in sports.

Children are asked to vote for the park they wish to go and a child chosen by the teacher will lead and choose a partner for every friend. They hold hands while walking in twos or threes. They are encouraged to play with every other child in the class and are encouraged to participate, ask questions and talk about events or a theme the kinder teacher planned and prepared. They love taking charge in all activities. The “teacher of the day” was introduced to give each child a turn to be in charge.

We have observed that having the park trips every day has helped the children develop fast socially, emotionally and cognitively. Being responsible, attentive and gentle personalities has increased the bonding among them. Children learn math on the way to and from the park. They learn to recognise numbers from post boxes and by doing a head count before leaving and on arrival back at the centre. On their return from the park, they go to the bathroom to wash their hands or to use the toilet.

Before lunch we sing a “Thank you” while holding hands. The children have free play again until group time at 1.45pm in preparation for rest or sleep. At rest time children listen to relaxing meditative music or an audio story from a podcast or an aboriginal dreamtime story narrated by the elders. After half an hour of rest, they have afternoon tea at 3pm. We allow and/or provide only sentient food. No sugary foods like jam are served. Children bring their own food, the centre serves crackers for morning and afternoon tea, with vegemite and a non-dairy spread. On special occasions we serve vegan cakes, which are loved by the children and everyone else.

Yearly Programs

We celebrate the birthday of Sunrise Thornbury on the 23rd of May every year. This year we will be celebrating our 5th anniversary. At our 3rd anniversary celebration in 2018, we had a big morning circle at the park. Almost all the parents from the three years since the school started were present.

We also have an end of the school year program in December. This is the time when the 4 and 5 year-olds say ‘goodbye’ as they are going to prep school. Due to the pandemic, we could not have it last year. We have organised an afternoon tea with those children who are already at prep to join us and meet our current new friends next month.

We usually go on excursions three times a year – but because of covid restrictions, we missed them since last year.

Fundraising efforts were highly successful during the pre-covid years. With the coronavirus, it has come to a halt. Plans are already being made for fundraising when the situation improves.