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Children rarely walk into the UOW Early Start Discovery Space. Most often, they run. Who could blame them? As Australia’s only dedicated children’s museum, filled with creative, hands-on learning opportunities it is full of adventure. Children can climb aboard a ship, walk through a digestive tract (complete with inappropriate noises at the end), build their own house, do their weekly groceries in a shop, create music on a variety of instruments and so much more.
The space is so much fun, children have no idea they’re learning skills and lessons that they just won’t find on any school curriculum. And this was at the heart of the vision behind the centre. The purpose of the centre is to provide valuable learning experiences for young children. The experiences are designed to allow children to take control of the action and share their imagination and creativity with those around them.
The purpose of the centre is to provide valuable learning experiences for young children. The experiences are designed to allow children to take control of the action and share their imagination and creativity with those around them.
This vision coincided with values and beliefs of Christopher Abbott AM, who is Founder and Director of The Abbott Foundation. Mr Abbott created the Foundation in 2009 with the express purpose of supporting ventures that provide learning opportunities for young children which will promote their interest and capabilities for further education.
In 2012, The Abbott Foundation gave the Early Start project $7million – making it the largest donation in UOW’s history. Combined with funding from the University and the Commonwealth Government, the philanthropic gift made the Early Start Discovery Space possible.
“We want the Discovery Centre to enable children to look after themselves, to thrive, grow, create and interact … to become part of society,” Mr Abbott said. “We want children to feel at home, to feel safe and to have fun because we believe the propensity to learn is greatest when there is an absence of threat. We want them to think for themselves and learn to work out problems for themselves, because that is how they can develop self-confidence.
We want them to think for themselves and learn to work out problems for themselves, because that is how they can develop self-confidence.
“We want them to learn together with other children and to teach other children so that leadership comes naturally. We want them to explore the world in which they live, and the rules that govern that world, so that they can better handle the emotional and moral problems that they will certainly have to face.”
UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings CBE said: “Mr Abbott’s contribution is one of the largest donations ever made to a non-Group of 8 university in Australia. It is certainly the largest donation to the University of Wollongong.”
While the donation and Early Start facility are wonderful assets for UOW, Prof Wellings said they are also a great boost for the whole Illawarra region.
Early Start Discovery Space is a strategic teaching, research and community engagement initiative which, in a world first collaborative scheme, will deliver a new generation of graduates to work with children aged up to 12.
The centre is located on UOW’s Wollongong campus. It includes specialist teaching and research spaces alongside the Discover Centre, and is the hub for 41 Early Start Engagement Centres (ESECs) located across regional NSW, mainly in areas of social disadvantage.