Families of young children will have access to a new funded three-year-old kindergarten program available in Warrnambool and Moyne Shire from next year.
Regional education attainment advocacy group Beyond the Bell has welcomed the state government program which will introduce children to kindergarten a year earlier than in the past.
Executive officer Kate Roache said it meant all families, regardless of their circumstances, could access early learning programs.
"The main advantage is that there's access for all, the financial cost isn't a barrier," Ms Roache said.
"It means that families are becoming connected to learning earlier in that supportive environment. Children are going to have access to the facilities and play-based learning and socialisation which is a key part of laying sound foundations for children."
The program, which is being rolled out across the state in stages, will reduce the cost of attending kindergarten for families and ensure children will have access to two years of kindergarten before starting school.
The program began in some regions this year with families in the Colac Otway, Corangamite, Glenelg and Southern Grampians shires able to access up to 15 hours of kinder per week because the areas already had the physical capacity to meet local demand.
From next year, three-year-olds in Warrnambool and Moyne will have access to five hours in a kindergarten program led by a teacher, which will increase to 15 hours per week by 2029.
Expansion works have begun at Port Fairy's Community Services Centre to create 33 new early years' places. These will help cater for the new three-year-old program and demand for increased child care.
Research shows that quality play-based learning is a powerful way to support children's learning and development. The benefits last into the school years and beyond.
Ms Roache said it would provide children with early exposure to the kindergarten setting where they would learn from play and socialisation with their peers.
It would also help children to successfully transition from kindergarten to prep which was a key stage of learning, she said.
"Three-year-old kindergarten lays good foundations for when they begin kinder and they begin connections and support around their learning for the child and their family. It gets them familiar with the kinder environment," Ms Roache said.
Evidence also shows that two years are better than one when it comes to early learning. Participating in a quality kindergarten program at an earlier age leads to positive effects on child development. It has even greater benefits for children who need extra support or are in vulnerable circumstances.
South West TAFE early childhood teacher Karensa Smith said there was a shortage of educators and they were looking to recruit more students to help meet the growing demand across the region.
She said TAFE provided certificate three and diploma courses in early childhood education and care, which were a pathway for students wanting to completing further education into a university bachelor degree required to become a kindergarten teacher.
"It's a pathway towards teaching but also because there's more three-year-old programs there's going to be a greater need for those certificate three and diploma qualifications because as well as a teacher you need to have the other staff in a service," Mrs Smith said.
"We're hoping to recruit more into the qualification. Nationally they think that by 2024 there's going to be a need for another 37,000 educators.
"Locally we do have a shortage of educators, we know that students who successfully finish our course are being picked up really quickly, we have services constantly contacting us saying have you got someone for us.
"There is definitely a shortage and there is definitely work out there for student that apply themselves and are successful."
Children who turn three before April 30 of the year they enroll are eligible for three -year-old kindergarten.
Funded three-year-old kindergarten will be available in both long day care centres and sessional or "standalone" kindergarten services. This is the same way that kindergarten for four-year-olds is available now.
Warrnambool City Council's three-year and four-year kindergarten program enrollments are now open and close on Friday, July 9. Moyne Shire kindergarten registrations also opened this month. To register go to moyne.vic.gov.au/Our-Services/Early-Years/2022-Kindergarten-registration/3yokinder-application
For more information about enrollment dates check with your chosen kindergarten or day care centre.
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