Taree Quota helps create a great outdoors for early intervention unit

Community links aid children with special needs: Quotarians (in pink) Deb Steber, Cath Baker, Margaret Northam, Trish Webber and Dawn Beer with Manning Gardens School principal Paul Sortwell and early intervention teacher, Anne Gilchrist.

Community links aid children with special needs: Quotarians (in pink) Deb Steber, Cath Baker, Margaret Northam, Trish Webber and Dawn Beer with Manning Gardens School principal Paul Sortwell and early intervention teacher, Anne Gilchrist.

DAMP. Mouldy. Horrible.

Three words served as catalyst for Quota to makeover the outdoor play area at Manning Gardens Early Intervention Unit in Taree.

Nestled under tall trees in Bushland Drive is a small demountable and an expansive sensory garden and playground area. Five days a week early intervention teacher, Anne Gilchrist opens her arms to welcome small groups of children with disabilities aged from three to six years of age.

The children come from all over the Manning Valley, all have individual learning challenges and all need Anne's skills to help them effect positive learning and behavioural change.

Outdoor play is integral to helping each child with their individual challenges but according to Anne, in recent years deterioration of the outdoor play area and its foundation of softfall and fake grass meant the space did not deliver the best experience for the children.

"The softfall had become damp and mouldy and the horrible fake grass always looked dirty. It also got really, really hot," Anne explained.

After 26 years with the unit Anne knew she could not seek funding for new softfall through the education department and so turned to Quota for help.

Anne's appeal to the organisation delivered an outcome that is now being celebrated by Quota and the children who use the unit.

Quota secured $5000 from the NSW government's Community Building Partnership Program and added $4000 to pay for the removal and installation of new softfall which has transformed the space and the children's relationship with it.

"The first day it was here the kids came out and went, "Awww!" and ran around to help us move the equipment," Anne laughed.

"Before it was fixed equipment and because of its condition the kids didn't like to use the space. Now they love to chop and change it around and help us to set it up.

"Importantly, this new play environment helps us to meet standards." Anne says the transformation of the space will improve the learning outcomes of the students.

"Play is such an important part of learning and we often push our kids too early to learn to read and write," Anne explained.

"A lot of our children are on the autism spectrum or have social, emotional and language problems, so a big part of our program is to teach our children how to be with other children.

"Play is really important and if they don't get that early development through play and exploring, then they have trouble later on."

Principal Paul Sortwell commended Quota and Anne for the contribution to the school.

"Anne has very strong links within our community and that is something we encourage with our teachers," Mr Sortwell explained.

"She has used her community links to seeks out sponsorship which is just great as our school funding doesn't allow this sort of thing to happen, so without it, we wouldn't have it, so we are so very grateful."

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