Early Education Reform Group EERG

Using play to create a Child-Centered Curriculum in the early years of school.

The more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core. David Sobel

Lil Gwyther’s passion for, and delight in young children was evident to all. Right from her very early years growing up on a dairy farm on the Comboyne Plateau in New South Wales, Lil wanted to be a teacher. After graduating from Armidale Teachers College in 1934 she spent five years teaching in country New South Wales and then taught during the war years at Canonbury Hospital School in Sydney. After a whirlwind wartime romance, Lil married Evan an Air Force radio operator and fellow teacher. In 1946 they moved to live in Brisbane. Lil returned to teaching at Ashgrove West Kindergarten and subsequently became Director, spending a total of 20 years there.

During these years Lil supported and encouraged involvement of parents in kindergarten affairs as well as developing a passionate commitment to the continued well-being of the young charges. She saw and heard first hand of the damage to some youngsters when they move to primary school where they had to perform tasks for which they were not ready. She firmly believed that this was the cause of many behavioural and learning problems in later school years.

This passion and concern led her to take up work in the Queensland Education Department with Margaret Outridge, firstly developing a new screening survey for children entering school, and then visiting a wide range of primary schools as an early childhood advisory teacher. Under the regulations current at that time she had to retire in 1980 very much against her will.

Lil’s years of practical experience followed by concentrated study of early childhood educational theories and approaches during her work in the Education Department left her very committed to changing early childhood practices in Queensland schools. Along with some other concerned teachers and parents she helped to establish the early education reform group EERG in 1980. EERG publicly campaigned for at least the first few years of primary school to be ungraded so that individual readiness would be the determining factor for selection of learning material and teacher expectation. They advocated child-centred and developmentally appropriate education. They regularly assisted teachers who were implementing these approaches in the classroom. Lil often used to say: don’t ask if your child is ready for school-ask if the school is ready for your child. The group was active until the late 1990s and was highly successful in achieving media interest in the campaign as well as support from the wide circle of parents, educators and politicians.

As Public Relations Officer for EERG for over 15 years Lil talked at literally hundreds of local parents and teachers meetings in preschools, playgroups, Schools etc. In 1983 she joined with a group of educators and parents to establish the Pine Community School, which has continued to operate for more than 25 years and continues to attract families with its commitment to child-centred schooling. Her work with teachers and principles helped to build the enthusiasm that lead to the multi-age Association of Queensland.

In 2001 Lil was awarded life membership of the Early Childhood Teachers Association for her treasured wisdom and lifelong advocacy for good practices in early education. www.ecta.org.au /01_cms/details.asp?ID=206. She also spent 10 years serving on the Children’s Services Council of C&K. Lil’s firm conviction of the importance of play- based early childhood education lead her to advocate through the Early Education Reform Group for a return to play-based prep year in Queensland schools in addition to the preschool year, so that children would be 12 months older when they started year one. The EERG campaign centred around a Prep year classroom designed for play based learning, small classes and full time early childhood training aides.

Lil and her colleagues in the Early Education Reform Group have left an inspiring legacy for all those of us who now work to ensure that children’s early education is firmly centred on the needs of these children and is appropriate to their development during the early years of schooling and most importantly in their Prep classes.
To read more about Lil, please see the QUT pdf article lil-gwyther-story.

Lil's legacy:

  • A memorial award for outstanding students studying Early Childhood Education at the Queensland University of Technology, October 2011.
  • The Lil Gwyther Memorial Endowment Fund.
  • Thanks to the generosity of family and friends, The Lil Gwyther Memorial Endowment Fund was established in 2010 as a perpetual fund to finance an annual prize awarded to an undergraduate student in QUT’s School of Early Childhood Education who demonstrates: in-depth knowledge of early childhood education principles and a good understanding of developmentally appropriate, child-centered teaching practices and outstanding competency in using these principles when teaching young children in a school setting.

Via this letter, we are delighted to introduce you to Anne-Marie Hansen, the inaugural prize recipient. 

Thank you for your support. My mother would have been so honoured by the overwhelmingly positive response to the establishment of her memorial fund.

On behalf of Sheryl, David and myself, thank you for your support.
Donations to the fund will help us reach our goal of offering the Lil Gwyther award to QUT students in perpetuity.
Ross Gwyther.

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