Self-directed experiential learning: the philosophy behind St Nicholas Early Education

Curiosity drives infants and toddlers to explore and experience the world around them. It is this innate curiosity which inspires a child’s interest in developing an understanding of their surroundings and their place within life. With the importance of curiosity in mind, it is essential to nurture the desire for discovery and expanded horizons in all children.

This understanding of the innateness of curiosity is at the heart of the St Nicholas approach to early education.

Reggio Emilia inspired learning

The curriculum at all St Nicholas Early Education centres is built upon a Reggio Emilia inspired approach to early education.

The Reggio Emilia Approach is a philosophy surrounding a child’s education through preschool and primary school. It is a child-focused pedagogy which values each child as strong, capable and resilient while asserting children are filled with an intuitive wonderment of the world around them.

Following World War II, Italy was a nation craving change and a new beginning. It was in this social climate the Reggio Emilia Approach to early education and childhood learning was born. The name Reggio Emilia is borrowed from the Italian city in which Loris Malaguzzi, the psychologist who conceived of and developed the approach, lived.

“There is an inner voice that pushes children on, but this force is greatly multiplied when they are convinced that facts and ideas are resources, just as their friends and the adults in their lives are precious resources. It is especially at this point that children expect - as they have from the beginning of their life adventure - the help and truthfulness of grownups,” says Loris Malaguzzi in the catalogue of the exhibit The Hundred Languages of Children.

The Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange (REAIE) describes the centres utilising the approach as mirrors, “not a model”.

“When we look in a mirror we see ourselves and when we look at the practice and pedagogy of the Reggio Emilia schools we find a provocation to challenge our assumptions and question our practices,” the REAIE website says.

The Reggio Emilia approach provides the framework for reflecting upon the image of a child and necessitates reflection upon what it truly means to be a teacher. It fosters the belief the child, parent, community and natural environment are all essential to the learning process.

St Nicholas Early Education: Reggio Emilia inspired early education

“Each St Nicholas early education centre is designed with child-centric learning in mind,” says Sean Scanlon, CEO of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

“This means, from the rooms and play areas to the highly-trained educators and management support, the St Nick’s philosophy is to focus on the individual and holistic development of each child,” he says.

“Last year St Nicholas provided a conference for all educators to unpack the Reggio Emilia curriculum and the theory behind adapting early education to this approach,” said Kerri Armstrong, the General Operations Manager at St Nick’s.

“We invited Kirsty Liljegren to present to us an incredible day of learning and influence to our curriculum. Our program at St Nick’s now includes the inspiration of the child’s image and our role as educators in support of this. With a focus on the natural child and child-led learning, St Nick’s educators focus on facilitating each child’s innate and unique drive to learn, explore and experience.

“Our centres feature all-natural play areas; purpose-built outdoor areas landscaped with age-appropriate play equipment. We feature areas of  challenge and risk mixed with spaces to create and pretend. Our sand pits and mud pits provide valuable time to explore natural elements and our veggie gardens provide a great introduction to gardening,” she said.

To learn more about St Nicholas Early Education centres, visit the St Nick’s website.

You can also arrange a tour of St Nicks’ facilities by phone on (02) 4979 1110 or by email to