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If it wasn’t for a change of heart in her further education, Firbank Grammar’s director of early learning centres (ELC) Mary Grummet may have had a very different, though no less caring career.

“I actually started in nursing and I didn’t enjoy it,” Mary says.

“It just wasn’t for me. My parents were both teachers and I’ve always really enjoyed the honesty of young children and their openness. For me it seemed like the natural thing to do was to become a teacher.”

That was 30 years ago and since then, Mary has worked to nurture and care for the education of young Melbourne students.

Mary works across Firbank’s Sandringham and Brighton ELC campuses.

“I started teaching at a little community kinder. I moved into private schools and have been at Firbank ELC for almost four years.”

It’s the local community in Brighton and Sandringham and their environments that Mary is using to educate the three- and four-year-old students.

“At our co-educational campus in Sandringham, the ELC has a new program called Bush Kinder, where we use the council land across the road and let the children explore.

“It’s been amazing to watch what the students are doing there. They’re physically becoming far more confident because the environment is not as predictable.

“Next year at our Brighton ELC, which is a girls-only campus, we are starting a program called Young Explorers.”

Mary says the Young Explorers program is designed to allow students to get out into the community and explore – locally in Brighton and further afield.

“We’re planning to explore places like the city, the market, to use public transport and increase our connections with the local community,” she says.

Photo: Scott McNaughton
Photo: Scott McNaughton

Over her years in early learning, Mary has worked with many young people who have completed their education, going on to careers they have shown interest in from a young age. “Often you see those children who are very creative,” Mary says.

“I had a little boy many years ago who was incredibly creative and I bumped into his mum recently … and I said, ‘What’s Oliver up to?’.

“She told me he’s an interior designer. It didn’t surprise me at all.”

Even though ELC children are young, opening up their career options is still an important part of early learning – particularly encouraging young girls to look at all their future possibilities.

“We are looking at having a female plumber, a policewoman and other local community members in to talk to the girls so they are aware of what’s out there for them,” Mary says.

Mary has been inspired by early childhood learning pioneers such as Maria Montessori as well as the Reggio Emilia approach and the Forest School, which all focus on the importance of the environment.

“At Firbank, we use the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme and are influenced by other early learning techniques. Setting up an engaging environment for the children is really important.”

Mary says though they are young, three- and four-year-old students have learnt much before they start early learning. “They already come here with a lot of knowledge – our job is to extend that knowledge. We call it scaffolding so as to build on that knowledge.

“Ultimately, we want to develop well-rounded, happy and enthusiastic lifelong learners.”

My Philosophy

My teaching philosophy is that young children learn best through play. The International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme used at Firbank fosters inquiry-based learning that aligns with my beliefs.


3 things I have learnt

1. Listen – it is really important to listen. Listen to children and parents. Listen to what they are saying, and also to what they are not saying.

2. Learn from your mistakes. As educators it’s important to be risk takers and we should model this for the children.

3. Be organised – really do your preparation first. If you’re organised and prepared you are ready for the unexpected.


About Firbank Grammar

  • An independent, Anglican day and boarding school for students from ELC to year 12, with three campuses in Melbourne’s bayside.
  • Firbank Sandringham campus ELC–year 6 is co-educational while the Brighton campus ELC–year 12 is girls only.
  • Has a mission to provide students with an outstanding education that prepares them for the journey beyond school.





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