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Celebrating 100 years of early childhood teacher education

Early sketch of the "Kindergarten Training College"This year is the centenary of early childhood teacher education in South Australia, also marking the pioneering work of Lillian de Lissa. The anniversary will be celebrated with a series of events throughout the year. Helen Miller, president of the de Lissa Association of Early Childhood Graduates, gives an overview of the creation of the de Lissa Institute.

More than a century ago the Reverend Bertram Hawker a reformist concerned about the social wellbeing of the community in Adelaide invited Frances Newton, a Dewey trained teacher from Chicago, who was principal of Sydney Frobel House College, to Adelaide to demonstrate kindergarten methods. She brought with her one of her most outstanding graduates, Lillian de Lissa. The demonstrations were intended to generate interest among philanthropists by highlighting the potential benefits of a kindergarten education for children and the social wellbeing of society more generally. They led to the foundation in November 1905 of the Kindergarten Union of South Australia.

Lillian de LissaOn February 6, 1906 the first free SA kindergarten was opened in a small rented cottage at 214 Franklin Street in the city with Lillian de Lissa as the director.De Lissa ran a child-centred educational program grounded in Froebelian ideas. Initially, families were skeptical about the kindergarten program, wondering why someone would offer to look after their children for a whole morning for free. However, de Lissa’s ability to build a rapport with families in the area and her willingness to take up opportunities to address public meetings meant that it wasn’t long before many children were attending.

The first free kindergarten was such a success that, within a year, de Lissa was training a small group of future kindergarten teachers. The Adelaide Kindergarten Training College was born, with Lillian de Lissa as principal.

The initial program of studies was two years and included working with children in the kindergarten in the morning and lectures on educational theory, academic and general studies in the afternoon. The first nine students graduated on November 25, 1908.

The contribution of Lillian de Lissa to early childhood teacher education in SA should not be underestimated.

"The Adelaide Kindergarten Training College was in large measure the personal creation of de Lissa. She necessarily had the support of others within the Kindergarten Union, otherwise training arrangements would not have received executive approval. But there can be no doubt that de Lissa was the driving force behind the decision to move into the sphere of teacher training," wrote Christopher Dowd in his history of the College.

Lillian de Lissa went on to study with Maria Montessori and remained principal of the College until 1917 when she took up an appointment at Gipsey Hill College in London.

As student enrolments grew and included country students, in 1913 the college was relocated to Strathearn on East Terrace and then, two years later, to 95 Palmer Place where it remained until 1974.

In 1979, after several amalgamations and names, the college moved to what is now known as the Magill campus of UniSA. At that time the de Lissa Institute of Early Childhood and Family Studies was established as a "school" within the college. Dedicated to the professional education of early childhood teachers of children from birth to eight years, its research focus was on issues related to the delivery of services to children and families and the impacts of such provision on children’s development.

Within the University, the de Lissa Institute was merged with the Schools of Education at Magill and Underdale and, in 2004, the current School of Education, which continues to deliver early childhood teacher education programs, was established.

A tree planting ceremony followed by a cocktail party, is to be held on Thursday April 12 at 5pm on the Magill Campus of UniSA. Three native pines will be planted near the de Lissa Building representing the past, present and future of Early Childhood Education in South Australia.

On October 26, a dinner will be held at the Pavilion Restaurant.

For further information please contact Pauline Butler on (08) 8261 5374.