News / Education

Kinder builds on strong community foundations 

The Glenlyon Road institution celebrates its centenary in June

Taryn Stenvei says it has been “a real privilege” for her son, Louis, to be able to attend the Brunswick Kindergarten. 

Mark Phillips

EARLY childhood education is vastly different today from 100 years ago, but at the Brunswick Kindergarten some things have not changed.  

Present day director Elisa Brasher says the community of families behind the kinder is as strong today as when the centre first opened in Glenlyon Road in June 1924. 

Operating as a not-for-profit co-operative, the kinder continues to exist as something of an anomaly today, when early childhood education has been increasingly privatised and provided by commercial operators. 

“I think what makes this kindergarten unique is that we are smack in the middle of Brunswick, we are a community kinder in the heart of Brunswick,” Brasher says. 

“It’s a kinder that has been created by so many hearts and it continues to have a rich tapestry of parental involvement, a real community spirit. And there’s a real true sense of loyalty to the kinder. 

“It’s a beautiful kinder, it’s old, we love it, and it’s here to stay.” 

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The Brunswick Kindergarten will kick off its centennial celebrations next Wednesday when the children will dress as 100-year-olds and a birthday cake will be cut by Northern Metropolitan MP Sheena Watt. 

Today the kinder is attended by 122 three and four-year-olds but when it opened on June 1, 1924, there were just 18 children enrolled. 

In the early twentieth century, pre-school education was primarily provided by churches, or occasionally by charities. The Brunswick Free Kindergarten — as it was called back then — was neither of those, which made it a novelty at the time. 

The seeds were sown in August 1923 when the principal of Brunswick Central Primary School (no longer in existence) in Albert Street approached the Brunswick Council about the need for a free kindergarten to prepare children for primary school. 

By autumn the following year, the council had obtained a £100 donation from the Felton Bequest and secured a room in the Church of Christ building in Glenlyon Road and the kinder was able to open its doors to 18 children on June 1, 1924. The official opening took place on June 25. 

After two years, it had grown to 80 children and a neighbouring property that had belonged to a recently deceased councillor was purchased and refurbished to allow the kinder to accomodate its increasing numbers, opening in 1929. 

It has endured in those two connected buildings ever since, through the Great Depression, the Second World War and the Covid pandemic. The polio epidemic forced its only closure – for eight months from August 1937 to April 1938. 

While the council’s ongoing support has been essential, it has been the volunteer work and fundraising of generations of Brunswick families which has ensured the kinder’s longevity. 

Dawn Waight (right) and Elisa Brasher under a tree in the kinder’s play area that was planted in 1931.

Also invited to join the celebrations next week will be Dawn Waight, who grew up and continues to live in the same block of Glenlyon Road, attended kinder there in 1959. Her husband John was a pre-schooler in 1957 and their daughter, Sarah, attended in 1988. They also believe that John’s mother attended in the late-1920s. 

To complete the circle, Dawn Waight worked there as an early childhood assistant teacher from 1988 to 2005. 

While all she can clearly remember from the year she attended as a pre-schooler was the smell of spoilt milk that had been left out of the fridge for too long, Waight has fonder memories of working at the kinder. 

She recalls one time when a kindly parent delivered several boxes of free icy poles for the children who were sweltering in a heatwave that was worsened by a power blackout. Another time, she recalls with a chuckle, she sent home with a bag of dirty laundry a Member of Parliament who had come to pick up his child.  

There was also the time a child brought their father, who had his arm in a cast, for show and tell and numerous adventures on outings to the zoo and elsewhere. 

Being surrounded by children “makes you happy … I smiled a lot then,” she says. 

She is still in touch with some of the children she taught during her years working at the kinder. 

“Actually one of my kinder kids is about to give birth in July, so she might come back.” 

Brasher says this is not unusual and she is sometimes visited by former students at the kinder who want to enroll their own children and recall how fortunate they were to attend themselves. 

Taryn Stenvei with Louis outside the kinder gates.

Brasher has been director since 2022 and says although the kinder remained open during the Covid pandemic, it was challenging for a while to rebuild the physical connections between families and reminding them that the kinder was an extension of its community. 

The community around the kinder has been key to its endurance when many other pre-schools have fallen to the wayside over the past century. 

“I think there’s a real sense here of it is the home away from home and I think a lot of staff feel that, the children feel that and obviously the parents feel that. 

“That sense of community is really, really crucial because my philosophy was and always will be that it takes a village to raise a child.” 

It was that same sense of community that led Taryn Stenvei to enrol her son Louis at Brunswick Free Kindergarten.  

“To be able to access such high-quality, community-focused, free care for our son Louis has been a real privilege over the last few years,” she says. 

“The educators at Brunswick Kindergarten aren’t just doing a job; they are deeply invested in the safety, development and wellbeing of each child. The legacy of the kinder feels sacred, and the sense of care reverberates through the historical building’s walls, out to the community, and beyond.” 

Stenvei is now on the kindergarten’s committee of management, and next year her daughter Maeve will also attend there while Louis moves onto primary school. 

Apart from the celebrations on June 5, the kinder’s parents are preparing for the centennial fete to be held in late October, which is its major fundraising event. This year will be the first time the fete has been held since the Covid pandemic. 

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