Amy Collins: Educator of the Year 2022

Amy Collins: Educator of the Year 2022 L-R: Kelly Grabham Gowrie NSW, Amy Collins Winner Educator of the Year and Ami Zielinski CWM Credit: Diana Smith Photography

Amy Collins was born and bred in Orange and has two children with husband Brett, a Condobolin boy who works for Cadia Mines. Amy remembers always wanting to be a teacher and her fondest memories include attending school with her cousins, then studying early childhood and primary at university, in Bathurst.

Amy did her internship at The Willows Preschool and Early Learning Centre (Willows) and started working there after graduating because their teachers showed the highest of respect for the abilities of children through basing their approach on the Reggio Emelia (Reggi) and RIE education philosophies.

“Those philosophies are embedded in what we do and how we view children – also as parents of our own – which just means viewing them with respect as a person, or people, and focusing on what they can do.”

Drawn to nature

Amy Collins ougtdoors at Willows-7afee6a9

Amy admires that this approach takes into account that children innately want to be outside and with nature, and as this is important to Willows she’s still there nine years later.

She encourages the approach of treating children as capable human beings; encourages them to be in a community and to view community as a big family – and this is why Willows has Village time, where the two big classes (or families) come together each day.

“I really think this is important, and we know that children learn through play so we support them to play through authentic real-life experiences like cooking, gardening and caring for animals, like our rabbit Howie who is very much-loved here.”

Howies the rabbit at Willows-9de5b770

Learning together small, engaged groups

Amy is very proud of the highly skilled educators she works with, including Alex, Trevor and Cathy, as they love being there – and instead of working above the children as the teacher, the RIE and Reggio method means that the educators work alongside children.

In terms of child development Amy says they work in small groups conducting projects around their questions about the world.

“We might see a butterfly in the playground and say, ‘Right, let’s go find out some more’, rather than ‘that’s a Monarch butterfly’, so it turns into a beautiful big project about the butterfly world, builds their curiosity and wonder and preserves their childhood.”

Outdoor education at Willows-2c256395

Amy is also very proud of the Inventors room at Willows, which ensures they don’t squash the innate natural curiosity of the children – and it reiterates to families that four and five year olds are making things and testing their beliefs.

Equally, there is a room for the three and four year olds, called The Explorers, which helps segregate the 50 or more children that attend across the day.

The children all get together outside, when Amy and her colleagues take them to their big paddock to visit chickens, play in the mud pit or the sand pit and do some gardening before being split again into the Inventors and The Explorers inside so the flow of the day continues.

One lady, many hats

Amy Collins at Willows 1-d23be6f4

Amy’s responsibilities of being a pre-school teacher, plus the room, village and lift-off co-ordinator are leadership roles that use many of her primary teaching qualifications.

She is a strong believer of modelling, leading by example, getting in and doing the dirty work, is the first one there and the last one to leave, but mostly feels lucky to have a beautiful team of educators around her.

“I also recently wanted to further my knowledge in education so I started a post graduate degree at QUT in 2019 and ended up branching into nature play and risky play for the pre-school years.”

The course is based on 70 years of research of forest kindergartens in Scandinavia, where childrens’ confidence and resilience has been found to link direct to their well-being in adulthood, so they can play and be in nature – with a degree of risk – and be more likely to develop into healthy adults. These ideas are now firmly embedded in Willows classrooms under Amy’s watch.

Venturing out to meet other groups

Fun with learning at Willows with Amy Collins -e62f38fa

Next year when nursing home restrictions hopefully lift, Amy plans to re-start a program with Parkwood residents where students walk to the home, sing songs together, share stories, take plant gifts and flowers from Willows’ garden, add to a journal that goes back and forth, write stories and do drawings with them.

“I also have developed some beautiful relationships with principals and kindergarten teachers across town, who for the past few years – particularly OPS and Calare PS – have come to us for a parent-information nights. I have teachers come in as well to meet the students across the year and we also do excursions to the schools so our guys can see their big school, meet their teachers and start transition.”

The best thing, Amy says, about being a mother of two young children and a pre-school teacher is being with children at such a vital and special time of their life, when the brain does 95% of its development.

Amy and Brett Collins and family-9b798d27

If you’re wondering whether to send your child to a pre-school, Amy recommends choosing the one that respects kids as children, lets them play and makes you feel your child will be seen as a person. With these teachers in charge, you can feel confident your child will be met where they are at, and will be loved as children should be.


Diana Smith

I'm an Orange-based photographer, writer, face painter and book designer. I enjoy meeting the lovely folk of our community and have been involved in publishing/media/comms for about 15 years. I have done several exhibitions and in 2022 published my own childrens story, 'The Mouses Houses.'

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