Children playing

Nourishment for the curious minds

Nourishment for the curious minds

From interactive music and dance performances, creative workshops to expert talks on children’s nutrition, movement and emotional regulation – the Early Start Festival of Play comes to UOW

The inaugural Early Start Festival of Play comes to the University of Wollongong (UOW) this Saturday, March 26, from 8.30 am – 3.30 pm. The flagship event has been designed for children aged from birth to 10 years, their families and childcare educators.

The festival will encompass plenty of exciting (and FREE) family-friendly activities, from children’s creative arts and crafts workshops, interactive music and dance performances, storytelling, games, art exhibitions to expert talks, educator workshops and more. It will take place in the Early Start Discovery Space, surrounding gardens and the Early Start building.

“Every child knows that, but parents sometimes need a reminder: play is the most serious business of childhood. When children play, they explore new ideas, make choices, take risks and work to understand their world. At Early Start, we believe every child has the right to play,” said Professor Lisa Kervin, the Research Director at UOW’s Early Start and one of the Festival’s experts who will lead a workshop on the ways to engage children in safe and innovative digital play.

Early Start researchers Ellie Taylor, Lyn Cronin and Martha Johnson in the Discovery Space

Children will have access to music, creative arts and storytelling. But there’s something for the parents too. While their kids dance and create, they can grab a coffee and participate in one of the information-rich parenting workshops delivered by UOW’s leading experts and researchers in early childhood. Planned as practical, 30-minute sessions, they’ll cover important family-related topics: kids’ self-regulation, digital play, movement, relationships and nutrition.

“Young children are born with an innate need to move. The COVID-19 pandemic has eroded much of the gains we made in recent years to promote play and physical activity through supportive environments and responsive caregiving. So how do we get children back on track? I’d love to show parents how to enhance their children’s health through movement,” Senior Professor Tony Okely said.

In another teaching series, early years educators will have a chance to participate in free professional development workshops, ranging from STEM education, bringing maths to life, to exploring why play is important for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).


When: Saturday, March 26, from 8.30 am – 3.30 pm

Where: Early Start Discovery Space and surrounds, Building 21 University of Wollongong, Northfields Ave, Wollongong NSW 2522 

Entry to all activities is free, and bookings are essential. However, the Family Program of interactive stage entertainment, with magic, music, storytelling and dance, does not require registrations. 

Booking for the Discovery Space, Family Shows, Parent Talks and Educator Workshops can be made here.


Some Parent Talks that you can book a spot for:

9 am Professor Lisa Kervin: Digital play and young children

There has been a strong debate whether young children should use digital technologies. The reality is that many children are accessing digital technologies, and we have a responsibility to ensure these are being used in the best possible ways. This workshop looks to the potential of digital technology to enrich children’s play. Professor Lisa Kervin is Research Director at Early Start, Faculty of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Wollongong. She is a researcher who is passionate about children’s literacy practices and how children use technology, especially apps.

9.45 am Senior Professor Tony Okely: Movement and play in Australia and beyond

This workshop facilitated by Senior Professor Tony Okely will examine the 'new normal' for play and movement post-pandemic while showcasing the work done in Early Start at a local, national and global level. Professor Okely is an internationally recognised expert in movement behaviour research, particularly interested in children's physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep. Globally, he is the 6th most published researcher on physical activity and children.

2.30 pm Dr Megan Hammersley: Benefits of learning about healthy foods through play

 We know that healthy eating is essential for children's growth and development. But what are the best ways to encourage children to try new foods and develop healthy attitudes towards eating? Dr Megan Hammersley will discuss the latest research and provide practical ideas for play and learning activities to engage children in healthy eating.

Megan is an Associate Research Fellow at Early Start and an Accredited Practising Dietitian. She has a background in nutrition, dietetics and health behaviour change. Megan's research focuses on supporting families in developing healthy lifestyle behaviours in early childhood. She is particularly interested in technology-mediated interventions and translating evidence-based research into real-world settings.