Informal learning adds culture, creativity and community connections

More than 1,300 active Children's University Tasmania members tallied 45,000 collective hours of learning beyond the classroom.

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Being chosen to deliver the graduation speech to mark her experience at Children’s University Tasmania last year was a memorable occasion for Grade four student, Violet, from Invermay Primary school.

Children’s University Tasmania had its biggest year yet in 2023, with 742 young people graduating across nine ceremonies in Burnie, Devonport, Hobart and Launceston.

Across the state, more than 1,300 active members across 52 schools tallied 45,000 collective hours of learning beyond the classroom.

Just like formal university graduation ceremonies, graduating from this unique university is celebrated as an important moment of recognition and pride, in front of an audience of friends, teachers and families.

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“This made me feel special,” Violet said in her speech.

Children’s University Tasmania collaborates with schools and the community to inspire children and young people aged 7-14 – fostering their confidence and nurturing curiosity through a wide range of informal learning opportunities. Stamps in their Passport to Learning record their participation in activities at art galleries, libraries, museums, wildlife parks, Children’s University school holiday programs and University of Tasmania events, as well as school activities such as chess club, choir and volunteering. Being involved in regular activities such as sport, music lessons and swimming lessons, and a range of online learning resources and activities, also enable them to add more stamps.

Participants gain stamps in their Passports to Learning for:

  • activities at Learning Destinations (e.g. museums, art galleries, wildlife parks, libraries)
  • Children’s University school holiday programs and University of Tasmania events
  • activities that take place at school but at lunchtime, recess or after school (e.g. chess club, choir, volunteering)
  • regular activities (e.g. sporting clubs, music lessons, swimming lessons)
  • a range of fun online learning resources and activities.

It’s a program that encourages its students to follow their curiosity at school, on campus, in the community, and online to learn about topics of their interest.

The activities the University of Tasmania makes available to its Children’s University members range from developing science, communication and presentation skills with the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) and the Media school, nature storytelling, and creating art.

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Award-winning extra-curricular participation

For Violet, taking part in the Peter Underwood Centre’s Limitless Learning project at the Launceston Tramway Museum, supported by the Tasmanian Community Fund, Jetty Foundation and the Cuthill Family Foundation, was a highlight.

“It ran for a couple of months, and we had to find better ways for children to learn about the history of my suburb, Invermay, and the tram system it used to have in the olden days. I really enjoyed getting the chance to have my point of view heard and my ideas put into action so that other kids can have a better learning experience,” Violet said.

Her 78 hours of learning earned her a Silver Award – and the opportunity to address the crowd at the graduation event.

“As part of this program, I have had the opportunity to be involved in many different experiences. Some of my favourites included learning about dog safety, seeing some crazy things at Mona, painting gumboots for the Inveresk Community Gumboot Gala, and participating in Sing Fest,” she said.

“I’ve been able to get creative, have fun, and even had the chance to make new friends, but none of this would have been possible without the special educators of Children’s University who spend so much of their time organising cool stuff for us to do and helping us and supporting us to achieve our learning goals. This was extra important for me because being my first year, my family and I were not sure how it all worked.”

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Supporting a positive transition to high school

Year 7 student Aiden is another happy graduate who told ABC radio Hobart his own firsthand insights into the transformative role the Peter Underwood Centre’s Children’s University Tasmania program played in helping him navigate the transition from primary to high school.

“Children’s University helped me with meeting new people and having confidence in new situations,” Aiden said. “I basically had the right skill set from my primary school. They prepared me well for high school.”

Dr Becky Shelley is Deputy Director of the Peter Underwood Centre at the University of Tasmania and says the Children’s University Tasmania program connects primary and secondary school students to extracurricular learning experiences, fostering a love of learning and supporting children’s natural curiosity.

“In total now we have been running the program for eight years and 2,581 children and young people have graduated.”

Dr Shelley says research suggests informal learning has a positive influence on students.

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“Our research is world-leading in its approach to child-led research and analysing linked data on participation, attitudes, attendance and attainment.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]