They are yet to begin school and some haven't even started talking, but a group of Werribee's youngest residents is already experiencing the benefits of the tertiary education system, thanks to a partnership between Deakin University and Corpus Christi Primary School.
Each Wednesday for five weeks, mums and dads, grandparents and guardians of pre-schoolers with older siblings at the school are being invited to bring their youngest children along to take part in a playgroup facilitated by Deakin University's School of Education.
The new Corpus Kids Playgroup is a pilot program between Corpus Christi Primary School and Deakin's and The Gordon's Werribee Learning Centre.
Deakin University Professor of Education Andrea Nolan said the playgroup would provide a variety of educational experiences for young children and their parents during a period of growth that had a vital impact on a child's future development.
"It is now an accepted fact that the early years of childhood are a critical period where there is rapid growth and development occurring," Prof Nolan said.
"Attention both nationally and internationally is focused on the early childhood years as being a critical phase in the life cycle. Early childhood is a time when the foundations of growth and development are laid down, setting the scene for all future learning and development.
"The experiences and relationships a child has, plus nutrition and health, can actually affect this to a large extent.
"That is why we are excited to be part of this pilot playgroup program, as it will give the youngest members of the Werribee community an opportunity to learn while at play, as well as provide Deakin researchers and Bachelor of Early Childhood Education students the opportunity to gain critical observation and experience of how children learn and develop through play.
Prof Nolan said research showed quality experiences were vital for all children so they could reach their full potential.
"During this time in a child's life they are developing the flexibility necessary for creative thinking, and the confidence and concentration that will foster a life-long love of learning," she said.
"Several major reports over recent years, in Britain, the United States and Canada, have emphasised the importance of early childhood and the rewards gained from investment in these years. As children of this age are rapidly developing skills and knowledge, the experiences are designed to enhance this development."
Prof Nolan said key known benefits of facilitated playgroup environments included new friends, new experiences, improved confidence, improved social and communication skills, learning to work collaboratively with others, expression of ideas and feelings through art or imaginative play, development of mathematics skills, along with fine and gross motor skills and an expanded oral language development all in a fun environment.
Corpus Christi Principal Linda Roynic said the playgroup was among a number of strategies the school was implementing to enhance student learning around literacy, to bridge the gap between the home and school learning.
"Finding innovative ways of engaging families in our learning community and developing a sense of partnership with them is a key objective," Ms Roynic said.
"Currently we are implementing a five week pilot playgroup program with the support of Deakin students, staff at Corpus Christi and Parish workers. We are looking for ways to sustain this initiative as a permanent aspect of Early Learning into the future."
The pilot program will operate throughout June, each Wednesday between 9am and 10am at Corpus Christi Primary School.
The Werribee Learning Centre opened in March as a joint initiative between Deakin and The Gordon, with a range of courses on offer, including the Diploma of Children's Services, which offers a direct pathway into the Bachelor of Early Childhood Education, along with an Associate Degree in Education.
Enrolments at the Werribee Learning Centre are also currently open to undertake the Bachelor of Commerce and certificate IVs in Training and Assessment, Plumbing, Work Health Safety and Warehousing.