Embedding Indigenous perspectives in Early Childhood Education and Care services

As part of our Quality in Practice series, Michelle Hamilton, a proud Wiradjuri woman and Early Childhood Educator explores Quality Area 6 of the National Quality Standard.

My name is Michelle Hamilton and I am a proud Wiradjuri woman and Early Childhood Educator and Consultant who has been working in this industry for almost 30 years.

My roles have included being a Teaching/Director at Wunanbiri Preschool for 23 years and working with Aboriginal Early Childhood Support and Learning (AECSL) to deliver training and professional development across NSW/ACT on embedding Indigenous perspectives. I've also had the privilege of sitting on many boards and reference groups, advocating on behalf of Aboriginal children and families and their access to quality early childhood education.

Whenever we are thinking about how we are going to embed Indigenous perspectives into education and care settings, it is essential that we reflect on where we are right now and ask ourselves some questions about the current status of our practice and/or conversations taking place in our services, schools or early learning spaces regarding this topic.

Being a reflective educator is imperative in how we teach others, learn or re-learn to grow in our knowledge and understanding. Reflective practice will require an Educational Leader, Room Leader and/or Director to provide opportunities for all other stakeholders to begin or continue their journeys and everything we do can start from one conversation.

Getting started

To begin conversations regarding the implementation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, it will be important to create safe spaces, which will give individuals a platform to voice what they know, don’t know, biases, misconceptions as well as strengths and passions when connecting with culture and communities.

As educators are aware, the National Quality Framework provides us with this opportunity, here we can revisit our inclusive practices, policies and processes and rethink about how we embed such practices. Inclusion of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander perspectives can be linked to each of the seven quality areas and there are a multitude of resources available.

The great thing about this framework is we still have the freedom to implement in a way that is meaningful and linked to our local community and families, and this can be adapted year to year as we continue to grow and build on our knowledge in this area.

The most beneficial resources you will have are the people in your community, their knowledge and expertise on living culture every day. Whether you have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families enrolled in your programs is not the question. The implementation and engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is too valuable not to embed and can only enrich your program for all children and families.

After some reflection, it is time to research your local community, Aboriginal Country, elders’ groups and community organisations. This research will provide insight into potential resources you can access across country and community. It will also enable you to promote your service in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and/or organisation. As a part of your initial conversations it is important to give yourself time to build trusting relationships that are meaningful and valued. There is no end-date for this practice as it should be ongoing for all involved. Building mutually beneficial relationships where both services and community members can see the potential outcomes for the children can be a great starting point.

Children and families should feel a sense of belonging that will be evident when there is an inclusive environment that acknowledges both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. This means both cultures should be acknowledged separately as they are two different cultures and should be recognised as such.

The inclusive environment you provide is not just about displaying lots of resources across various rooms but implementing resources thoughtfully that will create a sense of belonging for children and families. Our aim is to build on children’s individual strengths, build on their confidence in who they are and where they come from, giving them a strong sense of self, identity and a strong connection to their culture and country. Any child that is provided this opportunity can thrive and become confident and capable learners and leaders.

Engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

When your service is ready to engage, having researched their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, it is time to plan! All the reflective practice and research will provide information on relevant resources and organisations in your communities that can support your programs. It is important to be prepared for this to take some time, it is also important to understand that you may not succeed in your initial attempts, however you should not give up and continue to work towards the goals you have set.

Forward planning and implementing strategies to engage are essential and may require educators to step outside their comfort zones. In building an effective partnership to support children’s and families’ access and participation into your program, you could think about the environments you are inviting families into and ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is it across our environments that children and families will connect with upon their arrival?
  2. What resources do we provide that celebrate and/or acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and leaders in our community?
  3. How do Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and community members know they have a place in your service?

The representation of local Indigenous culture can be demonstrated in many ways in and around our services, including books, flags, photos, music, art, language and Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander artefacts, and throughout our different programs that could include bush tucker gardens, bush kindy (walking on country) and yarning circles that include oral story telling.

One of the first places I visit to access resources is the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) website, here you can review resources to support your practice including factsheets on building effective partnerships that include step by step guides.

Secondly Nurragunnawali provides schools and early childhood education and care services with resources filtered into subjects and relevant years which makes it easier to find and age appropriate.

Looking forward

Ongoing consultations and reflective practice will be the tools that allow educators across many different service types to build on their professional growth as well as build awareness and knowledge and hopefully more understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and its value.

My hopes and expectations are for inclusive practices to be embedded across all educational programs. We know the implementation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures will enhance early learning educational outcomes. It will build on levels of cultural awareness, understanding and bring change for an education journey that children can thrive in.

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