Strong community connections help children thrive
Community is at the heart of Towri MACS, where early learners are supported to feel safe, confident and a sense of belonging.
16 June 2023
A second home. That’s how some little learners who attend Towri Multifunctional Aboriginal Children’s Service (MACS) feel about the service, according to its director Madi Donnelly.
Positive educator-child relationships and a welcoming, engaging space help create an environment where children feel safe and supported. The connections Towri MACS has formed with its local community also play a big part in making the service feel like a home away from home.
Located on Wiradjuri country, Towri MACS has a long history of building and nurturing relationships with its local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. This is in part thanks to the strong ties Towri Aboriginal Corporation – which oversees the running of the service – has with the Bathurst community, where it’s operated for over 40 years.
Relationships encourage reflection
Educators at Towri MACs, where 95% of the children and staff identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, recognise the critical importance of having close community connections and how they positively impact early learners.
“We as early childhood educators acknowledge the trauma that generations of Indigenous families in our community have experienced,” shared Madi. “This enables us to understand the importance of early childhood education and care for children and how vital it is that we are here for all families and children and maintain strong relationships with them.”
Towri MACS’ relationships with families and community encourages ongoing reflection that shapes the service’s practice, planning and programming (Element 1.3.2). They also empower and motivate staff to ensure the education and care they deliver reflects local community culture, is inclusive and culturally safe, and fosters a strong sense of self and belonging.
Educators are committed to regularly connecting with children’s family members, from grandparents to cousins (Standard 6.1). Accompanying little learners on morning and afternoon Towri Bus runs is one way staff do this. Madi and her team listen to the knowledge families impart and draw on this to maintain a culturally safe environment and ensure local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, voices and perspectives are acknowledged and celebrated at the service.
Using home and Wiradjuri languages at the service – such as using the word kimby instead of nappy – also maintains connection with local community and culture. The president of Towri Aboriginal Corporation has created number books using Wiradjuri wording and often visits the service to help children learn how to count to 5.
Engaging early learners
“Towri acknowledges that children are competent and capable within their own right, and come to us with knowledge, skills and unique ways of being,” shared Madi.
Children are supported to actively engage with their community by planning and participating in special events, like their local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day celebration (Element 6.2.3). The educators and early learners also have strong connections with another service in Bathurst.
“We visit the other centre regularly to gain further community connections, practice social skills and use it as a transition to school and networking opportunity,” explained Madi. “The Winanggaay room of Towri continually asks to visit their friends at the other service.”
These activities and interactions prompt children to share stories about their personal experiences, culture and home life. “Children on the bus will talk about things happening in their community and this can lead to meaningful conversations taking place in the centre,” Madi shared. “The educators use these meaningful times to reflect and add to their programs.”
Creating meaningful, respectful connections
“Draw on the knowledge of the community, whilst maintaining a respectful and open-mind relationship,” advised Madi on how services can foster closer connections with their local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
“Always be welcoming. Offer a shoulder to cry on or be ready to help whenever possible, offering food hampers or assistance at any time. Be a safe place for not only the children but their family members. See your centre as part of the community – not set apart.”