Little learners reflect on Elders' guidance

Preschoolers spent NAIDOC Week reflecting on the impact Elders have made on their lives and the wisdom they have shared. Helen Gregory reports.

A student and teacher look at an artwork on a poster. A student and teacher look at an artwork on a poster.
Image: Adamstown Community Early Learning and Preschool's Indigenous Perspectives Coordinator Tammy Mulligan with Otis and the 2023 NAIDOC Week poster.

Children at Adamstown Community Early Learning and Preschool marked NAIDOC Week by talking about smoking ceremonies and reading Jasmine Seymour’s Baby Business in a yarning circle by the fire pit.

The theme of this year’s NAIDOC Week was For Our Elders.

Preschool service director Kelly West said there was a lot to learn from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community’s respect for older generations.

“In Aboriginal culture, Elders are the holders of knowledge and share and pass this knowledge down through stories, song, dance and ceremonies,” Ms West said.

“In regard to early childhood, it is important to reflect on the essential role that our grandparents, elderly peoples and community members play in our lives and what wisdom they can share.

“Young people can benefit so greatly from engaging with Elders in their lives to learn deeper knowledge and understanding of the world around them.

“This can be done in so many rich and powerful ways, such as engaging with Aboriginal Elders within our communities and developing partnerships with nursing homes and elderly community groups.”

Children were invited to create artworks expressing what the images on this year’s NAIDOC Week poster and the phrase For Our Elders meant to them.

They also practiced weaving and reflected on their recent excursion to the Cultural Resurgence exhibition at Newcastle Museum.

“We allowed the children to engage in experimenting with re-enacting the images within the story as a way of deeply connecting to cultural practices,” Ms West said.

“Celebrating, learning about and authentically embedding NAIDOC Week into early childhood curriculums from as early as possible creates a deep understanding of the cultural histories and heritage of our nation’s first people,

“It is important to educate our young people of the true histories of our country so they may embrace reconciliation more authentically.

“Providing this exposure and authenticity from an early age allows children to see the embedding of Aboriginal people’s culture as normal, everyday practice - and this enhances reconciliation for all.”

Last year, the service appointed Tammy Mulligan as its Indigenous Perspectives Coordinator, seven years after she joined its ranks as Reconciliation Action Plan champion.

Ms Mulligan works alongside educators and children to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture throughout the service in authentic and age-appropriate ways.

This includes a Connecting to Country program, which involves an Aboriginal NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger joining educators and children to explore Glenrock State Conservation Area.

“The children learn to tread lightly and learn about Awabakal history, including bush tucker, grinding grooves and caves,” Ms West said.

“We also utilise beautifully authentic Aboriginal art throughout our service that was commissioned by a local Indigenous artist Thomas Croft.

“This artwork is on our staff uniforms, our service bus and the original painting sits in our foyer.”

The NSW Department of Education marked the midway point of First Steps - the NSW Aboriginal Children’s Early Childhood Education Strategy 2021-2025 - in June.

The strategy is a roadmap to achieving the best educational outcomes for Aboriginal children aged zero to five and has three goals centred around the child, family and kinship, and learning.

More than 3000 Aboriginal children and their families have already benefited from department-funded programs and initiatives guided by the strategy.

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