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Embedding Indigenous Perspectives in Early Learning Environments

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Weaving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into everyday classroom practices enhances Early Learning by giving students a more accurate and richer understanding of Australia's earliest history and culture.

Written by: Educational Specialist - Jo Harris  

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures hold a unique place in Australian history. Indigenous culture in Australia dates back at least 60,000 years ago before European settlement, with so much history still evident today that has remained documented as living examples within the natural and untouched landscapes of this vast continent. 

Understanding and respect for Australia’s Indigenous people — their personal histories, beliefs and values, languages and lifestyles — is essential for many reasons. Weaving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into classroom learning enhances the educational experiences of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, giving them a more accurate and richer understanding of Australia’s history and culture.

 

A New Way of Educating

It is vital for us to acknowledge and respect each other’s perspectives — our ways of seeing the world — and find that place where we can all meet, grow and learn. Perhaps the response to this challenge is to reflect on the idea of a third cultural space.

The third cultural space recognises that Indigenous communities have distinct and deep cultural and world views that differ from those found in most Western education systems. In many areas, localised Aboriginal culture is closely aligned to nature and the environment, emphasising cycles and patterns and the effect each has on the other. When Western and Indigenous systems are acknowledged and valued equally, the overlapping or merging of views represents a new way of educating.

In the diagram above, the black circle represents Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing, and the red circle represents Western ways. The middle yellow overlapping circle is the third cultural space, representing spaces of not knowing. It draws on the rich Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives balanced symbiotically alongside Western views.

 

The Appeal of Yarning Circles

The use of yarning/dialogue circles is an important process within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
Indigenous
people worldwide have used it for centuries to build respectful relationships, learn from a collective group, and preserve and pass on cultural knowledge.

Yarning circles can be a powerful way of communicating ideas about Indigenous perspectives in Early Learning.

At its core, a yarning circle is a harmonious, creative and collaborative way of communicating to:

  • encourage responsible, respectful and honest interactions between participants, building trusting relationships
  • foster accountability and provide a safe place to be heard and to respond
  • promote student to student interactions and student to school to community connectedness
  • enrich learning experiences for students.

 

Encouraging Family Involvement

A meaningful and relevant program, draws strength from information shared between generations and members of individual families. Storytelling is an intuitive and extremely important aspect of teaching and learning that shapes learning and understanding in many cultures. Valuing the spiritual significance of Indigenous cultures and planning programs that reflect this can bring them together to ensure pathways are opened to more children and families than ever before. 

Referring to the Closing the Gap  agreement: ‘This new way of working requires governments to build on the strong foundations Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have, through their deep connection to family, community and culture.. and is underpinned by the belief that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a genuine say in the design and delivery of policies, programs and services that affect them, better life outcomes are achieved..” 

This gives educators an impetus to work to create successful programs by asking, and listening to families of all children which can support relationship building and other aspects including respectful relationships with the land and country in which they live.

 

Avoiding Tokenism

There are daily opportunities to listen, learn and reflect upon the impact of Indigenous culture. Michelle Hamilton, a proud Wiradjuri woman and Early Childhood Educator and Consultant states: “Children and families should feel a sense of belonging that will be evident when there is an inclusive environment…” 

While it is easy to buy and display Indigenous items, she explains, it is “implementing resources thoughtfully that will create a sense of belonging for children and families… giving them a strong sense of self, identity and a strong connection to their culture and country. Any child that is provided with this opportunity can thrive and become confident and capable learners and leaders.” 

Knowing what resources to purchase and having a purpose to include them as part of a quality program is integral to successful implementation. Many services may have a Welcome display of flags at the services’ entrance, but for them to be meaningful, rather than tokenistic, creating opportunities to learn about their importance and history is essential.

 

Suggestions for Incorporating Indigenous perspectives into your pedagogy

  • Start the day by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land your service is on. 
  • Find out how to say hello or good morning in the local language and greet children and families
  • Acknowledge key dates on the Aboriginal calendar, talk about what those dates mean and how they are observed
  • Research the Indigenous histories of your local area 
  • Invite a local elder in to visit and speak with the children.
  • Adopt a ‘yarn circle’ approach to group time

 

Learning the Aboriginal place name a service resides upon, can be researched through local councils or websites such as National Indigenous Australians Agency. For assistance with learning more about state and federal policies and programs, visit Department of Education, Skills and Employment 

 

Long term Embedding of Practice

Committing to small but relevant steps can lead to wide-ranging benefits in early learning environments, however, it is important that these steps are meaningful. For services looking to make a significant commitment to incorporating Indigenous perspectives, creating a Reconciliation Action Plan is an opportunity to identify goals and strategies to ensure that they are applied consistently and included within all programs. 

As Bellbird’s Educational Advisor, I am excited to be a part of a team that is open to improving our commitment to understanding and embedding Indigenous perspectives within our workspace. We are working together to create our own plan which will begin with the introduction of Acknowledgement of Country before a meeting, and continuing to learn and understand more about the suppliers we purchase from, as we add to our growing list of Indigenous resources. 

We have an opportunity to celebrate part of what it means to be Australian and to live in a country that supports a diverse cultural community. Like anything important, it will take time and effort, but it is essential to ensure that steps are being taken to move our community forward. 

 

For more information about our current Indigenous resources please visit bellbird.com.au. You will also find other blogs in our Educator Resources section that reflect and value contemporary approaches to early learning and development with sensitivity and awareness.

 


 

 

 

 

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