Dalaigur Preschool makes strong connections with children, relationships at the heart
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Dalaigur Preschool makes strong connections with children, relationships at the heart

by Freya Lucas

July 04, 2022

Dalaigur Preschool, located on Dunghutti country, is a three unit independent and Indigenous owned community preschool, serving the community of Kempsey, along with outlying areas of Kempsey Shire, including Bellbrook. 

 

The preschool delivers many activities and programs to ensure that children are not only supported to learn about their local Aboriginal Dunghutti culture, but also that anyone who comes into the service, whether they’re students, educators or families, feel connected and invested in getting to know the children.

 

95 per cent of the children attending the service are First Nations, and building strong relationships with the children and their families is one of the service’s biggest values. Director of Dalaigur & Scribbly Gum Dalai Debbie Swanson says that getting to know families in order to build an organic, ever-evolving relationship with children is key.

 

“Children have diverse families. If you don’t have those amazing relationships with families, you won’t have those with children,” she said. 

 

“We respect the dynamics of these families, and whatever that structure, they are all respected here.”

 

Dalaigur Preschool has recently partnered with the NSW Art Gallery on its project ‘Nganhang Nyinda’ (Me You). This project involved local artists; Uncle John Kelly who works at the Pre-School and Rena Shein an Art Therapist who has been connected to the Pre-Schools for seven years. 

 

The project involved children and the local community creating nests and eggs from clay, as a way of healing and creating links with the “King of the Bird” dream time story. These clay works are then housed in a traditional Dunghutti canoe made out of stringy bark. This project has created a wonderful learning opportunity for children to connect with Indigenous art and culture.

 

Recently with NSW Art Gallery and Uncles from Kinchela Boys Home, children from Dalaigur Preschool were invited to help with the canoe making process such as stripping back layers of bark for the canoe to take shape. Children also tested out the canoe to experience firsthand what it’s like to sit in a canoe, which was traditionally widely used as transport by the Dunghutti people.

 

A canoe built by Uncle John, the children, and the wider community which is currently the main centerpiece of the Biennale Exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW.

 

Another important part of building strong relationships and connections with Aboriginal and Torres Strait culture is through the teaching of the local Dunghutti language.

 

Teaching the Dunghutti language and culture, Ms Swanson said, is an important responsibility for the service, to provide learning and opportunity for the children to connect with their culture and community which they live in.

 

Uncle John and Aunty Vicky are respected service members who support in this undertaking. Uncle John drives the bus, but is also the ‘go to’ man for all things culture. 

 

“We’re so lucky to have him here, we can always go to him for any cultural advice around protocols, for example,” Ms Swanson shared.

 

Aunty Vicky is the Dunghutti Language Educator for the service, and her main role is to make language a part of the everyday program. 

 

“When children get off the bus, they will be greeted with language and songs. It’s getting really embedded now.” Children are often heard speaking language amongst themselves. 

 

The University of Newcastle also supports the service, providing a scholarship for students to work with the preschool and gauge the cultural aspects of working in Aboriginal communities. The preschool also provides this support for all educators that enter their service.

 

“Anyone who comes to work in our preschool will go through cultural training with Uncle John and myself. It’s not specific or formal, but we sit them down and ensure they gain a really good grasp of the language that is spoken and give them a heads up that they may witness trauma behaviours in our children,” Ms Swanson said.

 

“Once parents know that the children are safe with us, culturally and physically, they will let go of the preconceived ideas and be more open to build those relationships with children a lot easier,” Ms Swanson continued.

 

“I see that they just dive right in and not be worried about overstepping boundaries as they know we are there to support them as well as Uncle John and Aunty Vicky.”

 

“Making our visitors, such as University students and therapists comfortable in our environment will make them feel comfortable to build strong relationships with the children,” she said in closing.

 

To learn more about the preschool please see here

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