For Kooloora Preschool, embedding cultural practices into play-based learning is vital
Located on Darkinjung Country on New South Wales’ Central Coast, Kooloora Preschool has a strong focus on embedding cultural practices such as storytelling and traditional language into its play-based learning model to cultivate learning in a culturally safe way.
The preschool is part of Toukley Public School. While the service is designated specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, enrolments are open to all families in the local community. Currently, 75 per cent of children enrolled at the service and their families identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples.
First Nations culture is promoted through all aspects of the preschool program, and cultural differences are acknowledged within the learning environment. Oral storytelling is particularly important to educators, as it links to traditional storytelling methods used in Aboriginal cultures. By sharing stories and storytelling, children are supported to develop a sense of identity and belonging by relating to the stories and languages used.
“As local Aboriginal culture, knowledge and stories are embedded in a play-based manner in line with the Early Years Learning Framework, the children absorb language and culture in an authentic way without it becoming an add-on to the program,” explained Deputy Principal Sharon Buck.
With the support of a grant from the NSW Department of Education’s Aboriginal Outcomes and Partnerships Directorate, Kooloora Preschool has worked to increase and strengthen the Aboriginal language and cultural programs they deliver.
The service works in partnership with the Royal Far West School to deliver the ‘SWAY Program’ (Sounds, Words, Aboriginal language and Yarning), which provides a scope and sequence of embedding language into children’s daily program activities.
Kooloora localised the SWAY program to their mob’s language to ensure the learning experiences reflected their context and local children and families.
As part of the program, the preschool connected with Uncle Gavi, a local Darkinjung Elder, to record video and audio of local languages used when introducing words to the children.
Uncle Gavi has been a fantastic resource for the preschool for his knowledge and sharing of Darkinjung language and local Dreaming stories. The preschool has also collaborated with local artist Jakeob Watson to develop a suite of flash cards capturing the Darkinjung words they use in their program.
Children are also drivers of their own learning at the preschool. As Ms Buck explained, “Children are empowered to make decisions about resources they use, games they play and spaces they occupy, and they’re given opportunities to plan, develop and execute their interests.”
Children at the service recently conducted an inquiry into emu eggs after a teacher shared photos of her cousin blowing the yolk out of an emu egg. This sparked curiosity among the little learners, which prompted staff to support them in conducting research and providing resources to facilitate activities based on their new-found interest, including art making and astrology linked to the emu in the sky.
“Children learned the Darkinjung word for emu, read stories about emus and learned a song in Darkinjung language about animals, including the emu,” Ms Buck added, demonstrating again how local First Nations culture is embedded in the service’s planning and practice.
“Educators also extend stories by creating small world representations for children to recreate and retell their own stories,” she continued. For example, the preschool recently collaborated with ABC Kids to create teaching resources to extend children’s learning for the Bluey episode ‘Turtleboy’, which models inclusive practice in ECEC settings
The small world play activity supports and nurtures children’s imagination, explores their creativity and helps them to engage in sustained shared thinking.
When it comes to sharing advice for other services, Kooloora Preschool recommends connecting with local Traditional Owners, tailoring the curriculum to the local First Nations language, stories and customs, saying this is a crucial part of delivering authentic and meaningful Aboriginal language and culture education.
Other ways to embed local cultures into the program and practice include reading books and singing songs in language to strengthen children’s sense of identity. Service’s can also design their learning environment so that it reflects the local natural environment. Using natural materials from local beach or bush habitats will also help little learners feel connected to the land and their local culture.
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