26th January: It’s not personal
What do you call the 26th of January? Australia Day? Survival Day? Invasion Day?
Do you see it as a day to celebrate being Australian, or a day to mourn the atrocities suffered by our First Nations people since the First Fleet landed?
Whatever the date means to you, your personal opinions shouldn’t shape the way your early childhood centre responds to January 26th.
Every year the debate around the date gets louder and louder, but as early childhood educators, we have to base our professional decisions, discussions, and debates on overarching frameworks like the Code of Ethics, the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), and the National Quality Standard (NQS), rather than personal opinions.
We have a duty of care to the children in our services, and an obligation to educate, rather than celebrate.
An opportunity to educate
January 26th offers an opportunity to educate, and to reflect on Australia’s diverse history, acknowledging its complexities and exploring the different Australian experiences. This kind of approach aligns with the EYLF’s emphasis on developing a sense of belonging, being, and becoming, as we guide children to become aware and respectful of all cultures.
The last thing any of us want is to make a child in our care feel excluded or vulnerable. While to you, Australia Day might feel like a harmless day to celebrate (and enjoy a day off work), to others, it’s a reminder of centuries of pain and trauma.
For Aboriginal families in particular, seeing their child’s service celebrate Australia Day can be painful.
Having a centre which considers the experience of all children, and creates a culturally safe space for First Nations kids is important as our country continues to heal. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate your centre’s commitment to reconciliation and understanding, beyond your Reconciliation Action Plan or other celebrations such as NAIDOC Week.
Starting the conversation
Instead of focusing on celebration, this date can be used as a springboard to discuss social justice, equality, and equity with the children in your care.
These discussions align with Outcome 2 of the EYLF, fostering children’s growing understanding of fairness and empathy. By introducing narratives and resources that reflect the true history of Australia, including Aboriginal perspectives, we create a foundation for children to understand and respect diversity.
Inclusivity in action
There are many ways your centre can take proactive action towards being more inclusive and culturally aware including:
Resources: There are some fantastic books and resources available, which are a great way to introduce topics and discussions based on age appropriate storytelling. You could also consider creating a parent library to extend this learning to families. Tell Me Why by Robyn Templeton and Sarah Jackson, Day Break by Amy McQuire and Matt Chun, and The Sacred Hill by Gordon Hookey are some of the picture books we recommend. You can see a full list of recommended reading resources on our website here.
Community engagement: Look for local events you could participate in such as Invasion Day or Survival Day observations, and encourage your staff to wear their uniform, to show your centre’s solidarity with your local First Nations community.
Professional development: Encourage your staff to attend workshops and read literature that offers deeper insight into the history and significance of Australia Day, such as Stan Grant’s book Australia Day.
Local support: Look to the local Aboriginal businesses in your community and support them via engaging with their content online in a show of support. For many First Nations businesses, this date is when they receive a lot of hate and racism, so sharing their content on your own pages is a way to demonstrate your support and be part of the conversation.
Communicating with families
It’s important to proactively communicate your stance on Australia Day with the families within your centre, so that they can understand the decision making behind it.
We recently surveyed a number of educators who’ve taken part in our ‘Educate don’t celebrate’ program, and it was common for them to have families question why they weren’t celebrating Australia Day. Some parents feared it was a topic that was too much for young kids to understand, others wondered why the change was needed when ‘we didn’t do anything, why can’t we just move on?’.
So be prepared to answer questions, and to make clear that it’s not about personal perspectives and opinions, it’s about complying with national guidelines and creating a culturally safe environment.
One educator noted: “It’s about truth telling and knowing the real history of this land. The children are the future, it is their generation that will be impacting future decisions. Through children we can educate families and start conversations. The more people start talking about First Nations peoples, the sooner we can start to see real change.”
This is your chance to stand in solidarity and show alliance with First Nation peoples and communities. Let’s create culturally-safe centres, where children are encouraged to learn about our history and appreciate Aboriginal perspectives.
Find out more at: https://kooricurriculum.com/pages/educators-dont-celebrate-january-26
About the author:
Jessica Staines is an early childhood educator, professional speaker, author, advocate and advisor. As the founder and director of Koori Curriculum, Jessica is committed to helping educators embed Aboriginal perspectives into early childhood education. She has played many significant roles nationally and internationally in building cultural understanding, reconciliation and harmony, including as an Indigenous advisor to ABC’s Playschool.
Jessica’s family are originally from Wiradjuri country, but due to displacement have lived off- country on Gadigal and Wangal lands for four generations. Jessica is proud to be a Wiradjuri woman, and today lives on Darkinjung Country with her husband and two children.
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