Discovering cultural connections

‘The connections we make, the actions we take, and the questions we ask each other are vital to how we develop a competent approach to culture in its many variations.’

WHERE TO START?

As an early childhood educator in a rural community-based preschool, implementing and sustaining a program that is rich in authentic cultural diversity is a continual challenge. The representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) children in the surrounding services is almost non-existent, even though there is quite a number of identified ATSI families within our broader community. I wondered why they weren’t attending services, how we could engage these families and where I could go to find out.

I first looked at my own service and questioned what practices were there that may have been unsuitable. How could I provide an appropriate representation and understanding of cultural diversity for the children and families within our service that wasn’t ‘tokenistic’? It is very important to me that children develop acceptance and respect for all people, particularly if we don’t experience these ‘differences’ often.

I realised that if I was to do this effectively I needed assistance. I really struggled with how to go about this and felt out of my comfort zone. Was I going to offend anyone by seeking information? What did I need to ask and know? and how would I know if I was providing a true representation of our diverse cultures?

LOCAL CONNECTIONS

I started by visiting our local public school, with whom we have a strong relationship. The kindergarten teacher, Marcia, is a local Aboriginal Elder who has taught in the school for the past 29 years. I shared my concerns with Marcia and posed some burning questions around how she thought we could be more inclusive and authentic in our understandings, planning and program.

Marcia offered to spend several hours at our service and share her story with the children. She brought in her own resources that were significant to our local area, and explained the meaning of some of the landmarks and why they were named that way. Marcia also exchanged local dialect with the children, referring to various animals, instruments, and greetings. What really resonated with me was the link Marcia was able to make between her culture and the children’s prior knowledge and familiarity with our local area to inform the children (and staff). Based on the children’s responses and engagement, it was clear they were able to relate and make connections to their own experiences.

GROWING AWARENESS

This experience was invaluable to my growing awareness of both our local Aboriginal culture and diversity in general within our practices. It positively reinforced that there is an expectation to find out what we don’t know; to ask questions, discover the answers with the children, and share the journey with them. And it highlighted the importance of finding resources that are local and relevant to our area where possible.

The connections we make, the actions we take, and the questions we ask each other are vital to how we develop a competent approach to culture in its many variations. I also resolved that I am only an expert in my own personal cultural context and not anybody else’s … and that’s ok.

STRENGTHENING LINKS

Our service has since made steady links with our local Aboriginal community through building relationships and collaborating with Aboriginal services. These connections have strengthened links within our community and also helped us to develop cultural competencies within our service, to become more comfortable in exploring possibilities, to investigate and make discoveries alongside the children in relation to cultural diversity.

There is a more relaxed, yet intentional approach to integrating cultural diversity within our program, rather than the tokenistic attempts we felt pressured to make. This journey has benefited families, staff and the wider community as we construct our knowledge and understanding together. And it’s only just begun!

Karen Shackell
Director
Possum’s Community Preschool