Bubup Wilam means ‘Children’s Place’ in the Woi Wurrung language. Bubup Wilam for Early Learning is an Aboriginal Child and Family Centre in Melbourne‘s north that provides Aboriginal children, families and the community with access to an integrated range of services and programs, including early years education and health and wellbeing services.
This month on We Hear You, Bubup Wilam’s educator, Shannon McLeod, talks to us about their Connection to Country Program and the importance of Bunjil, the creator spirit for the Wurundjeri people.
At Bubup Wilam for Early Learning (Aboriginal Child and Family Centre) we acknowledge Country every day. Our children know the Wurundjeri people are the first owners of the land on which our service operates – Narrm (Melbourne). Through our weekly Connection to Country program, the children are learning about their responsibilities as Aboriginal children to take care of Country. They proudly tell us, ‘We’ve got to clean up the land, Aunty’. We teach the children that Bunjil (often represented as an eagle) is the creator spirit for the Wurundjeri people – he created the people, animals and plants and he is watching how we respect the land.
As a group, we have explored different artistic representations of Bunjil that feature in our urban and natural landscapes across Victoria, from the gigantic representations of Bunjil at the Docklands and the You Yangs, to the visually stunning kinetic installation at the Melbourne Museum.
After looking at photos of these artworks, and later a trip to the museum, clay was provided for the children to create their own representations of Bunjil. One child created a whole Bunjil family, others created nests, others made scaled-down versions of the Bunjils shown to them in remarkable detail.
As their teacher, I was so touched by the work the children had created and wanted to show respect for these sculptures to showcase them to the other children, educators and parents in our community and I explored ways to do so with my colleagues. We decided on a glass cabinet to display the art pieces. This has been a beautiful talking point for all members of our community at Bubup Wilam for Early Learning.
A 3D puzzle of an eagle was found and now rests on top of the display case – it is not unusual to hear children reflecting to their parents as they leave for the day that ‘Bunjil is watching us’.
Inclusion involves taking into account all children’s social, cultural and linguistic diversity including learning styles, abilities, disabilities, gender, family circumstances and geographic location in curriculum decision-making processes. (Early Years Learning Framework, p.24; Framework for School Age Care, p.41)
During 2018, ACECQA is working with Inclusion Agencies and a number of regulatory authorities to deliver a series of forums and expos for children’s education and care educators to meet and discuss inclusion.
Together we explore how the National Quality Framework (NQF) and National Quality Standard (NQS) support inclusion, what rich, inclusive practice and environments look like, the use and value of Strategic Inclusion Plans (SIPs), Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) and community engagement strategies and resources. It is expected that more than 6000 educators will attend the forums and expos.
One noteworthy piece of feedback that we have received from many participants is the way they now understand inclusion underpinning all of the quality areas rather than a practice exclusively embedded in Quality Area 6. This is especially interesting when we consider that the words ‘each child’ are intentionally used throughout the NQS – 18 times to be exact – to promote the inclusion of every child.
In this month’s blog, I would like to share some of the myths that emerged in discussions at the forums and expos that Inclusion Professionals dispelled:
1. Inclusion is about disability – UNTRUE!
Inclusion is about including every child holistically. As Adrian Ashman and John Elkins (2009) remind us, ‘Inclusion enables access, engagement and success for all learners’. Considering the definition of inclusion in the approved learning frameworks, we can see inclusion is broader than simply providing for children with a disability. Rather it is about embracing diversity and providing opportunities for all children to participate and benefit. The NQF promotes the valuing of diversity, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people with a disability, as well as people from diverse family compositions.
2. The rest of the children will ‘miss out’ if you include a child with additional needs – UNTRUE!
Sometimes we hear that this is the perception of some families where a service educates and cares for a child or children with challenging behaviours or additional needs. Contrary to popular belief, we know from solid research that all children benefit from inclusive environments.
An educator’s image of a child is influential in the environments they create. Loris Malaguzzi (1994) advocates that the environment and the image you have of a child are strongly connected. Therefore, the environment you construct around children is a reflection of the image you have of the child. Creating an environment that supports the inclusion of every child means each child can be supported to thrive and build a respect and valuing of diversity.
3. Funding always improves inclusion – UNTRUE!
Funding can be a useful resource to support the implementation of inclusive practice, but sometimes it can hinder inclusion. Without critically reflecting on practice, employing an additional educator in the room does not always support inclusion and sometimes may exclude children from participating with their peers. For example, a support educator may unintentionally isolate other children in the room when preparing an activity for a child with additional needs.
Inclusive practice occurs when educators make thoughtful and informed curriculum decisions and work in partnership with families and other professionals. This helps ensure children – including those with a disability – to have equitable and genuine opportunities to participate. (Early Childhood Australia, Curriculum decision making for inclusive practice)
4. Inclusion and early intervention are basically the same – UNTRUE!
There is a belief that inclusion is the outcome of early intervention. Although these concepts interrelate, they are separate outcomes. The definition of inclusion in the approved learning frameworks refers to all children holistically. Early intervention relates to children who require additional support and involves the support of early childhood intervention specialists.
5. Inclusion is a charitable thing to do for children – UNTRUE!
Inclusion is a basic human right. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that all children have the right to an education (Article 28) that develops their ability to their fullest potential, prepares children for life and respects their family, cultural and other identities and languages (Article 29). This is reflected in Regulation 155 of the National Regulations: “An approved provider must take reasonable steps to ensure that the education and care service provides education and care to children in a way that maintains at all times the dignity and rights of each child”.
6. Inclusion is about everybody being treated the same – UNTRUE!
Article 23 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children who have any kind of disability should receive special care and support so that they can live a full and independent life. With this in mind, if everyone was treated the same, would this be fair or equitable?
Practices can sometimes unintentionally limit children’s inclusion in education and care services. If vulnerable children and their families are not considered and supported, it can result in children not enrolling in a service.
Inclusion is broader than considering children with additional needs. It’s also about being inclusive of different family compositions as well as refugee, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. Inclusive practice is acknowledging, respecting and valuing diversity and recognising the opportunities to learn from each other through meaningful participation.
Promoting inclusive programs and practices requires a commitment to continuous improvement and the confidence to ensure all children’s experiences are recognised. Quality Improvement Plans (QIP) and Inclusion Improvement Plans (IIP) are useful planning tools involving self-assessment and goal setting for continuous improvement. The IIP is a valuable self-assessment tool for reflecting on your service being ‘inclusion ready’. Both can inform each other and reduce duplication.
KU Children’s Services, as the National Inclusion Support Subsidy Provider (NISSP), has developed some helpful resources that focus on critical reflection, problem solving and planning. The videos and tip sheets are designed to support educators to be proactive and take ownership of both the QIP and IIP.
You might like to consider the following questions when critically reflecting on inclusive practice:
Is the service welcoming, accessible and responsive to the diverse range of children and families in the community?
What links are established and maintained to understand community needs and access resources?
Are educators intentional in scaffolding learning in group play?
How are children’s peers involved in inclusion?
Are physical and human resources adapted and used flexibly to support every child (regardless of abilities, needs and interests) to achieve maximum participation in all routines, transitions and learning opportunities?
How are educators supporting children’s social and functioning skills with a particular focus on supporting transitions?
How is the orientation process adapted according to the needs of each child and family?
Does the service know and acknowledge the traditional owners of the land?
Inclusion involves taking into account all children’s social, cultural and linguistic diversity (including learning styles, abilities, disabilities, gender, family circumstances and geographic location) in curriculum decision-making processes. The intent is to ensure that all children’s experiences are recognised and valued. The intent is also to ensure that all children have equitable access to resources and participation, and opportunities to demonstrate their learning and to value difference. (Early Years Learning Framework p24 and My Time Our Place Framework for School Age Care p22).
Equity, inclusion and diversity are reflected in the guiding principles that underpin the National Quality Framework (NQF), and feature throughout the National Quality Standard (NQS). The NQF promotes a strengths-based approach, seeing children as capable, competent contributors to their world. This is an important shift from the deficit view of children as needy or empty vessels for adults to fill. The focus is on identifying and building on children’s strengths, abilities, knowledge, culture and skills.
When reflecting on practice and planning for children with a disability or additional needs, consider the following questions on how program, practice and operations are inclusion ready and educators are proactively supporting inclusion.
How do you ensure children with a range of individual characteristics and their families feel welcomed and comfortable at your service?
How do you respond to the individual strengths, interests and needs of the children in your service?
How do you assess the program to ensure barriers are reduced for children and families and that you facilitate their full participation in the program?
How do you develop and maintain collaborative partnerships with other organisations to support all children?
What information is gathered about individual children and how is this evaluated to support inclusion? How is this information shared among parents, staff who are responsible for the child and with other agencies who are supporting the child and their family?
Inclusion specialists from Noah’s Ark’s Early Childhood Intervention Support Programs offered suggestions about what you might see in a service that would indicate inclusion is promoted and supported. Suggestions included:
Educators are committed and reflective about practice, consider a range of perspectives, hold high expectations for all children and are genuinely interested in all children.
Educators use positive language and a range of communication techniques as part of the program.
Children with additional needs are supported to participate in all aspects of the program.
There are creative, adaptable, flexible, innovative approaches to the use of resources and spaces.
Interactions are child led, provide opportunities for success and promote all children’s agency.
Cultural competence is embedded.
Educators understand the important role of relationships with families and other professionals and have regular access to professional development, support and resources.
Commitment to continuous improvement, innovative practice and the confidence to be inclusive and push boundaries.
We usually talk about sustainability in relation to the environment but it’s also relevant to the practice of cultural competence and embedding culture in sustainable ways in early childhood services.
The National Quality Framework (NQF) provides the foundation for culturally competent practice in education and care. One of the guiding principles is that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued. Developing collaborative partnerships with local communities also supports Quality Area six of the NQS: Collaborative Partnerships with
Families and Communities.
Implementing sustainable cultural practices involves educators building positive relationships and providing culturally safe environments that foster genuine attitudes of inclusion and equity.
ACECQA spoke with Judith McKay-Tempest, a proud Wiradjuri woman and an Associate Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at Macquarie University. Judith has a passion for making a difference for Aboriginal children in their formative years.
For educators to support agency they must be aware of the capabilities and interests of the children they work with. Children are competent, capable learners when they are fully engaged and supported to participate in meaningful learning experiences that follow their interests. These experiences can be planned or spontaneous.
Judith has found that many educators are apprehensive about embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into service practice. She feels this stems from ‘fear of doing the wrong thing’ or uncertainty about how to genuinely incorporate cultural experiences in ways that avoid stereotypes or the perception of tokenism.
Judith explained that developing culturally safe environments does not require educators to be experts in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being. Rather it requires educators to respect multiple ways of being and support a positive cultural identity for all families and children. Judith stresses that it is important for all children to engage in this learning, regardless of the presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and children in the service.
Early childhood education and care settings can promote perspectives that support Aboriginal community’s own distinct culture such as understandings of their connection to place. This provides rich opportunities to build a culture of understanding and respect for the environment for all children.
Exploring the context of your service may include:
developing an awareness of the traditional custodians of the land and the language/s spoken,
working collaboratively with children, families and the local community to develop an ‘Acknowledgment of Country’ that signifies respect for Aboriginal culture, exploring the connectedness to the land and respect for community protocols,
caring for and learning from the land,
sensory exploration and responsiveness to the natural environment through play
exploration of how living things are interconnected and the interdependence between land, people, plants and animals,
developing collaborative partnerships and learning about places of cultural significance
Interacting with various cultures enriches our everyday lives. Building cultural competence in educators and children promotes equity, respect and valuing of different cultures. But as the Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care show, cultural competence is much more than an awareness of cultural differences. It is the ability to understand, communicate and effectively interact with people across cultures and includes:
being aware of your own world view
developing positive attitudes towards cultural differences
gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views.
The frameworks also promote respect for diversity and equity. Strategies include:
reflecting on our personal biases
challenging discriminatory viewpoints
using resources that are culturally relevant
adapting curriculum to children’s ideas, interests and culture
drawing on the expertise of families and those belonging to a cultural group
inviting guests from a range of cultures to visit your service
using the reflective questions in the learning frameworks (EYLF pp.13, FSAC pp.11), such as ‘Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is
Cultural competence also includes delivering a curriculum that respects the cultural identity, language and values of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Significant value lies in spending time with your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
Suggested ‘first steps’ are:
Make contact with the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners and Corporations/ Co-operatives in your area
Find out if your jurisdiction has an Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, such as the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc
Contact your State/Territory Education Department for referral to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander liaison workers
Look up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander training or support providers in your area, for example NGROO Education Inc in NSW and the Indigenous Professional Support Units (IPSUs) and/or the Professional Support Coordinator across each state and territory.