Reconciliation, National Sorry Day and NAIDOC week in Early Childhood

It doesn’t have to be complicated to build the knowledge of Indigenous culture, history and traditions in Early Childhood settings. Read on to see how we celebrate NAIDOC week, work towards Reconciliation and commemorate National Sorry Day in meaningful ways.

NAIDOC Week

NAIDOC stands for the National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee. NAIDOC week is usually celebrated in July each year and is an opportunity to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
At our early learning service, we celebrate NAIDOC week in meaningful, rich and varied ways. They are not tokenistic, but rather intentional and respectful.

Reconciliation, National Sorry Day
Grinding seeds into flour with an Aboriginal elder – talking about where our food comes from
Reconciliation, National Sorry Day
Creating art with natural materials – pine cones, leafy carrot tops, twigs and stones, with Aboriginal art on display as inspiration

Ways we celebrate NAIDOC week

Some of the ways we celebrate NAIDOC week include:

* Taking care of our natural environment; planting seeds and seedlings, watering the herbs and veggies in our garden, pulling weeds out and harvesting fresh produce. You can read my article on Sustainability in Childcare here.

* Cooking experiences using the fresh produce from our garden

* Reading Dreamtime stories and role playing together as different animals.

* Saying our Acknowledgment of Country and talking about what it actually means.

* Listening to sounds of Didgeridoo and making our own music

* Using natural materials such as leafy carrot tops, leaves, twigs, stones and bark to create our own artworks, with Aboriginal art on display as inspiration.

* Learn words of flora and fauna in the Indigenous language relevant to our local area.

* We invite an Aboriginal elder to our centre on a regular basis who passes his knowledge to the children and gets them involved in educational activities. Activities include grinding seeds into flour with stones, painting ochre on our bodies to show how Aborigines connect themselves to Country, dancing with the children, showing how animals move, and doing stone carvings, making tapping sticks with scribings of our totem animals on them, smoking ceremonies and boomerang throwing.

* We get the children and educators to take their shoes off and we walk outside, on the grass, in the dirt, through the sand and on fallen leaves to feel the nature, feel our feet On Country, connecting our bodies to the earth.

* We fill trays with sand and use our fingers to draw symbols in the sand. Symbols can represent animals, plants, fire, water or tools.

Reconciliation, National Sorry Day
Inviting an Aboriginal elder to come and play Didgeridoo, while we all dance together

National Sorry Day

Some educators struggle with the idea of teaching young children about National Sorry Day, thinking the concept was too advanced or complex for toddlers or preschoolers to understand. The truth is, it doesn’t have to be complicated and educators don’t have to give children too much detail about the tragic history of the Stolen Generation and why the Australian government made the decision in 2008 to officially say Sorry to Indigenous Australians for past mistreatment and injustices.

Reconciliation, National Sorry Day
Displaying the Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island flags in the foyer of our early learning centre to show a commitment to reconciliation

I like to keep it simple and meaningful. To teach children about National Sorry Day, I involve children in experiences which help them to learn and understand more about Aboriginal culture, such as the ones listed above and we talk about what the word ‘Sorry’ really means. We discuss how it makes people feel when someone apologises to them and also how it feels to actually say the word Sorry. We talk about showing Sorry in actions as well as in our words, such as giving someone a pat on the shoulder while saying Sorry, or helping them with something, sharing toys or playing together.


For older preschoolers, it may be appropriate to say something such as, “We commemorate Sorry Day because many, many years ago, the people that were in charge of running Australia made some bad choices and many Aboriginal families were hurt, and became very sad. The people in charge realised they were wrong and said Sorry.”

Talking about saying Sorry is usually complimented by a discussion about different feelings and emotions. There are many story books around these days which talk about feelings and emotions in child friendly ways. Sometimes it can be helpful to role play various scenarios with children which may make us feel sad, angry, frustrated, jealous, happy, excited or hopeful. It’s important that educators use the words for various emotions and then role play helps children to learn those words by associating it with a particular scenario or memory.

You can find further information about National Sorry Day on the Healing Foundation website.

Reconciliation

As part of our commitment to reconciliation, we have a RAP (Reconciliation Action Plan) which is in progress and which all educators contribute to. A RAP is a plan for schools and early learning services to achieve deliverables, working towards the reconciliation movement. These can be actions such as formulating an Acknowledgement of Country, inviting an Aboriginal elder to spend time at the early learning centre, celebrating NAIDOC week, raising the concept of reconciliation and National Sorry Day with the children, displaying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island flags in the service and taking action against racism.
The RAP can be completed through the Narragunnawali website.

Reconciliation, National Sorry Day
Making our own music during NAIDOC week

Our centre commitment towards reconciliation is an ongoing journey and our educators encourage and inspire each other in ways we can help children to learn and understand more about Indigenous Australians. There is a wealth of information on the Reconciliation Australia website about ways we can work towards reconciliation, about RAP’s and about building knowledge in the wider community.

Barriers to Reconciliation

One of the biggest barriers to reconciliation that we faced as an early learning centre was the fact that the majority of our educators are born overseas, many of them having English as a second language and therefore did not grow up with a natural Australian education or much knowledge at all of Indigenous history, culture or the significance of reconciliation.

This was an issue I discussed with my ISP (Inclusion Support Professional) and with her support and guidance we started a business case and applied for government funding to support the further education of our teachers and other educators. Our case was approved and we were so fortunate to be able to build the knowledge of all of our educators by spending time with an Aboriginal elder On Country. We took a field visit to the bush on a weekend, asking questions, visiting a sacred site, and getting involved in ochre body painting, boomerang throwing, exploring local flora and their uses, and learning much about Aboriginal history, traditions, child rearing, cultural practices, beliefs, tribes, totems and languages.

Reconciliation, National Sorry Day
Exploring significant cultural and sacred sites in our On Country tour

The On Country tour was followed up by visits to our centre by the elder, spending time with the children as well as the educators, helping to guide all of us on the best ways to embed Indigenous education in our program. The children and the educators thoroughly enjoyed these visits and they were invaluable to give the educators confidence to actually plan and implement meaningful, intentional experiences to build this knowledge in all of our children.

Reconciliation, National Sorry Day
Grinding seeds and ochre body painting, connecting ourselves to the earth

Summary

It doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult to teach Australian children about Aboriginal history, traditions and culture. It just takes a little bit of commitment and passion from educators who have developed their own knowledge and who want to make a difference in the ways children view the world, how they embrace inclusion, diversity and cultural acceptance.

You can find more information about Reconciliation in Early Childhood with this resource on ACECQA website.

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