Cultural learning big priority for kindy

Toogoolawah Kindergarten in south east Queensland has been working to imbed cultural awareness practices into their everyday lessons and play for several years. Journalist Sara El Sayed speaks with teacher Melissa Spence to get an insight into how the centre makes this a central part of its program.

Incorporating cultural learning into early childhood programs is vital as it can promote understanding of and mutual respect for diversity – as well as creating an inclusive environment for all children and families.

Staff at the kindergarten are taking a committed and informed approach to cultural learning, and the children and their families are responding with enthusiasm.

IEUA-QNT member and teacher at the kindergarten Melissa Spence said the practices all started with engagement with families.

“All our activities have been developed through observations and collaborations with children’s families.

“For example, last term we wanted to make cultural awareness relevant to the children and families that we have enrolled, so we gathered information from families through the creation of family trees, which the children enjoyed sharing with the class.

“We, along with the children, identified all the different places our families have originated from, and located these places on a map.

“We then extended this activity by going on a ‘world tour’ – which involved collaboratively creating passports, and ‘visiting’ a different country, as identified in the family trees, each week.

“We provided experiences that helped the children learn about these countries and the different cultures.

“We cooked and tasted traditional foods, explored art techniques, gave Highland and Irish Dancing a go and learnt about different musical instruments and animals.

“On the last day of term we had a drama class from a local high school visit to teach us some cultural games.”

Melissa said the tours had children exploring places such as New Zealand, England, Scotland, Malta, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Holland – as well as taking a closer look at what there is to learn from the Australian context.

Children’s Acknowledgement of Country

Melissa and her colleagues make learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditions and cultural practice a priority at their centre.

While the centre participates in NAIDOC Week celebrations annually, Melissa and her team make cultural learning an everyday part of their kindergarten.

“Together with the children we have developed a personal Children’s Acknowledgement of Country – which features hand gestures to go with each line.

“When we have visitors to the kindergarten they also participate in the Acknowledgement of Country,” Melissa said.

Children and staff gather in a yarning circle daily to deliver their Acknowledgement:

We at Toogoolawah Kindergarten

would like to say thank you

to the traditional owners of the land.

for letting us share your land.

We promise to look after it,

the animals and the people too.

Hello land (all touch the land).

Hello sky (all touch the sky).

Hello me (hug self).

Hello friends (open arms).

“Our centre proudly displays the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags, which are accompanied by posters – created by the children – explaining the origin of each flag.

“We often watch and reflect on videos of traditional Aboriginal arts practices.

“The children learn about dances and how instruments – such as the didgeridoo – are made.

“This year we were fortunate to have Indigenous Artist Rainbow Eagle provide a hands on experience for the children.

“He used traditional story telling techniques, didgeridoo and puppets to teach the children about caring for the environment.”

Melissa has also incorporated language learning into routine sing-alongs.

“We have developed a version of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes that uses traditional Aboriginal language words, which I learnt through my previous work in an Indigenous community kindergarten.”

Culture through cooking

The kindergarten has also been able to successfully engage students through cooking and growing food.

“We recently made damper with the children, using some native plants from our bush tucker garden.”

The bush tucker garden was established last year after a parent helped create a vegetable garden at the centre.

“We thought the garden would be a great opportunity to introduce the children to native plants, and build awareness that food isn’t just what is grown in crops or found in supermarkets.

“Building awareness started with reading the story Where The Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker – to introduce children to changes in the environment, and how this can affect native plants and food.

“This discussion was then extended to how to care for the environment – with a focus on some of the illustrations in the book of plants and food.

“Children and educators then collaboratively planted a selection of plants in the bush tucker garden.”

Melissa suggested centres looking to develop their own bush tucker gardens should start by researching native plants.

“It is critical though that you always check whether or not native plants are poisonous.”

Members can do this by referring to their relevant state government’s health website before purchasing.

“Then contact local nurseries to source the plants,” Melissa said.

“We currently grow native ginger and mother of herbs in our garden – and we are looking to source Warrigal greens and native lemon grass.”

Garden receives positive community response

Children and their parents have embraced the changes that Melissa and her team have put in place.

“Each day the children are actively engaged in these practices, and are always keen to water and care for our gardens.

“We’ve had positive feedback from parents both, verbally and via surveys, about the implementation of these practices.

“We’ve also had positive community feedback – recently a local community member invited us to participate in a council garden competition.”

“We know culture is all about community, so we welcome all feedback, and regularly invite community members and groups to visit the kindergarten – to talk to parents, or give presentations to children.”

To find out more about how you can make Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural learning a bigger part of your centre’s activity, visit for advice and resources that align with the Early Years Learning Framework and Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Actions.