Young minds, big views

A kindergarten in Queensland has developed a program that is dedicated to exposing its students to a wide range of cultural experiences with a focus on valuing and respecting diversity. Journalist Sara El Sayed looks at how kindergartens can instil these values in children at an early age.

Bribie Island Community Kindergarten has developed partnerships with Pikinini Family Playground in the Solomon Islands and Kirdi Mayarr Day Care on Mornington Island through which learning experiences are shared among both students and educators. Educators at the centre believe that all children have the potential and desire to find connections and meaning in all they experience.

Bribie Island Community Kindergarten Director Narelle Dawson said that educators at the centre are committed to expanding their students’ world view and cultural understanding through the centre’s partnership with Pikinini Family Playground in the Solomon Islands and Kirdi Mayarr Day Care on Mornington Island.

“Sharing of cultural experiences and values help shape the way we see ourselves, so exposing our children to learning across cultures promotes valuing and respecting diversity and encourages our children to see differences as common and positive,” Narelle said.

By connecting virtually via Skype, children at Bribie Island Community Kindergarten are able to see how children at their partner centres play and learn.

“It is important for our children to see that children all over the world play in similar ways and have similar interests to them,” she said.

Educators from the Bribie Island Community Kindergarten have participated in a teacher exchange with Pikinini Family Playground and Kirdi Mayarr Day Care – visiting their partner centres as well as having educators from those centres take part in reciprocal visits.

Promoting cultural competence

Becoming culturally competent is an expectation of the National Quality Framework (NQF) and features strongly in the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), which defines cultural competence as the ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures and explains that cultural competence is our capacity to:

be aware of our own world view

develop positive attitudes towards cultural differences

gain knowledge of different cultural practices and world views, and

develop skills for communication and interaction across cultures.

Narelle said their practice of sharing learning experiences across cultures has allowed both the children and educators at the centre to gain a connection to a wider life view.

“It has created a wonder and desire for us to learn about how other children live and play in culturally different environments.

“It has given everyone at our centre a wider sense of belonging that extends across oceans.”

Academics agree that when children know more about understanding and respecting varied cultural ways of being, they are able to effectively contribute to building a greater sense of belonging for all, and to live in a society that values diversity. According to Queensland Studies Authority’s Queensland Kindergarten Learning Guideline, children’s participation in all aspects of early years programs encourages their development of tolerance, compassion and understanding, with carefully planned environments having the ability to engage and enable children to build deep understanding.

It is important for our children to see that children all over the world play in similar ways and have similar interests to them.

Better engagement

As well as sharing learning experiences with partner centres, Bribie Island Community Kindergarten has also recognised the importance of children learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in a meaningful and respectful way.

“Uncle Ron is our volunteer Indigenous educator who has been invaluable when it comes to authentically learning about the land and our nation’s First People.

“Exploration in our local environment provides countless learning opportunities for our children.

“We have also developed a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) that is implemented in our centre.”

Students and educators at the kindergarten have also built a sign, displayed outside the centre, which signifies their commitment to reconciliation and intercultural understanding.

“The sign lets our community know that our kindergarten is a safe space and a place where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will always belong,” Narelle said.

She said that the response to learning practices from both a student and parent perspective has been positive.

“Families of the children often share how their children are relating what they learn back to the wider community and beyond.

“We continue to listen to families’ feedback each year and incorporate relevant, culturally based experience and celebrations into our learning environment.”

Recognising excellence

Bribie Island Community Kindergarten has been awarded the Excellent rating from the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA).

Michael Petrie, ACECQA’s Acting Chief Executive Officer, congratulated the centre on receiving this recognition for a second time.

“Bribie Island Community Kindergarten was one of the original services to receive the Excellent rating and they remain a leader in our sector through their ongoing commitment to exceptional practice,” Michael said.

To encourage children to learn about their land, history and local Aboriginal culture, educators make use of the service’s unique location and environment.

“This long term partnership has supported educators at both Pikinini Playground Family Day Care and Bribie Island Community Kindergarten to gain fresh ideas and inspiration, and has allowed children to extend their cultural awareness by learning about life in the Solomon Islands, one of our closest regional neighbours.

“I congratulate Bribie Island Community Kindergarten on this recognition and their ongoing commitment to high quality education and care,” he said.