Yesterday a friend posted on her facebook status that Grass Flowering Season is ending and Kangaroo Apple Season is about to start.
As I think about how to include indigenous perspectives in my early childhood program next year, I should remember to learn about the seasons. Aboriginal people divide the seasons and mark them by particular natural events – a plant blooming, an insect appearing.
I have already planted some local indigenous grasses at kinder. There is some of this same Slender Spear Grass that grows in my own garden. I find it very beautiful. I love how it waves in the breeze, and catches the sunlight.
When I first went to buy some indigenous grass seedlings, the nursery showed me how the seeds of the spear grasses can be thrown like tiny darts, and will stick. Fun for children. Maybe too challenging for preschoolers – I can try.
My friend said Grass Flowering Season is called Buath Garu (though she did not say in what language). It has warm weather and lots of rain. In Kangaroo Apple Season we expect changeable thundery weather.
There was a rich discussion recently among early childhood educators about how much or where to adjust a program to fit in with a Seventh Day Adventist family. I fell to thinking about what I would do myself. Seventh Day Adventists do not seem to be common in my community – though there are many other varieties of belief systems that challenge us to work out how to accommodate everyone respectfully.
Seventh Day Adventists apparently have strong views on food, resurrection and the form of religious celebrations. Only some of these are likely to impact on the care and education of young children.
Many aspects of religious belief are not likely to be relevant to early childhood care. They are issues that do not tend to come up when working with young children. Seventh Day Adventists celebrate the Sabbath on Saturdays, for example. Our centre only runs Monday – Friday. Presumably the child will be home for the Sabbath. Though it is worth remembering that the day of worship is different for different cultures, if the subject ever comes up.
If I had a Seventh Day Adventist child join my class, I would of course have to discuss with a parent what aspects of their religion would impact on the care and education they want for their child. In some cases I would be able to change the program to fit in. But sometimes I might need an alternative activity for that child, or need to warn the parents in case they would prefer to stay away for the day.
I have read a little about Seventh Day Adventists this week. Here is how I think it would respond.
As with many religions, Seventh Day Adventists have dietary restrictions. One way to handle these is for the child to have separate food when necessary. But sometimes it is possible, or even easier, to give everyone a compatible diet. I think my response would be:
I would plan to promote healthy eating, and eating fresh fruit and vegetables. So much the better that this would fit in with the beliefs of a Seventh Day Adventist family.
It is fairly easy to avoid pork – including bacon, ham and prosciutto. I would probably not use them while the child was in my care. However, I would not stop other children from eating ham sandwiches brought from home.
I would not offer shellfish to children in my care anyway. The danger of allergy is high, and they are quite likely not to have been exposed before.
I have no interest in being vegetarian myself, but I find it fairly easy to make my education program vegetarian.
If I was in a family day care setting, with a small number of children, and one was vegetarian, I think I would make the whole diet vegetarian for everyone with the food I provide. What they bring from home would be their choice. It is easier to feed everyone the same thing. Meat-eating children are probably getting meat for dinner, which is likely to be enough meat in their lives.
I was very glad to send my own children to a vegetarian centre because I knew they would be more adventurous eaters there than at home, and would get some vegetables into them.
This is where I draw the line. I find it difficult to cook without eggs, milk and cheese. I will make the effort for allergies, but I would prefer not to have to do it for preferences.
Seventh Day Adventists celebrate Christmas. They see Christmas as a time of giving. They do not use imagery of things that are not real, so they do not want angels on the Christmas tree, or Santa.
I think I would find it easy to treat Christmas as a time of giving rather than receiving. I would be happy to set up an experience for children in my care that is about giving presents to others.
I personally prefer to focus on the Nativity story. I generally do not bring Santa into my program, or have a Christmas tree in my classroom. I usually retell the Nativity in a number of different ways – often involving the children in making a Nativity scene. I tell the terrestrial story, without much mention of the religious aspects.
The Archangel Gabriel and the choir of angels always feature in my version. I would have to discuss this with the family. If they felt strongly about it, I think I could cope with leaving out the angels, though I would miss them.
In my home, however, I always have a big decorated Christmas tree, and angels everywhere. If I were offering care in my home, I would expect a Seventh Day Adventist family to accept that they are coming into my home, and sharing in my culture. I would keep my tree and my angels.
I would prefer not to have to exclude a child from an activity. I have used angel shaped cards a few times in the past. I would not do that if I had a child whose family would not like it. I would not put myself in the situation where I had to tell the child he or she could not make one of those.
In theological terms, the nature of resurrection seems to be a key issue for Seventh Day Adventists. This is not the sort of thing I usually include in my curriculum. Not just because I see religion as a family matter, but also because I expect that level of abstraction to not be developmentally appropriate for preschoolers.
I would not raise the subject of resurrection when teaching. If a child did, that would be an interesting conversation. But I am confident I could handle it. I am already skilled at taking children’s own views seriously. I am interested in how children interpret the world. I might have to think on my feet. I might be puzzled or surprised by what I hear. But I hope I have already developed the instinct to listen carefully to the child and treat her ideas with respect. Perhaps I could even make documentation that would give the parents insight into how their child is constructing her understanding of their world and their beliefs. I would be proud of that.
This is my response in the abstract, based on a bit of virtual conversation and some internet research. It is no substitute for talking to the family about the home environment and what they want for their child. But perhaps I am a bit more prepared now, if a Seventh Day Adventist family happens to appear in my class next year.
Felt Nativity by Tumblemonkey.
Available from madeit.com.au
Just before I set up my beingbelongingbecoming Facebook page, there was a massive double rainbow in the sky across my city. Word spread by text and fb and my teenagers rushed outside to see it.
They got a great photo, which I grabbed for my avatar. I liked how strongly it worked even in miniature: the two-tone sky; the sense of place it gets from the gum trees.
Reflecting since, I have found another reason to be pleased with this choice.
I have long been intrigued by the way depicting rainbows seems to go with turning five. So many children I have taught over the years have spent their preschool year repeatedly drawing or painting rainbows – some almost to the point of obsession.
Rainbows seem to hold a special fascination for children at that stage of development.
I wonder why?
I am not alone in my special affection for rainbows as an image for early childhood learning. A friend calls her Italian language school ‘Arcobaleno Bimbi’. I came across an ece music page with rainbows in its name. And I got pointed in the direction of another early childhood blog called Look At My Happy Rainbow, which is also interesting for the author being another one of the rare men in early childhood education.
When we put big ideas into practice with young children, it can look deceptively simple. Often, we do things instinctively or following tradition. But if we pause to unpack the ideas embedded in our action, they can turn out to be profound.
Teacher Tom wrote today about how democracy should be something we live all the time, not just on election day. An approach that permeates our whole culture. As with other important ideas we wish to live by, we do well to embed democracy into the experience of early education if we want it to permeate the rest of life.
Re-reading the question posed recently on the EYLF* facebook page
‘How do you record children’s voices in curriculum decisions?’
I reflected on how this strand of the framework is about children learning a democratic cast of mind. When children are involved in making real decisions about their education, they are not only more engaged in their learning, they are also learning about democratic decision-making.
Educators in that conversation reported a number of ways they record children’s voices. One approach was to observe (and record) children’s actions. Through their choices and conversation, we can observe children making decisions. Our thoughtful observation of these choices is a form of communication – one of the 100 languages of children if you like. When they choose, one of the things children are doing is telling us what they like or want. When we build on those choices in our planning, we show that we have heard them.
The cycle of choice, observation, responsive planning becomes a conversation about curriculum.
Other educators reported a more overt approach to involving children in curriculum decisions. They actively ask children what they would like to do. They involve them in designing and setting up play areas.
Some educators described their routines for overtly involving children in decisions – and also involving the children in documenting those decisions:
“We have a children’s program book. We sit down together and children are chosen to go into the storeroom and talk about what’s in there and what they’d like. The children who are still in the playroom talk about what they’d like (from memory/knowledge of the resources we have) and where they’d like it, and have the opportunity to draw and write their ideas in the book. This is then displayed with their name.” (Joanne Pitronaci)
“We have a large sheet of paper each day for a brainstorm of what each person would like to do on the day. The heading is “Program’ (all the children call it the’ program’ and know what a program is). I scribe for the children and write down all the things that they suggest with their names next to it. I also draw a little picture depicting each activity. There may be several names next to one activity. By the time the brainstorm is finished it looks like a web. At rest time I glue a few little photos of children doing some of the activities and children can also write their names next to all the activities that they actually did. Children often stand next to the program and point/discuss what everyone has done. It is very much a ‘working document’ and can be added to during the day – children can draw little pictures or write their name next to activities they have done. This is children taking ownership of their own program and learning. They love it. I also add one thing that I would like to do during the day so in this way I can include any extension activities from previous observations. When I have 2 weeks worth of program sheets I make them into a big book and children love looking back at them.” (Janine Vercoe)
I am impressed.
(* Australia’s early childhood education framework)
I found one of the most powerful aspects of the Bangarra show ‘Belong’ was the singing and voice overs in Language. It is rare for English-speaking Australians to hear Indigenous languages. Languages are very local. Usually they need to be used in a community of speakers, where people understand each other. A dance setting allows language to become music. We no longer have to worry about whether we can understand the words. We enjoy listening to the sound, learning to hear it.
At a recent TESOL conference, I listened as a teacher read a story in the Karen language, which was completely new to me. Supported by the pictures, I could follow enough of the story to stay interested. My brain whirred away, trying to decode the unfamiliar phonemes. It was not the same as having a story read to me when I understand the words, but it has its own appeal.
Though it feels strange to an adult, this must in fact be the experience that very young children have of being read to. We don’t limit our reading to the vocabulary and grammar they have already mastered. We read to them in language and about experiences that they have not had. We read because written language can take us to times and places we have never been.
I think the first thing I need for an Indigenous perspective in my teaching is books. Not books about Indigenous people and culture. Just picture books, like other picture books, with stories about kids and families doing the stuff that kids and families do, but where the people and the settings are Indigenous people in their country.
I would like some of those books to be in Pitjantjara (because I can manage to pronounce it) so I can read to the children in Language, and let them learn to hear its sounds and patterns and music.
So I had better start looking to see if such books exist.
This week I went to see Bangarra Dance Theatre in a show called Belong. I like Bangarra– they are technically excellent, and always interesting – but I don’t often manage to get myself to their shows. But this time I made sure I got there because of the title. ‘Belong’ is a strand of the EYLF.
One vignette had the dancers as school kids, in the bleachers, mucking around, forming groups, excluding one kid, doing that stuff that kids do when they are learning how to make people belong – or not belong. Then, at the end, they blackened their faces and posed for a photograph. The piece seemed to be saying that while the kids were at school they could just be kids, but once they are packaged up to be presented to the world, they are presented no longer as kids, but as black kids. I’m not sure if that is what they were getting at, but it was a powerful thought for me.
Watching the show, I mulled over the question of how I can represent Indigenous culture in my teaching. I do not want to do cultural tourism. I usually try to connect learning opportunities very strongly to every day life, and experiences the children in my group have direct access to. Here, in inner Melbourne, Indigenous people and culture are not part of their every day experience.
I have a big question to pose myself about how to really incorporate a connection with Indigenous culture into my teaching in a way that satisfies my beliefs about how to teach.
Modern dance is very experiential. Its messages are often not particularly clear or easy to put into words. But the moods are powerful. Sitting there drinking in the mood and letting my mind wander, I thought about how much my own experience of Indigenous culture is tied up in being in the right place, experiencing the feel of that place, and appreciating the ties to country that those people have.
I cannot take my students to spinifex country (though I hope their parents will one day). I wish I could recreate that feel. I wish I could take over a room – no a hall, no a warehouse – and fill it full of red desert sand and rocks and reptiles and hardy desert plants. I wish I could introduce them to children their age who know that world, and can teach them how to eat honey ants without getting your lip bitten. It is that sense of connectedness, of belonging, that I would like them to learn to feel and recognise.
How can I do that in a classroom? Or a green Melbourne playground?
Being, belonging and becoming are the three strands of the Early Years Learning Framework, or EYLF.
The EYLF has been adopted across Australia as the framework within which early childhood education takes place. All early childhood educators – whether they work in traditional kindergartens, long-day care or family daycare – are now expected to work within this framework.
In Victoria, the EYLF has been extended and incorporated into the VEYLDF – a statement of learning outcomes for children across the spectrum from infancy into the early years of primary school.
EYLF is a rather euphonious acronym. Puts me in mind of elves. I rather like this association, as I think about creating good outdoor play spaces. EYLFs in my kinder garden.
And I find being, belonging and becoming rather poetic.