A project funded by the AGECS 100 Years of Excellence grant. This article first appeared in the Autumn 2023 edition of AUDAX.
The aim of our Connecting to Country and Community project was to enhance our existing programs which support children’s relationship with the land on which we live and learn every day. A large part of the planned funding spending was to acquire resources which would strengthen our existing On Country Kinder program (bush kinder) so that we could provide more intentional teaching moments for children when we were playing and learning outside on Country.
Many of the children in our community live in apartments with little or no access to a safe outdoor space. We noticed that some children were unsure about playing outside on Country when the ground might be wet or muddy, and we were concerned that clothing was becoming a barrier for some children to fully engaging with the learning opportunities on offer to them. The grant enabled us to purchase some high quality waterproof pants for children to wear when we go out on Country, helping them to feel more at ease about sitting down on a wet log, kneeling on the wet grass, or experiencing the joy of jumping in a muddy puddle. This supported our families to also feel more at ease about their children playing outdoors in all weathers, and enabled us to have more conversations around the benefits of time spent outdoors for their child’s development.
The grant also enabled us to provide resources such as magnifying glasses, binoculars, and minibeast containers which supported children to look closer at the natural environment around them, noticing details they had not seen before, and sharing curiosities about what they discovered. This inspired a broader project around both bugs and birds which was followed up on back in the centre as well as in our ongoing On Country Kinder sessions. Both children and educators have learnt so much in recent months about bugs, birds, and plants which are native to the land of our local community. This has led us to begin thinking about doing more research with the children about local wildlife and choosing new names for our classrooms based on native bugs or plants, strengthening our connection to Country even more.
In one of our Kindergarten programs, an interest in space and planets led to children sharing their curiosities around our planet Earth and how we can take care of it. We noticed in our local community and around the school site we are on there is often lots of litter on the ground, with the children making the connection that littering is not caring for the land. So we decided to use some of the grant to fund the purchase of adult and children litter grabbers, as well as some high-visibility vests for the children to help people in our local community see the important job the children were doing. The children chose to name this group “The Earth Cleaners”, and we are working towards inviting some of the Primary School children next door to join us to support their understanding of caring for the land and our community too.
To support children’s engagement with natural loose parts found out on the land in our local community, we purchased some hessian squares to be used as inspiration for children to create transient art using the loose parts they find. This is now a regular part of our On Country Kinder program, with many children independently going off in search of leaves, sticks, feathers, and bark from the ground to be used to carefully placed and arranged on their hessian frame to create a picture. The children are then supported to take a photo of their art and share some words or a story about their creation, before putting the loose parts back on the land where they found them.
Overall, this project has significantly supported both children’s and educators’ understanding of First Nations perspectives, and the importance of caring for the land that the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation have cared for for some many years. We strongly believe that in order to teach children the importance of caring for the land, they need to spend time playing and exploring on Country, noticing wildlife and connecting with nature and the resources we were able to buy through the 100 Years of Excellence grant has supported this immensely.