Aboriginal Children (and their families) getting ready for school.

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After chatting with Carolyn Gilbert I am convinced I want to be an Early Childhood teacher. Her passion and genuine care for the children and families she work with are contagious. “For me it’s all about the families” she says. “Building relationships and connecting with them. Looking at the child’s and family’s learning needs, taking into account their home life, providing for them a culturally safe space where they feel comfortable, relaxed and happy to attend”.

Carolyn has been part of the Aboriginal Speech and Language Supported Playgroup at Koolyangarra since it began 4 years ago. “For many reasons, Aboriginal families are not accessing early learning programs for their children. Actually Australian children overall are behind the rest of the world when it comes to participation in early-learning programs. It’s hard to believe that one in five Australian children will start school disadvantaged” says Carolyn.

For Aboriginal children the stats are even worse. The Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) data shows that one in five Australian children are vulnerable in key areas of development. This rate increases to two in five for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children1.

But Carolyn and her team are working hard to change these stats.

The Aboriginal Speech and Language Supported Playgroup at Koolyangarra is a 10-week program for Aboriginal children aged 3-5 years old, to support them (and their families), to transition to school. Parents/caregivers are supported to be actively involved in the play-and-learn activities with their children. Each week the families are given a take home resource activity they can do with their child. The activities are fun and simple and aim to start strong positive links between home and school. “The parents/caregivers are often amazed that their child is keen to do ‘homework’ and we love that we are able to provide families with the tools to work with their children”.

But why is it called the Aboriginal Speech and Language Supported Playgroup?

Did you know:

  • That early learning and early intervention improves children’s lifelong outcomes across all areas —education, health (mental and physical) and wellbeing.
  • That three disciplines (family services coordinator (social worker), occupational therapist and speech pathologist) have been identified as having key roles in providing early intervention services to promote optimal child development outcomes.2


The Early Childhood Team (Left: Carolyn, Zoe and Krystle)

We also know that a key part of delivering a successful Aboriginal Speech and Language Supported Playgroup is having an Aboriginal Early Childhood Teacher working with the children. “We are so pleased to have Krystle Scott on board as part of the team” says Carolyn. “Krystle is an essential part of the programs success”.

Services are more effective for Indigenous children and families when they are aware of and address cultural competence/cultural safety in their service delivery. A key component of cultural competence/safety often rests on employing Indigenous workers.3

So while the children and parents/caregivers are doing all the usual fun learning stuff with crayons and puzzles and playdough, we have, with the support of our partners4, professionals on hand to check the children’s speech, vision, hearing and to identify things that parents/caregivers can do throughout the day to reinforce or enable new learning. “We also have someone available to chat with the parents/caregivers and ‘check-in’ with how they are going, usually that’s me” says Carolyn.

Last term we had 16 Aboriginal children and their parents/caregivers involved in the playgroup. We tested the hearing and vision of 14 Aboriginal children and referred three for further follow-up. “How do you feel about that”? I ask Carolyn.

Carolyn is smiling, “When you start to see a difference, to see things positively changing for that child and family it’s just wonderful. To see children come out of their shell and engage in activities with excitement and enthusiasm is just amazing. When I stop and think about the difference this early learning and intervention will make in the children’s lives, particularly for those children who will benefit from additional support, well, it’s just wonderful”.

Wonderful indeed!

If you would like to know more about the Aboriginal Speech & Language Supported Playgroup please click here. If you would like to donate to this program please click here.

1, 2,3 The State of Early Learning in Australia Report 2016.
We would not be able to offer this vital program without the support of our partners – Health, Lifestart, Nordoff-Robins, Northcott and Penrith City Council.

Carolyn Gilbert is the Early Childhood, Team Leader at Cranebrook Neighbourhood Centre.

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