Reconciliation in Early Childhood Education a Good Start

Education is often stated as one of the key factors in defeating racism and creating a reconciled society. Gamilaraay woman, and Elizabeth Vale Goodstart director, Nykita Gibbs, has taken up the challenge of putting this notion into action, and spoke to Reconciliation SA about their progressNykita, whose been the director of the Goodstart at Elizabeth Vale for the last two years after thirteen years in the early childhood sector, describes herself as very passionate about reconciliation and working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and children. 

 In the spirit of Reconciliation Week, Nykita says that “reconciliation is about respectful relationships between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”, and believes that “building positive relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and children and providing a learning environment where their culture is respected and embedded in everyday practice” is key.  

Nykita is ensuring that Goodstart Early Learning, Elizabeth Vale endeavours to motivate children and families, saying that great things can be achieved by “teamwork, communication, educational programs, purposeful experiences and ongoing support.”  

Along with Nykita, the team at Goodstart aim to provide a culturally safe environment where everyone feels welcome. They have developed and continue to foster respectful relationships with our local Aboriginal community in order to provide children with a greater knowledge and understanding of Australia’s First Peoples. 

At Elizabeth Vale, we have created a community where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families feel welcomed and respected in an inclusive environment which celebrates and encourages all families to share their knowledge and experiences”, Nykita explains, “this practice, which is collaborative, embodies the culture of our centre and enables families to be active partners with educators in their child’s learning journey.” 

Explaining why education is an important step in reconciliation, Nykita says that “Children are central to everything we do; it is important to give children the opportunity to explore and learn about our First Nations People. It is also important that our families feel safe secure and supported knowing they can be proud of their culture and respected in our community.”  

But it has been a challenging task, especially with Covid-19. A particularly successful part of what Nykita has been trying to do is ‘Nunga playgroup’. This has been running since term 2, 2018. “This group helps to support our Aboriginal families in partnership with our local Aboriginal health service and local elders. From creating this playgroup, we have fostered relationships with families and were lucky enough to have a high percentage of families enrol their children in the centre.” With Covid-19, the playgroup has moved online, “where educators connect with families to check in and also give families ideas for fun educational experiences at home.”  

 Nykita, explains that “the educators underpin their programs and experiences with Aboriginal perspectives. Educators and children do an Acknowledgement of country every morning showing their respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.”  The method of teaching used at Goodstart helps to support the children gain an understanding of Aboriginal people, their culture, and their history.  

Goodstart, which has its own Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), which the development of, came with its own issues, “At the start of our reconciliation journey, it was important for us to understand and be accepting of everyone’s varying knowledge and experience with reconciliation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.”, Nykita explains, and that, “together we worked to create and change our practice and pedagogy which advocates for reconciliation and is underpinned by our educators’ skills and knowledge.” 

Nykita and her team also believe that by developing the team’s knowledge, they were able to “move forward positively and create a vision in which our team is inspired to promote in all areas of their educational programs.”  

 Finally, Nykita shares that “we provide experiences for children to explore different aspects of Aboriginal cultures through loose parts play. Our nursery children enjoy sensory experiences. I would like to share a beautiful set up created for our babies to explore different textures and materials with some aboriginal perspectives. I have also completed a large welcome sign for the centre with help from the educators and children for our entrance. To show we respect and acknowledge the Kaurna people as the traditional owners of the land we learn and play on.”

To read Nykita’s full interview, click here.

(artwork created by Nykita Gibbs)