“When the books arrive we’re all very excited,” says Kate Scott, Family Educator at the Alpurrurulam School FaFT Unit.
About 400 people live in Alpurrurulam, in the NT, but just 17 km from the Queensland border. The mail is delivered once a week, on Friday, by air.
But with COVID restrictions in place over the past few months, the pilot has had to bring the plane into the taxiing area and leave the Australia Post bags on the tarmac for collection, before climbing back into his seat and taking off again. The Shire manager then picks up the bags full of letters and parcels, and the mail is distributed.
From 20 February to 5 June this year, when Federal biosecurity measures were in effect, the people living in this remote community had no direct contact whatsoever with any outsiders. So apart from putting in place new ways to receive essential deliveries, life in Alpurrurulam continued as before.
With no social distancing requirements, there were no disruptions to the Families as First Teachers (FaFT) program and, unlike in many other places across Australia, daily playgroups continued uninterrupted for 36 young children and their carers.
“Nanna Kate”, as Kate is called by the kids, works closely with Meredith, the Family Liaison Officer. Together they ensure that each day these youngsters take home a selection of books for conversational reading, as well as for a bedtime story.
“Basically, we’ve been building up personal libraries for the kids. Because how can you ensure school readiness if there is no access to books?”
When Kate first arrived in Alpurrurulam at the beginning of 2014 there was not a single book in any home in the community. But annual deliveries from ILF’s Book Supply have changed that!
“Children are now seeing their parents reading for the first time from books that are in their homes. More importantly, they are reading to their children.”
Much of Kate’s work involves reassuring parents that they don’t necessarily need to read every word on a page, and that’s it’s okay to tell the story in their own words.
“The focus is on building up their use of words and extending vocabulary…And I encourage them to use Alyawarr [the local language] if they want. It doesn’t matter what they talk about with the kids, just that they talk with them about what’s in the books, and that the kids are hearing lots of language. It’s a two-way process.”
Kate reports that the first cohorts of children from the FaFT playgroups in the community have settled into pre-school really well.
“The Indigenous Literacy Foundation has enabled us to share books with our families from zero to five years, and ensure that they have the reading readiness necessary to be able to participate in school once they transition from FaFT to pre-school and on to transition and big school.”
And the parents report that the kids love the books, among which are clear favourites – like Mem Fox’s Ducks Away! – which they want read to them over and again.
“It is really difficult in some early childhood education settings to be able to access good quality literature and especially literature that positively portrays Indigenous people. Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart, for giving the children in the FaFT unit the books to take home and share with their families, so that grandparents, aunties and uncles, older siblings and parents can share the books with the children.”