This week is Early Learning Matters Week, a time for educators, parents and communities to come together to raise awareness and understanding of the importance of early learning.
At the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, we know that high-quality education supports children to be confident and enthusiastic learners. We also know that play-based learning and learning in your first language makes a huge difference, and builds a foundation for emotional wellbeing and achievement throughout your life.
Early Literacy Manager Linda and Program Coordinator Cindy are both passionate about education in early years, and have worked in a variety of early childhood settings.
For Early Learning Matters Week, Linda and Cindy had a chat about the importance of early learning, ILF’s early literacy program Book Buzz, and why having books that reflect children’s culture is such an important aspect of learning.
“Early learning is the most crucial time of development,” explains Linda, “Everything that happens in those first five years sets you up for life. It’s a complex area, and Early Learning Matters Week is all about helping people to understand the value and importance of early years education.”
In the first five years of life, children learn through every experience they have, which makes play-based learning incredibly important.
“Play-based learning is how children make sense of their world,” says Linda, “It’s all about being able to learn something for yourself through experience and hands-on methods, rather than simply having someone tell you how to do something. The things we care most about and are good at, are always the things we’ve worked out and unpacked for ourselves.”
ILF’s Book Buzz Program includes resources that seek to incorporate this play element of early learning, and supports playgroups in remote communities to help children develop the early literacy skills and confidence they need to succeed later in life.
“As well as gifting out books, we also provide learning materials and resources to playgroups in remote communities,” says Cindy, “We also help facilitate translating books into first languages so children can learn in the language they’re most comfortable in. For most remote communities, English is not the first language of the children, and many don’t have access to literacy resources – and definitely not in their own languages.”
Research has shown that children learn best in their own language. It also supports parents and carers to share books with their children, and instils a love of reading in a community.
“It’s very important for children to have books that reflect themselves, their lives and their culture,” Cindy says, “Stories in communities are often oral, so it’s amazing to put those stories and languages into books that the community can keep. It helps to keep their language and culture strong, and pass it onto the next generation.”
“And when their family, their land and their culture are depicted in stories – it tells children that they’re valuable,” adds Linda, “They can connect with the book and the characters, and it just makes such a difference to a child’s development, self esteem and sense of belonging. In Early Childhood, it’s so important to value that diversity.”
Having been with the ILF for more than four years, Cindy has seen this exact connection in action many times.
“When we did the Kriol (Binjari Buk) series a few years ago, a friend of mine’s little niece was three years old at the time,” Cindy says, “They got copies of one of the books, Yakai! Beibigel! (Oh no, baby girl!), and her niece just loved it. She could relate to the little character – it represented her. She would go around with the book telling her aunties and friends ‘That’s me! That’s me!’”
“And that’s what the ILF does - we provide those books that capture children’s attention.”
At the ILF, we want everyone to value early learning as much as we do. For Early Learning Matters Week, we would encourage everyone to learn a little bit more about the importance of early years education, and how to help make a difference in the lives of young children.
You can learn more about ELM Week here: https://www.earlylearningmatters.org.au/