Meet Jolene - A Passionate Advocate for Early Literacy

Meet Jolene - A Passionate Advocate for Early Literacy

Early literacy is a long held passion for ILF’s Early Literacy Coordinator, Jolene Brown. A proud Kamilaroi and Dunghutti woman living on Darug land in Sydney’s Western suburbs, Jolene was excited to join the ILF program team in June 2021, only to find herself working remotely within days due to a citywide COVID-19 lockdown. 

“I hardly had a chance to meet my manager, let alone the rest of the ILF team,” laughs Jolene, who since June has spent only two days in the head office in Sydney.

With five years of experience working as an Early Childhood Educator in New South Wales, Jolene was motivated to focus her skills on helping Indigenous children. 

“Being an Indigenous woman growing up in Western Sydney, I saw a need for a more targeted approach in early literacy for First Nations kids,” says Jolene. 

What is Book Buzz?

The Book Buzz program is designed to support early literacy for children under five, in a playgroup setting. The program provides culturally relevant books, classic children’s books and resource kits to playgroups that aspire to run for three plus hours a day, three or more times a week. 

“To qualify for Book Buzz you have to be set up as a playgroup, because it is important that caregivers and parents are involved. They help children with their literacy skills; with learning how to hold a book, to turn pages and to think about what might happen next. It also means that when the books and resources go home, parents and carers can continue reading to their kids.” says Jolene. 

The Book Buzz was founded on the research of early childhood education. Supporting playgroups with structured sessions and play-based learning, builds important literacy skills and prepares children for school. 

Photograph: Tiwi Islands, 2021.

“Early childhood education is based on the knowledge that children do the most learning in their whole entire lives from birth to five years old. If a child does not have the resources they need to have a good experience with learning, they are at a disadvantage.” explains Jolene.

Another purpose of early childhood settings - such as playgroup, is to assist with early intervention. That is, to identify any additional needs a child may have that will affect their ability to learn and participate at school. 

Reading and language go hand-in-hand and the program supports learning in both a child’s First Language and English. 

“The more children are exposed to different words, the better their language skills will be,” says Jolene. 

In remote Communities, children may have an opportunity to attend early childhood education, but they often are not as well resourced as those in urban areas. Studies have shown that children that have access to early childhood education are more likely to thrive in education. 

“The Book Buzz program only deals with playgroups that use a structured program of early learning and must have an educator to facilitate the program. This program is incredibly important to assist kids to transition to big school,” says Jolene.

Photograph: Gapuwiyak FaFT, 2021.

How does ILF connect with Communities?

In the Northern Territory (NT) and Western Australia (WA), there are government funded programs called KindiLink and Families as First Teachers (FaFTs).

KindiLink and FaFTS helped create ILF’s Book Buzz program, so this partnership has been strong for many years and the relationships within Community are well developed. However, the ILF also supports many playgroups that are not run by KindiLink or FaFTs. These groups may be hosted by Community educators or teachers.

Photograph: Tiwi Islands, 2021.

Jolene’s role in Book Buzz

Jolene’s favourite part of her job is making connections with Community members, and building trusting relationships so people feel comfortable coming to ILF and having conversations about the resources they need.

“Language is a very sacred thing to Indigenous Communities, and the ILF needs to prove that we respect every Community’s language, culture, and Country,” says Jolene.

Jolene also manages the supply and distribution of books and kits and plays a key role in the development of new resources, based on Community requests or needs. She also assists with providing resources to support First Language literacy.

Every year, the ILF sends out a new catalogue of books and resources that playgroup educators can choose from. The books in the catalogue are all new, with some books in First Languages.

This Community-led approach lets educators choose the books they want. Community educators know the interests and what is best for the children in their care. 

“The great thing about Book Buzz is that there is a variety of books. There are books about trucks, running, playing, trains, animals, and other things that children love. The educators know best what their children would like, so it makes sense that they choose,”says Jolene. 

Book Buzz books are colourful, high quality board books, designed to last. A resource kit is also sent with book packs. The kits work in two ways - they support children’s play-based learning skills, and link to a key theme. For instance, a book called Roadworks comes with a resource kit with mini road signs, trucks, a book about trucks and a puzzle. Other resource kits include puppets, magnetic animals, dolls and soft toys.

I love my job,” says Jolene. “I love that I can help support so many remote Communities to support families and children to develop those really important early literacy skills that will help make the transition to big school all the better.” 

Photograph: Tiwi Islands, 2021.

  • Posted 20 April, 2022

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