In the playgroup at Pularumpi School on Melville Island, babies and toddlers aged 0 to 3 are really getting into the board and picture books delivered by ILF’s Book Buzz.
The FaFT (Families as First Teachers) program has a dedicated room at the school, but Family Educator Sue Whittnall says that often they meet for learning on Country, “down at the beach or near the barge landing."
Sue has been working with these youngsters since 2018, though in her previous, long standing role as a teacher at the school she taught many of their parents. Increasingly, they are engaging with the FaFT program, she says.
“Many are now dropping in of their own accord so we don’t need to go out so much to pick them up. And it’s been really good for these young Mums and Dads especially to see their kids enjoying the books.”
The program that Sue and Lucia, the Family Liaison Officer, a Tiwi Islander, deliver is “very hands on.” They encourage parents to point to the pictures in the books and talk to their little ones about what they see.
“The children are learning about the various parts of the books, how to handle them, and how to turn the pages.”
In the three and a bit years since Sue has been working with the FaFT playgroup, she has noticed an increased engagement with books and reading in this remote island community. More and more, the young children are selecting books that interest them — and asking for more on particular themes, such as animals, fish, food or trucks.
“A lot of them will readily sit down with a book in the relaxation area. And they’re also looking after the books, packing them away when they are finished with them.”
As for the parents of these youngsters, they are reading more and more to their children.
“Many of the parents report that they feel empowered to be teaching their child to learn through books,” says Sue. “And they request more books specific to their child’s interests, to use both in the classroom and at home.”
Some of these parents are also translating board and picture books so they can read to their children in Tiwi.
“They’re currently hoping to work on a translation of The Very Hungry Caterpillar [by Eric Carle].”
Meanwhile, singing songs like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in Tiwi is a regular playgroup activity. And the translation of the picture book Big Rain Coming (by Germein Katrina, with illustrations by Bronwyn Bancroft) has proven to be a huge hit.
Now that the focus is turning away from the delivery of ILF books to Pularumpi homes that was such a feature of the COVID-19 lockdowns last year, the Tiwi community is looking forward to the publication of a book based on the song “Barramundi Song”, recorded on YouTube in 2020 for Indigenous Literacy Day (ILD) by ILF ambassador Jessica Mauboy and others.
“We have done lots of pictures for it,” Sue explains. “The community is very proud of this book. There’s a feeling of ownership, pride, identity — and that reading is cool and applicable for them. And it’s very popular with the kids!”
Meanwhile, the FaFT playgroups continue at Pularumpi every weekday, with both the children and their parents enthusiastically participating in the daily conversational reading program.
“We’re very lucky to get this support from ILF. The Book Buzz resources are absolutely awesome, and the books are interactive and engaging. It’s clearly taken a lot of thought to put these resource kits together — and it’s really appreciated.”