For the past three years, books from our Book Supply program have been integral in helping develop school readiness among children in the remote Utopia Homelands in the NT.
Contact Inc, a non-government organisation, provides mobile playgroup sessions to three satellite homelands communities: Soapy Bore, Atheleye and Camel Camp. Most families here live a traditional lifestyle, according to lore.
Each week, the Contact Inc team drives out to the homelands from their office in Alice Springs and sets up camp in a donga in Arlparra. Arlparra is the nearest service town to the homelands, around 250 kilometres — or 7 to 8 hours’ drive — north-east of Alice Springs. From this base, the team drives out each day to the communities, each about 20 to 35 kilometres away.
“Ours is a low-key, quiet approach,” explains Gail McMurdo, the Mobile Operations Supervisor.
A typical playgroup — outside on mats under a tree — begins with welcome time, followed by craft activitites, painting, puzzles and blocks.
Then the books come out! The early childhood educators read to the kids, and encourage the parents, grandparents and elders who are there to engage with the books too.
“The children we work with, their first language is not English and [the books enable] the children to begin to hear the two languages presented side by side, respectfully, where the adults in attendance translate to the best of their ability.”
For most of the children in these homelands English is their fourth language, after Alyawarra, Arrernte and Pidgin. The ContactInc team usually try their hand at pronouncing some of the words that have been translated into Alyawarra, much to the delight of the little ones.
Before the books are packed away there’s plenty of time for the children to look through them.
“The kids really enjoy them. They know the books are there to be read and they enjoy sharing them with their friends.”
The mobile playgroups program reaches about 30 children and an equal number of adults. By coming to and partcipating in playgroup, the children develop pre-literacy skills they need for Western schooling.
“They are excited about learning,” says Gail. “[It’s] a wonderful assortment of books to spark the children to begin to enjoy books and meld spoken words and [written] text.”