About 250 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs, books from ILF’s Book Buzz program are being enjoyed by babies and toddlers who live in the remote Arlparra homelands.
A Families as First Teachers (FaFT) playgroup is based in a room at the Arlparra school, where parents and their little ones get together four mornings, Monday to Thursday, each week.
“Some mums are able to get a lift into FaFT on the school bus,” early childhood educator Christine explains.
But this is not always possible, so a lot of the FaFT program takes place in the homelands, where about 15 family groups live on what was once Utopia cattle station. Christine and the Family Liaison Officer, who is from Alyawarr country, regularly visit the families in the afternoons, after the playgroup has finished for the day.
During the wet season there are virtually no home visits, however, as the roads become impassable.
“But in terms 2 and 3, during the dry, the home visits pick up.”
In some homelands, Christine runs a small mobile playgroup, taking a box of Book Buzz books with her, as well as learning games and playdough.
“We always finish each session with a story.”
But whether it’s at the FaFT playgroup or in a family home, the focus is always on encouraging the conversational reading of books, in the home language, every day. This involves translating the board and picture books into Alyawarr from English, as they are read.
“The focus is on building conversations between the kids and their parents around what’s in the books … First language acquisition really helps second language acquisition.”
Christine says there have been clear, observable changes in the youngsters’ literacy development over the past few years. Importantly, by the time they start “big school”, the kids “have learnt about taking time to sit and look at a book”.
“There’s a real difference with the kids who have been involved in the FaFT program and had early access to books. They have ‘joint attention’ — can look and concentrate at the same time, skills that are really needed for effective classroom learning.”
Increasingly, too, Christine says, “our little kids will go and pick out a book, grab a cushion and either sit with [the book] or take it to their parents to read.”
In 2020, the mums at Arlparra FaFT went through the Book Buzz lists with Christine and the Family Liaison Officer and together they chose the books they wanted for their playgroup.
“It was like Christmas when the books arrived. And the kids were so excited to see the pop up story time kit! The enjoyment of reading is really developing well with our families.”
At the end of each year, the Arlparra parents choose a selection of books to keep so they can read with their family over the long summer break. Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes and The Very Hungry Caterpillar are always very popular!
“We’re really hoping to get books into all the homelands' homes. I’m a big fan of building a lifetime love of books. But you have to build that love of books in the home — it doesn’t just happen!”