Creating a culturally safe environment


​​​​Working in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC), there is a wonderful opportunity to support children's cultural identity and promote understanding and respect towards cultural diversity for all children.

Staff at Borilla Kindergarten, situated on Kairi Country in Emerald, have worked hard to create a culturally safe environment at their service and embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture into everyday learning.

Centre Director Jenny Finlay said Borilla's 'deadly' journey has taken place over many years and continues to evolve and strengthen to reflect the needs of their community.

'Nothing in what we do is difficult, or costs a lot of money,' Jenny said.

'It’s about critically reflecting on your practice and then making a little bit of a plan to move forward and then keep reflecting on that plan. That’s how we have built our community connections.'

Jenny said the staff culture at the service valued the importance of cultural inclusion.

'Our staff know that cultural knowledge is just as important as their child development knowledge,' Jenny said.

'We have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags outside of each room and office space and it has become common practice to commence staff and committee meetings with an Acknowledgement of Country.'

Art and storytelling have been another way for staff and children at the service to connect to community.

'A project that we have worked on in recent times is inspired by the Tjanpi Weavers from the border between the Northern Territory and Western Australia,' Jenny said.

'During COVID, we participated in an online workshop as well as having one of our First Nations educators introduce the weaving.

Everyone loved the natural resources. Children were making these big long goannas – learning, creating and becoming so rich in culture. It’s something that as a service, every year we add to the resources and quite often throughout the year the rooms revisit weaving.'

Along with extensive room resources, large totem poles have been installed outside the kindy to welcome families.

'These totem poles were painted by one of our kindy families and tell our Belonging, Being and Becoming story,' Jenny said.

'They are a visual welcome to First Nations families and to everyone in the community.'

Other significant additions at Borilla include a mural painted by children in Foster Care (some of whom attended our kindy when younger) and a Borilla kindy shirt lovingly designed to tell our story by Nanny Toohey.

A key step to improving outcomes and enrolments of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the service was the creation of a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), which is reviewed and updated annually.

The Borilla Kindergarten RAP provides a road map to take meaningful action toward reconciliation and includes:

  • encompassing specific employee (HR) procedures
  • challenging existing policies and protocols
  • building genuine community engagement and partnerships with feeder schools
  • connecting with Traditional Owners and local Elders
  • inclusive resourcing of the kindy and​
  • nurturing a sense of belonging for all children, families and educators within the service through offering a safe environment where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is acknowledged, respected, celebrated and valued.

Some actions that have already occurred in response to Borilla’s RAP include welcoming the position of Cultural Officer, and encouraging deep engagement from children, staff and families in culturally significant dates, such as NAIDOC and National Reconciliation Week.

'We have strived to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into the daily life of the kindergarten, develop and improve educator knowledge, and in turn, increase the enrolment cohort of our First Nations children and families in a kindergarten program,' Jenny said.

'It's a journey for all of us that continues to deepen and broaden. All steps forward, no matter how small, should be celebrated.'

Get up! Stand up! Show up!

Every year, NAIDOC celebrations are held around Australia in July to celebrate the history, cultures and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

This year, the theme is ‘Get up! Stand up! Show Up!' – calling for all of us to play our part towards systemic change and keep rallying around our mob, our Elders and our communities.

There are a number of ways ECEC services can take action during and beyond this week.

Here are some ideas on how your service can celebrate NAIDOC Week.

Get involved with your local NAIDOC event.

Related resources

Further reading

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Last updated 01 July 2022