Each year, Early Childhood Australia invites early childhood educators, parents, carers and community leaders around Australia to join us in celebrating Early Learning Matters Week. A weeklong celebration aimed at building awareness and understanding of the importance of early learning and the difference it makes to children’s learning, development and wellbeing.
This year’s theme, learning through connection, invites services to consider and share the ways that ‘connection’ supports children’s learning. The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) includes the outcome that ‘children are connected with and contribute to their world’. The EYLF explores the concept of connection in relation to family, communities, culture and place – and reinforces the importance of connection for participation:
Children’s connection and contribution to their world is built on the idea they can exert agency in ways that make a difference and build a foundation for civic and democratic participation.
The refreshed version of the EYLF includes a new principle that prioritises strengthening engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges and perspectives in early learning settings. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have been learning through their connection to Country and community for tens and thousands of years. During Early Learning Matters Week this year we are acknowledging these longstanding and continuing connections, as well as the new and ongoing connections that are fostered in early learning settings nationally. No matter where you are in Australia or how long you have been here – we are all living and learning on Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Lands.
The EYLF also specifically recognises the importance of the connection to Country and community for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the continued significance of such connections in children’s learning. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are connected to the longest surviving cultures in the world and represent the custodians of Lands across the Australian continent.
Relationships and continual connections to Country and community are at the heart of [First Nations identities]… the contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—past and present [and future]—should be [actively] acknowledged and valued in children’s learning.
Learning about connections to Country, place, community and cultural practices requires respectful acknowledgement of the diverse experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This includes acknowledging the complex histories of our nation and the experience of disconnection felt by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people resulting from colonisation. By learning about the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and experiences including the value of caring for Country and community, children gain a deeper appreciation for the importance of social justice, active citizenship and sustainability. This can foster a sense of belonging and social engagement and promotes active and respectful participation in shared efforts to build a sustainable and inclusive future. This is important not only for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children but also their non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peers.
The Mparntwe (Alice Springs) Education Declaration recognises the importance of continued learning, continued and new connections, and learning through connections, when outlining its second goal that ‘All young Australians become confident and creative individuals, successful lifelong learners, and active and informed members of the community’. Connection is especially important for young Australians to become active and informed members of their community who understand, acknowledge and celebrate the diversity and richness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures – and “who possess the knowledge, skills and understanding to contribute to, and benefit from, reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians”.
Connection matters because it helps children develop a sense of place and community, and fosters understandings of the interconnectedness of all people and the environment.