5 Minutes

5 MinutesThe Aboriginal people have been burdened into a world strange to their existence for thousands of years. First came the invasion of the strangers who carried with them diseases, which devastated the then population of the Sydney tribes. It is estimated that over 75,000 Aboriginal people inhabited the island continent in 1788. The colonists were led to believe that the land was ‘terra nullius’ meaning that no one owned the land, which Lt. James Cook declared Australia to be in 1770 during his voyage around the coast of Australia. The first Australians collectively spoke some600-700 different dialects from at least 250 language groupings. They called themselves by specific Aboriginal names and related to specific territories in the land. Throughout the continent there was a typically Aboriginal way of life conducted within a common cultural framework but with much diversity. People in one region generally stayed within their own country and identified themselves as a specific group by name, such as Warlpiri, Tiwi, Gamilaroi. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a strong connection with the land and a deep sense of spirituality, kinship, community life and reverence towards their ancestors. The social structuring and kinship system can become very complex and difficult to understand for non-Aboriginal people, but is a natural part of life for Aborigines, and its details vary from tribe to tribe. Children are the responsibility of the entire family, rather than just the biological parents alone. Many Aboriginal children are brought up by members of the family other than their immediate parents. This is still a widespread practice today.Many grandparents carry out the responsibility of ‘raising’ Aboriginal children. Grandparents are very important members of the Aboriginal family unit. This results in children being fortified to think family. Some become responsible at a very early age for the care of siblings, and as a result they have a large degree of personal independence.Older people pass on the civilizations of their people from generation to generation and accordingly their role is reinforced and their position more respected as they get older. Their opinions are sought after, listened to and heeded.Some educators believe that supporting children with additional needs is the same as good practice with any child. While the same basic principles apply to all children, at times educators need additional skills and knowledge to ensure that they can truly support each child’s learning.Because diverse situations can lead to a child having additional needs, it is difficult to offer general advice about how to respond efficiently. Explicit responses depend on the reason for the need, the child and the family. For example:A child who is gifted may need not only challenging learning opportunities that match their interests and capabilities, but also educators who understand that academic giftedness or talent may not extend to social skills and who will help the child learn to interact positively with other children.A child who is missing a parent due to their absence needs affection and attention, and opportunities to communicate feelings to an educator having empathy for the child.A child who has a new sibling may need a break from focusing on, or even talking about, the new family member.A child who has experienced trauma because of a natural disaster, their experiences as an asylum seeker, domestic violence or child abuse or neglect, may need intensive specialist help in addition to secure, trusting relationships in an early learning setting.A child who is learning English as a second language needs someone in the service who speaks their home language and extra support to develop communication skills in English.Educators plan and implement the curriculum to embrace all children and emphasise both what children have in common and what makes each child unique. Some children will need extra attention, more support and more direct involvement from educators than others.Collaborative relationships with families are essentialGood practice starts from knowing each child deeply. Knowing children well means knowing them in the context of their culture, family circumstances and community life. Deep knowledge comes from spending time with the child and also from information shared by the child’s family, in a relationship of mutual trust and respect.Partnerships with all families are critical, but they are particularly important for children with additional needs. Families are valuable sources of information about things like their culture, the child’s previous experiences and interests, and effective strategies to support the child’s learning.Some families are much more open than others to share their stories. Some will want to tell their story over and over while others will take time to trust you. The stronger the relationship, the more families are likely to share. Educators need to plan their interactions with families with a view to building relationships that respect the value of what families can tell them, and also their rights to privacy and confidentiality. Educators need to ask themselves how much they really need to know in order to support a child and avoid pressuring families to divulgeStrong connections with other servicesAddressing children’s and families’ additional needs often exceeds the expertise of educators in an early learning setting.Knowing when to seek specialist support for families and having connections and relationships with a range of human service organisations and specialists makes it easier to help families access the help they need. Going beyond giving information, educators can support families’ access and participation. As one parent said, ‘I felt so much better about going to the mental health service because I knew that the childcare centre had used them before. I knew if they thought they were good, they would be’.Other agencies and specialists are sources of advice and information for educators. An educator reported that her service’s strong links with a community cultural organisation meant that they had experts ready to help them. She said, ‘I don’t have to be an instant expert on culture, language or religion—I just need to know when to get help and advice and then get it!’ She also said that the service’s relationship with the organisation contributed to families from that cultural group trusting them‘[Educators] notice a great deal as they work with children and they recognise some of what they notice as learning. They will respond to a selection of what they recognise’ (Drummond, 1993).The process of noticing and recording children’s learning is an essential practice of effective early childhood educators. Noticing meaningful learning encounters and then collecting this information in a number of ways enables us as educators to fulfil that promise we make to children and their families when they become a part of our services— that we will ‘extend and enrich children’s learning from birth to five years and through the transition to school’ (Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR], 2009a, p. 5).Noticing and recording learning provides an information base that enables educators to successfully analyse and plan for children’s learning. Without thoughtful noticing and recording, educators are in danger of offering experiences to children because ‘this is what has always been done’ or making assumptions about what children know, can do and are interested in. This can lead to programs that are mediocre at best where children (and educators) are bored and disengaged.There are some key questions around ‘noticing’ and ‘recording’. It may be helpful to work through the questions as a group—adding your own ideas, clarifications and practice examples as you go.Mitchell Street Childcare Centre provides a safe and well supervised environment where children can feel safe to explore. Families with children experiencing health and disability problems, developmental delays and behavioural issues are included in the service, which includes a comprehensive range of health services delivered by a registered early childhood nurse with midwifery and child care qualifications. A nutrition program offers morning and afternoon tea and lunch and, for some children, breakfast as well. The centre is seen as successful by the community because of its combination of support services. While I was at the childcare centre for a week as a volunteer, I experienced to see an incident about which I am going to further talk. Jacquie is a four-year-old Aboriginal girl who lives in a rural town with her mother, father and three siblings. She has just started attending a childcare service with her older sister Tasha. Tasha is playing on the climbing frame when she slips and falls to the ground. Her ankle breaks. When the paramedics come to assist with the injury, Jacquie witnesses Tasha crying when they move her into the ambulance. The only other time Jacquie has had contact with paramedics was when her grandmother died. She has negative associations with paramedics and is afraid that Tasha will be taken away and will not come back. Anna, the service director, contacts the girls’ mother to notify her of the incident and asks her to collect Jacquie. Jacquie is very distressed and is hiding in the book closet, as she is afraid that the paramedics will come and take her away too. Jacquie’s mother arrives with Jacquie’s grandmother, three aunties and four cousins to pick her up on their way to the hospital. Anna, however, feels overwhelmed by the number of visitors in the service and asks that only Jacquie’s mother comes inside to collect Tasha. Jacquie’s grandmother feels hurt and disrespected that she isn’t allowed in to help console Jacquie. Jacquie’s mother coaxes Jacquie out of the cupboard and assures her that it’s okay and that she will take her to visit Tasha in the hospital.If Anna had considered code of ethics, it could have helped Anna to manage this situation more effectively. Seeing Jacquie distressed, Anna should have spoken to her and should have invited another child/ educator to tell her about what paramedics do. She could have told her that her mother is soon coming to collect her and make her see Tasha. She should have consoled her using different methods. Practices of care needs to be given to children from their early age. Students who have been identified as having special educational needs are especially vulnerable to exclusion from the culture, curriculum and community of mainstream schools because of the determinist beliefs that underpin them (Hart et al., 2007). This is aggravated by the extensive belief that mainstream classroom teachers are not well-prepared to work with such students, but little is known about exactly what teachers need to know to teach all students in inclusive schools. Lack of clarity about definitions of inclusion has been one cause to confusion about inclusive education and practice, as well as to debates about whether inclusion is an educationally sound practice for students who have been acknowledged as having special or additional educational needs.

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