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Empowering Children to be Active Participants in their Community

A story of civic participation, empowerment and transformation as the children at Gowrie NSW Lithgow EEC meaningfully contribute to their local community

By Donna Morley, Gowrie NSW

At this time last year, the outdoor environment at Gowrie Lithgow was a barren wasteland. Drought and bushfires had ravaged the local community and the Gowrie outdoor spaces where grass had previously grown, were dust bowls, the previously beautiful trees were a collection of bare sticks , the recycled wall garden was dead, and the only greenery was provided by a few very stubborn weeds. Fast forward to March 2021: The outdoor spaces now have not only greened up, with beautiful natives planted around the sandpit, but the plentiful veggie garden has provided produce that won a blue ribbon at the local show!

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Empowerment, and Respectful Relationships

The Gowrie NSW Foundations document talks of empowerment and strong respectful relationships sitting at the heart of pedagogical practices. Gowrie Lithgow has demonstrated that when both educators and children are empowered, significant positive change can occur.

With a budget makeover of the yard last year, educators were invited to contribute ideas and “hidden skills” to the project. Educators, determined to help transform the space, contributed everything from tyres & logs to muscle power & individual passions.

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It was discovered that Michelle, the toddler room leader, was a passionate gardener who was skilled at growing vegetables, flowers and other plants. She took cuttings from succulents at home for some of the garden beds, planted natives to attract birds and pollinators and brought in seeds for the children to help cultivate a veggie garden.

It was decided that the unused and dysfunctional dry riverbed could be converted into a vegetable garden.

donna article 4The children and educators worked together to move out all the river stones to form a quarry nearby, dig down into the mostly clay soil and fill the space with garden soil ready for planting.
The children were a vital part of this work, eager to contribute, with more and more joining over the next week or two to help, as they saw the vision coming together.

The fact that children are viewed as capable and competent at Lithgow, enabled them to work together with educators as co-workers on the project. ‘Able to develop hypotheses and communicate their feelings, thoughts and ideas verbally and non-verbally’, the children were able to “contribute to their community as civic participants.” (Arthur, 2020, p. 8)

The pre-schoolers wanted to enter the show as well.’ As a ‘community of learners’, educators quickly adopted the children’s enthusiasm for cooking within their curriculum, suggesting baking as an option.

The pre-schoolers worked with Charlene and Carina to bake muffins and decorate arrowroot biscuits for the local competition.

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“There exists strong teamwork where all views are respected & team members work collaboratively.” The educators arranged for all the entries to be delivered to the show for judging, and everyone eagerly awaited the results. ( Arthur, 2020, p. 10)

The practice foundation of Respectful Relationships at Gowrie NSW Lithgow EEC are:

“cultivated by building a sense of belonging and positive discourse towards a community of learners for all families, children and educators”
(Arthur, 2020, p. 10)

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About the Author

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Donna Morley has worked in the Early Childhood Sector for 40 years in a range of roles: Early Childhood teacher, Director, Academic, TAFE Teacher, Practicum supervisor, Mentor, Reconciliation Action Plan Champion,and Educational Leader. In 2010 Donna led a team of educators, through practitioner research and transformative change, to achieve the ACECQA Excellent Rating in 2018. Donna believes in lifelong learning, and views children as active participants and learners from birth, she aims to ignite learners of all ages with a passion for exploration, discovery and lifelong learning.

Learn more about Gowrie NSW Lithgow Early Education and Care here

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