1st March 2021 by Jodie Dickinson, Early Childhood Teacher, Director Rocky Hall Preschool
I am an early childhood teacher, I have worked in Early childhood, primary and secondary education for over twenty years. I am an advocate for our families, community and the natural environment.
Rocky Hall Preschool is situated in the south of the Bega Valley in a rural, remote and isolated community. The preschool was built in 1887 as the original schoolhouse for the community and is nestled under Big Jack Mountain, surrounded by native bushland and farmland rich in wildlife this environment offers learning opportunities for children to learn through play and intimate interactions with the natural environment.
Our diverse community have deep connections to the natural environment through lived experiences in the bush and on the land, this was evident during the Black Summer bushfires, the community was evacuated up to 7 times as we waited and watched over months for the fire to approach. The community came together to ensure safety and security of families, animals and property.
During the fire event I consulted with charities, support services and families to provide essential provisions like water, food, clothing, toiletries, financial support, counselling and most crucial emotional support at the service as this is where families feel most comfortable. The back door of the preschool was left unlocked for community to enter to shelter from the fire and access provisions, washing machine, kitchen facilities, bathroom and landline; there is no mobile coverage in our community.
The devastation to the community, landscapes and wildlife has been one of the most traumatic lived experiences for children, families and community. The community partnerships built on genuine trusting relationships are at the very heart of our program our pedagogy of listening is a principal that is essential to maintaining relationships that was evident as our strength at this time.
Our service philosophy is based around social justice and sustainability which recognises that relationships between people and place are interconnected. We have worked over the course of several years to achieve our goal to become a “Green” preschool. Sustainability principals guide our way as everything we do and bring into the service is reflected on to ensure that our footprint on the earth is respectful to our environment and our responsibility to care for the planet.
The preschool’s rural remote location and interconnection with the natural environment lends itself to adopting an Indigenous perspective that is relevant and meaningful to the children and families in the context of our community and environments.
We embarked on this journey in 2016 through inviting local Aboriginal community and Elders into the service as welcomed visitors. We ensured that this relationship was based on respect and we were mindful that knowledge, culture and Country is sacred, relationships came first.
We are now in our sixth year of partnerships with the local Aboriginal community we have built authentic trusting relationship that have opened a door to the whole community benefiting from learning culture, art and language. A local Aboriginal leader Nathan is now part of the preschool family and provides language, art, storytelling and culture regularly. The children and educators are speaking local language daily, culture and language is embedded in all aspects of the curriculum. Authentic engagement with language, people and place has provided children, families and community with understanding of our shared history and profound connections with the natural environment and local landscapes.
We stepped gently onto the fire ground after the Black Summer bushfires with the children and families to observe the landscape and offer a Healing Ceremony with Nathan. The children were observing the loss and small signs of regrowth but what was evident was the silence in the bush, no bird song. There was much excitement when one of the children found Bangadaan (Wombat ) poo, there was hope for the animals recovery. The children and families experiences were still raw and fresh in their minds. We took two art boards the children and adults used charcoal from the fire to express and create artworks. The experience of free expression in that burnt landscape will stay with me and I’m sure the children and families forever, the works hang in the classroom.
We connect to Country through deep listening and observation of the natural environment that we live, work and play in through the seasons. Connection to Country is embedded in the preschool’s daily rituals and routines, nurturing a sense of belonging. Local excursions to ancient fig trees near the service and the Towamba River that winds its way through the community connecting the preschool, local primary and secondary schools act as a metaphor for our shared vision for the language program to flow continuously through the community and school’s into the future.
Through this journey there has been much interest in our program, Nathan and I are now providing “Connecting to Country” Professional Development or as we rephrase “Personal Development” days at Rocky Hall Preschool. I am working closely with the local Language group to develop resources for the preschool and work as a consultant for Early Childhood practitioners and services.
Jodie Dickinson presents a very special webinar for Gowrie NSW
'Sharing Knowledge: Hearing the voices of Rocky Hall Preschool, Monday 29th March 4 - 5pm
Topics: Teaching Strategies and Practice