In early 2019, we were given an amazing opportunity to begin a community project here at Choklits. From collaboration to celebration, we hold our community participation in very high regard because we believe in, and see the advantages of, education for our early learners that extends well beyond our own grounds.
As you can probably guess, we were thrilled to continue growing and strengthening our involvement with the community.
This particular project involved EACH, a community group whose vision is for inclusion and health for all. The brief was to extend on our current practices around community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander perspectives. Our application was approved based on our pillars of growth and collaboration.
Then it was time to get creative…
A meeting with Choklits owner Jade, some of our educators and the team from EACH prompted discussion about the vision we wanted to achieve and how we could execute it. We identified that our teaching and learning was already visible and evident throughout the centre and learning program, but we wanted anyone who stepped foot in our front door to know that firstly, our centre valued Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives and secondly, that culture was welcomed and recognised in all its forms.
Gathering our own ideas with the help of paint, flowers, leaves and pencils many themes emerged; sustainability and recycled materials, a link to the land and animals, the children we want to teach and empower, the custodians and the language of our land’s Traditional Owners (Wurundjeri/Woiwurrung) and the colours of the flags we have grown to know so well. There was talk of statues, gardens, murals and many other forms our vision could take.
The more we began to delve into our ideas, the clearer it became that we needed to further define the statement of our long-term vision for Choklits. Thankfully, we were able to draw on the wealth of resource provided by Nurragunnawali, an organisation developed by Reconciliation Australia to support schools and early learning services in Australia to develop environments that foster high levels of knowledge and pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and contributions. This platform gave us the tools to formalise our commitment through a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), which would help us to continue to authentically embed teaching and learning opportunities throughout the centre and to guide our project vision.
As we began forming our RAP working group (the team from Choklits involved in creating actions and documenting the RAP), the universe began aligning chance encounters, meetings and connections to help us in our journey.
While at a local community event, Knox Festival, one of our educators visited a stall hosted by one of the community organisations we had been researching. It just so happened that Elke, the CEO of Mullum Mullum Indigenous Gathering Place, struck up a conversation that led to Choklits and our current project. Elke said she had just the artist in mind to help bring our vision to life, and so we were introduced to local artist, Simone Thomson.
As we entered the crazy COVID-19 adventure that has dominated 2020, we got to know Simone through phone chats and emails and bounced a few ideas around. We spoke about our ideas and what we wanted to achieve, Simone just seemed to intuitively “get” what Choklits was all about. Ideas began to take form as our discussions turned to the creation of a gathering circle or totem poles as our entrance piece.
We brainstormed on the themes that where important to us, some of them included:
- while we were eager to connect, learn and teach about Indigenous culture, we’re unsure of how to go about it
- land and animals were strongly linked to our learning program. This included cockatoos and corellas (the birds we see, hear and talk most about at Choklits) and the gumleafs we often collect and use
- footprints (big and little) to symbolise the journey we walk together
- our daily acknowledgement which the children are very familiar with- “Here is the land, here is the sky, here are my friends and here am I! We thank the Wurundjeri people for the land on which we learn and play. Hands up! Hands down! We are on the Wurundjeri ground”
We passed these ideas onto Simone; whose brain began sparking with creative visions and dreams.
Meanwhile, we also began researching the materials we should to use. This part of the process brought an unexpected but valuable insight. After deciding to source logs of wood to use in the entrance piece, we arranged to meet a gentleman who had the logs we needed available.
Simone and educator, Dee, met to view the wood and had some interesting conversations that led to a massive discovery about the intent of our project. After some confronting comments and attitudes toward Aboriginal culture, the team and Simone reflected on how this interaction should fit in to our learning journey.
Simone put it best when she said that the best way forward was to “educate younger generations to stamp out those ways” and that actions like our upcoming project would “contribute to teaching respect for the oldest living culture on earth and inspire knowledge seeking little minds to accept”.
What a mission statement, encapsulating exactly what we want to achieve at Choklits! We decided more of our community should be invited to take an active part in our project.
Much to our surprise and delight, our call for wood was quickly answered by many families, educators, friends of families and past Chokliteers! Over the weeks, a small collection was gathered.
Slowly but surely, our vision was coming together!
With the thought of stretching our available funds and creating the best possible project, we reached out to our local Bunnings store to invite any donation towards the costs of supplies. Like us, Bunnings values opportunities to support local community and were very happy to help us with a donation which we soon put to good use. Thank you, Bunnings!
The educators involved in the Reconciliation Action Plan continued to collaborate and identified more important aspects of embedding Aboroginal and Torrers Strait Islander perspectives at Choklits and we shared these thoughts with Simone.
Once the pile of wood had grown (and those pesky but necessary COVID-19 restrictions had eased, briefly!), we invited Simone to visit the centre and see for herself, firsthand, what we at Choklits were all about. After we welcomed Simone into Choklits, she shared some insights into what she could see and feel about our community.
She noted that cultural respect was evident throughout the centre, every wall, every room, the children’s learning experiences, dolls, flags, artwork, posters and displays included. In watching the educators and children interact, she could see everyone’s enthusiasm.
We talked about how, if Simone felt welcome, other people who visit (whether identifying as Aboriginal or not) would too and understand how important this 60,000-year-old culture is.
“How amazing is that these little learners have the opportunity to be familiar and comfortable with understanding and respecting Indigenous culture? We (along with our valuable Community elders and partners) are so proud to play a part in creating sparks for life-long acceptance” Simone said.
The opportunity to take part in the Each Grant Project has led us to many valuable and rich learning moments; team brainstorming, community collaborations, the ongoing process of creating our Reconciliation Action Plan, attitudes and behaviour towards Aboriginal people (and from that, the tolerance, respect and acceptance we hoped to instil in future generations) and connections and partnerships with generous and knowledgeable people.
The journey toward the outcome of our entrance piece has provided rich and meaningful opportunities to connect with local organisations and people in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Our learning hasn’t come from the finished product, but from the moments the journey has invited.
Currently, our wood logs are in Simone’s studio, at mercy to her creative mind and talented brush. We cannot wait to see what happens in the next step of our journey and invite all the learning and possibilities that this project continues to bring!