Swan Hill Professional Development Day

Kids Thrive is producing Cha Cha Sam’s Postcards From Nanna, taking in regional libraries to start conversations about cultural diversity.

Here are Tales From The Road…

KidsThriveCulturalTrainingToday we had the pleasure of working with a group of early childhood workers from the Swan Hill region in a professional development session on Cultural Diversity. Over the course of the day, we explore the roles that they can play in laying the foundations of cultural openness for young children through the use of the arts.

Kids Thrive uses music, performance, visual arts and storytelling to promote health, the value of diversity, acceptance and inclusion to children. This session focused not only on how we can use the arts in the classroom to open up conversations about diversity and discrimination, but also to reflect on what biases we may have that affect our interactions with children.

The session runs in parallel with the messages in Postcards from Nanna – that is, for us all to be well and happy, we need to enjoy our differences and respect what is valuable to others. Of course, promoting diversity in our children’s lives is not limited to ensuring that they are exposed to people from other cultures and backgrounds, but also about ensuring diversity and inclusion are promoted in the books we read, the television shows we watch, the films we see and the theatre we experience. By endorsing inclusion and diversity in both form and content, and supporting exposure to a range of cultures, races, religions, and family make-ups, young people will be equipped not only to value difference, but to embrace it.

KidsThriveAndeLemonCulturalTraining2We started out by exploring cultural diversity, and the effects of discrimination. Unfortunately in Australia, we can look to our own history for some extreme examples. For many professionals who undertake our professional development sessions, it is the first time that they get to see evidence of discriminatory policies that Australian governments had for Australian Indigenous people since first contact. For example, workshop participants were shocked to discover that Aboriginal people were ‘managed’ under the Flora and Fauna Act until as late as the 1960s.

exemptioncert1If you read the small print on this certificate you can see the conditions and aims of racial separation in Australia. It can be a crucial reminder that discrimination is not a new epidemic, nor is it exclusively the domain of the uneducated or ignorant. Often intelligent people in positions of power and authority can be the worst perpetrators of discriminatory actions. And, while there may be an attitude that this sort of mind-blowing discrimination is easy to pass off as ‘in the past’, for some families that we work with, discrimination is still all too real. This reinforces how vital it is that we encourage, promote and actively teach acceptance of diversity to our future leaders and to always take a long-term view of the child as a major contributor to, and creator of, our communities.

Music, performance and storytelling are excellent ways to create conversations and foster community connections for children (and many adults too). It is non-threatening, lots of fun, and can challenge our pre-conceptions in a safe way, as children can comment on the characters, the lyrics, or the story and then apply it to their own lives, rather than feel like they are being ‘told off’, or – even worse – like they’re ‘learning’! Luckily, song and dance rarely feels like homework. The early childhood educators at our session today learnt many practical ways to foster links in the classroom between creativity, the arts, and how that impacts on children’s sense of identity, and the way in which they relate to their wider community.

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The lovely sketches drawn by the group today also remind us of how we can use the visual arts for storytelling and communications as well. While Postcards from Nanna is a performance musical, it’s vital to remember just how much a quick drawing or painting can tell us. It doesn’t have to be a work of art that will be fast-tracked to the National Gallery – sometimes a crayon outline on the back of a napkin can reveal just as much about the artist and their perception of the world.

There is a story I read of a teacher asking a Year 1 class ‘who can draw?’ Every child in the class raised their hand. The same question was asked of a group of university-aged students. Only two or three people put their hands up. Most kindergarten aged children are confident that they can draw, sing, and dance, before they experience a crisis of confidence. It is vital that we continue to reinforce the value of creativity in all its forms.

It’s also important that we as adults remind ourselves of the value of creativity too. The act of writing a song, a story or a poem, drawing a picture or singing or dancing is valuable in and of itself – don’t worry about how talented you think you are – just have a go. Creating something – anything – is wonderful and often revealing. In today’s session, participants were asked to draw a self-portrait – no matter their skills as an artist. The result is a delightful insight into one’s self-perception – what features are highlighted? What’s left out? What is exaggerated?

This can be a valuable task to give children as well, and not just a self-portrait, but also to draw their house, their school, their friends, their family. Who and what do they focus on? Who do they see as their friends? Art, music, play acting and performance can reveal so much about our inner selves. Creating anything is an important part of everyday life, for adults and children alike.

Thank you to the organisations that have partnered with us in bringing Postcards from Nanna to the road – and of course, a huge thanks to Swan Hill Regional Library for inviting us!

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A big thanks to VicHealth, Arts Victoria, The Australia Council for the Arts, Public Libraries Network Victoria, and the Australian Institute of Social Relations for helping us to bring Nanna to the road.