Learning through childhood play

Published 17 May 2018

University of New England (UNE) early childhood educator Sally Lockwood provided a unique Aboriginal perspective on nature-based learning at a conference near Armidale  recently.

The assistant director of UNE’s Yarm Gwanga Child Care Centre believes that nature play is the perfect avenue for embedding Indigenous culture in centre programs nation-wide. “It teaches children respect for Aboriginal culture from a very young age, so that it becomes part of their way of seeing the world,” Sally said.

“Non-Indigenous educators can feel uncomfortable implementing aspects of Indigenous culture in play, and struggle with how to do that at a centre, because our culture is all about the land. I’ll be offering some advice on how to achieve it without going into the environment – through art and the games I played as a child. I hope this is the start of a whole new approach to learning.”

Sally is a proud Gumbanggir woman and grew up in Armidale in a large Indigenous family. “We were always out on country; the local rivers and pine forests were our playground and the place for family gatherings,” Sally said. “Sadly, many of those places are no longer accessible, but I can still share knowledge from my upbringing.”

Yarm Gwanga (meaning “place for children”) director Galia Urquhart said staff have already learnt valuable lessons from Sally. “Indigenous respect for the natural environment is something that we have already taken into our play-based learning,” she said. “However, we would like to develop this further and we’re looking at introducing a bush program that will provide children with a connection to the natural environment while they are young, with the hope that they will build a sense of belonging and respect for the country as they grow.”

Sally’s 20-year career with Yarm Gwanga has been an educational journey in itself. She started as a trainee, before completing a Diploma in Children’s Services at TAFE and then a Bachelor of Teaching at UNE. “I have seen so many children go through Yarm, head off to school and become adults, and even bring their own children to the centre,” Sally said. “It’s been a very supportive environment in which to learn for me, too.”

UNE’s Dr Sue Elliott, a senior lecturer in Early Childhood Education, also presented at the conference, focussing on opportunities for play, pedagogy and research in natural environments. Hosted by the Thalgarrah Environmental Education Centre, the conference was organised by Sue Motley, Director of the Armidale Community Preschool.

Image: Sally Lockwood is sitting on the right. The picture was taken at the conference held at the Thalgarrah Environmental Education Centre recently.