Designing an Early Years Learning Framework for Kindergarten and Preprimary Pupils
The Australian Government's Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations has launched an Early Years Learning Framework initiative that is designed to facilitate universal access to early childhood education resources. The initiative has been incorporated in the National Quality Standard in an effort to ensure consistent delivery of high quality educational services to young learners across the country. The Early Years Learning Framework initiative is also explicit in its guidelines concerning the need for respect of children from diverse and Indigenous backgrounds. This paper uses the Early Years Learning Framework to describe a literacy rich learning environment for kindergarten to preprimary year pupils that draws on Boori Monty Pryor and Jan Ormerod's children's book, Shake a Leg. A description of the learning environment is followed by a discussion concerning how the learning experience engages young learners to draw on their previous knowledge to enhance their comprehension and formulate new areas of inquiry and investigation. Finally, a summary of the research and important findings concerning the Early Years Learning Framework are provided in the conclusion.
Review and Discussion
It is well-recognized that early childcare experiences can have significant social and developmental implications (Williamson & Davis, 2011). In Australia, the years from birth to 8 years are distinguished by the following developmental phases in young learners: phase one: birth to approximately 3 years (termed the child care years); phase two: approximately 3 to 5 years (considered the kindergarten and preprimary years); and phase three: approximately 6 to 8 years (classified as early childhood education) (Elliott & Berlach, 2010). According to Elliott and Berlach (2010), the Early Years Learning Framework (ELYF) provides "broad parameters, principles and outcomes for supporting and enhancing children's learning and assisting with the transition from kindergarten to primary school" (p. 567). Elementary school teachers can use the broad ELYF guidelines to develop relevant, authentic and learning experiences that are also enjoyable (Elliott & Berlach, 2010). According to Sumsion, Barnes, Cheeseman et al. (2009), "An explicit aim of the EYLF is to extend and enrich children's learning from birth through the transition to school. The EYLF is a document of considerable significance for contemporary early childhood policy and practice" (p. 4). The transition period to school is widely regarded as critical developmental phase because it represents young learners' transition into the formal educational process which requires careful attention from educators (Elliott & Berlach, 2010). In this regard, Elliott and Berlach advise that, "This period represents the child's initial foray into the world of formal education and as such, necessitates pedagogical skills on the part of the teacher associated with planning, sequencing, assessment and so on" (2010, p. 68).
In order to be most effective, it is important for kindergarten and preprimary teachers to understand that the planning for learning phase and the evaluation of their performance are not separate activities but are rather parts of an integrated process. The Early Years Learning Framework (2009) endorses these functions under the general rubric of "belonging, being, becoming" (p. 7) and regards them as being critical to achieving "the integration of learning across the outcomes" (p. 19). The specific outcomes of the ELYF have been identified as follows:
Children have a strong sense of identity;
Children are connected with and contribute to their world;
Children have a strong sense of well-being;
Children are confident and involved learners; and,
Children are effective communicators. (p. 19)
Given the need for cross-cultural understanding in a multicultural society, the Early Years Learning Framework guidelines are specific concerning the need to respect and value children from diverse and Indigenous backgrounds (Williamson & Davis, 2011). One book that has proven effective in promoting this level of enhanced cross-cultural awareness is Boori Monty Pryor and Jan Ormerod's Shake a Leg. Described by Murray and Bamblett (2011) as "an exciting children's book from a gifted Murri storyteller," Shake a Leg (2010) "is an important children's book about contemporary Aborigines that delivers a message about cultural continuity" (p. 114). This goal is congruent with the tenets of the EYLF and the book's cover is depicted in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1. Cover of Shake a Leg by Pryor and Ormerod (Source: http://www.allenandunwin.com/)
This children's book was selected for this project because is portrays working-class Aborigines in ways that demonstrate their ability to work and live in the larger Australian society without sacrificing essential elements of their culture. According to Murray and Bamblett, "The characters are employed and they work to maintain the cultural traditions they value. In this way the characters in the book represent our family the way they do many Indigenous families" (2011, p. 114). The book received the Australian Prime Minister's Literary Awards for Children's Fiction (2011), the Children's Book Council of Australia Notable Book for Picture Book (2011), as well as being shortlisted for the 2011 Speech Pathology Australia's Book of the Year, Lower Primary; 2011 Speech Pathology Australia's Book of the Year, Indigenous Children, and was awarded Notable Book, 2011 Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year, Younger Readers, Notable Book, 2011 and the Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year, Picture Book.
The book describes the adventures of three young Australian boys who encounter an Italian-speaking pizza chef who is Aboriginal, a storyline that is used to communicate cross-cultural understanding and mutual interests that include tasty foods. According to Murray and Bamblett (2011), "Using Italian food culture as an example of cultural continuity and successful integration in contemporary Australia is one clever idea in this book. This generates conversation about cultural continuity with a young audience. It also delivers a message to young people -- that Aborigines can live a modern life while maintaining values from our precious, ancient and enduring culture" (p. 115). The multi-layered language usage also provides an engaging means of reaching young learners and maintaining their interest as the storyline progresses (Murray & Bamblett, 2011). According to these educators, "Language, in this book, connects two cultural traditions -- Italian and Aboriginal. The author subtly that our cultures have much in common, that we share human values, by using the Italian (ballare) and Tjapukai (warrima) words for dance. Family, friendship and respect are other important transcendent human values that are important themes in this book" (Murray & Bamblett, 2011, p. 115).
The learning environment used for this exercise is the children's homeroom together with the resources described in the "provocations column" in Table 1 below. The approximately 15-minute classroom learning exercise using Shake a Leg as the primary text proceeds as set forth in Table 1 below.
Shake a Leg Exercise
Children assembled in semi-circle around teacher.
Question-and-answer for definitions and meaning throughout.
Discussion concerning what foods are described in the book
Pizza is used by the authors to communicate the cross-cultural aspects of food preferences.
World map showing Italy compared to Australia.
Group dance using song from Shake a Leg
Teacher enthusiastically chants while children dance and stomp:
All you fellas watching, come up, join in, warrima.
Clap your hands, little ones.
Stamp your feet, nannas.
Get down and dance, you smart young things, mummas and daddas.
Let's get the whole town dancing!
Many Australian Indigenous languages have extensive sets of verbs for ceremonial activities such as dancing. Although English may not have simple translation equivalents, the concept can be discerned through relevant classroom activities.
Summary and Conclusion
The main themes in Shake a Leg are repeated and the children are encouraged to pursue independent research about issues of interest.
1. Pictures and posters of Aboriginal food favorites are displayed prominently in the learning area.
2. Chapter books and other reading material relevant to the issues covered are provided.