The team at Pakenham Springs Children’s Centre believe a welcome space is “an open place for people to talk, share and feel safe.” And for the Indigenous families at the centre on Bunurong Country, feeling welcome and a part of community is crucial. Nominated Supervisor Tanya Armstrong says to do this effectively “we need to know who we are and where we are on the Land. Becoming with Place is central to our way of doing, and connecting with the right community partners is key.” 

For Tanya and the team, fostering a safe and welcoming space for families has always been critical. The work expanded in 2023 when Cardinia Shire’s Best Start Facilitator Emma Carter reached out to Area Manager Harshna Desai about including ECMS educators in the conversation. 

“It’s all about capacity building” Emma explains. “We identify small changes that make for big changes, it’s forever a learning journey.” 

Their shared ECE goals launched discussions with the Pakenham Springs team about how to open conversations with Indigenous families and create an environment where everyone feels safe. This also led to the team developing and introducing vibrant place-based experiences into practice. 

“Storytelling is central, and we take this knowledge into everyday activities using natural materials, symbols and celebrations” explains Tanya, reflecting a key message from our recent VECTA PD day to “think about Aunty Dr Sue Atkinson’s Signs, Signals and Symbols and ask questions that keep us in a curious space.” 

Emma introduced Pete Dye, Bunurong and Wemba Wemba Man and Cardinia’s LGA Koorie Engagement Support Officer, and together the team found ways to build relationships with Indigenous families at the centre. 

“When you ask questions and are genuinely curious, you make people feel culturally safe” says Pete. “When people feel accepted, they see the value of education. If we can start educational journeys early, it encourages young people to continue schooling and will make things better down the track.” 

Pakenham Springs Educational Leader, Sue Stonyer says that Pete’s encouragement to have open conversations with Indigenous families about Land and Culture has improved the team’s confidence. “Developing these relationships impacts our families. We ask about the Land we’re on, and if they’re not Boonwurrung People, we ask them about their Country.” 

The team also joined Cardinia Yarning Network, a space for teaching teams to come together and yarn to understand how to meaningfully embed Indigenous perspectives into practice and learn about Aboriginal culture. Tanya recounts the last session “we were privileged to experience the songs and stories from Larrakia man Ash Dargan and Walking Through a Songline interactive art exhibition. The discussions shine a different light on what’s happening in community.” 

Hand in hand with local partners, the Pakenham Springs teaching team are building a safe and creative place for their community of children and families to feel truly welcome.  

About us: Pakenham Springs Children’s Centre in Cardinia Shire is a double unit Kindergarten offering 3- and 4-year-old and multi aged kindergarten in Melbourne’s east.