Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Teaching Small Children About Australian Aboriginal History

Australian history homeschool

In order to know where we are going 
we need to know where we've been
 Roy C. Owens

Our first day in Alice Springs, Northern Territory was spent at the telegraph station museum and reserve. It is the original site of the first European settlement in Alice Springs. It is also the place of the 'spring' that gave the place its name. It operated as a telegraph station for 60 years before becoming a school for Aboriginal children. This is a nice way of saying a place where they put half-caste children when they took them away from their parents.

Australian history homeschool

I felt quite overwhelmed at how sketchy my knowledge is of Australian history especially chatting with one of our close friends (a local) who has been living and working with Indigenous people for over 15 years. Just one conversation with him makes me feel like an ignorant fool!

It was an exciting realisation that as a homeschooler I have the power to teach my kids Australian history in the way that I feel is necessary. 

I won't be teaching my kids in the typical white fella way with the emphasis being on the early pioneers and settlers with the disclaimer "Oh and kids...those early pioneers weren't very nice to Aboriginal people...but moving on...". I want my kids to know their history, to understand the beauty of Aboriginal culture and what happened when white people took away their homes and land. I want them to understand the complexities of how this impacted the Aboriginal people and how this is still relevant today.

homeschool aboriginal history
An exercise in teaching Aboriginal history to small children....

I was encouraged by our  friend to teach my kids the heart of the issue when it comes to invasion: land. Land is everything to Aboriginal people. It is part of their identity, their spirituality and their connection to one another. To take away land is to take away their heart and soul and most significantly, their identity.

Step 1. 
Take kids into their favourite room (bedroom or playroom) and ask them to tell you everything they love about that space. They will normally describe toys and books and encourage them to try and explain how they feel when they are there e.g safe, happy...

Step 2. 
Ask them to imagine that the local council has just sent you a letter informing you that they are building a road through their favourite room and they don't have a choice. Ask the children how that makes them feel and how it would feel to watch someone they don't know take their things and tell them they can't live in their home anymore. Be wise in how you do this if your child is sensitive.

Step 3. 
Explain that this is how Aboriginal people feel when their land has been taken away from them. They didn't have a choice and it made them feel really sad. Many Aboriginal people today still feel sad because they grieve for something they lost. When Aboriginal people lost their land, they also lost their connection to their own families, their stories and history.

It is only fair that we validate and respect their experience by sharing the truth with our children.

I did this with my 6 and almost 5 year old as they asked many questions after their visit to the telegraph museum. In fact, DS6 couldn't wait to ask me to explain why the Aboriginal gentleman (pictured above) who showed us around had been taken away from his family and forced to live in the old telegraph station. I was concerned about my ability to tell him this history in a way that wouldn't freak out his sensitive nature. He surprised me. He comprehended it quite well and acknowledged that it was "history which means in the past so those things don't happen anymore". To go from the first Australians to the stolen generation in one discussion was a bit much emotionally for me though!

Australian history homeschool

Australia sadly, has a very shameful history (like many countries) and many Australians are unaware of their roots. We've turned a blind eye as many aspects are too confronting. I don't remember learning half of what I know about the first Australians in school. I certainly wasn't taught the full story. The SBS series the first Australians is an excellent resource for teachers and homeschoolers.

I believe all children need an honest age-appropriate introduction to Australian history.

I will continue to blog about our time in the Northern Territory and our journey learning about this topic!

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