At this time of lockdown, the notion of celebration seems far off. Recent celebrations for NAIDOC week, have however highlighted the power of celebration to draw us together even when we are sheltering behind closed doors. The humble leadership, wisdom and human kindness evident in Ash Barty’s celebration of her historic win at Wimbledon has reminded us too, that celebrations do not have to be about individuals and ego. They can be about kindness and community, and continue to connect and enrich us, through Covid and beyond.
During 2019 I was invited to lead a project with Uniting Early Learning (EL) and Out of School Hours Care (OSHC) services to explore the nature of celebrations and the role that celebrations could serve within Uniting services for children. Through regional gatherings across NSW, educators, leaders and church representatives explored questions of what, why and how do we celebrate? They also shared their stories of day-to-day practice and specific projects of celebration within their local communities.
The Director at Frederick St Uniting EL shared her commitment to getting to know the families deeply. “Our service is characterised by its multi-cultural and multi-faith diversity. We have 28 different languages, 98 per cent of children from diverse cultural backgrounds and families who practise Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Buddhist faiths. We learn so much from our families – about different traditions, festivals, celebrations and cultural practices. Eighty-five per cent of children come to us via a word-of-mouth recommendation so the sense of community trust is important. Our multi-lingual staff help with our ability to be welcoming to families from many different cultures.”
Educators shared moments of kindness, compassion and friendship that can be celebrated along with personal achievements, milestones, birthdays and festivals. At Uniting North Bondi EL the children are encouraged to celebrate qualities in each other by choosing a photo of another child and then giving a compliment to this child. “We have been supporting our children to choose children they may not usually play with, and to think of ways they could compliment them. We feel as though this experience enables our children to build a strong sense of identity and belonging.”
The Director at Uniting Preschool, Adamstown Heights, outlined a kindness project with the children and families. “We are aware that some people in our area are living out of their cars due to difficult and unforeseen circumstances. We talked with the children about what it would be like to be homeless. The children really seem to get the realities of what this would mean and were very concerned. We invited the children and their families to help contribute to the Bare Necessities project that helps people who are homeless. Families have been generous and donated food, and toiletries. When we visited the support service, we asked what else their people needed – ring-pull cans, pet food and pillows. The children listened and are now bringing in things we hadn’t thought of before. The children show compassion, care and kindness in their actions and in their thinking.” Such acts of kindness are worthy of celebration.
The sharing of practices and projects, and the practice wisdom of the participating educators, highlighted the alignment between their work and the values of the Uniting Church and Uniting as a service provider. This was evident in the nature of the relationships of care and hospitality to all – newcomers and outsiders, those who are marginalised and disadvantaged – that foregrounds the agency of the child. It was apparent that educators, children and families were undertaking significant social justice work within their diverse communities. This work includes justice for first nations peoples, care for the earth, and for the authentic celebration of diversity and difference.
The implementation of Celebrating Together continues. A recent example was the celebration of family week at Caringbah Uniting Preschool. After consultation, the decision to celebrate Family Week instead of Mother’s and Father’s Day was made in response to the diverse nature of families and the commitment to ensuring a safe and respectful place of welcome for all. May acts of care and kindness and commitment to the common good like this continue through the Covid lockdown and beyond.
Dr Cathie Harrison (EdD, MEd, BEdEC) is an Early Learning and Gifted Education Consultant. Her recent report Celebrating Together at Uniting: Children, Families, Colleagues and Communities, Celebrating Together aims to assist educators in Uniting’s Early Learning and Out of Hours School Care services to make thoughtful and collaborative decisions about the celebrations they share with children and families.