Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Yarning Space: Leading Literacy Learning through Family-School Partnerships

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Yarning Space: Leading Literacy Learning through Family-School Partnerships

Article excerpt


One of the co-researchers was a trusted friend of the preschool staff, which facilitated entry to and acceptance of the chief investigator in the research site. She encouraged and supported their sharing of personal narratives. As co-researchers, we viewed the mothers as potentially effective agents in establishing and sustaining family-school partnerships. We were invited into their 'yarning space', a safe, jointly constructed space centred on the preschool in which all voices are heard as they 'yarn up' (Burchill & Higgins, 2005). The space was not so much a physical location as a positioning or sociocultural strategy for communicating across linguistic and cultural boundaries. In this 'third place' (Lo Bianco, Liddicoat & Crozet, 1999), the participants were able to articulate the multiple dimensions of their own intercultural space and identity. This study of how to promote collaborative agency documents an alternative approach to traditional practices in other family-school settings where power and control rest firmly with the school and its agents and remain unchallenged. We then used a narrative case study to contest the power and control of research traditions that, like some school or project leaders, only talk or 'yarn down' (Burchill & Higgins, 2005) to their community members.

We also write in part from the first-person point of view to take advantage of the developmental opportunities that such autobiographical writing affords all participants (Pinar & Grumet, 1976). (Auto)biographical research is a powerful and effective way to study knowledge formation and to understand (pre)schooling (Pinar, Reynolds, Slattery & Taubman, 1995). Using such a personal knowledge approach helps prevent projects or programs being misunderstood as uni-dimensional--as bodies of knowledge or 'right ways' to be applied generally.

In late 2009 we commenced this study at the community preschool in Napranum, an Aboriginal Community on Western Cape York in remote far north Queensland. We were keen to identify the nature of the family-school and community partnership that seemingly underpinned the success of its long-established Parents and Learning (PaL) program and a recent initiative, Mums n Bubs. The aim of both these programs is to engage parents as partners with the preschool in their children's literacy learning.

PaL was designed in 2001 as a bespoke literacy program to support parents in Napranum as they sought to engage in their child's literacy learning. Initially, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative parents and the preschool teacher/director considered implementing the Israeli-developed Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY) but it was considered unsuitable for Napranum parents and children. The parents and teacher/director instead created their own program, using literature that supported community beliefs and values. They developed a series of kits that consist of a book and accompanying literacy activities for parents to undertake with their children. Tutors are trained to visit homes to deliver the kits, explain the literacy activities, and liaise with parents. PaL is now run by a board of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and employs a program manager, coordinator, and local community tutors. Until recently, PaL was funded by international mining company Rio Tinto, a company that mined bauxite nearby. Now it relies on philanthropic or government funding to implement the program.

The Mums n Bubs program is a more recent initiative. Mothers are encouraged to come to the preschool with their babies and toddlers each week to enjoy social time together. The mothers themselves plan a program of activities which the preschool director and PaL tutors facilitate. Activities may consist of sharing the skills of individual members such as art, scrapbooking, and jewellery-making. They also include information sessions on a range of topics of interest or focus on practical skill development, such as preparing to gain a driver's licence. …

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