Skye Children’s Cooperative (Skye) is an early childhood education and care (ECEC) service built on the homeland of the of the greater Kulin Nation. Opened in 1988, Skye has always operated as a community not-for-profit service with all profits reinvested back into the centre for the benefit of the children and the community.
For more than 30 years, the partnership between the Skye Children’s Cooperative Board and Banyule City Council (who own our service’s building) has fostered strong links between council and the community. This has embedded Skye’s place as a valued ECEC service within the local community.
The COVID-19 lockdowns deeply shook our sense of identity as we found it increasingly difficult to remain the active citizens we usually are. Relationships with parents, carers and both the local and wider community have always been a foundation of what we do and what we stand for. Once we moved towards a COVID normal, our highest priority was that of partnerships with community—this is how our Street Library project began.
Our intention was to combine community connection with better educational outcomes for all. The idea behind creating a Street Library and herb garden was to unite the community with a shared project. We saw the project as a symbol of giving, receiving, and growing together through healthy nourishment for the mind and body.
As early childhood advocates, we understand the power that books play in developing early literacy skills. Research shows that the frequency of reading to children at a young age has a direct causal effect on their educational outcomes regardless of their family background and home environment. Reading to children between three and five days per week (compared to two or less) has the same effect on a child’s reading skills at age five as being six months older. Reading to them between six and seven days per week has the same effect as being almost 12 months older.
We wanted to share this accessibility to the community beyond our fence line. Although we knew that children from Skye had access to a wide variety of literature and nutritious foods from our kitchen, we couldn’t guarantee the same for the extended community.
In early June 2022 we reached out to Banyule Men’s Shed, a community-based, non-profit, non-commercial organisation whose primary goal is the provision of a safe, friendly and accessible environment where men can work on meaningful projects at their own pace, in their own time and in the company of other men. A major objective is to improve the health and wellbeing of their members.
We were delighted when Jack and his mates agreed to build Skye’s Street Library, and were excited to collect the finished piece just in time for CBCA Book Week. Skye staff worked in collaboration with our families, with everyone dedicating a Saturday to a working bee to make our community dream a reality. We installed the Street Library and planted the herb garden just two days before the unveil.
The Skye Children’s Co-op community and education ministers agree that education needs to continue to promote excellence and equity. It should enable all Australians to become confident and creative individuals, successful learners, and active and informed community members.
Children learn to value and respect others through the building of community. It was important for us to ensure this project included the children—not only to be active contributors, but to learn empathy from observing their teachers, parents and community, thus enabling them to be active citizens and giving them the opportunity to take part in the community and social change. This encourages children not only to engage with others, but to work together, collaborate, problem solve and truly value their relationships with others.
We believe this project supports the framework developed by the Council of Australian Governments to assist our sector in providing young children with opportunities to maximise their potential and develop a foundation for future success in learning.
More broadly, the Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young Australians says ‘All young Australians become: Successful learners; Confident and creative individuals; Active and informed citizens’ (Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 2008).
We look forward to witnessing how our shared project is utilised and hope it adds educational and community value for many years to come.
The world is an intriguing and initially unknown experience for babies and young children. Over time, children learn that not everyone lives in the same kind of community that has become familiar to them. This book provides a store of practical ideas focusing on building a sense of place and identity through interaction with the local community.