Teaching Indigenous Traditions

Knowledge Circle Practice Profiles


Practice focus

Parenting support
Early childhood development
Strengthening culture

Delivered by

The program was led by the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency southern office (Southern VACCA). VACCA is an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation (see: http://www.vacca.org/).

Southern VACCA also collaborated with Anglicare Victoria (Cardinia Shire) in the delivery of the program.

The information provided for this Practice Profile was supplied by VACCA.


Melbourne; Cardinia Shire (Pakenham)

Issue being addressed

This program was developed in response to a local community desire to enhance the parenting skills of Indigenous parents and to increase Indigenous family involvement in the local community. By learning more about Indigenous traditions and cultural practices, parents were able to strengthen their cultural confidence, become more involved in their local Indigenous community, and as a consequence, build upon their parenting capacity.

Service type

This parental education program was part of an existing playgroup service, where Indigenous Elders involved children and families in various cultural activities and traditions, including group excursions and community days.

Target population

The program was aimed at Indigenous parents and children in the Southern VACCA Poorneet playgroup in the Cardinia Shire (Pakenham).

All of the families in the playgroup are Indigenous. Eighty percent of Southern VACCA staff are Indigenous.

Aims and objectives

The primary aims were to improve the cultural confidence of Indigenous parents in the Poorneet playgroup and increase the participation of playgroup families in the local community. The practices and actions that were implemented to achieve these aims included:

  1. Building confidence and capacity for parenting through cultural activities taught by local Elders
  2. Improving relationships within and between playgroup families by developing parents' sense of cultural identity, pride and competence as Indigenous parents
  3. Increasing parents' understanding of early childhood development and the role of parents, family, community and service providers in their children's development
  4. Developing parents' understanding, familiarity and willingness to access relevant local service providers
  5. Encouraging parents to participate in social networking, cultural and community activities
  6. Improving interactions and integration between families and local services; and
  7. Receiving and making referrals to services for adults and children as needed
Program basis

The program built upon the existing 'Poorneet' playgroup run by Southern VACCA. A series of client surveys that explored the needs of families using the service, identified an interest in using Indigenous cultural traditions as a way to strengthen parenting skills and increase community participation. Subsequently, the playgroup began involving Elders in teaching Indigenous cultural traditions to playgroup families.

The program aim was to involve Indigenous Elders in teaching the Playgroup's parents and children cultural knowledge, competence and pride. The Elders ran parenting related activities that incorporated cultural norms. This led to strong parental engagement that in turn led to parents developing or enhancing their parenting practices. These practices ideally support the achievement of better child development outcomes.

To improve parents' and families involvement in the community, the program ran excursions and community days that encouraged families to attend Indigenous community events. These program activities led to increased cultural pride and willingness to share culture outside the playgroup. These activities also helped the group move from reluctant attendees to forthright communicators who took on roles and responsibilities within the playgroup. VACCA collaborated with various stakeholders in the local community to organise and deliver activities for the events.

Cultural relevance

Local community context

The following local community factors were considered in developing the program:

  • The need to build the cultural confidence of Indigenous parents in the Southern VACCA playgroup
  • The existing Southern VACCA playgroup was an ideal group to start this program because of its desire to increase involvement in the community
  • The need to have Indigenous families and children participating more in community events
  • The families' expressed need to learn more about culture and early parenting skills; and
  • The importance of learning about culture and paying respect to Elders
Involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

Indigenous people were involved in identifying the need for the program and in the playgroup delivery. Through a series of surveys, Indigenous families using the Poorneet playgroup indicated a desire to know more about Aboriginal culture and have more input from Elders. VACCA Staff subsequently identified the playgroup as the focus for the Teaching Indigenous Traditions program.

Indigenous people are also involved at several levels in the program delivery. Indigenous Elders have a key role in teaching the playgroup about Aboriginal culture whilst VACCA staff play an important role in facilitating the playgroup activities and community events. Playgroup families also help deliver the program by participating in all of the activities, attending the community days and encouraging their children to use indigenous languages.

The playgroup families also participated in the internal evaluation of the program by completing surveys about the cultural activities in the playgroup and evaluation forms at each of the community events (e.g. Healesville Sanctuary day, Little Fellas Family Fun Day, Koori Connect day). Families also complete an annual 20-day snapshot that captures their thoughts on the program and provide weekly verbal feedback at the playgroup.

Cultural practices and materials

Several culturally appropriate materials were used as part of the program, including:

  • Traditional Indigenous language classes
  • Arts classes incorporating traditional symbols and paintings using boomerangs and handprints
  • Parenting skills classes that used traditional song and dance
  • Group activities that incorporated traditional language
  • Activities facilitated by Indigenous Elders with content related to Indigenous history, culture or art; and
  • Elders taught a range of culturally based activities, including: Indigenous songs, dance, history, making art, creating bush tools, learning Aboriginal language and parenting skills. The development of a Remembrance Book documenting the first excursion of the playgroup has served as an ongoing reminder of their culture.

The program model hasn't been replicated, but the general principle of integrating culture into parenting activities has been included in other VACCA locations and family support programs.


Evaluation status

Separate evaluations of the playgroup program and the community events have been conducted.

Evaluation details

The evaluation of the playgroup program was undertaken internally, using:

  • two six-monthly satisfaction surveys completed by families
  • ongoing weekly feedback from clients and/or staff
  • participant observation; and
  • a 20 day snapshot (that captured participant thoughts on the program and how it had impacted their lives)

The evaluation of the community events was planned and implemented collaboratively with other stakeholders and used the following evaluation activities:

  • feedback forms that were completed by families and children who attended the events
  • surveys that were completed by stakeholders and partner organisations
  • surveys that were completed by VACCA staff; and
  • debriefing exercises


Most effective aspect

The involvement of Indigenous Elders in teaching cultural traditions was effective in increasing parental cultural confidence. The community events were also very effective in helping parents and children get involved with the local community. It was this combination of playgroup sessions about culture and excursions with the rest of community that improved the participants' knowledge, confidence and pride in being Indigenous parents that are part of a broader community.

Demonstrated outcomes

Through the two six-monthly surveys completed by families it was found that:

  • 85 percent of parents and children who participated were satisfied with the program
  • 90 percent of families wanted community members and Elders to attend the playgroups; and
  • 80 percent of families wanted more opportunities to meet with other playgroups and to participate in the community events.

There was anecdotal evidence from families that:

  • children were becoming more confident in their own culture (e.g. using Aboriginal languages, identifying traditional tools and artefacts, paying respect to and demonstrating knowledge of cultural protocols). Families were also very keen to continue to strengthen their connection to their culture and the community
  • there was increased family interest and confidence in participating in community events and meeting other families
  • parents increased their understanding of early childhood development and their role in their child's development; and
  • through the events, families became more familiar with, and willing to seek support from, mainstream services as needed and this improved interactions between families and local services.

The stakeholder surveys indicated that generally stakeholders believed the community events were effective and allowed time to engage with families and that cultural activities allowed families to take pride in their culture. Some stakeholders suggested promotion of the event in the Mornington Peninsula area might have been improved by the use of social media and other promotional activities.

The VACCA staff surveys suggested that most staff felt the event promoted the importance of early years education, that the cultural and other activities were adequate and educational and that the events had been well promoted in the local area. The VACCA staff survey results suggested a broader set of local services (e.g. local council and kindergarten) and more 'traditional' cultural games could have been included.

During stakeholder and staff debriefing exercises, mainstream services and VACCA staff expressed the belief that there had been meaningful engagement between them and the Aboriginal community in an informal setting.

Other evidence

During the Little Fellas Family Fun Day (a community day run as one part of the program), participant feedback forms were distributed and the results showed that 95 percent of participants praised VACCA and the cultural nature of the day and there was a recommendation to hold the event annually. The anecdotal evidence from VACCA staff suggested the event successfully celebrated Indigenous culture.


The playgroup program and the community events were jointly funded and resourced by:

  • Anglicare (Communities for Children Plus)
Evidence base and opportunities

There is research suggesting that successful parenting programs for Indigenous families often incorporate elements of Aboriginal cultural activities, involve Indigenous people in the program design and have high levels of local Indigenous community involvement. For more information see: http://www.aihw.gov.au/uploadedFiles/ClosingTheGap/Content/Publications/2012/ctgc-rs16.pdf http://www.aihw.gov.au/uploadedFiles/ClosingTheGap/Content/Publications/2013/ctgc-ip06.pdfhttp://www.aihw.gov.au/uploadedFiles/ClosingTheGap/Content/Our_publications/2014/ctgc-ip08.pdf

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