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Connecting kids to country

27 April 2020, Impact of Our Work

Indigenous children are going back to their roots with Play2Learn 

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many children across Australia to learn remotely from home, temporarily pausing many playgroups and other activities for children. 

However, Save the Children’s playgroups in the Northern Territory have turned adversity into opportunity. Recognising this is a crucial time to maintain learning in the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in which we work, we’ve adapted our Play2Learn program for remote delivery, so that Indigenous kids can continue to connect with their culture and keep learning in these vital early years. 

The adapted Play2Learn program is consistent with the Early Years Learning Framework and reflects the natural environment of the homelands. It includes activities such as going hunting, taking part in ceremonial life, talking about traditional medicines and valuing language skills.

Save the Children Northern Territory Director, Noelene Swanson, said the program adaptations meant that children were still engaging and taking part despite the disruptions from the coronavirus.

It’s fantastic that we are able to keep providing this vital service for Aboriginal families in the NT

Noelene Swanson, Save the Children Northern Territory Director

“The kids love the program and are really enjoying attending remotely. They are still able to take part in games and activities, but at the same time we have been able to adapt the program content to incorporate life on-country, such as by tasting bush tucker, building a hut from branches and leaves and going for a bush walk.”  

The adapted Play2Learn program is running in a number of locations across the Northern Territory, including the remote communities of Wadeye, 420 kilometres south west of Darwin and Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria. 

What we’re doing in Wadeye

Many family groups from Wadeye in the NT have moved to remote sites across traditional homelands to meet new social-distancing and travel restrictions and reduce the risk of contracting coronavirus.

Maintaining vital early learning 

To ensure children keep taking part in the vital early learning during this time, we have adapted our program by providing individual family groups with tablets for photos, songs and videos, as well as education kits with pencils, paper and games. 

The program is being delivered by four local Aboriginal women who work for Save the Children and have returned to their homeland. 

The women are all studying a Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and have helped modify how the program will be delivered, and what it will include.

Gwendaline Kolumboort is one of those women. She’s delivering the Play2Learn program along with special bush experiences, including fishing and hunting trip and bush walks. 

She has been supporting the children’s fine motor development and hand-eye coordination through drawing, rhymes and songs in the local language, Murrinhpatha, in the sessions. 

A key focus is healthy eating. Gwendoline talks to the kids about bush tucker and how it can be hunted and gathered. The children have learnt to recognise the traditional bush tucker which can be found on the outskirts of the community. Gwendoline is using this as a platform to explore healthy food further, allowing the children to catch and prepare fish for supper, and make burgers incorporating vegetables, such as lettuce.

I want to thank Save the Children for helping me to teach the kids here so they can keep learning


Gwendoline teaches three-year-old Miriam how to eat healthy. 


Support for children on Groote Eylandt

The Play2Learn program has also been adapted on Groote Eylandt, the largest island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, which is in lockdown to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

On Groote Eylandt, we’re using online platforms to post educational content about the program and making weekly phone calls to families to continue engagement and support wellbeing. 

We are also preparing packs for families which include reading books, crayons, playdough and games, which are being delivered through community health clinics. 

While there is so much grim news around coronavirus, this is a positive story showing how technology can support Indigenous Australian children connect to country, family and culture during a very difficult time


With remote our Play2Learn program now active across the NT, we are able to continue to help young children learn to play, socialise, establish routine and prepare for school.

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