By CELA on 11 Apr, 2024

In an increasingly globalised and homogenised world, it's vital to celebrate and safeguard cultural heritage: the traditions, languages, and knowledge that define humanity's diverse cultures. These elements, which we may not be able to touch or visit, are the very fabric of our identities, embodying the unique differences that enrich our being, becoming and belonging. 

Why intangible cultural heritage should be treasured 

In 2023, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) broadened its conservation scope to encompass what it calls “intangible cultural heritage”. This led to the establishment of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage which states that:  

The “intangible cultural heritage” means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts, and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity...” 

Intangible cultural heritage includes oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge, and practices concerning nature and the universe, and traditional craftsmanship. These intangible elements give us a sense of identity and continuity, offering insights not only into our history but also into the ways we can shape the future. 

Examples of intangible cultural heritage listed by UNESCO are as diverse as the cultures they come from. They include the Flamenco of Spain, the traditional tea ceremony in Japan, the Tango of Argentina and Uruguay, and the Wayang puppet theatre of Indonesia. These practices are more than just activities; they represent a way of life, embodying the values, beliefs, and skills of the people who practice them.  

It is disappointing to note that there are currently no listings for Australia, and that Australia is not among the over 180 nations listed who are ratified to submit cultural heritage items.  

Browse all intangible cultural heritage listings: 

How to explore the concept of intangible cultural heritage with children  

Today is a great day to start engaging children in the rich tapestry of intangible cultural heritage, beginning with their own families and communities. Starting conversations about the customs and traditions practiced at home opens a treasure trove of cultural wisdom and experience.  

In Australia, we are fortunate to have a unique cultural landscape, including the diverse traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. These cultures, steeped in tens of thousands of years of history, offer incredible examples of intangible heritage to explore. From the intricate storytelling found in Dreamtime narratives to traditional dance that depicts ancestral songlines, to the sharing of knowledge and the practice of lore, these important cultural practices are more than mere activities; they are vital expressions of identity, connection and continuity.

Consider, for example, the significance of traditional games like Marngrook, a ball game traditionally played by Aboriginal (Koorie) Peoples in Victoria, which is thought to have influenced Australian rules football. Or the diverse practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander weaving and crafting, which provide a way to share knowledge, connect to People and Country and invite mindfulness. These activities offer a hands-on way for children to connect with and appreciate the cultural heritage of Australia's First Peoples.

Intangible cultural heritage is constantly being recreated by communities in response to changing environments and interactions on and with Country. Engaging children to help create new cultural traditions within early learning services is another great way to build learning. These traditions can become a cherished part of the service community's fabric, passed down and enriched by each successive generation of children and educators. 

Here are some other ideas you could implement: 

  1. Explore the origins and meanings of unique sayings used in Australia such as “fair go” and “chuck U-ey". What sayings do the children know that are unique to their culture or home? Do you have any that are unique to your service?  
  2. Investigate crafting culture in early childhood, for example, paper cutting. A Chinese intangible cultural heritage which involves meticulously cutting paper into intricate designs and patterns. This elevates children's artistic literacy and curiosity to explore. 
  3. Consider creating an intangible cultural heritage display with children exploring questions like:
    -What is culture? - How does this connect to each child?  
    Create artworks to represent children's ideas using a variety of mediums, i.e., clay, dance, music, drawings, photos, storytelling.
  4. Explore a sustainable future, e.g., planting native grasses, such as native millet or panicum, to harvest for food or use for weaving and shelter building. Consult with local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Peoples to find out what native plants and weaving practices are connected to the Country you are on and their Traditional Custodians. Remember, before you ask for support and information, it’s important to always first build relationships.   
  5. Explore traditional sewing techniques, such as using kangaroo sinew to sew together possum skin cloaks, or the Huayao cross stitch from the remote village of Longhui County, Hunan Province in China.

Always consider the current interests of children. How are they intertwined with Intangible Cultural heritage? 


Celebrating intangible cultural practices in early education can help to nurture a sense of identity and belonging among children. By exposing young learners to diverse traditions, languages, and knowledge, educators can foster an appreciation for cultural diversity and enhance creative expression.  

Such engagement helps children understand the richness of their own and others' cultural backgrounds, promoting respect and empathy. Moreover, activities related to these cultural practices enrich learning environments, contributing to cognitive and social development while building a strong community ethos within educational settings.  

CELA professional development relating to this topic


Further reading:  

About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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