Many early education and care services incorporate extracurricular activities such as yoga, mindfulness and sports into their programs. A less well-known but growing movement in the early childhood space is the practice of Wayapa Wuurrk, which means “Connect to the Earth” in the language of the Maara and Gunai Kurnai Peoples respectively. Wayapa Wuurrk was founded in 2014 by Jamie Thomas and Sara Jones, with a focus on developing a relationship with our environment through the concept of ancient earth mindfulness.
By Deborah Hoger
The Wayapa Wuurrk movement is gathering interest and momentum throughout the country. There are an increasing number of certified Wayapa Practitioners, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who share with others this ‘earth connection practice’. Founder Jamie Thomas is a Cultural Knowledge Holder and Sharer. He is Gunai Kurnai and a descendant of the Maara Nation. Co-founder Sara Jones is a non-Indigenous woman who has worked with Aboriginal communities for 18 years.
“Through a combination of Earth mindfulness, narrative meditation, a series of physical movements and taking action to look after the planet, Wayapa Wuurrk provides a sense of belonging to the Earth while creating holistic well-being.“ (wayapa.com)
This emphasis on the significance of caring for the earth is a strong reiteration of the fundamental Indigenous principle of ‘caring for Country’; to sustainably connect with, and care for, Country; the land, earth, waters, airs and everything in between.
For children, Wayapa can be used as a means of introducing them to Aboriginal ways of learning. To learn more, I sat down to yarn with Sarah Corrigan, Darkinjung woman and Owner/Director of Rainbow Crow Cultural Collective, who was recently engaged by Newcastle Libraries on an innovative program that transforms its popular storytime and baby-time sessions into an Aboriginal-led early literacy program.
“I love delivering Wayapa in an early education and literacy setting as it creates a wonderful space to share my Aboriginal perspective of health and sustainability with all children and their families,” says Sarah. “As an Aboriginal Health Practitioner I link Wayapa Wuurrk to health and well-being in early childhood through the promotion of sensory nature based play to support cognitive, physical, emotional and social development.”
Jem Stone, First Nations Representative, is another Wayapa practitioner who offers programs for children to connect to themselves, each other, and the world around them. She facilitates this through the use of story, cue cards, curiosity, play, movement, song and experience.
First Nations representative Jem Stone teaching Wayapa in an ECEC setting
Jem explained to me that these programs beautifully complement the five learning outcomes in the Early Years Learning Framework:
- IDENTITY– Children have a strong sense of identity: Through Wayapa, the unique cultural identities of children are acknowledged whilst supporting the underlying idea that we all share a common responsibility as custodians of the earth; children are given a sense of purpose for looking after Mother Earth, for her to then reciprocate that for us. There is a focus then on the importance of having a harmonious relationship with each other and the world around us.
- CONNECTION AND CONTRIBUTION – Children are connected to and contribute to their world: through age-appropriate experiences, children can connect through story, movement and song, with Wayapa elements such as Sun, Moon, Land, Rain and more. Wayapa creates a sense of understanding of everyone and everything’s importance; equipping children with this knowledge will be fundamental in them having an impact on how they contribute to the world and ensure that we are creating a world that is sustainable to live in for generations to come.
- WELLBEING– Children have a strong sense of well-being: The Wayapa program has a focus on movements, developing fine and gross motor skills. On an emotional level, each movement is an embodiment of connection to self, the group and the outside world, with a focus on mindfulness, meditation and breathing, all of which contribute to wellbeing.
- LEARNING – Children are confident and involved learners: Through open conversations children contribute their own ideas about living in more sustainable ways. Through establishing a deep connection with all elements of their environment, children become curious and resourceful in finding their own solutions. Wayapa provides an opportunity for learners to show creativity, imagination and the ability for teachers to engage them in different ways of learning.
- COMMUNICATION – Children are effective communicators: Through mindfulness meditation, children are able to understand that they are not separate from nature, and in fact play an integral part within it. Using their imagination, they non-verbally communicate with these aspects of self, then through reflection in group discussion they are able to verbally communicate their experiences and ideas. Further, giving children a sense of purpose and responsibility then brings them a sense of confidence
With this year’s NAIDOC theme of Heal Country!, a call for all of us to continue to seek greater protections for our lands, our waters, our sacred sites and our cultural heritage from exploitation, desecration, and destruction, there is perhaps no better time to explore Wayapa and how it can be applied in your classroom.
As Marie Dennis, Birri Gubba woman and Wayapa Wurrk practitioner puts it, “Being a Wayapa Wuurrk Practitioner, I see so many ways in which I will be able to incorporate this as the ultimate foundation for learning in the and outside of the classrooms. It makes absolute sense to me that we would look to First Nations peoples knowledge, wisdom and practices in order to live holistic and sustainable lives; in harmony with not only each other but most importantly with Mother Earth. Introducing Wayapa Wuurrk way of thinking to children of all backgrounds while they are in their early years of learning before having been conditioned by over 12 years of westernised thinking and ways of being educated, this will actually make our jobs easier for future generations to come in ensuring that people have changed the way they treat our Mother Earth and what she provides for us.”
Author Bio: Deborah Hoger is a Dunghutti woman and owner and director of a business specialising in Indigenous educational resources. She is passionate about using early childhood as a platform to introduce children to the rich depth of knowledge and unique perspectives that Indigenous Australia has to offer.