Friday, 24 April 2015

Love and Peace

I don't watch a lot of news television. I don't watch evening current affairs programs.
Because I don't want to. I cannot un-see what see on these programs.
Images from violent crime. War. Murder. Hate crime. Robbery. Devastation.
Yes, I know that these things happen in the world, sometimes a little closer that I would like to imagine HOWEVER I find that the way news and information is presented to us via most networks is is with maximum shock value and minimal fact and integrity.

Wow, a bit of a rant today?
Well, yes.

Across the last week I've been at home more and also in the car more being that it is school holidays. This has meant that I have been exposed to more reporting media than is typical for me. In the last week we have had many violent crimes in our country and several murders.We probably have had some fantastic things happen also...but these rarely make the news.

The murder of Stephanie Scott really struck me hard. A beautiful young woman, ready to marry the love of her life and celebrate this with her friends and family, taken from the world in circumstances that we do not wish to imagine.

I suppose that I have been trying to get to the why of this and many other quite unbelievable crimes that have occurred recently.

The outpouring of love and support that emerged during the search for Stephanie Scott and after she was finally found did give me a feeling that there remains a connectedness between people. When times are darkest we often see the true strength of people.

So I began to think,from an early childhood perspective, what can we do to support children to develop this sense of community spirit, love and respect for their fellow human beings, kindness and empathy for all living things and also the ability to be resilient? How can we support children to know that they have options; they have people willing to listen; that they are worth listening to; that they have the potential for greatness and can achieve their dreams?

It may be quite naive to think that we can rid the world of all crime through positive early childhood programs but you know what - I'd like to make a good go at it!

I began to make a list of the ways in which we can support our children, be it in the pre-school setting or at home. This is not a definitive list. It is not a recipe for success. It is a starting point.

  • Create a sense of belonging. The  Early Years Learning Framework (DEEWR 2009) has belonging in its title: Belonging, Being & Becoming. A sense of belonging is vital for any person to feel connected. Children need to know that they are safe and in a place that they can be themselves. They need to be accepted for who they are and shown that we are glad to have them with us. Belonging looks like smiling; like welcoming arms. It sounds like familiar greetings and shared communication. Belonging has a shared identity and lets us know who we are. 
  • Celebrate Being. Showing children that who they are right now is something special. We all have a past and we have a future. But one of those we've been to and the other we will get to. In time. Right now there is time to be, time to learn, time to use the skills and knowledge that you have at this moment. We can accept and appreciate children without constantly preparing them for the next step. 
  • Slow down and love your world. Yes, I know. That's a tough one sometimes. I understand that. As a full time working wife and mother with way too many interests I know that we can feel pulled in many directions. But there's such a beautiful world all around us. Perhaps as adults we need to practice...just step outside. Look up. Look down. Look at the people around you. Look at a plant. Check out a bug. If you gave yourself just 10 minutes to really look around you would be amazed at what you see. Often, children are great at seeing the little things. But we need to make sure that they are given the time. I find that connectedness with my world feels strongest when I am in touch with it. When I walk through my town and look at the beauty in nature, see the constructed environments and say hello to people  I feel so much a part of my surroundings. This happens daily at pre-school. We aim to develop a sense of pride in our community and a respect for our community members. 
  • Be very aware of the messages that children are receiving.  A child may not be sitting in front of a news program but they may still be taking in the stories and images that it contains. I do not believe that, in a home setting, we need to shield children from every negative aspect of life but I do strongly believe that this information needs to come from a balanced source that is focused on sharing and building resilience more than glamorising and creating drama. Show your children that you will answer their questions. Be honest and tell them "I don't know" if you cannot answer them. Help children to understand that the negative happenings in our world are not the norm. Help them to see the positives in their own world and look for positive, uplifting stories that you can share.
  •  I realise that again this is more suited to your home setting, but begin to help your children understand the very basics of mental health issues. This has come to light more in my own world as we have had word of several tragic suicides in the past months. I know that understanding the complexities of mental health is not what my son needs right now however I aim to teach him, over time, that there are many ways in which our mindset and our mental health can affect us. As he grows I would like him to be aware of his friends and to recognise if they are having a hard time. I would like him to recognise these signs in himself, should they appear, and know where he can go to get the support he needs. In a pre-school setting this may look like taking care of friends when  they are sad. Practicing asking your friend "are you ok?" if they look like they need help. Having educators who take time to listen and do so without interruption or judgement.
It is an old cliche to say that children are our future but it is the truth. NOW is the time for us  to be the ones who support them in becoming strong in themselves, safe in their world, connected to their community, connected to the wider world, empathetic to all people and resilient in themselves.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015


Here we are.
In 2015.

I often roll my eyes when I read newsletters that begin with profound statements like "well, hasn't time flown, we're already at the end of term..."

But as I sat at my desk I thought "well, hasn't time flown, here we are at the end of term..."

The best of intentions like exercise, healthy living and, um, more frequent blog updates can often become swept up in the busyness that is a new year.

But there's no point feeling negative about or dwelling upon  a resolution or plan that did not make it off the ground. You have choices...

  • You can give up on it, remain stagnant and do nothing differently.
  • You can realise that the idea didn't suit your world at that particular time and adjust your idea to fit your life, your thought space and your current situation.
  • You can refocus and make the decision to try again.

Something that I believe is a strong factor in not creating the lives we would like is the attitude of all or nothing.
If you vow in the new year  to only eat whole and healthy foods, the first time that you find yourself enjoying a nice dessert after a meal you begin to engage in destructive self-talk: "well, you failed that, no point trying now. you'll never lose weight"
Perhaps you told yourself that you were going without alcohol for a whole year...and allowed one lapse to be the reason excuse to give up on your plan.

I have set myself goals this year. Actually I do that a lot at the start of most years. But this time I'm realising that the all or nothing approach to life has been a strong factor in not working through challenges.

I would like to become fitter and shed some kilos. So far this year I have deliberately walked over 60km! I have also participated in 7 exercise classes!
Sure, I've had days when I didn't do anything. I've eaten some foods that I probably didn't need. But every small step in the right direction is just that. I love the feeling of being able to pat myself on the back for a positive choice.

Being organised is another goal that I hold for this year. I feel so happy with the steps that I've made with this. Ok, so many times my (super pretty and well decorated) diary has remained on the desk at home. Sure, I've double booked myself by saying "yes" when I should have said "let me check my diary" BUT that's just the way it is. Better to move on than give up!

As a parent I believe that one of the most important things that I can show my son is my honest self. I want him to see that sometimes I make mistakes. Sometimes the choices that I make aren't always the most effective. But I can also show him that goals that are worth setting are worth working towards. Making positive choices in lifestyle and mindset are important in living the life we want. Being resilient in the face of challenge or adversity results in personal growth and a sense of fulfillment.

I look forward to sharing the year with you and hope that you are giving yourself the pats on the back that you deserve. You are your own biggest critic...but also your own biggest supporter.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Quality Time in our Garden

Today was a day filled with energy.
Busy energy.
The kind of energy that, when shared, gets things done!

We did not place  any equipment or toys in our outdoor environment today. Instead, we invited our children to contribute to our gardens. The result? A class of pre-schoolers, 3 educators and a treasured volunteer parent all working side by side to continue our ongoing environmental development.

Reflecting our day and on National Quality Framework Quality Area 3 I feel that this is an area that our pre-school embraces daily and with passion. This passion comes from being immersed in our unique setting and the shared vision of educators and family members. Tying all of this together is our philosophy.  As in all early childhood settings, our shared philosophy puts into words the deeply held values of our service and provides each of us with the reminder of what we strive to create.

What skills, understandings and values were supported during our garden morning?
  • Plants have a cycle of life. Many food bearing plants need to be removed and replaced at the end of their season.
  • Not all plants are able to be grown at all times of the year.
  • The roots of a plant have important jobs to do: they bring water from the ground and they also help to hold the plant in the ground.
  • Problem solving: how do we bring water to the courtyard when the hose does not reach that far? How can we move the rocks to the dry river bed garden when the bags are too heavy to move? How can we stop the wildlife from eating our young plants?
  • Buying special plants can help to raise money for people who are sick.
  • Items that are not needed anymore - such as old roof tiles - can be repurposed to use in our gardens.
  • Shade is needed for some plants but not good for others.
  • Many living creatures share our yard with us although many are only seen when we spend time in our garden.
  • Team work and a shared sense of achievement.
And what is growing at pre-school at the moment?
Sweet corn, climbing beans, mixed lettuce, purple basil, tomato, tri colour capsicum, oregano, parsley, silver beet, coriander, strawberries, raspberries, cherry tomatoes, cabbage and mint.

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Take a Look Around...

Today I'm not at pre-school. And yes, I really miss it!

BUT I am on an adventure that includes meeting with passionate people and being inspired in my work by learning from some really knowledgeable people. Days like these always make me return to work with a spring in my step and a heightened vision.

I grew up in  an area away from where I now live. Being quite a distance I rarely travel to my old town. Today, however, I needed to drive through it on my way to Sydney.

Wow! What a change.

There was a restaurant where the book shop used to be.
The car dealership where we used to stop for stickers after school was in the midst of being demolished.
The high school (MY high school!) had many new buildings and tall fences.
The record store (where I used to buy all my music on vinyl) sat empty.
The school where I did kindergarten is no longer a school.

There was so much to see. Traveling further down the highway I noticed areas of bushland that were being built out. New areas of shops and service stations.
There was so much to look at that I almost wished that I was a passenger.

As I sat at a set of traffic lights I had a moment of realisation. I had driven down this road many times in the past and it was all still so fascinating to me.

Then I thought...imagine being a child on a car journey. There is so much to see. There is so much to ask about. There is so much to talk about. So many journeys represent the first time in a particular place for children.

But... do we make the most of these opportunities? Is the distraction of movies or hand-held devices so great that we spend valuable travelling time together but really apart?

I'm a mum. I understand that car trips can be challenging. I've done a 20 hour car trip with my child. More than once! But I also know that this special time, when children are young, is so very valuable. There is a world of interest outside of the car windows. There is a world of interest INSIDE the car also.

SO how can we rediscover the joys of travel with children? It's important to remember that every child is different. What captivates one child will be of less interest to another. Some ideas that you could try...
  • Talk about your journey before you begin. It may be a hour to the shops. It may be several hours on the way to a holiday. Where are you going? Where is it on a map? What do you think you might see on the way? Writing down your child's predictions and revisiting these when you return is a valuable literacy experience together with an opportunity to extend your conversation.
  • How many different types of animals do you see? How many types of machinery? How many umbrellas can you count on a rainy trip? Your child's interests and ages will help you choose items of interest.
  • Open-ended questions can be fantastic for conversations starters: How do you think they made that building? Where do you think these trucks go at night? Where do you think that person is travelling to?
  • Old fashioned "Spotto" is a fantastic game to promote observation skills and literacy. This is easily adaptable for children of different ages. The internet may also help you to find pictures of places or objects that you may see on the way if realistic pictures would be most suitable.
  • Spend time with your child creating a playlist/ cd of music for your trip. Singing together is a beautiful experience. Perhaps you could have a mixture of children's songs and contemporary music.
  • Share the telling of a story. You could give the introduction and encourage your child to add to this. If your child is younger, you might be able to ask questions to prompt (e.g. Kat walked along the path under the dark, hanging jungle trees...what kind of animal did he se on the rock up ahead?)
  • If you have time, make unplanned stops in your trip. Encourage your child to point out something that they would like to look at. Take a photo here to promote recall and conversation later.
I know that there are times on a long journey where a movie can help your child to relax. There's nothing bad about that! But the moments that we spend together - REALLY together - they're the ones that make memories.