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Articles and News 1

Kids and Mathematics

A Foundation for maths is laid in the early years and building a positive attitude to all mathematics things then, will help throughout kidís lives. Research shows that neurones are imprinted by all kinds of sensations and activities, so early maths games and opportunities, will help develop thinking processes that will be important for solving problems later.

Playing with lego, which most children enjoy, can be helpful in developing a mathematical mind. Lego can help children learn the concepts of scale, size, length and position. I recently watched a father playing Lego with his young son. This was a time both of them thoroughly enjoyed. They moved figures around, inside and outside the lego house, they talked about lifting things up to the rooftop. They were constantly solving problems together using trial and error.

Many other toys we buy for kids can be used in a mathematical way. Joining in games and asking kids questions that encourage problem solving using their toys, will help them come up with creative ideas. Listen to what kids say when solving problems and encourage them to trial different ways to solve problems.

Using history to show kids how people solved problems in the past and comparing that to the way problems are solved now will interest many kids. Linking maths to our lives now  can keep older kids motivated. Sporting activities can be used to calculate all kinds of information about weight, speed, time, travel, communication, crowd control etc.  

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Recently a report was issued about the use of after-school-hours care. It revealed that 30% of school aged children use some kind of after-school-care. There are many single parent families, as well as families with both parents working, so child care is necessary after school. However, only 10% of the children needing care, attend formal child care.  Other children are minded by grandparents or relatives, friends, or neighbours. Some children go home to empty houses to wait. 

Cost of care is a major consideration for parents of children in the 5 to 12 age group. Parents in lower income groups find out-of-school hours care expensive even with government subsidies. Children from this income group are often the most needy. Good quality programs offering sports and lifestyle activities are important to keep children occupied and safe, so an even greater effort should be made to lower costs. Older children from 12 to 14 also need organized activities after school if both parents are working as this group is the most likely to take risks. They need challenging, varied and well supervised activities.

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The new state government:  What does it mean for Early Childhood?

First action has been to move Childrensí Services to the Department of Education and community which is under Adrian Piccoli. This shows that early childhood work is now correctly considered as education.

Early childhood is a very important area of education as the basis for learning and relationships are formed in the early years. A sense of belonging in the community can begin at a long day child care centre or a pre-school. Belonging to a group and feeling included there, helps children to

  • maintain good mental health

  • avoid or minimize stress

  • learn the skills needed for becoming part of the wider community.

Our Early Childhood teachers aim to make all parents and families welcome by inclusion policies so that differences and diversity become strengths instead of problems. In an inclusive environment,

  • children feel safe and happy

  • they can make friends

  • parents will feel welcome to visit

  • kids feel cared for

  • the staff show will show interest in what the children do and say

  • problems are discussed instead of ignored or denied.

Policies are one thing and implementing them is another. It is up to everyone, staff, parents, children and government to make our early childhood places the best they can possibly be.

As a grandparent, I remember how different school used to be. Right from the beginning I felt different at school. I cringed and withdrew when children made fun of the way I spoke. I lacked confidence. I feared failure. I feared teachers. Yet I did make friends and I did succeed. How much happier Iíd have been in a school today. 

Teacher training is much improved these days. In 2014 new regulations come into effect that require many child care workers to upgrade their qualifications. 30,000 of these workers across Australia will have to upgrade. Some highly efficient workers will lose their jobs, and numerous centres may be closed if staff members donít have the right qualifications. If you are a former child care worker hoping to re-join the workforce by 2014, now is the time to undertake that extra study. Places may be available at a TAFE near you, or at a university that offers distance study.

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Music helps parenting

A special music program for young parents with their children at the Childrenís and Families research centre at Macquarie university has had positive effects on parenting. The program was started for disadvantaged parents who were isolated in the community without a network of friends or support people.

At first the music was intended for the children with the parents present, but it soon became obvious that the parents wanted to be actively involved. Once they began to sing the songs and move to the music, the relationships between parents and children changed. These parents were not accustomed to doing things WITH their children. They did things TO their children. There was a definite barrier between kidsíplay and adultsíactivities. Once shown how to hold their child or how to interact with the child during a music activity, parents became more confident and more observant. They reported to the research team what they had done during the time away from the centre, and what their childís reaction had been. This also

  • strengthened social relationships between parents

  • encouraged conversations and built self esteem as staff reinforced the behaviours that were emerging.

The result was not only enjoyment of music by families, but better parenting skills. 

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Building language skills in pre-school

Have you noticed how children come out with new words, sometimes in the wrong context? Helping kids to use new words and phrases in the pre-school years helps them in their reading skills once they begin school. Richness in spoken language also carries over into the following years at school. When you read to children, notice new words in the text. Talk about the meaning of the word and use it regularly so it becomes familiar to the children. Use rich or sophisticated language when talking to children rather than always using simple words.

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 Positive and Negative talking

Have you heard a child say he/ she hates something or someone? This is an example of negative talking. The child is frustrated, probably angry about something Do you find yourself telling children Ďdonít touch, stop that, leave that alone, youíre not old enough to do that, you are hopeless, careless, clumsy, stupidí? These are all negative ways of talking and while it is necessary to talk this way sometimes, positive talking is a better option.

If you learn to positive talk about yourself, you will be able to teach your child to do it too. For example,

  • Iím sure I can do this if I slow down and take the time.
  • I need to take a deep breath.
  • Iíll come back to try this later.
  • Iíll ask for more help to do this
  • Iím frustrated because Iím too tired.
  • I canít concentrate because of the noise.

To help the child who is frustrated, help him to acknowledge the feeling and deal with it. For example

  • I think you are feeling angry right now. Letís decide what to do next.
  • You can do it. You just need more practice.
  • Youíll do better next time.
  • You made a mistake but you can try again.
  • You have made a good effort. Watch again and Iíll show you how to do it.

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Art in hospitals

I noted a TV news story about an art initiative at the Childrenís Hospital at Randwick in NSW. The corridors are hung with a variety of art works of different styles. In fact emerging artists can approach the hospital to have their works hung there. The works are changed often. I understand that the artists are responsible for hanging so that there is no extra work involved for hospital staff. The item showed a child who has spent many months on frequent visits to the hospital for treatment, looking at the pictures and talking about them. Seeing the new pictures hanging is something that child looks forward to in what is often a day of uncomfortable procedures. It is a great idea that could be taken up in towns everywhere that would benefit patients and artists alike.

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Our environment affects our lives.

This fact was vividly presented to me recently when I saw an exhibition of photographs in the Regional Art Museum in Armidale NSW. The exhibition was the result of a joint tour to small rural towns by Australian writer Tim Winton, and photographer Martin  Mischkulnig.   They had toured Australia, not looking for the spectacular rocks and gorges that impress the tourists, but looking at the shops houses, entertainment areas work places, that form the environment of long-time residents. The overall impression was of stark isolation.

Here were rows of seats set out ready for darkness to fall when perhaps the 100 residents would gather under the stars to see a film set in a luxury Hollywood environment. Here was a ramshackle building the only place for hundreds of kilometres  where fuel, drinks, sustenance could be bought. Here was one person standing in a deserted street. Where was his family? Who cared about this man? Here were gigantic machines tearing apart the red earth where people were as ants, totally insignificant. Here was a battered caravan. Here were neat, clean, empty cafes. Here, in a bleak desert, were cement cubes with dice painted on them. The environments were grim.

Tim Wintonís commentary was set on two isolated panels, reflecting the atmosphere. He pointed out the differences between the imaginative, architecture of Australian cities and the complete lack of beauty in the places depicted before us. The rate of suicide and  domestic violence in rural areas is alarmingly high. Why has no attempt been made to make places of beauty there in these small towns?  What affect are these barren environments having on our children? How would my family cope living there? There was much to think about.

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Schools in Africa.

I watched a global village program on SBS TV about two schools in Uganda, Africa. School fees were causing a big problem for most of the families in the second school. The Principal didnít have enough money to pay her staff and this had gone on for months. Her solution was to lock the school gates to keep out all those whose fees hadnít been paid. Although this meant some fees were paid, many other families only had enough money for food. Some children were orphans, their only hope of a decent chance in life was to get an education. It was very hard to see that chance taken away from them. At both schools all children were so keen to learn that they clamoured at the gates to be let in.

In Australia education is every childís right, and both parents and children tend to take it for granted. Few kids worry if they have to miss a dayís school. Secondary school students in particular, complain about many aspects of school life. Teachers here do have legitimate complaints about the system, but there is no way they would be expected to teach without pay. We should be thankful for the education system we have while continually working to improve it.

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Fighting obesity

Once more obesity is in the news with statistics pointing to one in four Australian children being obese. I find that hard to believe, as when I go to the supermarket, child care centres or walk in the street, I donít see any children under fourteen who are obese, but I see plenty of obese teenagers, parents and elderly people. Perhaps the authorities are only counting our older children.

One of the main obstacles to fighting obesity is the constant advertising of fast foods on TV. The fast food providers are totally opposed to restrictions to their advertisements, but with many governments claiming there is an obesity epidemic world wide, it is time action is taken. Mandatory restrictions of some kind are necessary. Concerned people have suggested higher taxes for:

  • companies that advertise fast foods

  • companies manufacturing fatty food

  • sugary drinks

  • sweets

  • sugary breakfast foods and snacks

Higher taxes would mean higher prices for the consumer and the combination might work. Banning ads during kidís TV programs would be a good start.

Another worthwhile approach would be for fast food outlets to make smaller servings rather than emphasising larger and larger helpings.

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Listening and hearing.

Did you know there is a difference between listening and hearing? Ongoing research has shown that some children struggle in a classroom because although they hear normally and can understand what is meant, they canít switch their attention from one thing to another. Even switching attention from one speaker to another is difficult for these children. The solution to the problem is yet to be found, but noisy classrooms are part of the problem. So much of life is not only noisy now, but filled with multiple distractions.

At school children interact with learning tools in various ways.

  • they write

  • listen

  • read

  • talk

  • use smart boards

  • use computers

  • work as individuals and in groups

All the above are part of the teaching system. At home kids may be watching TV and simultaneously playing electronic games, talking to a friend and answering a parent. As adults we are expected to multitask, but it is often difficult and we fail. I know that there is a limit to what I can take in when I am doing several jobs at once, especially when Iím trying to listen to someone at the same time. Iíll be interested to hear of further research in this area.

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Kids Battling leukaemia

Just a week ago I hear about two children battling cancer. One is a five year old girl who is now in remission after two difficult years of treatment. The other is a 13 year old local boy who has been in remission, but a new tumour has developed. He is now back in Sydney for another operation and round of chemotherapy. His friends will support him and his family in every way possible, but it is a hard road for any child to follow, especially when the battle seemed to be won. I donít know how I could have coped if one of my children had been in this situation.

Kids with cancer must usually go from regional centres to a state capital for treatment. This means families are often divided, children are away from their friends and financial costs can soar. This organization, www.kidswithcancer.org.au helps families who are struggling to cope and every cent goes to helping those kids during their treatment.

All of us know someone who has been affected by cancer and 1 in 2 Australians will be affected by cancer if they live to 85 years. Saddest of all are the children who are affected.

Daffodil Day is the major fund raising day for the Cancer Council in Australia. This special day is actually Friday 24th August so it will be over before this newsletter goes on line. Letís make every day a day of hope for cancer sufferers. Here is the link so you can make a donation. www.daffodilday.com.au

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Living happily

With your children, do you sing ĎIf youíre happy and you know it clap your handsÖí? We all like to be happy, but we realise that no one can be happy all of the time. Iíve been thinking about the meaning of happiness lately as Iím writing a book about happy babies.

When a baby smiles at me, my heart lifts and I hope it is the same for all of my readers. As parents, we comfort our children when they are hurt, disappointed and confused and sadly, so many families are split up nowadays that the old fashioned card game of Happy Families, is not a true reflection of modern family life. Children are often very sad when their parents separate.  Iíve just heard about an American book, Big Changes in the Crow Family by Elaine M. Palmore. I havenít read the book, but Iím sure you can look it up on the internet. Ms Palmore has taken a different approach to helping children understand divorce. The book tells about why the couple married, and how happy they were to have a family, although later they grew apart. Focusing on the good parts and the happy times is quite important I think if children are to keep a relationship with both parents. It must help to know that Mum and Dad were once happy together. Nothing can take away that happy time, it is just that circumstances alter and people sometimes need to take different paths.

Remember the sayings about Ďevery cloud has a silver liningí, and Ďit is an ill wind that blows nobody any goodí? It helps to not only think positively about yourself and others, but to say positive things. A positive attitude even in tough times, will benefit your children and your own journey forward will be easier too.

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Education plans

The Federal government has a plan to increase funding to all schools in the next six years in order to improve the vital education our kids need. Funding will be allocated according to individual kidís needs. However a week later, the State government has announced a plan to significantly cut funding to schools. This is a real blow to schools, teachers and other staff, and the kids too. Why donít our kids matter?

I heard recently a talk about education in Finland. Over there, kids are the best educated, in the world and 93% of them graduate from high school. All education is 100% funded by the state. Teachers themselves must have masters degrees (subsidised) and they are selected from the top 10% of graduates. You can see that teachers over there are valued. They have ongoing professional development and concentrate on helping all students in ways appropriate to individual needs so that there is equality of learning whatever the childís background. When the system was first introduced, there was much opposition and it took several years for results to win over parents and the public. Now Finland is the envy of the world. Exams and tests are very rare but almost half of kids in the early years get special, individual help. Class sizes do matter. In one school mentioned, of 240 students, nearly half are immigrants. Immigrants are from Somalia, Iraq, Russia, Bangladesh, Estonia and Ethiopia. Schools like this get more funding. Perhaps it would be better if we were following the Finnish model instead of the US one. Here is a link to read or listen to the talk given by the Director of Education in Finland when he was in Australia http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2012/s3441913.htm

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The International Day of the Girl Child

October 11th was the first International Day of the Girl Child. As the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard launched the day in Australia, she said that 'Nothing is more important than education. ... Education is the key. Education is aid that works.' The importance of this message was heightened when around the world came the news that Malala, a fourteen year old girl in Pakistan, had been shot in the head by some Taliban extremists because she has been standing up for the rights of girls to have education since she was 11 years old. Not only girls, but people everywhere have held demonstrations in support of Malala who has now been moved to the UK for specialist treatment. Girls in Pakistan have not been intimidated, but have continued to attend school as they want to be educated. They want to become doctors and teachers, scientists, journalists, leaders and politicians in their communities.

            Girls in many parts of the world are discriminated against. In China the one child policy has meant that girl children were undervalued. Iraq, Iran, India, and Pakistan treat girls as inferior. In Africa girls are more likely to be married off by 14 than they are to go to High School. In nations like Australia, France, Britain and the United States, there is supposed to be equality, but it is still hard for females to gain promotion. They are not given equal opportunities in many work places, and are barred from positions in most religious hierarchies. Even womenís sport is under represented in the media. However, looking back a century ago, women in the Western world were fighting for the right to vote and the right to own property. Much has been achieved, but girls and women need more than one day a year to improve their prospects in the modern world. Keep working on it so that your girls will fare better in the years to come.

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Learning a second language

I was surprised recently to hear that in Australia there are more people who are bilingual than monolingual. But after thinking about it I realised that in our schools today there are children from hundreds of different cultures whose first language is not English. Young children, learning another language find it is exciting, fun and it comes naturally. Just think of how a baby acquires language. It is almost like magic that in the first two years of life, hundreds of words and phrases are learnt without any formal lessons. Early childhood is definitely the time to start learning another language and as we continue to learn throughout life, it is important that continuing opportunities are provided for learning second or third languages.

            There are many reasons to learn another language. Research shows that children who are bilingual or who are learning another language, read better, do better at maths, learn faster, and are more confident. They also have a better understanding of other cultures and the world in general. Now that travel is undertaken by so many people, speaking to people in their own language in their country opens up possibilities for friendships, study, work, cultural appreciation, research and inter-country economic benefits.

            The Federal government wants every child to learn an Asian language, but before that can happen, many more language teachers must be trained. In Victoria, more children already learn an Asian language than in other states. In our education system, the status of languages is not nearly as high as maths, science or arts subjects, but this is set to change slowly but surely.

            At this stage of my writing I turned on the radio and to my surprise relevant topics were under discussion. Some regional schools have developed links with schools in South Korea, Japan, Timor Leste, Indonesia and Cambodia (and probably other countries) in a project designed to promote interest and understanding of Asia. Teachers have found this to be a valuable way for children to gain an insight into the lives of students of their own age. Students have made videos of daily features and have received back videos from their linked schools. These have shown both similarities and differences. For example Cambodian students talked about the importance of water and in their town and are now aware that water doesnít always come ready to drink from a tap. One speaker said that in the 1970ís many more Australian students were learning Asian languages than now, so it will take time and big funding to regain the ground lost. He indicated that there was much more interest in cultural exchange than in becoming fluent in speaking languages. In fact in school to school linkups speaking was in English, not in an Asian language. The Asian students had good English language skills. Our schools have made a good beginning with a big challenge ahead.

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Kids sing across Australia.

At the beginning of November 2012 half a million kids burst into song right around the nation at the same time and singing the same song. This was part of a program Ė Music: Count Us In Ė that is now in its sixth year. The aim is to encourage music education and each year someone writes a special song for the kids to sing. This yearís song, Different People, was written by an HSC student, Sun Woo Kim as the result of a competition followed by a song-writing workshop. He was excited that his song had been chosen and said,

 ďThe song is basically a song about how despite our differences with all the people around the world and with this event in Australia, how we can all still stand together and do something like this and do the song together and feel like we are part of something.Ē

Some of those singing the song were at school, or in TV studios. One group was outside Parliament House. Kids of different abilities and backgrounds were involved with some singing in Auslan, which is the Australian sign language used by many deaf people.

What a great idea to unite our kids across the land.

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Traumatic times

Right after New Year the bush fire season began in Australia. Bush fires are a terrible thing. In Tasmania most of the fires started in dry lightning and are the worst fires since the 1950s. Over 100 homes and properties have been destroyed in a few days. Fires are a yearly occurrence in Australia but occur in many countries and last summer in America many homes were lost. At the same time as we have bushfires in Australia, there are floods in the United Kingdom with whole villages and towns badly affected with people having to live in emergency accommodation. Many will not be able to return to their homes. Failure of electricity makes the problems worse. In the UK and in Russia where heavy snow has fallen, people are coping with freezing conditions while in Australia people are sweltering in 40 degree heat.

Trauma usually has immediate impact but the effects can last for a long time. Trauma is caused by unexpected events such as fire and other natural disasters but also by illness and accident or by violence or even by seeing these things on TV. Children may become fearful of what may happen and not be able to express their worries. When a childís routine is upset or familiar environment is changed or permanently lost, much  adjustment is necessary. Children may be afraid, sad or angry about what has happened. They may have lost pets or favourite toys. They may not sleep or eat well and may be very confused about the events. Try to

        keep routines as normal as possible

        talk to the children about what is happening and why

        listen to your child

        help children to express their feelings and acknowledge these feelings are okay

        introduce relaxation methods

        seek help from family, friends, teachers or other professionals if you are not coping

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Going to the movies

During the summer holidays everywhere Iíve been there are lots of kids and Iím pleased to say I havenít seen a bored one. Kids are masters at making their own entertainment whenever there is a break in organized activities, but if itís too hot to go outside going to the movies is an entertainment that kids look forward to.  However, parents often find it hard work to sit through one designed for kids. I have found a helpful website about kidsí movies that is worth consulting before you head off to the theatre. Movies of different genres are reviewed in detail. 

Look at www.commonsensemedia.org  It reviews movies for different age groups telling you about the story and then rates  educational aspects, scariness, the range of violence, the positive messages and role models, language and sexiness etc. You can also read what parents and kids have said about the films.

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Planning routines

Starting school is an important stage in the life of children and parents too. By now children will be settled into a new routine of getting up early, travelling to school etc. and will be feeling part of the class and school community. They will hopefully be eating their lunch, but coming home ravenous. But what about parents? Have you adapted to your new role? Is your day rather empty or are you enjoying more time to spend with the another pre-schooler or eagerly picked up some long neglected activity or study? Often the parent who has been at home is disappointed that there isnít much more time in the day as the kids still have to be taken to school and picked up. The day is so broken up with these extra chores, that there is little time to make for your own pursuits. Parenting is like running a small business. There is so much to do and most of it has to be done by you. To be successful you need a business plan and now is a good time to take stock of your routine and time management.

Plan each day by listing what you have to do. On your list put

       things that must be done

       things that should be done

       things you would like to do

Prioritize these tasks and estimate how much time is necessary for each. Big jobs may take a lot of time and seem overwhelming so break the job down into smaller tasks that can be done over several days.

A lot can be done in ten minutes. Before you leave home with the kids take ten minutes to begin tasks such as putting the washing on or putting the breakfast dishes into the sink to soak. When you come home you only have to hang the clothes out, and put the dishes to drain.

If you walk or drive the kids to school, see what else you can do on the way home. Perhaps there is shopping, or going to the library, or taking some exercise that will take the stress out of your day.

Altering your schedule can often save time. It is important to do something you really enjoy or like to do each day. List a number of small things so that you can treat yourself after doing a bigger job. Whether you are a stay at home parent or one with a full time job, planning will help you to fit more into your day with less stress.

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Unacceptable behaviour

A debate on discipline and kidsí behaviour started when a shopping centre banned screaming children.  A university professor who weighed into the discussion suggested that everyone in a community has some responsibility for raising children; it is not just the parents who should be involved. Parenting styles have changed a lot over the years. Hitting children is not condoned now. It is important to teach children how to behave in socially acceptable ways and that poor behaviour will have consequences.

What you say to kids and how you say it are both important. There must be boundaries to behaviour and consistency so that kids get the right message. No One likes to see or hear screaming kids in public places, but we donít like to see misbehaving kids being smacked either. Probably the best solution is to take your child away as soon as possible even if you havenít finished your shopping, and make sure your child understands why you are upset too.

Older kids who get into strife at school for bad behaviour are often those with poor language and communication skills.  If they donít understand what is required of them, they donít know how to act. They also canít communicate their needs or their frustrations. Helping kids communicate from an early age will help them develop social skills which are vital to making friends, being part of the school community and essential to developing good self esteem.

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Listening to Children

The Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse in Australia has begun and it is making all thinking people realize the importance of listening to children and taking action.

We also have a National Childrenís Commissioner, Megan Mitchell. Ms Mitchell wants children and young people to have more say in what happens in their lives and to do this we all must listen to what they are saying. Past mistakes by parents, and authorities show that many people have not listened to what their children have told them about abuse. Abuse can be sexual, physical, or emotional. It can be by adults to children or it can be by children and young people to other children. It can be by adults to other vulnerable adults. The results can have a lifelong affect or lead to suicide.

By listening to children, respecting their voices and taking action, we will help them to fulfil their potential and be happy. In a time when divorce affects so many families, it is important to consider what children wish and not just impose adultís decisions on them.

Many children suffer injustices and there is very little they can do about it. ďHow can children who suffer injustice have those rights wronged if mechanisms are inaccessible and inappropriate? This is an area that needs urgent examination", says Ms Mitchell.

Children can suffer neglect, discrimination, detention, and being put into care without being heard. Indigenous children and children of asylum seekers are very vulnerable groups.

Do you feel that this has little to do with your family? Think again. Have you

  • answered your children when your mind was occupied by something else?
  • given permission for some action without  thinking?
  • told your child Ďnot now, Iím busyí? 
  • brushed away what your children are saying because it sounds like nonsense?

If we hear but donít listen, our children will eventually stop telling us things. Letís all be better listeners to and communicators with our children.

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 Kids helping kids

When kids help other kids it is always heart warming. They help other kids by raising money for kids with cancer, cystic fibrosis and other diseases. They raise money and donate books and toys for kids in other countries who have experienced natural disasters. They help kids at their schools by being part of buddy systems and by acting when they see someone being bullied, and they help their siblings and their peers in many different ways. One organization that encourages kids to help kids is the Smith Family. There are at least 605,000 Australian children who live in disadvantaged circumstances, needing help with reading, maths and in gaining confidence. The Smith Family Literacy Development programs sound good. As well as the Letís Read program for the very young, they have student2student programs and Learning Clubs. For more information go to www.thesmithfamily.com.au 

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Happy Parents

This year Iím focusing on writing on how to raise happy children. The first book, The Busy Mothersí Guide to Happy Babies is already available as an e-book at Amazon , while the second book about raising happy toddlers is almost ready. However, Iíve just been reading about the importance of being a happy parent. Does parenting make us happy? Are parents happier than people who are not parents? What makes parents happy or how can we become happy?

The reality is that not all of parenting is happy as life has its ups and downs, stresses, disappointments, hardships and challenges.  Some people cope better with what life throws at them than others. A recent study found that parentsí happiness declines as the children grow older, but increases again when the children reach maturity and leave home. I really think that it would be hard to prove that the age of the children is responsible for the degree of happiness. What we remember about our children, and variables such as health, social experiences, education, work, environment, finance etc affect our happiness in different ways at different stages of parenting.

Overall, Iím a happy person and having each of my children, watching them grow and achieve has given me much happiness. At each stage there were highlights where being a parent of my children was the most exciting and wonderful thing possible. There were also stressful, frightening times when I felt a failure, and wondered how I could meet the challenge.

Dr Justin Coulson, a current researcher in Australia, suggests that resilience is a very important factor in a parentís happiness. How we relate to our family and friends and the ability to be positive about our experiences will help us be happier, healthier people.

As parents we think a lot about the needs and wants of our children. Remember too to look after your own needs. It isnít always necessary to put your children ahead of yourself. Having timer to onesí self to be quiet or to follow your own interests, buy something you like, even to eat a special treat, can give you a positive feeling that will help you to be happier and to pass those happy vibes onto your loved ones.

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Numeracy skills

The pre-school years are vital in developing numeracy skills and recent research backs up this claim. Galina Daraganova, from the Australian Institute of Family Studies, and John Ainley, from the Australian Council of Educational Research, have found that a third of Australian children have numeracy problems. These problems show up by age six when children try to count money. More experience in counting up to 20 in the pre-school years, helps school aged children to develop additional mathematical skills. Girls and boys had the same level of skills at age six, but later girls often donít continue to achieve as fast as boys.

But what is numeracy

The definition in use in Australia from the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers 1997 is, Ďthe effective use of mathematics to meet the general demands of life at home, in paid work, and for participation in community and civic life.í

For young children numeracy is really the effective use of mathematics in ways such as counting by rote, being able to show sets of things such as 2 pieces of fruit, 4 shoes etc. and being able to recognize written numbers, shapes and sizes.

Children with parents who show them and help them to learn these concepts, will be more knowledgeable when they start school than children whose parents take no interest in numbers. Parents who encourage home learning give the best introduction kids can have.

Why do kids need to be good at it?

Although we mightnít realize it, numeracy comes into many aspects of our lives from using money to choosing the right size of shoes, using a phone, learning computer, knowing the speed limits along the roads, sorting similar items into groups, serving ourselves with food, etc.

What can you do to help your child?

Give your child-

  • things to count
  • items  to sort into colours and shapes
  • natural items to count e.g. leaves, shells, cones, stones, fruitÖ
  • a task to set the table and match cutlery for each person
  • socks to match into pairs after the laundry is dry
  • encouragement to measure out the ingredients when cooking
  • materials to make repetitive patterns
  • a project about animals to discover size and weight of different animals they are interested in.

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Self Reliance in children

I got talking to a young mother in the park recently about the demands children make on a motherís life. Her toddler was almost two and he isnít content unless she is playing with him almost all the time. ĎI know itís what being a mother is all about,í she said, 'but I get bored playing like a two year old and need more time being myself.í

This doesnít just happen to first time mums who are doing their best to adjust to life with a small child, it happens to any adult who is caring for children all the time. Single parents come to mind in particular. It also happens to child care educators and teachers who spend a great deal of their days with children. What can we do to make ourselves less indispensable to our children and those in our charge? I think the answer lies in making our children more independent from an early age and taking real time for ourselves.

On other trips to parks with my granddaughter, I have noticed young mothers and the occasional father, who have gone there to meet friends who also have their children with them. The adults stand or sit together talking about their interests, their problems, their ways of solving those problems, while their children, a mix of newborns to four year olds, play on the equipment or are asleep in the pram nearby. I was surprised at how well the children looked after each other, the older ones keeping an eye on the younger ones. The adults stood back, engrossed in their conversations and hardly intervening in the play. I assumed that most of these children were accustomed to playing there and that the parents knew each other. Play like this is a good way to help kids be responsible for themselves. As they play they are creating rules, solving problems and learning to take turns and share.

Whether you have one child or six, or are an educator in charge of 26 kids, you need time to yourself and time to follow your own interests. For educators very little free time will be available during working hours, but it is amazing how much the children can do for themselves rather than calling on you or staff for every little thing.

You can help children to do things for themselves by

  • encouraging creative play so you can observe instead of being an active player
  • breaking up your time with your children so that you have short periods with them followed by time to do your own things
  • teaching children to be problem solvers
  • using a buddy system so children will help each other
  • encouraging them to make friends
  • praising their happy play together
  • using a reliable baby sitter so you can get away at regular intervals
  • making a chart so kids know what they should do next

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Christmas

The end of the year is nearly here and in multicultural Australia Christmas means different things to different groups. For some it is a deeply religious time for others it is a time to make contact with friends and relatives or to enjoy the long summer school holidays. For some it is a time to reflect on the challenges of the year and. to plan ahead for the New Year. Children especially enjoy the decorations and displays that appear in shops and homes around the community. I think about the thrill in my early childhood on Christmas morning of finding the pillowslip at the end of the bed with toys inside. Later weíd help Mum to make the date pudding. The Christmas dinner was amazing. The white damask table cloth and the special silver cutlery were taken out of storage and we children had decorated the room with streamers. Pulling the wishbone and finding sixpences in the pudding were highlights of the meal. In each of our families new traditions have been adopted that reflect our current lives.

The spirit of Christmas has always been about giving; giving to those less fortunate as well as to our loved ones. Giving doesnít necessarily mean spending money. Giving time is giving love, hope and kindness. It is giving a helping hand, a greeting, a hug, a smile and spreading peace. May all of you have a peaceful, happy Christmas of giving, loving and receiving.

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Family stranded by floods.

During summer many families set off on adventures by car. Summer can be a time for emergencies such as bush fire and extreme high temperatures and in parts of Australia floods also come in summer. In remote parts of Australia travelers should take extra care as there is often no mobile phone coverage. A father and his five children were stranded for four days in flood waters after their vehicle became stuck. When traveling it is vital to

  1. take sufficient food and water
  2. tell someone your travel plan and when you will get to your destination
  3. take medication and first aid supplies
  4. avoid traveling in bad weather
  5. get up to date information about conditions of the road
  6. avoid taking risks

In this case all the rules had been broken and the group had little food, two of the children needed medication for asthma and no one was aware they were travelling. Risks were also taken when the father swam across a swiftly swollen river and walked away for help not knowing where he could find it. He was lucky. A rescue helicopter was needed to find the children and take them all to safety.

Police and rescue teams say that much time and money is used in rescues that would not be necessary if people planned better and used more common sense.

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Baby abduction

On 21st February, a car-was high-jacked in Canberra with a seven month old baby in his car capsule. After a frantic call to police from the mother, a full scale search for the car began and all roads were blocked off in the suburb. Two hours later, the baby boy was found unharmed on a doorstep, the damaged car was nearby and police returned baby to his parents. The incident resulted in over 90,000 entries being made on Facebook with information about sightings of the car and descriptions of the man involved etc. The man was arrested as a result of so much public support for the police and their quick actions.

This kind of story is not common, but alarms parents and makes us all realize how vulnerable children are. Most abductions occur in custody disputes or between estranged couples. What can people do to prevent abductions?

  •  Never leave baby alone in a car or stroller Ė it only takes a moment to take a child.

  • Keep your child in sight in public places Ė teach them never to run far ahead of you
  • Teach them to keep right beside you in crowds
  • Teach your child their telephone number and address in case of emergency
  • Teach your child how to use the phone in case of an emergency affecting the parent or carer.
  • Teach young children to always ask permission before going outside or out the gate
  • Teach your child about stranger danger, but there is no need to frighten the child or make them nervous about everyday life.
  • Know your neighbourhood and where your child could be safe if he/she needed help
  • Never leave small children alone at home without someone responsible there.

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Single parents

All parents have challenges and become stressed from time to time, but single parents, particularly single mothers, have big challenges to meet. The most worrying of these is the financial challenge. In Australia the laws recently changed so that a single parent whose youngest child turns 8 can no longer get the parenting allowance which is like a pension, but must change to the Newstart allowance which is about $160 less per fortnight than the allowance theyíve been managing on. The Newstart allowance is meant to encourage more people to begin working. The law doesnít take into account that 3 out of every 5 single mothers were already in paid part time work. They are even worse off now as the amount of money they are allowed to earn before the allowance is cut, has dropped from $176 to $62. The number of hours they have to work in order to make up the differences has risen from 15 hours per week to 28 hours. Managing with one child let alone two or three children on $ 270 per week is almost impossible. It is sending more children into poverty with little chance of improvement in their lives.

The main difficulties are it is

  1. difficult to find work
  2. hard to find work that fits in with school hours
  3. expensive to pay for after school hours care
  4. hard to pay fees required to study to improve qualifications
  5. stressful coping with paying rent and bills such as electricity
  6.  impossible to pay for extras like glasses or dental care
  7. hard to juggle appointments, study, time off to see schools about childrenís progress etc

About 63,000 parents have been adversely affected by the new laws. Not only that, but single parents have no respite in their lives. Two parent families share lots of responsibilities. A single parent comes home after work to do the household chores, listen to the children, help with homework, settle disputes, pay the bills, cook, deal with sickness etc. and is often chronically tired. Children in these families miss out on many things that other children take for granted e.g. out of school sport, learning a musical instrument or gymnastics or dancing, school excursions, new clothes, special treats, school camps, computers.  Those who benefited from the government grant for laptops for all kids in High school are now again disadvantaged as the new government withdrew that grant. Now kids must take their own laptops to school and those whose parents canít afford them are left without. This makes the teachersí job much harder as computer rooms usually no longer exist. They were allocated for other purposes when laptops were supplied. There is no easy solution to most of these problems. Do you know a single mother with children? Donít judge her. She is no doubt doing a brilliant job, but will do even better if you can offer some time so she can have a short time to herself to relax or to study.

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Early maths

The foundations for early maths go side by side with early literacy through parents talking, using vocabulary, telling stories, reading, playing games and doing routine activities.  The lives of babies and toddlers are full of opportunities for experiencing mathematical concepts such as counting, reciting of rhymes e.g.Ten little fingersÖ Five little rabbits. Help you toddler to look for

  • big and small things

  • halves and quarters

  • patterns of two colours

  • pairs of socks or shoes

  • positions such as on, under, beside, right, left, above and below.

In their picture books point out colours that match and count animals, fruit and a big variety of food that can be counted or shared.

For preschoolers there are the numbers themselves too that they can learn to recognize from many places each day e.g. from the letterbox and the car number plate, to the remote control for the TV. On TV a program called The Number Jacks engages children in numbers through using humorous mistakes that must be resolved by the Number Jacks. If you don't know it, look for this program.

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Harmony Day

Harmony Dayís theme this year was Everyone Belongs. The emphasis was on how our cultural diversity benefits us all. There are people from over 200 different countries in Australia and 300 different languages are spoken in Australian homes so harmony and acceptance of differences is important. Schools celebrated harmony day in many different ways. Some schools held barbecues or morning teas and parents brought different foods to share. Some shared art, music, dance, storytelling and films and even competitions for song writing.

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What is Child Neglect?

Neglect is when those responsible for the welfare of a child fail to provide that child with basic care. Neglect may be physical, medical, emotional, educational, supervisory or abandonment. Teachers are often the ones who suspect a child is neglected. A neglected child may go to school dirty and smelly as a result of not being bathed. The child may be sick or hurt, but not have received any help or not bring any food to have at lunch time. If there are often bruises, the child may have been hit. Emotional neglect is harder to recognize that physical neglect. The child may be moody, withdrawn and not want to go home and have irrational fears. She may not be interested in class activities or have learning difficulties or may be absent often from school.

Neglect is often associated with poverty and often the mother is held to blame, but fathers, families, professionals and society all contribute to child neglect through inaction. Mothers who neglect their children often say the child has always been difficult and blame the child for problems, saying he/she is bad or always naughty. Help should have come right at the beginning when that mother found her baby difficult to relate to.

Not all neglected children come from poor families. Some come from well off families. However, poor families

  • are under more stress
  • are more likely to be unemployed
  • have experienced domestic violence
  • are more likely to have poor housing
  • often have large families
  • may be struggling as single parents
  • may have a child with a disability
  • usually have complex needs
  • can be fearful of authority figures and organizations so donít seek aid 

Education and resources when made available can minimise neglect. Action canít be left just to the child protection authorities; society needs to change so that there is more community support for struggling parents. Neglect can have lasting effects. Lack of healthy food can result in poor brain development and bad teeth and the child may develop chronic health problems. Neglect can mean poor self esteem and inability to trust others. Often there is a link between neglect and juvenile crime and drug abuse.

Strengthening families is important in preventing neglect. A birth to five policy is essential to see that mothers are coping with their baby as it grows and develops and that fathers who need help in developing fathering skills are given support. Pre-natal classes and post natal home follow-ups are a feature of most developed countries now.

Does your community have the following?

  • Playgroups and social activities for parents, babies and toddlers
  • Transport for the most vulnerable families so they can attend activities
  • Help for stressed families Ė this shouldnít be linked to income.
  • Workers who build trust with the families and give practical, skill-building help.
  • Non- judgemental community workers
  • workers who empower families by making them part of the decision processes.

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What is a meaningful Life?

To most of us a meaningful life is one with a high degree of satisfaction. A happy life isnít quite the same thing, but it is closely related. I have read that a person with an easy life, good health and no money worries will be happy. Happiness is more focused on the present and that feeling of happiness, might be fleeting. A meaningful life focuses on a larger part of life; life in general with satisfaction and happy moments. It may include difficult challenges. Happiness is often related to what a person receives, while meaningfulness is also related to what a person does for others.

The success of services designed to aid people with disabilities used to be measured by the frequency of use. Services didnít differentiate between the number of users and happiness or meaningfulness. However, that is changing. There is more emphasis on helping a disabled person to have a  meaningful and a happy life, not just a busy one. The best services now plan for individuals instead of for groups. People confined to wheelchairs donít all like the same activities. People with Downís Syndrome donít all love going to football matches for example. They are individuals with their own passions. So they and their families should be involved in designing plans and programs that will allow them to have meaningful lives.

People can be occupied and busy without being happy or without feeling their life is meaningful. I had an uncle who said in later life, that heíd always hated his work. He waited till his retirement to find satisfaction in everyday living. Nowadays young people wonít accept that kind of situation. There is more freedom of choice to find a job that suits their personality and gives satisfaction and meaning to life.

Someone with a disability, should have the opportunity to be engaged with people they like and in activities that they like. Being busy is not necessarily an answer. Even when disability includes lack of communication skills, there are ways to discover what that people like. Real attempts must be made to find out what will suit each one. Consider each individual's likes, interests and skills. A well designed plan will connect a person to the community even when support staff are not there.

For everyone relationships are important, usually the most important part of our lives. We also need to find satisfaction in our work, paid or unpaid, and many moments of happiness. Are the people in your life fulfilled, or are they merely busy?

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Kids and digital technology

When my first granddaughter was nine months old, her mother took a photo of her sitting up turning the pages of a book she loved. It was obvious that was excited by books. Iíve just seen a photo of a nine month old baby who has taught herself to swipe an iPhone and then to use her fingers to work and view the apps on it. I wonder if she is also excited by books? From what I read, this baby isnít exceptionally smart. It is quite common now for babies to be operating iPhones, iPads and other digital devices before they are one year old.What a change in direction there has been in what we give to babies in the last 22years.

It is normal for young children to want to touch and do what older siblings or their parents do so is it harmful to let babies play with iPhones, computers etc? Parents will make up their own minds about that, but

  • monitoring length of access is important.
  • unrestricted screen time is probably bad for eyes that are still maturing
  • access to printed books is still necessary and gives pleasure
  • donít use these devices as baby sitters
  • stimulate your childís imagination and creativity. Games on iPhones and computers must not take the place of traditional types of stimulation.

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Protecting koalas

I'm almost as passionate about animals as I am about children, so this month I'm writing about one of my favourites. Iím sure that every child in Australia knows what a koala looks like, but do all our children know that koalas are threatened with extinction and that by the time our two year olds grow up there may be no koalas left in our bush?

More than 80% of Australian families have a pet mainly because our kids love pets. If it was possible to have a pet koala, Iím sure thousands of children would want one. We look after our dogs and cats pampering them with good food, coats and attention and we teach our kids to be kind to them. If they were threatened with extinction people would be outraged. It is equally important to take action about koalas and teach children to speak up to help and protect all our wild native animals.

The most important way to prevent koalas joining the Tasmanian tiger as an extinct creature, is to protect their habitat. Koalas donít live all over Australia and their habitats are more and more under threat. Koalas are difficult to relocate and few attempts are made to do this. New housing developments often mean no suitable trees are left and koalas die from starvation and from traffic kills and dog attacks.

At the moment an important colony of koalas on the North Coast of NSW near Ballina is threatened by an enormous upgrade of the Pacific Highway. If the highway extension goes ahead the koalas will die. However, there are alternate routes that the government could take. Why be so short sighted? You and your family might make a difference to these lovely creatures if you contact the Minister for the environment greg.hunt.mp@environment.gov.au or take action at the following websites www.ifaw.org/australia/frontpage   or www.savethekoala.com

Even at our preschools children are now taught about recycling, saving electricity and water and about growing trees. Carry on the work at home and help them to help our native animals too please. Even if you live outside of Australia you can help if you look at the koala websites.

 

 

 

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Living Happily
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International day of the girl child
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Traumatic times
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What is child neglect?
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Protecting koalas
 
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