“SUNS” 45 and 46: ‘MIND HEALTH’ and ‘EXCURSIONS’

These columns were published in the Darwin/Palmerson/ Litchfield Suns in May, June 2014.

Readers are welcome to quote and use, but I would appreciate acknowledgement of the Suns Newspapers.


We are made increasingly aware of challenges children and young people face in modern times. The relatively uncluttered and unhurried times of the past are gone. Children of today are being brought up in an increasingly frenetic world, one that has the potential to confuse and cause them concern.

The nurture of children is about far more than providing food, shelter and clothing. It is about spending time with them and being part of their developing lives. With parents and caregivers heavily committed to work, this can take a great deal of juggling.

At the end of long working days, parents come home exhausted. Many collect children from care centres on the way home. When they walk in the front door, there are domestic chores to confront, meaning young people are left to look after themselves. Television, videos, computer games, Facebook and texting take over minding duties while parents attend to household tasks. Countless studies confirm that prime time spent by parents talking with their children is minimal.

It is important that parents share conversation with their children. Girls and boys need to feel part of the family circle with opinions and ideas that are heard and respected. It is through conversation that parents get to know and understand their own young people. Sharing time also helps children gain confidence in their parents.

Avoiding Sad Outcomes

Concerns about bullying, together with worry, anxiousness and feeling they are not important family members can lead to depression – a growing phenomena among young people.

Common signs of depression among children in the years up to puberty can include:
* a prolonged sad mood
* a loss of interest in normal activities such as playing and games
* withdrawal both at home and school
* uncharacteristic behaviours such as stealing or bullying
* tiredness, particularly in the afternoon
* sleep disturbance
* bed wetting. ( the above dot points from an online source)

Key school programs

The Department of Education (DoE) encourages schools and school communities to be aware of issues that confront children socially and emotionally. More and more, schools are involving with “Kid’s Matter”, “Mind Matters”, and “Bullying No Way” initiatives. These programs offer life building skills.

“Kids Matter … is a flexible whole school approach … improving children’s mental health and wellbeing (in) primary schools.” (kidsmatter.edu.au, home page) The program aims to build respectful relationships. It’s focus is on the following:
* Developing a sense of belonging and inclusiveness for children at school and home.
* Supporting social and emotional learning.
* Working with parents and carers.
* Offering individualised support for students needing help.

‘Mind matters’ is a similar program. It supports Australian secondary schools to promote the mental health and well being of older students. (mindmatters.edu.au, home page)

‘Bullying No Way’ has been established to help make teachers, parents and students aware of bullying’s insidious impacts. Bullying, be it physical, verbal, online or in other forms can have devastating impacts on the lives and confidence of those on the receiving end. It is far too common and cannot be ignored. (bullyingnoway.gov.au/)

Young people have a right to healthy bodies and strong minds. They need to be aware of their part in building a sound future. However, things may not work out the way they should if school and home do not play their part. Educators as secondary carers and parents as primary caregivers are obligated toward helping children transition successfully into an adult world.


While most formal education takes place within school classrooms, student opportunities beyond the ‘four walls’ fill an important role in student development.
The part excursions play in furthering awareness should be appreciated. One of the Territory’s educational positives is the emphasis placed on their value.


Activities beyond the normal teaching and learning contexts are many and varied. They are often planned to support child development as students move up the grades and through the years.

In primary schools, the child’s first extended educational experience may be an overnight camp at school. By the time children are in year 3 or 4, excursions often extend to provide for overnights of one or two days in designated learning environments at places away from home. Berry Springs Wildlife Park is a top end example of where children camp and learn about animals, birds and nature.

Children in upper primary years may spend up to a week at the Batchelor Outdoor Education Centre, Outbound Adventure at Wallaroo (on the Arnhem Highway) or at similar places. These programs build confidence, introduce students to new skills and allow them to develop a sense of living that goes beyond the comforts of our modern homes. Sometimes exchanges between schools take place, with students being able to learn about other places in the Territory, for example Katherine, Jabiru and other Territory towns and communities.

Extending knowledge

In more recent years, senior primary students have travelled interstate on extended excursion programs. One of the most popular destinations is Canberra where the War Museum, Parliament House, the National Art Gallery and other places of significance are visited. Education officers working in each place offer key learning and understanding opportunities. Some school groups while down south also visit Australia’s snow fields.

Secondary students also participate in these programs, often venturing further from home for longer periods of time. Destinations for some primary and secondary school excursion groups include overseas countries as near as Indonesia and as far away as Japan.

‘Living’ learning

Excursions add value to learning, enabling students to extend their knowledge and understanding in first hand situations. After reading, visualising or being told about elements of the curriculum studied, they get to ‘live’ and be part of these environments beyond home and school. Initial planning and preparation is enriched by excursion experiences. Post-visit studies then take on added relevance and new meaning. Feedback to school and parents by way of written or oral presentation is rewarding for students and their families who support them through funding these activities.

Learning outside the classroom context enables students and staff to build on positive relationships. Often those participating come back to school with added appreciation and respect for each other. Excursions are exercises in team building. They certainly help those taking part to understand and know each other as people. They come at a cost to parents and often engage schools in fundraising. However, the value added to student learning outcomes makes the preparation and expenditure fully worthwhile.

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