This column was published in edited form in the ‘NT Suns’ on August 2 2017. 

Note:  Unedited columns are published in my blog.

 

ACTIVE PLAY IS BECOMING HISTORICAL

Playing in the outdoors was something members of older generations took for granted when they were children. In more recent years there has been a foreclosure on what was once unregulated freedom. Safety and security issues have raised concerns about the wisdom of young people being allowed ‘old fashioned’ freedoms of play.

The upshot, is that many young people prefer to sit and play games on screens, rather than being in the outdoors letting off steam in a running, playing manner. There are hundreds of pieces of research that have been done, all pointing toward the fact that a lack of physical action and activity is depriving children of an energy outlet in play.

It is true that many children are now playing less than used to be the case. There are of course, a growing number of play centres in cities that attract young people, but they are often at distance from where people live. It also costs a lot to patronise these centres, meaning they are beyond the means of many families.

From time to time, walking or bike riding to school are promoted as one off family days. Children walk or ride with parents or others to school. Normally the majority are dropped off and picked up by parents and carers. Even on these special walk and ride days, most children (and many bikes) are collected after school.

School and public playgrounds used to be fun places for children. However, they have been impacted by occupational health and safety (OH&S) requirements that have taken many of the fun elements out of playgrounds. Roller slides used to be powerful drawcards for children but after an accident or two, OH&S decreed that rollers had to go and be replaced by a flat plastic or metal sheet down which children slid. Fun evaporated. ‘Stranger Danger’ awareness and the possibility of needle stick injuries have also discouraged parents from allowing children access to public playgrounds without supervision.

More and more families are living in high rise apartments. Limited playing space naturally encourages sedentary activity.

For whatever reason, physical activity and letting off steam in play situations seems to be diminishing. This is an unfortunate trend and not one helpful to the development of young people. It makes play opportunities at school all the more important.

DON’T FORCE UNDERSTANDING

This column was published (with abridgment) in the NT Suns on June 20 2017.

DON’T FORCE UNDERSTANDING

We need to be very careful that the development of young children is not detrimental. Little children need time to absorb and to understand the world into which they are growing. In these modern times, that world is increasingly complex and difficult to understand. There is a tendency on the part of many to advocate the ‘forcing’ of learning and understanding on children before they are mature enough to grasp concepts.

Recent Early Childhood supplements in the NT News and the Suns point to the wisdom of gradually presenting learning opportunities to children. Articles in these supplements laid stress on the importance of play and providing relaxed, enjoyable places of learning for young children. The building within them of a desire to learn and having confidence in their learning, will not come if unduly hastened. ‘Force feeding’ knowledge into children goes against both common sense and espoused recommendations.

A significant point made in the Suns EC supplement was that ‘Play makes a lasting impact’. That article went on to confirm that “skills developed through quality early childhood education last a lifetime.” The critical importance of quality parenting, well prepared educators and empathetic schools count for a lot, in terms of young children growing up.

Against this backdrop of thoughtful reflection about development, come Australian Government directives that amount to premature expectation and force feeding of knowledge beyond the ability of young children to comprehend.

There are two recent examples of this imposition. The first was Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s decision that all preschool children in Australia should be introduced to the Japanese Language. How can little children possibly comprehend ‘Japan’ and the ‘why’ of this language, when they are still in the initial stages of literacy development in our mother tongue. A directive like this is confusing for them and distorts their key educational needs.

More recently PM Turnbull has decided that ” three year olds in childcare and students from preschool … upwards will be taught about suicide awareness and mental health … .” ( “Aussie youngsters get mental health boost’, NT News, 8.6.17) Specific suicide discussion could happen with children as young as 8 years of age. Introducing children to complexities beyond their comprehensive ability poses distinct risks. It is far better to provide for the emergence of happiness and satisfaction through carefully structured learning experiences, than attempting to educate through hastily conceived programs.

CHILDREN NEEED CONFIDENCE AND REASSURANCE

Column published in NT Suns June 6 2017

CHILDREN NEED CONFIDENCE AND REASSURANCE

A prime focus of education is planning towards meeting the future needs of children. Preparing children and young people to become tomorrow’s adults and leaders is a key educational commission. This should be a shared responsibility involving parents on the home front and teachers in our schools. Taking advantage of learning opportunities is also a responsibility resting on the shoulders of students. Parents and teachers offer development and educational opportunities for children but cannot do the learning for them.

In a world of educational pressures and global confusion, it is important to be careful and responsible in planning learning opportunities. Part of this is to offer a stable and understandable environment. The opportunity to ‘grow through play’ and the way in which children learn to understand the wider world are both important.

Play

The importance of play and social interaction children have with each other is sometimes discounted. Abundant research confirms that children learn about the world through play. This along with other stimuli supports their social, emotional and moral/spiritual growth. Young people can be and often are exposed to the pressures of academics too early in life. Making haste slowly and ensuring these other elements are taken into account, supports the stable development of young people. Pressuring children academically might produce ‘high fliers’. However, confidence and maturity come from socialising and play, without which children can be left in isolation. Playing together is one way children begin to understand one another and the world into which they are growing.

Unease

In these troubled times children’s self confidence needs to be supported by parents and teachers. Distressing events, particularly terrorist attacks, climatic catastrophes and other disasters have an unsettling effect on everyone. This is particularly the case for children who can and do become distressed by such events. Trying to shield young people from these events or attempting to brush them off, will only heighten their anxieties.
Awareness of terrifying events creates distress which “… may be shown in all sorts of ways.
This can include aches and pains, sleeplessness, nightmares, bed wetting, becoming … snappy or withdrawn or not wanting to be separated from their parents.” (Parry and Oldfield, ‘How to talk to children about terrorism’ The Conversation, 27/5/17)

Children need the confidence and understanding that grows from play and they need reassurance about the good things in a world into which they are growing. It’s up to adults to see that both these needs are met.

SCHOOLS ARE PLACES OF HUMAN NEED

 

This column, published in the NT Suns in March 2017, focuses on the NT.  However, in my opinion, there is a NEED FORV THE APPOINTMENT OF A COUNSELLOR to the staff of every school.

SCHOOLS ARE PLACES OF HUMAN NEED

With the frenetic pace of educational issues and priorities, we tend to overlook the fact that schools are about people. Students with aims, ambitions, positive and negative feelings, commit each day to their schools. This relationship begins when children commence preschool or attendance at early learning centres. It continues through primary and middle school years. Schools are centres of important educational, social and developmental opportunities.

Along the way, there are personal challenges and setbacks. Some are of a fairly minor nature, while others have a far greater and deeper impact upon students, staff and the school community. However, it seems the need for counselling support is on the increase. It is at such times that the human face of education is of critical importance. The most recent NT tragedy was the untimely deaths of two students from Darwin High School. Their passing is having an impact upon school students and staff that is being recognised through counselling and other support services. While the essence of education is about student academics and personal development, our department is there to support those in need during times of sorrow. Counsellors offer emotional and moral support. They never quite know when counselling support will be required, so readiness to offer assistance is important.

In a wider Territory context the Department of Education at central and regional level supports those in schools impacted by death, injury or mishap of students and staff. The need for this support may be within our city schools, and those in larger towns or smaller and more remote communities.

There are a number of circumstances within schools that can cause deep distress for students, staff and in some cases parents of school children. One of the most common is bullying in its various forms. Online bullying with harsh verbals and embarrassing photographs is the most insidious and least understood method of causing hurt. It is important that these circumstances come to light, with perpetrators being called to account and victims being given support.

The need for school based counselling is on the increase. Education departments may need to consider the appointment of support counsellors in schools on a one to one basis. Counselling needs are growing; support needs to be timely and immediate.

‘BACK TO SCHOOL’ HELPS

 

  BACK TO SCHOOL POINTERS THAT MIGHT BE USEFUL FOR PARENTS

1. Be confident, not hesitantly or ‘worried’ in conversation with or around children. Doubts rub off.

2. Label possessions – clothes, lunch boxes, – clearly and indelibly.

3. Choose lunch boxes small enough to fit into school fridges. Oversize boxes are often full of emptiness and take up unnecessary refrigerated space.

4. Be aware of healthy food policy for your school. Don’t pack poor quality food.

5. Be aware of school nut policies that are often in place.

6. Cut fruit, sandwiches and other food into manageable portions. Younger children do not get on with whole pieces of fruit.

7. Defence Force children enrol from interstate at this time of year. Know about the support that can be offered through Regional Education Liaison Officer’s (REDLO’s) for primary schools and Defence School Transition mentored (DSTM’s) for secondary schools.

8. Be aware of tutorial support programs for defence children arriving from interstate.

9. Be trustful and avoid being helicopter parents.

10. If parents need to have in depth conversation with teachers, make an appointment at school office for these meeting. Don’t shoehorn in and at Teachers who are trying to introduce children to the year and settle them down.

11 . At home time, let teachers dismiss children to pack their bags including getting lunch boxes from fridge without doing it for them. Children have to learn these strategies.

12. Don’t crowd into classrooms and around doors at the start of the day or at home time. ‘Crowding’ leads to chaos. Wait at a respectful distance for children to emerge.

13. For Middle and senior school enrolments, discuss courses and study options with school coordinators within the first few weeks.

14. Most schools have parent/teacher information evenings within the first weeks of school. Plan to attend and ask question about school processes and directions.

15. Most schools have websites. Look them up on Google and read about your school.

16. LET GO OF YOUR CHILDREN FOR THE SCHOOL DAY AND BE TRUSTFUL.

17. Be aware that all teachers establish classroom rules with children. Learn from your children what they’re rules are, so parents and teachers can be together on the same expectational wavelength.

18. Become aware of school homework policy. Read handbooks.

19. If nearby when bringing or collecting children, avoid what can be disruptive conversations in loud voices with other parent. This talk can be off-putting to teachers and distracting for children.

20. Make sure vaccination and immunisation records are up to date and bring these records so they can be copied onto student enrolment data.

21. Ensure that a contact phone number is available to the school and always kept up to date.

22. Where applicable, know the cyclone policy applying to your school. Keeping a copy of this and essential data on the fridge or home notice board is not a bad idea.

THE GOOD SIDE OF YOUTH

THE GOOD SIDE OF YOUTH

It is unfair and alarming that minorities can colour opinions held for majorities. This is particularly the case for children and young people.

Popular media constantly saturates viewing, listening and reading time with stories about misdemeanours and crime attributable to young people. U Tube, Facebook and social media often embellish these stories of wrongdoing. Most run stories about children and young people, focus on negative behaviour. Assaults, unlawful entry, property damage and destruction headline these reports. That has again been highlighted in the NT and Australia by media reporting during the recent school holiday period.

An alarming outcome of this focus is that perceptions held for every young person becomes distorted. The community can lose respect for all young people because of the actions of a minority. To regard them all in this way would be a gross misinterpretation.

The Reality

The majority of young people have a positive outlook on life and are keen to succeed. From primary school through to secondary and tertiary years, most are motivated and keen to do their very best. They are respected by teachers, supported by parents and are positive generational ambassadors. They are people of fine character, building solid academic, social, emotional and moral foundations.

Many undertake part time work in the retail trade. They are shelf packers, check out attendants, floor cleaners and shopping trolley retrievers for supermarkets and stores. Some involve in the hospitality industry, working after school hours and at weekends. Some may fritter their earnings, but many save for a purpose. That might be for a car, to defray tertiary education costs or to fund travel.

Young people of all ages devote time to sporting activities, including participation and volunteering as coaches and umpires. Others involve in artistic or cultural pursuits gaining confidence and skill. Self-improvement and community service is manifest in other ways. Children join scouts, guides, junior police rangers, tae-kwon-do and karate groups, St. John Ambulance and similar organisations. A large percentage go on to become leaders and instructors of these groups, demonstrating their commitment to self-betterment and community good.

We can but hope that young people who have been involved in wrongful behaviour come to a point of self-realisation and correction. Support from families and authorities helps, but ultimately character change has to come from within.

In overall terms and as a senior citizen, I believe the future of the Territory is in the capable hands of fine young people. They deserve our encouragement, support, recognition and appreciation.

ALLERGY AWARENESS ON SCHOOL AGENDAS

Schools have to be increasingly aware of food allergy issues. Nut allergies are of particular concern. It seems more and more children are becoming nut sensitive. Recess and lunch box contents can be an issue.

“With severe allergies on the rise, no childcare centre, pre-school or school can afford to be uninformed about the risks to children in their care. They need to arm themselves with information on food allergy and anaphylaxis and create environments that are safer for all.” (Allergy and Anaphylaxis Aust. Website)

Until about 20 years ago, very few schools had policies that considered the risk of food allergies. This has changed. Most schools, particularly preschools in primary’s have policies relating to allergic sensitivities that can confront children.

The most common of these allergies is that relating to the susceptibility of some children to fall violently ill, if they come into contact with nuts. Many schools advertise that they are “nut free zones”. Parents are frequently asked to take into account the fact that foods including nuts and sandwich spreads containing nuts should not be included in children’s recesses and lunches.

While this is restrictive parents for the most part accept that nut contamination could have far reaching consequences for susceptible children.

Two way awareness

It is important for care and caution to be a two way process. Children who are nut allergic should understand their condition. It’s important that they take care to steer clear of any food danger. I believe the children from very young ages, including those in preschool, should be aware of the need for self-preservation.

From time to time there is a worry that children suffering from allergies might be teased or even threatened with contamination. This is usually an unnecessary fear. One of the qualities demonstrated by children is a genuine empathy and care for those whose circumstances are confronted in this way. It’s wise for teachers and children in all classes to be aware of children who may suffer from allergic reaction to nuts.

Schools in which all staff and therefore students are aware of an allergy situation can offer support. A further safeguard is for teachers and school support staff to have epipen training so this can be administered in the case of an emergency.

Nut consciousness and allergy awareness is the part and parcel of modern education. It’s just another duty of care responsibility existing for schools and staff. That duty is helped when parents and students cooperate to help make school environments safe, secure places for all students.