Fitting in the Multicultural Classroom…

When I first moved to Sydney, I was the weird kid. I had a very heavy French accent and I spoke very minimal English. The English I did know was cringe-worthy, I mimicked my dad’s proper British accent, my grammar was all over the place. Within a few days of being in my Year 1 class, the teacher rang my mum and told her that the only language to speak around me was English. My mum was so worried about us not fitting in, she did as she was told.

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Happy kids in Geneva where children learn multiple languages fluently

Realistically, I would have eventually learnt English fairly quickly. In Switzerland most children speak about 3 languages before the time they reach high-school. Also, my dad grew up in London and mum and her family had run English schools in Hong Kong. To this day I am still quite self-conscious of how I speak, at times I still think in French and make mistakes with pronunciations, and I struggle to comprehend some Aussie-isms.

This was 1987. We are now in the start of 2016, so why am I not alone in this story, why are Educators still ordering encouraging families to favour speaking English at home?

When I started teaching, my passion and strong focus was ensuring that my children learnt about themselves and the world around them. That they had a strong sense of identity and could be proud of their history and personal stories.

In 2007 I received an offer to go to Japan and teach at a well-known International Preschool. I was completing my Masters in Early Childhood, Specialising in the Multicultural Classroom and this was such a wonderful opportunity, it was difficult to say no.

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Those unforgettable tatami mats…

I moved to Tokyo, living in a tiny shoebox apartment with tatami mats. This was my home for the next 12 months. The experiences I had in Tokyo were incredible. It was also the loneliest, most challenging overseas experience I have ever had. I could go days without speaking to anyone face-to-face in English.

When I first moved to Japan I did not speak a word of Japanese, I had no family and friends to catch up with and no smart phones to access google translate or maps, and grocery shopping was like playing Russian Roulette.  Once I had settled into work I took Japanese classes two nights a week, and practiced my basic language skills with Japanese co-workers and the guys in the Sunkus Convenience Store. However, I was still drawn to the native-English speaking teachers from the UK, Australia and New Zealand. I was at my happiest when friends and family came to visit.

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Fitting in is more than being a stereotype

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and dressing up as a geisha

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or going to an onsen and wearing a yukata

Now consider a young child who has moved to a new country, who has left everything behind that is familiar and is expected to learn and understand a new language upon arrival. Everything is completely overwhelming, they don’t understand the new routine, they don’t know anyone, names are unknown, even the food that is served is foreign. As an Educator, it is understandable how frustrating those tears and tantrums are, how difficult it is trying to communicate with families – but is it more important for you that the child learns English or that the family feels welcome in their new home?

As only one small part of creating an inclusive classroom, Bicultural Support is a government funded program which provides assistance to services so that children and families can settle into a new centre. A support worker will go out to centres and speak in the child’s mother tongue. The feedback from families, Educators and of course the children, is that this is a wonderful program.

Bicultural Support recently celebrated receiving their 9000th request which is an incredible milestone. Accessing the program is quite simple. Any Long Day Care or Outside of Hours School Care Program can contact their Inclusion Support Agency (ISA) and work with their regions Inclusion Support Facilitator (ISF). Bicultural Support can then be contacted and an Educator can be allocated for up to 12 hours (extensions can be applied for if required).

There are some great resources which can be purchased from the Ethnic Community Services Co-Operative website, in addition, some basic words in Chinese (Mandarin), Arabic and Greek can be accessed from the Survival Words website.

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Circle of Security…

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Building quality connections with children creates opportunities for them to feel safe, secure and happy

“I’m here for you”. 

This is such a simple, yet powerful statement.

He’s just naughty:

When an Educator explains to me that Child A is out of control, is testing the boundaries, is just plain naughty. I listen. I continue to listen when they say “he’s so manipulative, I just know he’s testing me”.

Young children are simply not that complex. Children’s behaviour is learnt and responsive behaviour. I’m not blaming parents here. But in order to understand why a child behaves the way they do, we need to look at the bigger picture.

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Are you there for your child – physically & emotionally?

 

Whenever you’re having a bad day, remember this, I love you:

Last week I ran into David* who I had the privilege of teaching his daughter a few years ago. Every morning at drop-off we would chat about his complex family situation. Due to medical reasons, he had become a carer for his wife who he describes as ‘like having a 16 year old daughter’.

David appeared to be not coping. We would speak at length each time we saw each other. The impact was clear. Lucy* (4 years) became my little shadow. At drop-off she would seek either myself or my co-teacher out. The entire day she would not leave our sides. Engaging with other children was not something she was interested in, and I can only describe Lucy as a child who was scared and craved lots of attention and affection. Anxiety in children is very real and if we look at stats, 1 in 7 children has a mental health difficulty.

What Lucy was experiencing was anxiety. To explain why she was feeling the way she was, she would not have the words.

Let’s look at the bigger picture:

Lucy’s mum was physically available, but not emotionally. Due to surgery, she no longer had the capacity to cognitively understand her daughter needed her. Her family needed her. Instead, David took on the dual roles of parenting and as a result he took on far too much, became negative and I assume developed traits of depression.

After many chats, I expressed I was not the right person to support him with creating change. Only a professional could lead him in the right direction. Only he had the power to create change to get better.

If mental illness disrupts the early years of the adult-child relationship, it is less likely that the child will have a secure attachment style or optimal social and emotional development.

Children whose parents have a mental illness are at higher risk than other children of having emotional, behavioural or mental health problems at some stage in their lives.

Seeing David last week was wonderful. He is a different man. He sought counselling and although things remain at home, he has taken on his parenting responsibilities with positivity. Before me was a man with much confidence and absolute love for his children. His son is about to finish primary school and is part of the relay team for his school representing at State Level. Lucy participates in Nippers, ballet and no longer clings to adults.

As the disciplinarian he described that he was ‘always the bad guy’. Lucy who is now 8 shouted at him the other day ‘I hate you’ prior to slamming the door. His response “I know you’re not happy right now, but please remember I love you”.

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Even if you’re having a challenging day, create special moments that allows children to remember they are still important.

 

When we feel safe & secure, learning happens:

For children to have opportunities to build on their social and emotional skills. Stressful triggers, or trauma can create shifts in a child’s emotional well-being and development. The close bond and building positive relationships between carers and child, helps to create security for young children.

Which brings me to ‘The Circle of Security’. Robyn Dolby (2007) quotes “the Circle of Security is an early intervention program for parents and children that focuses on the relationships which give children emotional support.”

The Circle of Security map:

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The Circle of Security diagram shows a circle held between two hands. One hand supports the top half of the circle, showing the secure base of support children need for play and learning. Children’s underlying needs for exploration are summarised in the box in the top half:

  • Watch over me (to see that I am safe)
  • Delight in me (so I can look into your face and see what I look like to you, and find you are happy with me)
  • Help me (just enough so I can do it by myself)
  • Enjoy with me (join my interest)

The hand supporting the bottom half of the circle represents the safe haven children need when they have had enough of exploring. Their underlying needs in relation to attachment are shown in the box in the bottom half:

  • Protect me (because I am feeling scared)
  • Comfort me (when I am upset)
  • Delight in me (found on both sides of the circle because this important for children)
  • Help me to (organise my feelings)

* names changed due to reasons of privacy

Some Useful Links:

To talk about Mental Health, Anxiety, Parenting, Circle of Security in great detail I would be writing a thesis, for more in depth information, I recommend the following links;

 

Life is More Beautiful with The Very Hungry Caterpillar…

 

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If I were to list my top 10 books, I’d say 9 out of the 10 would be children’s books. I’m not even a little bit embarrassed about how excited I get talking about brilliant children’s authors that I respect highly…Pamela Allen, Mem Fox, Julia Donaldson…and of course Eric Carle.

For now I’ll focus on Mr Carle and one of his most amazing stories ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’, which was first published in 1969!

I don’t think I’m alone in saying how many powerfully memorable, happy moments this book has given me through all my years of teaching. What I have found is that this book is so universal and that it doesn’t matter the language that you speak, the city you are living in, or how old you are…’The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ is guaranteed to bring a big smile on your face.

A conversation I always had with my children was “do you need to be able to read, or have a book to tell a story?”. The answer always started off as yes…but through the course of the year, they were telling me the story, and very rarely did we need the book itself.

While I was completing my undergrad in teaching, for one of my pracs I had to prepare my own resources. So after a visit to the fabric shop, I came home and spent hours cutting out every single piece of fruit, and using a hole puncher created the holes, and glued the stems…I’m not going to lie, it didn’t look very good at all, but the children loved it and truthfully that’s all that really matters!

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The following year Google had become quite popular (and a lifesaver) as I discovered DLTK, and is still a website I access for great resources. I came across these printables and I can’t express how fantastic they are. I’ll print them out and laminate them, and you can add either magnetic or Velcro dots to the back. Every Educator I have ever worked with has had to hear the genuine excitement in my voice as I go on and on about how great they are. Here is the link: http://www.dltk-teach.com/books/hungrycaterpillar/felt_fun.htm

And here are some examples that my Speech Therapist colleague put together…I know too cute!!

So in amongst my searches I did find another website that has the templates for the feltboard pieces (note, mine looked nothing like these!!). http://www.lavendersbluedesigns.com/diy-very-hungry-caterpillar-felt-book-free-printable/

A couple years ago I taught an incredible group of 4-5 year olds, not that we are supposed to have favourites but this was really a beautiful group of children that I will never forget, and one of the reasons was due to the End of Year Concert we put together. The credit goes entirely to them. During rest time the children used the printables to tell the story of ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ over and over to each other, it got to the point that I’d sit with the children for group time while they took turns.

It was during this time that I realised for our End of Year Concert it made sense to do a play to their favourite story. Here, a huge project began where ALL of the children were involved. We pulled names out of a hat, and all the children were assigned a piece of fruit or food. To the children were had really come out of their shells I allocated as the caterpillar, the butterfly and narrator.

Together we talked about what resources we would need and the children created the leaf, the moon, and finally our biggest masterpiece – the cocoon and butterfly wings. Actually, one of the children noted that butterflies don’t come out of cocoons and rather a chrysalis that they decided would be green. The parents were then involved with the costumes and they really went all out…every step of the way, the children were 100% involved.

We practiced this play every day, and words can’t describe how proud I was of them. Not one child was nervous, not one single tear was shed (well, myself and my co-teacher did as they did such an amazing job).

My highlight was when they asked me to be the butterfly as they thought I deserved a chance to be in the play too…I think my face sums it up pretty well as to how happy I was to have a turn!

How I Became Miss Evie…


I was probably 12 when I declared to my family that I wanted to be a teacher or a nurse. The response from my parents was “teaching would be a great job for you, when you have children you’ll be able to take holidays to spend with them”. This was not the reason I wanted to be a teacher, ironically I am in my mid-thirties and I don’t have children and aside from my first teaching role, every centre I worked in was Long Day Care – no school holidays.

When I was 14 my mother was in a very serious car accident. She spent a few months in the hospital and every day after school I would go visit. The nurses got to know me quite well and my desire to be a nurse. They had me doing a few of the jobs and washing my mums hair. Nursing was looking like something I really could see myself doing. Amongst many injuries, mum’s most serious was a compound fracture. Twice a day the gauze was changed with the wound, one of the nurses suggested I have a turn, I felt the room close in, I was nauseous and that ruled out nursing.

For work experience in Year 10, I booked myself in at my old primary school to teach and by this stage was passionate to also be a Social Worker. The local hospital accommodated me for a few days and I found the role limited by people who were resisted to change and an incredible amount of red tape. My week of teaching however was everything that I had hoped it would be.

Finally my time had come to commence my teaching degree in Primary Education at University. A few weeks in we were assigned to our first practicums at local primary schools. In the first session I had what I can only describe as a moment of anxiety. I didn’t want to be there. The Education system that I saw contradicted my own personal philosophies. Where was the connection and understanding that each child was an individual? The year was 2000 and yet I was having flashbacks to my own education in the late 80’s…nothing had changed.

I left my studies and was confronted with the fear that I would never know what path I would dedicate my life to. All I had ever wanted to do was help people. I only ever had known that I really wanted to teach. What was I to do?

I received a call from an old friend that I hadn’t heard from in a while asking if I wanted to work a couple hours a day at a Preschool. Right now I was 19 and unemployed. Absolutely!

The centre was based in a Church hall and I met an amazing group of Educators. One of which was the mother of a close friend from High School. I instantly felt connected to these children and interviewed for the position. The Director called me into her office and told me she saw potential and instead offered my a full-time role as her assistant.

For 18 months I worked with an experienced, passionate team of Educators who opened my eyes to the wonderful world of Early Childhood. I was exposed to a different understanding of child development and to view the child as an individual.

In 2002 I started my Bachelor of Early Childhood and have never looked back. By 25 I was Director. In 2006 I completed my Postgrad specialising in Early Childhood Education. Then in 2008, Masters in Education specialising in the Multicultural Classroom.

By the time I was 29 I had taught in Sydney, Tokyo, Lugano and Geneva.

Today is the 5th October, which means it is World Teacher’s Day. In the 15 years that I have been in this industry I wish I could reflect and say Early Childhood Educators are more respected than ever. Unfortunately we are viewed as glorified babysitters. We are incredibly low-paid when comparing to our Primary and Secondary Educators. We have lower conditions and there is an incredible high turn-over and burn-out rate.

The current change of Prime Minister has brought about a positive change where Early Childhood Education is back in the Education Portfolio (we were in Department of Social Services).

My hope is that 2015 will finally bring about recognition that Early Childhood Education is more than finger painting and playing duck, duck goose.

Happy World Teacher’s Day. Ryan gets us!

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Welcome to the Toy Library…

 

image8I love exploring Sydney and despite growing up on the North Shore and living here most of my life, I feel that almost every day I learn something new about this city. This find isn’t a small bar with quirky bartenders and an extensive cocktail list, or a place with a panoramic view. Instead I’d like to welcome you to the wonderful world of the Toy Library.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit Noah’s Ark in Artarmon, located on Broughton Road at the Kids Cottage Community Centre. I was greeted by a team of volunteers and Helen who is a part of the Committee that was established in 1976. The organisation was put together by Parents and Professionals who saw a need for Early Intervention beyond 1:1 therapy, so that families were able to support their children at home in their play. As we know in all aspects of Early Childhood Development, the best opportunities for learning occur through play experiences.

What is a toy library?

The Toy Library is exactly what it sounds like – a place for families to take their children so they can borrow toys and resources. These vary from Switch Toys, to large outdoor gross motor equipment to access to the parent library. The Noah’s Ark website displays a clearer list for you to have a look at http://www.toys4specialneeds.org.au/toys/

 

Who can access the Toy Library?

The Toy Library is open to the public, however this is an inclusive service to support children with additional needs; whether physical, intellectual or sensory, temporary or permanent. Many of the clients attend an early intervention program, specialist therapy session, speech pathologist or special education unit and use this resource to continue their therapy programs at home. There is no age limit but toys are generally suitable for children 0-6 years developmentally.

What’s the catch?

No catch – there is a membership fee of $60 per year, but this gives you access to the wide variety of resources where you borrow up to 9 items. This can be done once a month, however it is encouraged to exchange items fortnightly. The items in the bags are all clearly labelled so you know exactly how many pieces to return.

Where are they located, and when are they open?

Noah’s Ark Toy Library has their permanent base at Artarmon at Kids Cottage Community Centre and are open every Wednesday (closed school holidays). They also have a mobile van that travels to other locations;

Thornleigh – 2nd & 4th Monday of every month

Baulkham Hill – 1st & 3rd Monday of every month

Ryde – 1st & 3rd Tuesday of every month

Wahroonga – 1st & 3rd Friday

For further information regarding other Toy Libraries across NSW go to http://www.toylibraries.org.au/area/nsw and as I started researching this on Google, you will most likely be able to access more information from your local community centre.

A very big thank you to Helen and the wonderful and inviting team at Noah’s Ark who donate their time to supporting the community and families with children with additional needs. My visit was an inspiring experience, please get out there and meet your local community volunteers. For any additional enquiries you can contact Noah’s Ark on (02) 9411 4429 or info@toys4specialneeds.org.au  – alternatively send me a message and I can help you locate your local community Toy Library.

Super Easy Cheese & Bacon Rolls…

 

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Cooking with children should be fun…and delicious! Every experience with children should be enjoyed and encompasses all aspects of education; numeracy, literacy, language, social skills – just to name a few.

Preschoolers in particular have grasped the concept of recipes and will ask about quantities and what’s next. Before cooking, sit down with the children and talk through the ingredients and the different types of measuring utensils required, put them in order and look at cooking like a science experiment

Here is an incredibly simple recipe for cheese and bacon rolls, which is really easy, and what I like about it, is that sit can be done in different stages which is perfect for children who tend to get easily distracted.

INGREDIENTS: 

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • – 1 tablespoon yeast
  • – 2 teaspoons caster sugar
  • – 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • – 1 cup warm milk
  • – 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • – olive oil
  • – 3 rashers bacon
  • – 1/2 cup shredded cheese

METHOD: 

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Add 2.5 cups flour

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Next, 1 tablespoon of yeast

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Add 2 teaspoons of caster sugar

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Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir the dry ingredients together creating a well in the centre

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Add the cup of warmed milk with the 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Using a wooden spoon stir util the ingredients are combined

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Then start kneading

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Knead…

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Put the dough onto a lightly floured surface and continue kneading for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic

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Let it rise…

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This is the dough after about 45 minutes

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Chop up the bacon & shred some cheese

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Separate the dough into 8 portions and put onto a lightly floured tray

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Spread the cheese and bacon over the top

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Put into a pre-heated oven of about 180-190C – your rolls are ready to cook

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Back for about 15-20m mins or until golden brown

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These are best eaten warn…Bon Appetit!

 

 

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Playdough…

Where can I begin with the benefits of Playdough? The number of adjectives are countless. As an Early Childhood Educator I cannot imagine my class without a Playdough table – in fact if there was no table set up, the children were quick to ask tell us that we had to make some.

So why have Playdough in your home or class? Well, it can support all areas of development such as;

  • Fine motor
  • Imagination and Creativity
  • Maths and Numeracy Skills
  • Science and Discovery
  • Language
  • Social/Emotional
  • Therapy for children with Special Needs – not limited to children with language delays.
  • Sensory

And make Playdough? Absolutely! I understand it seems easier and more practical to purchase it, and aesthetically to have a variety of colours is nice – but I’ve never had a child ask for multiple colours. Whatever the Playdough looks like, the imagination of a young child runs wild and colour certainly does not limit their play.

Join your children in making Playdough – it’s a wonderful cooking experience, and for the adult, very therapeutic!

This is an incredibly simple recipe…with a twist.. I added Peppermint Essence to this mixture and to link I coloured the dough green. The options are countless, if you explore your supermarket shelf you’ll see a variety of scents you can add, such as Strawberry, Lavender, Chocolate. Though I would use the scents occasionally as a surprise to your children.

Adding Colour is a wonderful opportunity for your children to make choices and they can explore with mixing colours as well.

Here is the recipe;

  • 2 cups Plain Flour
  • 1/2 cup Salt
  • 2 Tbsp Cream of Tartar
  • 2 Tbsp Oil
  • Food Colouring
  • 1 cup Boiling Water
  • Essence (optional)
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Firstly combine all the dry ingredients. Add 2 cups plain flour

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Pour into mixing bowl

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Add 1/2 cup of salt

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Add 2 tablespoons cream of tartar

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Stir the dry ingredients together

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Next add 2 tablespoons of oil. I use regular canola oil

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Add to mixture

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I chose peppermint essence to add and poured roughly 1/4 of the bottle in – however for a stronger scent, add the whole bottle

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Combine the food colouring to the boiling water and pour into the mixture

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I prefer to use a metal or plastic spoon (as the colouring can stain) and combine

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Once the ingredients are combined and it is not hot to touch, get your hands dirty and knead!

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Knead, knead knead!

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And here it is!

 

When you have children, you’ll understand…

I don’t have children.

Such a simple statement, but profound. For a long time I questioned my understanding of Early Childhood because how could I possibly understand children if I didn’t have any of my own?

Well maybe not…BUT I’m a big kid and I can get lost in the children’s section of a bookshop, I know how to make playdough without referring to a recipe, and I can link a children’s song to any animal.

Ok…I’m more than a big kid. I’m an Early Childhood Educator. I have spent 14 years working with amazing children over the years and I have learnt so much from them, that I would love to share this with you all.

x Miss Evie