Having friends at school is a pivotal piece in the ‘happy at school’ jigsaw puzzle. Children who have positive relationships with peers are more likely to feel safe and happy at school compared to those who struggle to form friendships and feel as though they have little connections or sense of belonging. With the rise of technology and prevalence of bullying, parents may be concerned when their children are expressing a lack of quality friendships. It is important to teach our children the social cues and skills needed to make friends at school themselves. Here are some simple, yet effective, strategies to make friends:
1. Ask a friend or teacher to introduce you
If your child is new to the school, he will obviously not know many people on the first day. If he knows one person, he can ask them to introduce their friends. This way, your child’s friend circle can grow much quicker.
2. Say hello and smile
A joyful smile is the greatest way to introduce yourself to someone. A smile knows no language barrier and is an instant way of saying hello.
3. Volunteer to help
Does the school have opportunities for student to be volunteers? Perhaps there is a buddy program or playground equipment and helper roster. Many lovely friendships can form from volunteering with people who are kind and thoughtful.
4. Sit on the buddy bench
In some schools they have a special designated bench seat where children who would like to play but have no one to play with can sit. Other children can then invite these children to join in with their games or offer friendship. This initiative works well for those children who may be shy and have trouble approaching others.
5. Get involved
If your child’s school offers different activities at lunchtime, like coding club or a particular sport, encourage your child to sign up and get involved. Having the opportunity to bond over a shared experience outside the classroom is a great way to make friends.
Building friendships can sometimes be difficult but with these strategies, your children will be equipped to make many positive connections with their peers.
As featured in District Gazette.
The very mention of the acronym NAPLAN, which stands for National Assessment Program – Literacy And Numeracy, can evoke a myriad of emotions amongst parents, teachers and students. The controversial series of tests covering skills in reading, writing, spelling, grammar, punctuation and numeracy has been around since 2008 and target students in year 3, 5, 7 and 9. The results of NAPLAN are designed to drive improvements in student learning and create accountability within schools. Whilst this may be true from the perspective of ACARA (Australian Curriculum and Assessment Reporting Authority), this is not always the perspective and experience of those involved in the process. Parents and teachers have seen a different side to the tests with some schools ‘teaching to the test’ in a bid to gain higher marks in order to market their school as top performing and offering a better education to those which did not perform as well. Some parents have even employed private coaching to encourage their child to achieve better results, creating a culture of extreme competitiveness and a build-up of anxiety amid students. These issues cannot be ignored and whilst parents have the option of withdrawing their children from sitting the test, others are fighting to have it removed altogether.
Practically, however, what can we actually do to prepare our children for this in the best way possible? The answer is simple - remind them of what the tests are designed to do and reduce the stigma and anxiety around the test by placing little importance on their individual achievements but rather focusing on the holistic view of school improvement. If we, as parents or teachers, take a stand and refuse to get caught up in the competitive nature that has evolved from misuse of this test, it will demonstrate the practical use of NAPLAN for taking a snapshot of learning at the time at which the tests were taken. Learning is fluid. Children will have bad days, forget things and fluke things. They will be clever and think outside the square. Some things cannot be measured through a test and some things can. Take NAPLAN with a grain of salt and encourage your child to treat it like any other test they take at school.
Remember, it is merely a snapshot.
As the school holidays are fast approaching, parents are considering what options they have in regards to care and entertainment for their children during the two weeks they are not at school.
For many families, the option to take leave from work is not a viable one and they are left to find appropriate options that are suitable for their family’s circumstance. Families with one or both parents at home may struggle with affording entertainment options for their children and will be on the hunt for free or low-cost ideas of things to do with their children. Some families with the financial means and physical ability to be around during the holidays may be considering alternative ways to entertain their children. Whichever situation your family is in, there is a solution and the
answer is: playdates.
A playdate is simply an organised time for two or more children to spend time with one another. They may happen at someone’s home or at a public area such as a park or play centre. If a playdate is one-to-one if can strengthen friendships and establish strong bonds outside of the school environment. The best part is there is no age limit. Play dates might seem like a simplistic answer to the woes of school holiday struggles but they can certainly meet the needs of all families if we bind together to create the ‘village’ often talked about in parenting. Social interaction in a variety of settings is vital in developing a child’s sense of belonging, enhances communication and enables for character development. By allowing your children to visit a friend’s house, they gain additional insight into the world around them and learn to cooperate.
So, parents if you have the means to invite your child’s friend over for a playdate these holidays, do it! Not only will your children have the chance to play with peers they like to spend time with, it will aid them in becoming more independent and confident as they mature.
Many parents or caregivers of school-aged children would be familiar with the age-old ritual of asking your child how their day was at school. Often, these questions are met with a simple one word reply or in some cases, no reply at all. Parents are left pondering what their child is actually learning and if they have any friends. Sound familiar?
Encouraging children to share information about their day at school is about asking the right questions at the right time. Before you can do this, you need to consider your child’s personality and communication style. Some children do not respond favourably to being bombarded with questions the minute they get in the car after school. Others might feel pressured to respond a particular way for fear of your reaction to what they say. Whilst some children might need questions phrased a particular way to encourage them to open up. Identifying the communication style or needs of your child is the first step to authentic and open communication.
If you feel your child is becoming overwhelmed with being asked when they first see you, resist the urge to jump straight into questions but rather say hello, offer them an afternoon snack or drink and tell them a little about your day. Ease the questions in as part of a relaxed, non-confrontational conversation. Also, by modelling how you communicate about the day, it will demonstrate effective communication for your child.
It is difficult to keep your emotions in-check when your child is experiencing difficulties at school and most of us are probably guilty of having an overreaction to something our child has told us that has happened at school before. If this has been the case in the past you will need to rebuild your trust with your child and show them a controlled and positive outlook to overcoming problems at school. This will take time, but stick with it as it will open the doors to communication in the future.
When phrasing questions, try to word them in ways that elicit a response that requires more than one-word. Instead of – “How was your day?” try, “Tell me about the best part of your day”. Instead of – “Did you learn anything today?” try, “What are 3 things you learned today?”. If the answer is “nothing” then you could ask which subjects they had and ask a specific question related to that subject. If the class teacher uses a particular app to communicate to parents, use that information as a discussion point to connect with your child. Remember, all these things take time to develop so the key is be positive and encouraging but not forceful.
As featured in: District Gazette - March '19
The school holidays are officially over and parents across the state are breathing a sigh of relief as their children head back to school. But now as the official 2019 school year has commenced it is time to reintroduce daily routines and expectations, or begin implementing new ones that suit your current circumstances and needs. Whether you have a child transitioning to school, a change of work arrangements, a teenager moving into high school or have moved and need to accommodate a new job and school into the mix – there are some simple ways to manage the back to school bedlam.
1. Be organised. Talk about expectations of bedtimes, technology usage and homework. Allocate jobs to each family member. Try to ensure uniforms and lunches are prepared before the day (even just the night before) to make the morning routine run smoothly. Label all school belongings and have a designated tidy space for bags. Prepare an area for homework with adequate equipment.
2. Create a daily and weekly schedule or timetable. You might like to do this for each family member and include household tasks, extracurricular activities, homework and library/sport days. Also, have a large calendar displayed in a central position in your home. Encourage all your family members to check the calendar before making plans and write any special occasions, appointments, school holidays at the beginning of each year.
3. Regularly ‘check-in’ with your child’s teacher. Many working parents feel disconnected to school because they very rarely get to pick up or drop off. A way to combat this is to connect to the class teacher via email or through any school messaging platform once or twice a term just to touch base and check that your child is going okay, but also to let the teacher know of any concerns you may have. Open lines of communication are a must for a good home-school relationship.
4. Allow for changes – be flexible. Not everything will go according to plan so roll with it.
5. Get enough sleep (that includes you too Mum and Dad). Try not to overcommit to too many evening activities.
6. Ask for help if you need it. It takes a village to raise a child so find your tribe and create your network. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance with drop offs and pickups. When you are able, offer the same things to others. We are all in this together.
Starting Kindergarten is an exciting milestone in every child’s life. As parents, it is normal to feel a little apprehensive about what challenges lie ahead. You might be unsure of routines and how your child might adjust. Is my child ready? What happens if my child has trouble making friends? How can I help support my child’s learning at home? Will my child manage being away from me for an entire day? All these concerns are normal and valid when going through this experience for the first time. It is important to remember that no matter what, your child will feel safe, secure and supported if the home-school partnership is strong and if they are given the chance to adequately prepare for the transition to school.
All schools have a transition or orientation programs to introduce your child (and yourself) to school life. These programs vary from school to school and as each family is different, the program may or may not address all the concerns you may have. To put your mind at ease, we have put together a list of activities you can do in the months leading up to starting school to equip your child with the basics of going to ‘big’ school.
1. Trace name, shapes and letters of the alphabet.
2. Sit and listen to a picture book, answering oral questions about the story.
3. Use scissors to cut straight, wavy and zigzag lines.
4. Colour in pictures and draw.
5. Practice opening packets and containers for lunch and eating from a lunchbox.
6. Learn bathroom skills like locking and unlocking cubicle doors and washing and drying hands.
7. Have some playdates with other children starting Kindergarten (at the same school if possible).
8. Learn to tie shoe laces, use buttons and zippers on clothing.
BYOD stands for Bring Your Own Device. In educational settings the initiative centres around taking a device, such as a laptop or tablet, to school for learning purposes. This concept has been around for over five years now and has been met with mixed opinions and concerns. Undeniably, however, is the need for new models of learning given the availability of personal mobile devices and other technology in the 21st century. According to the NSW Department of Education (2018), “Schools are in a position to harness students’ connection to their own personal mobile devices for the purpose of developing 21st century learning skills and for fostering digital literacy, fluency and citizenship in a safe environment.”
Apart from primarily endeavouring to integrate technology more extensively in education to promote collaborative, personalised and accessible options for learning, economics plays a huge role in the argument for the Bring Your Own Device program. Technology investments are expensive for schools, especially given the probability of needing to update resources as they become obsolete after a few years. With students bringing their own personal devices, the school can then redirect funding to other areas in technology, including the purchase and maintenance of interactive whiteboards.
BYOD also encourages students to take responsibility for their learning, manage own tasks and collaborate with others. Every school implementing this initiative should have a BYOD Policy and students made aware of expectations for appropriate online behaviour, including social media use. Most of these policies align directly with school welfare policies of expected behaviour, which in turn also address matters such as cyberbullying.
The biggest concerns surrounding the BYOD Program are the possible distraction that can occur with technology being so readily available to students in the classroom and the possible inequity of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds that cannot afford to purchase the devices in the first place. Majority of NSW schools have been proactive in addressing these concerns with policies, procedures and alternative arrangements put in place to ensure BYOD is successful for all students. Implemented correctly, the benefits of the BYOD program for children as future digital citizens certainly outweigh the possible negative aspects.
As featured in Glenmore Gazette, Emu + Leonay Gazette, Oran Park Gazette, Jordan Springs Gazette & Mulgoa Valley Gazette - Nov '18
Did you know research shows that learning to read is one of the most significant factors in school achievement and that early exposure to books and stories greatly contributes to success in initial literacy? There are strong links between literacy, school performance, self-esteem and opportunities in life - with poor literacy skills being linked with lower education, earnings, health and social outcomes.
When we read, we look at and comprehend the meaning of written or printed matter by mentally interpreting the characters or symbols of which it is composed. Sounds easy, right? From birth, children are developing their talking and listening skills. These skills provide the foundation for reading and writing. Before school, some children may identify familiar letters, repeat rhymes and songs, ask for the same book to be read over and over, and start to make writing marks on all kinds of surfaces (much to their parent’s distress). This is proof that they are well on their way to becoming readers and writers way before school even begins.
If you want to encourage children to develop their literacy skills and embrace a love of reading from a young age, here are a few suggestions:
- Read to your child every day
- Let your child see you read for enjoyment and for information
- Allow your child to ‘read’ to you using the pictures or their memory
- Expose your child to many books – letting them just open them, look at them and manipulate them
- Visit the public library
- Observe, note and read signs, logos and other environmental print
- Talk, discuss and ask questions – encourage your child to do the same
- Most of all - make it fun!
It is important to ensure that reading is seen as enjoyable as well as functional, to ensure a lifelong love of reading that serves to enrich and educate your child well into their adult life.
Around this time of year, it is common for the controversial discussion about the validity and purpose of National Assessment Program - Literacy And Numeracy (NAPLAN) to resurface amongst parents, teachers and schools. With the release of individual results, schools, teachers and students are under intense scrutiny and often the intended purpose and aim of NAPLAN data is lost in a sea of comparison and finger-pointing blame.
According to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), NAPLAN tests “the sorts of skills that are essential for every child to progress through school and life, such as reading, writing, spelling, grammar and numeracy. It is important to remember that NAPLAN is not about passing or failing, but about assessing learning progress. At the classroom level it is one of a number of important tools used by teachers to measure student progress.”
The testing process was somewhat different this year with the introduction of online testing which has been riddled with criticism from teachers and educational experts questioning the validity of comparable data with those who sat the pen and paper test. ACARA released a statement prior to the release of the data this year reassuring the public that their “data analysts and measurement advisory experts have advised the data is valid and comparable.”
NAPLAN is designed to be a tool that assists schools to improve the learning of all young Australian students, however, it is important to acknowledge that it is one snapshot of time. It is cannot measure classroom engagement, creativity or confidence. It does not take into account exam performance anxiety or other external factors influencing students on test day. That said, it is still a valuable tool for schools to identify needs and analyse results in order to personalise learning and track growth. NAPLAN is not the ‘be all and end all’ of education, it is simply one tool that can be used in conjunction with many other tools to improve the education of all Australian students.
Is your child having difficulty learning at school? Perhaps they try to avoid going or misbehave in class because they can’t do the work. When a child is struggling it can impact the whole family. Firstly, please know you and your child are not alone. Secondly, there are ways you can manage and improve the situation.
It is important to grasp an understanding of which areas your child is experiencing difficulty. Children struggle academically for numerous reasons so it is imperative to pinpoint the exact cause as the road to take is dependent on the root cause. This process may be lengthy but it is best to cover all bases. The first port of call is your child’s school and often a report card will give a good indication of the areas that need addressing. Unfortunately, this information may give you the deficits but not explain the ‘why’. Attending the parent-teacher interviews and asking for more specific information will help guide your course of action.
Often, teachers will refer students to the school learning support team for individual programs and integrated assistance in the classroom. In some cases, schools may recommend you take your child to see a specialist. Do not worry if your child’s teacher suggests this, it is useful to partake in assessments and appointments to exclude specific behavioural disorders, learning disabilities or impairments that are the underlying reason for issues at school. It may be appropriate to visit with speech therapists, occupational therapists, paediatricians, tutors, psychologists, audiologists and/or optometrists – depending on the recommendation of the school or the areas that require further investigation. This extensive list may seem overwhelming but it is not intended as a mandatory list of what to do but rather a recommendation of where to go to get further assistance. These services will often suggest ways you can support your child’s learning at home, ways the school can adjust learning to cater for your child’s individual needs and equip you with knowledge and tools to be an advocate for your child’s learning based on the information they obtain. With a significant understanding and appropriate strategies and services in place, your child has a greater chance of improvement and achieving his or her personal best.
As featured in: Glenmore Gazette, Emu + Leonay Gazette & Oran Park Gazette - August '18
Sara Drebber is an educational consultant, teacher, writer and mother of three.