These kids may be tiny, but they are certainly tough. Aged between 0-4, the children at Gwynne Park PS are already learning the skills it takes to survive in modern day schooling.
Many children today are enrolled in school unprepared for what lies ahead and this program has become an outlet for preparing all children and parents for their schooling years, even those at educational risk.
The Gwynnie Kids Program is designed to help educate children and their parents prior to their school years.
Once a week the group get together for a few hours to discuss parenting, behaviour issues and give their children time to interact with others and begin to learn a semi-school routine.
The program which commenced this year was developed to enhance the partnership with parents of young children and the school.
Member and Principal Lee Bates said most parents bring more than one child and are encouraged to participate at their level.
“It is not a kindy group or a playgroup, as parents are required to participate shoulder to shoulder with the teachers to engage their children in the structured learning opportunities.”
Led by teachers Erin DeJesus and Rebecca Matthews, a weekly program is written for the children involving songs, rhymes, stories, play dough, collage, painting or making objects and play.
“A few years ago, we ran a language based activity and had a parent meeting. We were talking to the parents about asking their children questions - when parents go shopping and things like that - and some of the parents didn’t realise that you were allowed to do that or that you are meant to do this with your child,” said Erin.
Rebecca said the room is filled with children who all have varied capabilities, so they continually focus on fine, gross motor and speech skills.
She also mentioned that children frequently meet other teachers and administration who come into to visit the children, giving them the chance to build relationships with those important people within the school.
Becoming a parent can be a challenging experience for all and realising that you are your child’s first real teacher, is the first step to gear your children on the right educational path.
“Parents in this area represent the entire spectrum of parenting styles, from parents who could not be better parents to those that seriously struggle and need intensive intervention from external agencies,” said Lee.
“The strategy is designed to provide opportunity for those parents that are coping but would like their children to be better prepared for schooling. Many social-educational and pre-literacy skills are highlighted such as sharing, listening, engagement with task, language of learning, questioning and explanation to name but a few,” he added.
Mother of five, Margaret Dass takes part in the program to provide them with the extra skills necessary in preparing them for their schooling.
Originally concerned for her son’s speech last year, Margaret decided to partake in Gwynnie Kids.
“Going to Kindy two days a week wasn’t quite enough. This program allows him to be settled, learn a routine, and develop skills, because they are expected to have those skills by the time they get to pre-primary. It’s the bridge between their very early childhood education and what pre-primary allows. All kids need to learn how to socialise and get a long in a classroom whether they like other kids or not, and how to follow direction. The kids just love it they really do!”
Margaret felt strongly that every school or community would benefit if they could run a program similar to this.
“This program is an eye-opener. It’s better that the kids develop these sorts of skills now, so that the funding teachers need to use to teach those skills in Kindy could be used to teach those kids something more relevant in the Kindy/Pre-Primary program, rather than focus on the more basic skills,” she said.
Along with pointing out the advantages of diagnosing children at SAER issues rather than a later diagnosis in school.
“Also having the parent information that they provide, such as a speaker to teach how a baby’s brain develops is useful. This is the sort of information that you do want to know, but until you’re in here it doesn’t happen.”
Staff from Therapy Focus along other agencies, provide a backdrop to the program, but maintaining funding proves to be difficult.
“We will continue to assess our programs including Gwynnie Kids and implement new programs for gaps in service until we either run out of resources or run out of children to help. No prizes for guessing which usually happens first,” added Lee.
“Our students represent many cultures including a significant Aboriginal student population, currently about 25%. Many social issues are present in many families and in the community in general. We specifically target and case manage approximately 10% of our students for a range of impacting educational, emotional, physical and social concerns. Many other students are catered for by classroom based individual planning.”
AEIO Tara Teaia described to me just how beneficial this program is for all children.
“When Kale first arrived, his speech wasn’t that great. He wasn’t talking, but now he is interacting well with other children. He has an older brother who is confined to a wheelchair so there isn’t much play and laughing with his older brother but coming here he does, which is great. You can see the changes in him. His language and behaviour toward his mum has improved, going from not listening to paying attention. Even for Kale’s mum, she is now building other relationships.”
Having one of the lowest socio-economic indexes in the metropolitan area, engaging particular target groups on a regular basis at the school can be testing.
But Lee and his colleagues are determined to develop new programs to address these gaps.
“One such program will be run by our AIEOs targeting young ladies and their female relatives in order to build a support structure for transition to womanhood in our community.”
“Children are a gift not a resource. These are individual children with real lives, hopes and aspirations, which make up any statistic. By looking after the child you don’t need to look after the statistic.”
Fortunately for Gwynne Park, Lee loves to work with people at all levels, a gift that really makes this program work.