Sunday, 29 July 2012

Nurturing a love of nature

When I was little, the side of my metal money box from the State Savings Bank of Victoria (defunct now, taken over by the Commonwealth Bank) used to say "Great oaks from little acorns grow."  We'd put in our pennies, and sometimes threepences and take them to the bank where the teller would unlock the box, count the coins and enter the result in our passbook, and the total of our savings would gradually grow, just like the great oaks that grew in the Botanical gardens and along many memorial drives in country towns.

Wattle Day was celebrated on the first day of spring, when people were encouraged to wear a sprig of wattle, or buy a badge, with the proceeds going to charity.  I even have a vague memory of stalls in Swanston Street selling goods in aid of children's charities on Wattle Day.  More recently it has been celebrated as a way to mark those who have brought "GOLD" to Australia that year so last year Cadel Evans was hailed for his victory in the Tour de France and Melbourne turned out in gold to welcome him.

Do your children recognise an oak tree of a wattle?

Do they know the perfume of brown boronia or yellow jonquils?

Do they roll down hills, and kick piles of leaves?

Have they 'listened to the waves' by holding shells up to their ears, or watched the clouds moving in the sky, making shapes, blowing along?

In short, are they in touch with the natural world around them?

It's not necessary to become a tree hugging greenie to be aware of the changes that happen through the seasons in our natural world, but simple observation can enrich our lives.  It is for this reason, I think that the expression 'grounded' is used to describe those who are emotionally stable and aware of what is really important in life.

As more and more children live in high density housing, it becomes more important to make a conscious effort to give them an awareness of our natural environment.  And by using their natural curiosity and powers of observation, children are developing skills and attitudes that can be transferred to other more formal areas of learning. See Play Australia

This is not a case of saying "put on your hats and come outside, we are going to look at the flowers and learn their botanical names", or " now it is time to go for a walk and find three different trees"!  It is rather a case of having fun, looking at things carefully, talking about them in age appropriate terms, perhaps finding out more about what you have seen by looking at books or the computer.  But to be able to do this, adults need to open their own senses to nature.  It's not boring old stuff that fills the gap between the fence and house, or between the footpath and road, it's an exciting world for children to explore, to use all their senses and to respond to creatively.

Sunday 29th July is National Tree Day: what better place to start than to plant a tree, or if you don't have room, plant some seeds, or even start to grow carrot tops on damp cotton wool.

Planet Ark have a number of activities for children, as do the following delightful blogs:
Sun Hats and Wellie Boots, Let the Children Play, A Little Learning for Two
The Age  also makes some suggections on how to make the garden a fun place for kids.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

When nannies say 'Goodbye' to a family

It is hard to say  'goodbye'.

The ending of a relationship, the death of a friend or relative, leaving a place of work, school or an old home: these are all cases of having to say 'goodbye'.

All involve both us and the person or object we won't see again, or will see in a different way, which means we usually have some sort of ritual to mark the end, and sometimes to signal a new beginning.

When a relationship ends, we might remove a ring, take down pictures, have a drink or meal with friends to cheer us up.

With a death there is usually a funeral, or some celebration of a life.  We might give flowers or send a card, we often look at photos of the person who has died and face some of the memories, lovely and sad, associated with the person.

When we leave a job, school, college or University there is usually a party, swapping of phone numbers, email addresses, promises (often broken) to keep in touch, plans for a re-union .

When we leave a home there is often a need for a final walk around, not just to check for the things we have forgotten, but to briefly call to mind memories associated with particular rooms, or perhaps a last look at a garden where we planted vegetables or particular flowers.

Often these goodbyes might have an overtone of relief, or a tinge of excitement because we are moving on to something new, but sometimes there is just loss.

So what happens when a nanny decides to move on, to go to another family, or to a new phase in her life?

First there is the initial decision that it is time to finish.  This might be because:
  •  the position has changed in its requirements,
  •  the nanny is no longer enjoying working with the particular children or family,
  •  the nanny wants to study, travel or move to a new life stage, perhaps marriage or pregnancy.
Whatever the reason,the nanny needs to make time to talk to the parents of the family and to give them a letter with a clearly stated date of finishing.  It is not OK just to write in a communications book a quick note like "finishing up nest Tuesday" or to leave a letter on the mantelpiece when you go home.  It is fair to give a reasonable period of notice, usually between 2 and 4 weeks.  If the nanny works through an agency, the agency should also be informed.

The children then should be told, with an explanation for them to understand.  This is important because children can think it is something that they have done that has made the nanny want to go.  If the reason for leaving is because of difficulties in managing the children or in the relationship with the parents it is not OK to say something like "I'm going to work with another family that will appreciate me more".  Be professional and say something along the lines of "It's time for me to meet another family and be their nanny for a while."

As the last day draws nearer you might want to countdown the number of sleeps, or mark them off the calendar.  If another nanny is to take over, it is good if you can talk about that positively eg " next week you will have to show x where the toys go", or "next week x will read your story, take you to the park etc."

Sometimes on the last day a family will hold a little event to mark the fact that you are leaving.  If not, be sure you do something special with the children: an outing or making a goodbye cake or biscuits.  It is also appropriate to give the children a photo of you with them (one for each child) for their memory book/box (and keep a copy for yourself).  This is especially so if you have been with the children for some time.  It is not helpful to make promises to keep in touch with the children unless you and the parents have discussed this, and unless you are sure that you will keep your word.  It can muddy the waters for a new nanny if you have contact with the children after you have finished with the family.

If you are sad to be leaving, meet with your friends, and tell them why you are sad.  Let them cheer you up, and then start the process of moving on, whether to a new job, to study, to travel, to start a family or to follow your dreams.

Then, from time to time, look at your photos and enjoy the memories they bring.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Ties that bind....or strangle

At present , everywhere I look "Family" seems to be the theme:
  • the novel I'm reading, The Chimneysweeper's Boy by Barbara Vine;
  • the newspaper which reports both horrific tales of child abuse and a report from the Australian Institute of Family Studies which shows 10 and 11 year old girls do more work than boys (nice to have confirmed what we already knew!);
  • websites I've been looking at like the Little Big Book Club which has family themed children's books for the month of June (Little Big Book Club);

As an experienced worker in areas relating to mothers and children, families have been very much my focus.  I believe strongly in the family unit for its role in nurturing and caring for its members, but I would be a fool to think that all families are alike.  They vary in their structure and in their ability to nurture, and in the worst situations family ties can serve to strangle the lives of their members, both physically and figuratively.

How would I recognise a healthy family?  It would be one where:
  • everyone's needs are usually met
  • the members care about each other
  • the members treat each other with consideration
  • members are encouraged to fulfil their dreams/potential
  • there is lightness and fun to counteract the difficulties of life
While Tolstoy famously wrote in Anna Karenina wrote 'All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way', there are many characteristics of unhappy families:
  • members need to compete against each other to have their needs met, with those who do best in this struggle getting the biggest share of attention, love, power, material goods, education while the others are diminished in their development
  • tensions exist between members resulting in physical, emotional and at times sexual abuse
  • those not receiving adequate care and attention develop manipulative or attention seeking behaviour, even becoming unmanageable
All new parents are learners, and there will often be much trial and error on the way to establishing a pattern of family life.  Today there is almost too much advice for parents to absorb.  Society and its commentators are quick to judge the behaviour of young people and to blame it on their upbringing and family life; barristers are very able at presenting to courts harrowing tales of abuse as mitigation of their clients' offending, yet most parents start out wanting the best for their children, and do the best they can to achieve this.  And most families manage to do a reasonable job: not perfect, but not terrible, either.

As a community, and as those who work in close contact with families it is important to encourage, support and help young parents rather than stand back and condemn.  As the well known African proverb says 'it takes a whole village to raise a child' so we all have to share the responsibility, not stand back and then condemn the parents if it goes wrong.

Monday, 9 July 2012

How to choose the right nanny!

Once a family has decided to pursue care for their children in their own home by a nanny, the big question is 'How do we choose the right nanny?'

You may want the perfect nanny, but in this real world, let's focus on choosing the right nanny for you and your children.

Obviously as an agency owner(Susan Rogan Family Care) I would recommend using the services of a reputable agency to assist you with this task.  We meet all our potential nannies face to face, sight their Working with Children and police checks, their qualifications and their work history.  We check referees to verify their experience and performance, and list their availability on our database along with any particular strengths and any special requirements eg needing a smoke-free environment, allergies.

When the agency receives a request for a nanny, you will be asked about your requirements, the structure of your household, other care arrangements or activities, use of a car and special needs of the children.  We advise you about the cost of hiring a nanny, and will often recommend a labour-hire model where, for a fee, we pay the nanny during her employment by you and take care of associated employment responsibilities like tax, superannuation and WorkCover.  The other main use of an agency is to recruit a nanny, with the family undertaking all the responsibilities of employer. After consultation we will look at our database and arrange with you to meet one or more of our candidates. 

This is where your work starts!

The candidates that you meet can all potentially do the job you ask, but the decision is yours.

You want a nanny who fits in with your particular family.  A quiet, gentle person may not fit with a family with three very active, sport mad little ones.  A warm, relaxed but messy nanny might not suit you if you value a very ordered, clean house.

To help make the decision you will need to give some thought to:
  • the style of your own parenting
  • your values
  • your personalities as parents as well as those of your children
  • the activities you want the nanny to be responsible for
Our agency will give clients advice on questions they may find helpful during an interview, or there are on line resources eg Nanny Interview Questions
When the time comes for the interview with the nanny, try to arrange for both parents to spend some quiet time with her asking questions to satisfy your main concerns and then make time for the nanny to meet the children and to spend a little time interacting with them.  You do not have to let the nanny know your decision at the time of interview, rather discuss your impressions and decision with the consultant.  You might choose to see more candidates, or be delighted with the first one you meet.  If you are unsure, you might see if the candidate can spend a couple of hours with you and the children so you can see for yourself how they all get on.

Once you decide to employ a candidate, contracts are signed and then we advise a trial period, with either party being able to withdraw without notice.

When a nanny is employed under a labour-hire model, the agency continues to be available for consultation during the period of employment so any issues can be swiftly resolved, and regular home visits are made to ensure that the arrangement continues to work well. 

Parents who decide to employ a nanny without the use of an agency must undertake all the recruitment and employment responsibilities themselves.  This can be an onerous task for those working full time.

Remember, you might not find a magical Mary Poppins, but the most important thing is to find a nanny who is competent and with whom you are comfortable, so that your children are safe, nurtured and assisted to develop their skills and knowledge.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Nannies - they just play with kids!

I have often heard people say that nannies don't really work, they just play with kids.  A double put down, both of nannies and of the importance of play.

In earlier posts, I have made clear my view that good, professional nannies work hard.  Their role is diverse as they care for children, guide their development and behaviour, keep them 'fed and watered' and give them emotional security in the absence of their parents.

Today though, I want to look at the other area: 'play'.

The Oxford Dictionary Online defines the verb to play as to 'engage in activity for enjoyment or recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.'  As early childhood workers though, we know that for children, play is far more than this.  As Jean Piaget said, 'Play is the work of childhood.'

It is through play that children learn. This is recognised as by the central importance of play in the Early Years Learning Framework.

A baby is playing with a rattle in her highchair drops the rattle and learns:
  • about her physical world: gravity, spatial awareness (up and down), sound.
  • about her social world: consequences (frustration with no toy), relationships when someone picks up the toy, fun (when dropping the rattle becomes a game with the person picking it up)
An infant is painting a picture.  His red paint line goes over the blue one and a different colour is seen. He learns the outcome of mixing pigments.

A child is balancing on a log with a parent's steadying hand and lets go.  She teeters but maintains balance, learning the use of muscles, eyes and vestibular organ while doing so.  Edges along the log, nearly slips but is steadied by the parent....still learning all the skills required for balance, learning again the reassurance of a parent's presence and the joy of being able to do things herself.

One big boy and one little girl on a see-saw...learn informally about forces and physics without knowing, as they do when they learn to 'work' the swing by themselves.

During these early years, play is the means of learning about themselves and their physical and social environments.  It is for this reason that children need a range of play experiences.  Just as we give babies toys with different textures and colours, so we need to give children indoor and outdoor experiences, alone and with others, with a range of substances and with some freedom to use materials unconventionally and creatively.    Experiences need to grow with the child so that they gradually learn more complex skills and face new challenges. Thus the body and mind are prepared for later more formal learning activities, and more organised play.

Play, however, does not end with childhood, but it does change form and starts to align more with the Oxford Dictionary definition.  Adult play is often in the form of hobbies, catching up with friends, outdoor activities like jogging, cycling, camping and bushwalking, although I hesitate to include sporting activities that are more competitive in nature.

Playfulness too, is the source of much fun and creativity.  The art of Mirka Mora and Michael Leunig demonstrate this combination.  Word plays and humour, particularly that which reflects joyfully on the quirks of human nature rather than that with a more political intent are also examples of playfulness.  And who does not enjoy a gathering of friends and family overflowing with love and good humour.

The 'Eight Hour Movement' of the Nineteenth Century was about what is now known as work-life balance: eight hours work, eight hours rest and eight  hours recreation.  That is still a good rule!

So yes, nannies do play with children, but in that process are preparing them for life.

For those looking to further explore play, there are many excellent websites relating to children.
Among others I would suggest;
Let the Children Play
Free Range Kids
Childhood 101
DEEWR Early Years Framework
Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority