Saturday, 26 January 2013

Australia Day reflection

26th January, depending on your perspective is Australia Day, Invasion Day or Survival Day, or perhaps for many, a good excuse for a long weekend, the last one before the end of the summer holidays!

I remember when I was little being taken to Frankston foreshore to witness a re-enactment of Governor Phillip coming ashore in Sydney Cove and British sovereignty being proclaimed.  Even back then it was a somewhat mangy celebration.  The Bicentennial celebrations in Sydney, the tall ships on the harbour, fireworks (of course!) were much bigger and better produced!

At the same time as the Bicentennial celebrations in Sydney, the aboriginal people held an Invasion Day parade and established the first of many tent embassies, bringing home to us their perspective of what the coming of European settlement had done to their country: dispossess of their land, subject to restrictions on how and where they could live, 'stolen generations' and the impact of 'white man's' diseases. Survival Day takes up this theme in a slightly less confrontational way, celebrating the continuing culture of the indigenous people, particularly in the arts and music.

In an attempt to find a less controversial day to celebrate, ANZAC Day (25th April), commemorating Australia's first major war time battle and Federation Day (1st January) marking the joining of the states to form the Commonwealth have been suggested from time to time but with no real ground swell of popular sentiment.  After all, we already have public holidays on both these days and we couldn't give away another excuse for a holiday!

Looking at events for the holiday in our local paper, I saw several Citizenship Ceremonies.  What a wonderful commitment it is that immigrants make to become citizens, to give their allegiance to this country.  People come here for many reasons: to escape persecution, to make a better life than in their former country, generally meaning the economic and social opportunities, to join family members.  Apart from the indigenous Australians, we are a nation of immigrants, it's just some of our families came so long ago that citizenship ceremonies didn't exist!  It seems to me that there is something rather lovely about pledging allegiance to Australia, something I've never done except in the old Monday morning school ceremonies.  This view seems to be shared by Miriam Margolyes, the British born actor who toured an excellent show about Dickens last year, and will become a citizen on Saturday.  In an interview in the Canberra Times she said 'I want to take all the knowledge and experiences I gained when I was in England and put it at the service of Australia, because I have to bring something to Australia, not just money but myself.'

I'm not patriotic in the sense of believing Australia can do no wrong, nor am I fanatical for Australian sporting teams to win, but this is my home, and has been for many generations.

I like:
  • our landscapes...'sweeping plains', 'ragged mountain ranges', 'far horizons','jewel seas';
  • our way of life, and particularly the variety to food and culture that post-war immigration has brought;
  • our informal attitudes to different people;
  • when government shows a social conscience in its policy and law making;
  • our willingness to 'pitch in' and help in times of disaster;
  • our irreverence about all manner of things that others take seriously eg royalty, political institutions, status...
I don't like:
  • the culture of heavy drinking and consequent violence;
  • racism towards the different ethnic groups that make our community;
  • unrelenting media coverage of sport;
  • increasing poverty which reduces opportunities for people, particularly children, to achieve their potential.
  • the negativity that pervades much public debate, and the lack of a vision for the years ahead for our nation.
Enjoy our day on 26th January, recognise that we still have far to go in our relationship with our original inhabitants and as Paul Hogan once said: 'throw another prawn on the barbie'!

Australian flag image is courtesy of

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Professional boundaries!

Long gone are the days of nannies living in and staying with families for years after the children have grown as in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited where Sebastian used to call in at the nursery to see his old nanny!  Nor are today's nannies like Mary Poppins pulling rambunctious children 'into shape' and rewarding them with wonderful adventures.

In Australia in the Twenty First Century, nannies typically live out  and work with families for given hours, usually during the 'business week'.  They tend to be aged from their mid twenties to mid forties, trained in modern child care and generally change positions after one or two years.  This is the era of the professional nanny.

In the modern world of a nanny's work, there is much greater informality than in the past.  Nannies and parents, and nannies and their charges are all on first name terms.  This reminds me of the story one of the nannies I trained who was working in the UK.  The nanny answered the phone one day, and was heard telling the caller she had the wrong number.  The mother asked who the call was for and the nanny replied "the Countess of xxxxx".  "That's me" said the mother.  While most nannies in Australia don't work for titled clients, some do work for well known families, others work for people who are very important within their fields but whoever the client family is, first names are used because that is the nature of our society.  It does not however, give permission to become over familiar with a client, and it is here that the role of professional boundaries is very important.

What is the role of a nanny?

It is to care for the children of the family, to foster their development socially, intellectually and physically, to ensure their safety and to act in the role of the parent in the parents' absence.

In this role you can have fun and be silly but you can not lose control of yourself or of the situation.  To ensure this, you need to establish with the children that you are in charge, not by being bossy but by having clearly established what is ok and what is not ok, with consequences following if behaviour is not ok.  To be able to do this effectively, you need to communicate clearly with parents so you are sure of what their limits are.  If these are very different from your own limits you still need to work with what the parents want, or of necessary look for work with a family whose views are more like your own.

Since the role of the nanny is child focused, that is where your communications with parents are focused.  It is not appropriate to:

  • use a client as a confidant, nor to receive personal confidences from a parent.  The polite response if this seems likely to happen is to remind the parent of your role.
  • snoop among the papers, bills, letters, emails etc that parents may leave where you can see them.  This is not your business.  Similarly, it is not appropriate to enter the parents' bedroom or to do their washing.
  • gossip with partners, friends and other nannies about your clients.  Some prominent families may require that you sign a confidentiality clause, but this shouldn't be necessary because this gossip is something you should never do.  
  • if there is an issue with a client eg frequently late home, discuss it with the client, and if you are not satisfied with the outcome, discuss it with the agency.  Do not discuss it with all your friends.

By maintaining professional boundaries, you also make it easier for you and the family to part when the job finishes.  You have been warm and friendly and an important part of the children's development but you are not an intimate personal friend so both your life and that of the family will go on, and after a short period of missing each other, everyone can go on to form new relationships with other families and carers.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Now is the time to plan for 2013

January 2013 and all the world has made (and already broken) resolutions, as well as making plans for the year.  Why should professional nannies be any exception?

1. Buy a large Page a Day Diary and use it to:
  • mark all the family birthdays, with ages for the children.  (You can't make cards for Mummy's birthday if you don't know when it is!)
  • mark any special occasions the family always celebrates
  • record all school/preschool holidays and public holidays
  • record any known appointments the children have
Keep this up to date, adding appointments, pick up times, play dates etc.

Parents can also use the diary to give feedback on the work you are doing.

2. Divide each page so there is a section for each child
  • use these sections each week to plan the activities for each child, what you hope to achieve, and how each child reacts.
  • make your diary available to the parents so they can see what you are doing with their children and how their children are developing.
While this may seem over the top, it it will stop you getting into a rut of doing the same things every day, or every week...they are familiar, the children enjoy them, they don't take much preparation or thought.  To keep yourself feeling fresh, to stop the children being bored and to extend their interests, skills and abilities variety is important.  So while drawing might be a frequent activity, vary it: subjects or free drawing, with different coloured and textured paper, different crayons, pens, pencils, chalks to draw outside etc.

Most modern early educators will follow the children's interests in preparing activities rather than working by topics eg the seasons, colours, weather etc, but using the children's interests does not do away with the need to plan appropriate activities.  Nor does it stop us from pointing out things that might interest children.  Pointing out a fluffy white cloud might interest one child, and lead to lots of learning opportunities while to another it might be 'ho hum, so what? Look at that car!'  Flexibility and different activities for different children of different ages and stages of development!

3. Develop your resource kits. Nannies who have been working for a number of years should have an excellent range of art and craft activities, play ideas for indoors and out, songs and games, books and internet resources.  How do you keep all this excellent information in a way that you can easily access it?
Possible ways include by:
  • age range eg babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers and school aged
  • type of activity eg craft (you might want to break this up into subdivisions like pasting, wool crafts, egg carton crafts etc), art, songs, stories, outdoor games, indoor games
  • topics eg seasons, Christmas, nature (you might want to break this down eg trees, flowers, snails, caterpillars, butterflies), outings
It is also useful to cross reference your resources, or use colour coding eg mark crafts by colours for different ages.
It is also helpful to put comments after you have used different resources about how difficult you and the children found them and any ways you adapted them.

Early Years Learning Framework can be downloaded from this site.

Childhood101 Playopedia

Nurture Store is an excellent British resource including a weekly play planner.

Let the Children Play is an Australian site with many great ideas as well as being a great promoter of play and playfulness.

Enchanted Learning has a marvellous range of ideas on all sorts of subjects.

Sun Hats and Wellie Boots as the name suggests , is also British with many original ideas.

Those who need help with how to plan might find inspiration from Planning with Kids

Keep watching our Facebook page for ideas from many different Australian and overseas resources.