Recently I was lucky enough to visit Macquarie University and meet with the staff at Mia Mia. Mia Mia is a early childhood facility where passionate staff provide education and care to our littlest citizens. They refer strongly to The Reggio Emilia approach. This approach views children as capable learners who work in collaboration with their peers. The role of teachers is to encourage this collaboration while taking on the role of learners themselves.
While at the centre I was able to observe how practice informs and is informed by research in child development. I noticed how children thrive when placed in a rich environment in which they are free to be agents in their own learning and development. “We are a school and we are supposed to make children think”, says a Mia Mia staff member.
I was taken on a tour with a group of mostly childcare workers and early childhood teachers as Mia Mia receives many visitors throughout the year who hope to take inspiration and ideas back to their own centres. Notes were hurriedly scribbled and the questions flowed from the time we walked in the front door! Ghosts from my university days were dug up and I looked at them with fresh eyes as our tour guide (a Mia Mia educator) spoke of the theorists who have shaped the way we understand children and their play. Play is held in high regard as the essential ingredient for the growing child, for example, the sophisticated meta-cognition required for a child to turn a simple wooden block into a mobile phone with their imagination and for the children around them to understand what they are doing.
The children’s rooms felt like home and outdoors is an important and interesting environment that entices children to play and learn. Lunch time is a lot like the “real world” with a cafe style set up that lets the children see the kitchen staff at work and that separates this part of their routine from the rest. Even staff meetings are a part of the children’s world and begin at the end of the day while some children are still present so that they can contribute to problem solving and see adults at work. I was surprised to hear that children’s artwork is not displayed as I am so used to seeing walls filled with paintings and projects. When our guide asked us to imagine if she took a page from our note books right now and hung it on the wall for everyone to see, I suddenly understood! The children are taught care and consideration in exploring materials and there is a large focus on ongoing projects. The important thing in a child’s work is the process and not the product, an important attitude to foster if we want our children to be internally motivated and persistent.
Another surprise was the approach taken to introducing new children to the centre. In the world of Quirky Kid we spend a lot of time supporting parents in dealing with separation anxiety so I was keen to hear more. Parents are told when they bring their children to have a plan A, B and C. In other words, don’t expect to drop them off on their first day and rush back to work! Children are gradually exposed to separation from their parents at the pace that is right for them. The parent may play in the room for much of day one, work on their laptop in the room as the child plays more independently then stay on-site in the staff room until their child is relaxed and confident about being separated.
I left Mia Mia with a head full of ideas for Quirky Kid, some challenged perceptions and many more questions.
What’s in a label? Should I get a diagnosis for my child?
‘Labelling a child’ is the term used to describe the process where a psychologist or psychiatrist assesses a child, resulting in a diagnosis or ‘label’. The diagnosis is based on a set of criteria defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fourth Edition (DSM-IV).
About 10% of children and young people will have a mental health problem. The most common diagnoses for children include anxiety disorders; attention-deficit and disruptive behavior disorders; autism spectrum disorders; and eating disorders (for example, anorexia nervosa).
If you suspect your child may have a mental health condition, chances are you’ve wondered if it’s beneficial to obtain a professional opinion and perhaps a diagnosis. While professionals were traditionally hesitant to diagnose pre-adolescents with DSM-IV conditions, diagnoses have been on the rise since the 1980s, partly as a result of greater research into child mental health.
What is a diagnosis?
A reputable mental health professional will not give a diagnosis without a thorough evaluation of a person’s symptoms, behaviours, and developmental history. In the case of a child, specialists will usually consult with several other sources (for example, parents, teachers, and family doctors) before confirming a diagnosis.
What are the advantages of a diagnosis?
An accurate diagnosis will give parents and their child a clear and realistic sense of the limitations and challenges the child may face as a result of the disorder. Following a diagnosis, you should also have a good sense of what treatment plans are available, their pros and cons, and how effective they are. This knowledge can provide tremendous peace of mind for families who are struggling.
Other advantages of a diagnosis include:
An accurate understanding of your child’s strengths and how to best harness them.
Individual support from Specialists at your child’s school (for example, regular hours with a Learning Support teacher or funding for resources or appropriate training for teachers).
Subsidized help for the family (for example, home-based intervention such as ABA for children with autism spectrum disorders).
Effective collaboration between health professionals. For example, a Speech Pathologist, Occupational Therapist and Psychologist can work together to give your child comprehensive treatment.
What are the disadvantages of a diagnosis?
Most professionals agree: forming a diagnosis can be difficult. A child’s behaviour can change depending on their environment, their food intake and the people around them, which can impact the assessment process.
The disadvantages of a diagnosis may include:
Stigma from other parents or peers.
Difficulties reversing the diagnosis should behaviour change or improve.
Children need support when discussing a diagnosis.
Some families might find a thorough assessment and Diagnostic Report costly.
Finding more support:
Quirky Kid has offices in Sydney and Wollongong,
If you are concerned as to whether or not obtaining a diagnosis for your child is right for your family, you may find it helpful to talk through the decision with a professional yourself. Ask your health care provider about counselling or support services in your community orcontact Quirky Kid on +61 2 9362 9297.
Commencing kindergarten is a very exciting and sometimes scary time for children and parents alike. To ensure your child has an enjoyable and successful transition to school it is important to allow yourself and your child plenty of time to prepare. Below are some tips to assist you.
Things to consider when choosing a school for your child
Does your child have any specific interests that you would like the school to nurture? This may include sports, music, or languages,
What facilities does the school provide that will assist your child to reach their full potential?
Does the school offer any transition to school programs, to assist children and parents to settle into the new community?
Does the school share the same values as your family with regard to attitude, beliefs, and behaviour? This may include their policies towards punctuality and dress code,
Do you have religious beliefs, or educational philosophies that you would like the school to share?
Consider if you have a preference for single sex or co-ed.
The distance between your home and the school is another important decision, it is important to also consider how your child will get to school.
Finally, if your child has already established friendships, consider where they are going. Knowing someone at their new school will assist your child in their transition to kindergarten.
Preparing for school
To ensure your child has an enjoyable and easy transition to school talk to your child about what to expect at school. This includes:
Talking about the children they already know who will be starting school with them, what it will be like to make new friends, and the many games and activities they will be able to take part in.
Discussing with your child who will pick them up from school, and reassuring them that someone will be there on time to collect them.
Practice using their new school bag and lunch box before their first day at school. This will allow your child to get use to opening and closing them, so that it will not be difficult for them when they are at school.
Practice putting on their school shoes and uniform jacket prior to starting school. This will help them to get use to doing it for themselves.
This is a special time for parents and children, and we hope you enjoy this stage of development with your child.
The Quirky Kid Clinic has social skills and communication program, The Best of Friends™ that assist children and developing key skills prior to kinder garden:
Kimberley O’Brien, our principal child psychologists was invited to discuss ‘Modern Families: Does anything go?’ during a panel discussion hosted by ABC Hot Seat produced by the UNSW.
A panel discussion for ABC-TV’s Big Ideas program presented by Dr Paul Willis, RiAus Director.
You can view the Highlights below.
Modern technology is rearranging the possibilities for families and relationships. We can fertilise eggs in-vitro and buy sperm over the internet. People can have sex without any danger of having babies, and have babies without having sex. Families can have a mum and dad, or one or the other, or two mums, or two dads. We ask what the “natural” family looks like, and how that should affect the family arrangements we recognise. We also ask what happens when a whole generation starts having children in non-traditional family units. How will the next generation of children turn out? What does it mean for the future of our society and our species?
Professor Robert Brooks, UNSW evolutionary biologist and author of Sex Genes and Rock‘n Roll.
Jane McCredie, writer, journalist, publisher, author of Making Girls and Boys, Inside the Science of Sex.
Mrs Babette Francis, mother, writer and Endeavor Forum lobbyist.
Kimberley O’Brien, child psychologist, lecturer and media commentator.