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“There’s no question kids are missing out on very critical social skills. It puts everybody in a nonverbal disabled context, where body language, facial expression, and even the smallest kinds of vocal reactions are rendered invisible.” – Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist.

Gen Z were the first generation to grow up amidst social media, with the first notable site, Six Degrees, being created in 1997. Rapidly, social media has proliferated out of control, gaining popularity across the well known sites we know today. 

But what effects has this had on generations starting with Gen Z and that of which followed?

A popular documentary released on Netflix called ‘The Social Dilemma’ examines this and the damaging effect that this has had on children’s social skills. Teenagers in particular have been the primary focus and their ability to create new relationships.

“We’ve created a world in which online connection has become primary. Especially for younger generations. And yet, in that world, anytime two people connect, the only way it’s financed is through a sneaky third person whose paying to manipulate those two people. So we’ve created an entire global generation of people who were raised within a context with the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture, is manipulation.” – Jaron Lainer, founding father of Virtual Reality Computer Scientist

In America, a short survey was conducted to discuss this by The Teen Advisory Board (TAB), and they discovered:

– 75% of teens said social media negatively affected their romantic relationship

– 77% chose texting as one of the popular ways to start a relationship

– 82% said texting is one of the two ways to end a relationship.

As children engage in face-to-face communication, they are developing social skills through vocal and visual cues which brings context to the situation. These communication cues can be portrayed through eye contact, tone of voice, facial expressions and space between individuals (Knapp & Hall, 2010).

But if children are communicating solely through social media, they aren’t learning these non-verbal communication skills that are necessary to succeed in life.

It has become trendy across all social media platforms for Gen Z to joke about their social incompetencies with comments such as needing their parents to book doctor’s appointments for them because they’re afraid to talk over the phone, but to what extent is this going to affect how society will function in the future? 

“We’re training and conditioning a whole new generation of people that when we are uncomfortable or lonely or uncertain or afraid, we have a digital pacifier for ourselves. That is kind of atrophying our own ability to deal with that.” – Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google and co-founder of Centre for Humane Technologies

Perhaps social media isn’t the future, but something that needs to be changed or consumed in extreme moderation.

An OSHC coordinator shares what she wishes parents knew about the educators and programs their children attend.

Outside School Hours Care (OSHC) programs can often be overlooked by the community as a babysitting service, but it’s more advanced than that. Educators of an OSHC program are required to do a number of things based on the National Quality Standards and National Regulations set out by the Department of Education

During my eight years as a coordinator and running a large service of 60+ kids, here’s a few things that I wish the parents knew and feel they would have benefitted from. 

Child portfolios

Every service dedicates a portfolio to each child. In these portfolios, they will have the child’s development using My Time, Our Place. Alternative to school-based education, educators will observe the children in a social setting, paying attention to their ability to learn adequate life skills. These skills can be in making friends, solving tense situations, being environmentally conscious, considering their community, interacting with others in a respectful way, being resilient, and many more. 

Portfolios often have photos and examples of what they’ve done within the service, accompanied by a written learning story/observation.

These are used for the educators to document the child’s development and ensure that they’re developing specific to their needs. The educators focus on one key area of development, determined by the parent or the educator’s observations, and then work on developing that skill.

Parents can gain access to this by asking the educators, but this should also leave with the child at the end of their journey at the OSHC program.

Daily reflection journal and program

Most OSHC services will have a reflection journal near the sign out desk. The intention of the journal is for the educators, children and parents to critically reflect on the program for the week. This is also used to document experiences within the program such as evacuation drills, community participation, and any major changes. 

OSHC can get loud and busy so it’s important for parents to read the reflection journal or planner so they are aware of what’s happening within the service. Parents can also use the journal to make comments about the program, whether that’s positive or simply a suggestion of improvement.

Parents are always encouraged to provide their feedback and get involved.

Complaints

More commonly, services are run by large companies (Camp Australia, OSHClub, Team Kids, Big Childcare, and more). It can be easier for a parent to address any complaints directly to the company and avoid confrontation, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to communicate with the service educators.

Most educators take pride in their work and working with children can often lead to miscommunications or misinterpretations. Each child and family are different, and unfortunately, educators aren’t perfect.

With an industry that is incredibly personal and high intensity, I wish parents would communicate directly to the educators with any concerns.

Communicate clearly and build that relationship. If it doesn’t improve, then take it further. 

Documentation

There are expectations set by the Department of Education and National Regulations about specific documentation that is required from the parents for their child to attend. It is stressful for the coordinator because if it’s not perfect, this can leave the service non-compliant and unsafe under the Regulations. 

This type of documentation commonly includes enrolment forms (filled out correctly and fully) and medical management plans with their corresponding risk minimisation and authorisation to give medication (medication provided should be in the prescription packaging including full name of child and dosage labelled).

The government sets high standards for the safety of the children and if the service doesn’t comply, they can risk being shut down. If parents don’t provide this, they have to then confront the parent and have a difficult conversation about excluding their child until compliant. It’s unfortunately not as simple as “letting them come” anymore. There are laws and regulations to follow, so I hope that parents have this in mind when working with their educators.

Assessment and Rating

Every service goes through a process with the Department of Education called Assessment and Rating where they will attend and assess the service based off of the seven National Quality Areas. These areas include: 

  1. Educational program and practice
  2. Children’s health and safety
  3. Physical environment
  4. Staffing arrangements
  5. Relationships with children
  6. Collaborative partnerships with families and communities
  7. Leadership and service management

These assessments should be completed frequently, but usually occur every couple of years. These rating outcomes can be accessed on the ACECQA website and is a good indication of where the service is at for quality of care. 

I highly recommend that parents get involved in this process and ask where they can assist in improving the quality of care as having the community and families involved is a huge part of this. A service that has a rating of Meeting, Exceeding Themes or Excellent is doing well. If a service has received Working Towards, it usually means that they weren’t compliant when the department visited (back to that documentation!).

Food provided

Each service has a licence to serve specific food through the local council and must abide by the level of that licence. This means that some services can’t provide food that requires refrigeration. 

Educators understand that children might want butter on their toast and real milk with their cereal, but unfortunately the licence doesn’t allow this. And no, families can’t provide these items to be consumed by their child. If any of these foods are found by the council, the service could receive a fine and be closed for breaking their licence agreements. 

Please, be understanding with this. Most educators at the service can’t control this or change it. The same goes for nut products. Most schools do ban nuts, but being in a space that has a large variety of children attending, it isn’t worth a child’s life so another can eat a Nutella sandwich.

Educators buying supplies using their own money

Most companies have a clause in the employee’s agreement that they’re not to buy anything for the children using their own money, but most educators don’t comply. Throughout my eight years in the industry, I bought many things like craft supplies, storage solutions, candy canes, Halloween and Christmas decorations, books, costumes, Easter eggs, speakers, movies, games, sporting equipment and many more. 

There’s a budget for each service and it’s usually never enough to decorate the room and provide enough supplies to entertain the children. It means the world when parents recognise the hard work educators put into not only the presentation of the service, but also the activities provided. There is a lot that goes on outside of those couple of minutes parents’ step into the service, so recognition is always appreciated.

With all of this in mind, I just ask that parents take the time to appreciate their educators more.

I understand that this isn’t applicable for all educators (I know more than anyone that there can be a few awful educators out there), but for the majority, they work really hard. They go above and beyond for the children in their service to ensure that they feel at home while their parents are working late. 

Parents can get busy, but taking the time to stop every once in a while, and having a conversation with the educators, read what they write in the journal, asking to see their child’s portfolio or even complimenting how the room looks can completely change an educator’s day. 

Building those trusting and respectful relationships can be incredibly important not just to the children, but also the adults involved. 

Optimum nutrition is crucial for physiological and cognitive development, however evidence shows that diet quality in children has declined. Processed foods, skipping meals and following fad diets may cause children to fail in meeting nutritional requirements necessary for growth and development.

Essential vitamins and minerals cannot be synthesised by the body, so a child must obtain them in adequate amounts from food. Poor intake of nutrients and energy could have detrimental effects on health, and contribute to the onset of low self-esteem, dental issues and decreased academic performance.

Epidemiological data estimates that one in five children are expected to develop some kind of mental health issue before adulthood, with half of adult mental health problems developing in childhood and teenage years. This highlights the importance of early prevention.

An Australian study examining 7114 adolescents aged 10-14 years, demonstrated that teenagers on a healthy diet were less likely to report symptoms of depression. The association exists above the influence of family, socioeconomic and other factors.

1. Calcium

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and is key for skeletal development, bone health and teeth, providing hard tissue with its strength. Due to its importance for growth, requirements are higher in childhood, adolescence, pregnancy and lactation.

Calcium is also necessary for learning, mental capacity, the immune system, nerve impulse transmissions and contracting muscles.

Ensuring intake of adequate calcium helps minimise risk of fractures, osteopenia and osteoporosis. Research connected calcium intake with prevention of colon cancer, insulin resistance, kidney stones, hypertension and obesity.

Absorption of calcium from food is only 20-40 per cent, and bioavailability is hindered in foods with phytic and oxalic acids, such as rhubarb, spinach, chard and some cereals.

Factors that increase Calcium bioavailability:

  • Vitamin D
  • Fat
  • Proteins
  • Vitamin C

Factors increasing demand for Calcium:

  • Bone fractures
  • Diarrhoea
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • High sugar diets
  • Lack of exercise
  • Magnesium deficiency

Calcium is involved in the following functions:

  • Activates insulin
  • Blood clotting
  • Bone and tooth formation
  • Muscle contraction
  • Nerve transmission
  • Cellular functions
  • Heart rhythm regulation

Food Sources:

  • Almonds
  • Broccoli
  • Buckwheat
  • Dairy products
  • Egg yolk
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Sardines
  • Molasses
  • Soybeans
  • Turnips

2. Magnesium

Cells die without sufficient Magnesium, and it is required for over 300 biochemical processes in the body. Approximately 99% of total body magnesium is found in the bone, muscles and soft tissue, fifty to sixty percent residing in the bone. Magnesium is necessary for strong bones, healthy immune function, muscular and neurological function, blood glucose regulation and energy.

Causes of Magnesium Deficiency in Children:

  • Requirements are higher due to growth and development.
  • Inadequate intake.
  • Cooking methods can result in magnesium loss.
  • Diets high in salt, sugar and soft drinks.
  • Reduced magnesium absorption due to low protein diet, vitamin D deficiency or medications.
  • Active children may have a higher requirement due to loss through sweat.
  • A child who is experiencing prolonged diarrhoea or vomiting.
  • Prolonged stress, worry or anxiety.

Signs your child may need more Magnesium:

  • Twitching muscles
  • Muscle spasms
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty maintaining attention
  • Noise sensitivity
  • Teeth grinding
  • Constipation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Lethargy

Food Sources:

  • Almonds
  • Barley
  • Cashews
  • Cocoa
  • Cod
  • Eggs
  • Figs
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Kelp
  • Wholegrains
  • Legumes
  • Molasses
  • Parsnips

Inadequate magnesium can contribute to poor mood and influence anxiety. Both calcium and magnesium are important for mood modulation, cognition and brain function.

Write a list of your favourite calcium and magnesium foods, and each week ask your child to choose a new food to incorporate into your meals.

Kelly has more than eight years’ experience as a coordinator for an Outside School Hours Care Program and has completed hundreds of engaging and educating programs with children based on the National Regulation requirements. So, to help any struggling parents out there, here are her suggestions for easy and fun activities to keep children engaged during Covid restrictions.

With current Covid precautions in Australia and Melbourne’s Stage Four lockdown still in effect, parents may have gone through every option to keep their child engaged. Children are out of routine and forced to learn at home, so trying to come up with new and exciting activities that are educating can be almost impossible.

1. ‘Spoonville’

It can be difficult to convince children to leave the house for some exercise when they have technology to keep themselves entertained, so why not create a town out of spoon people and get the community involved?

Using old spoons from the drawer, dress up your spoon into a person, animal or character. Every time the children go for a walk, they can see if anyone else in their neighbourhood has contributed to ‘Spoonville’ with their own spoons. It brings the excitement of wanting to leave the house for exercise while also engaging the children into creating a new spoon to add to the collection.

Materials: Wooden, metal or plastic spoon, wool for hair, googly eyes, scrap material for clothing, texta or paint for any additional details.

 

 

2. Toilet roll characters

Instead of throwing out the toilet rolls, turn them into characters!

There are plenty of websites that provide print out templates of different characters to stick onto a toilet roll. These are easy for kids to follow because all they need to do is cut, colour and paste. Alternatively, parents can print off reference pictures to spark creativity.

This also teaches children the importance of re-using materials around the house instead of throwing them out. Use this opportunity to discuss the environment and what they can do to help.

To further build on this experience, the children can create their own puppet show. This will be sure to keep them entertained for hours, build their confidence and encourage their pretend-play skills.

Materials: Toilet rolls, paper, textas, scissors, glue sticks.

3. Gooey slime

Slime can be a great tool for sensory development and is also one of the most popular science experiments with children at the moment. The ingredients to create this slime can be found at the supermarket and is easy to create, but it does get messy. So, make sure the floor, table and clothing are protected.

 

Slime recipe:

240ml bottle Elmer’s white school glue

1 1/2 – 2 tbs contact saline solution

1 tbs baking soda

Food colouring

To make the slime more exciting, the children can add shaving cream (poofy slime), glitter, beads (crunchy slime) or Styrofoam (foam slime) to the mixture.

Materials: Glue, saline solution, baking soda, food colouring.

4. Pac-man (2 or more people)

Pac-man is a game Kelly played frequently with children at work because it encouraged them to think quickly and increase their general knowledge.

The aim of the game is to stand around the room, the parent will shout out a question and for every question a child gets right, they take a step towards their opposition. Once they’ve answered enough questions and have reached their opposition, they tap them on the shoulder to get them out.

Adjust the questions based on their age and knowledge level, making them easier or harder depending on who is left in the game.

Materials: None.

5. DIY masks

Masks are a part of everyday life with Covid-19, so why not make it exciting? This will not only open the conversation about why it’s important to wear masks but will also teach them how to cut fabric to a pattern and sew it together. This could also encourage a conversation about fast fashion and the hard work that goes into creating clothes.

To further this experience, children could sew more patterns such as cushions, toys or pencil cases.

Materials: Needle, thread, three layers of fabric, scissors.

6. Terrarium

Terrariums are easy to assemble and can be created by things found outdoors. Although it isn’t necessary to build one that grows plants, it can be beneficial for children to learn the importance of a small eco-system and a terrarium is perfect to do so.

Materials: Glass bowl, dirt, sticks, rocks, water, plants (I recommend succulents because they don’t need much water).

 

 

7. Veggie patch

Similar to a terrarium, growing plants can be a beneficial lesson to children, but can be done using scraps from last night’s dinner. There are many vegetables/fruits that can grow from scraps. These are:

Lettuce, celery, avocado, potato, sweet potato, ginger, pineapple, garlic, onion, pumpkin, capsicum, tomato, carrot, strawberry, apricot, cherry, and many more.

Just place these vegetables or seeds in water, wait for roots to sprout, and then plant in dirt. Eventually, a new vegetable will sprout and the kids can eat their home-grown food.

Materials: Vegetable scraps, dirt, water.

8. Patty pan craft

Children can unleash their creativity by creating their favourite animal or character using the left-over patty pans sitting in the bottom drawer. Using either a photo for reference or a printed colouring page, children can cut the patty pan to size and paste. This will not only benefit their fine motor skills but will encourage creativity when it comes to alternative materials and repurposing.

Materials: Patty pans, paint or texta, scissors, glue.

 

Since the conflict broke out in 2015, life for children in Yemen, has been a living hell. Around 2 million children under the age of 5 are suffering from acute malnutrition. To put these numbers into perspective, that is the entirety of Perth’s population.

10.3 million brittle boys and girls don’t have enough food to eat, and half of Yemeni children under the age of 5 are chronically malnourished. Chronic malnutrition has an incredibly important impact on a child’s development. So, the 50 per cent of Yemeni children who are chronically malnourished, will never develop their full intellectual potential.

Whilst these statistics are disturbing to us readers, you can only imagine how frightful, how soul-crushing, how helpless, it must feel to be the mother of a Yemeni child.

These kids have been deprived of their childhoods and a hopeful future. And, the dark reality is, this has worsened due to COVID-19 as they are confined to remnants of their war-torn homes.

The damage and closure of schools has disrupted the children’s access to education. Before COVID-19, 2 million children were out of school. Now, because of the pandemic, the latest statistics from UNICEF have found an additional 5 million children are out of school.

Sadly, the education of these children is the smallest of their problems. Five years of war has exhausted the country’s health system. Many of Yemen’s medical facilities have been destroyed and the country is inadequate to cope with a pandemic.

Alongside a lack of medicine, equipment, and medics, coronavirus has essentially caused Yemen’s health system to collapse.

As the pandemic ravages through the country, the Yemeni people have reached breaking point.

Poverty levels are deepening and putting financial strain on families. The United Nations (U.N) have reported that parents of these fragile children are now resorting to “harmful coping mechanisms,” like begging, child labor, and marrying off their young daughters to survive.

Young Yemeni girls, if weren’t already, are now the most vulnerable, frail, and helpless they’ve ever been.

Worldwide, around 12 million girls under the age of 18 are estimated to be married off every year. That works out to be nearly one girl every three seconds.

Already seen to be happening in Yemen, a recent U.N report predicts the pandemic has put an additional 4 million girls at risk of child marriage.

And, when you think the horrendous conditions for these innocent girls couldn’t get any worse, they do.

86% of mothers in Yemen believe that female gentile mutilation is a purifying and cleansing practice and is closely tied with their religious and cultural beliefs. With almost every health care facility closing and the ones that are still open being overpopulated by coronavirus and war-stricken victims, the infection rate, as a direct result of this practice, on these baby girls, is expected to sky-rocket.

The U.N appealed to the international community $2.4 billion to help the suffering of the Yemen people who are being hit harder than any other civilians in the world by the pandemic. On June 2, manly Arab and Western countries pledged $1.35 billion toward aid. This is far less than what is needed to give these people a chance at survival.

Yemen is in the middle of a war, suffering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the coronavirus is sucking the breath and freedom out of the life of malnourished children who don’t have the choice or immune system to fight it.

These conditions are gut-wrenching.

The suffering of these girls and boys is nothing short of devastating.

And, it is worsening with every minute that passes.

If you would like to donate directly to help save the lives of these kids, please do so here https://support.savethechildren.org/site/Donation2?df_id=2521&2521.donation=form1

As Australia’s cosmetic surgery rates surpass America’s, our obsession with social media and the current COVID-19 pandemic creates a minefield for those who struggle with disordered eating and body image issues.

 So far, 2020 has been a lot to process. In what will most likely be a once-in-a-lifetime historical event, the world has been totally affected by COVID-19 – a virus which has so far killed more than 264,000 people.

As Australia combats this, most of us have found ourselves on leave, unemployed or working from home. As the lockdowns have progressed many businesses have shut down and the nation’s gyms have not been immune.

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of content online focused on exercising from home, especially on Instagram, which has become flooded with posts about ‘body goals’, losing weight and becoming ‘healthier’ in quarantine.

The COVID-19 pandemic offers numerous triggers for those who are struggling with an eating disorder or those with distorted body image and low self-esteem.

“We understand that the prevalent discussions around stock-piling food, increased hygiene measures, food shortages and lock-ins can be incredibly distressing and triggering for people experiencing disordered eating or an eating disorder,” states The Butterfly Foundation in relation to COVID-19. 

When you combine these triggers with an increase in spare time to spend scrolling social media, such as Instagram, this can create the Perfect Storm.

Instagram and its tribe of entrepreneurs and models is no stranger to criticism from body positivity advocates, largely because the app is focused on images, a majority of which are highly edited. The concept of Instagram is the ideal social media app- share images and see images of your family and friends – plus your favourite celebrities, bridging the gap between fan and friend.

Instagram launched in 2010 and had 1 million users within two months, it has since been purchased by Facebook and become one of the largest social media platforms in the world.

The New Yorker journalist Jia Tolentino has talked extensively concerning the phenomenon of Instagram models, and their strikingly similar looks in ‘The Age of the Instagram Face’. 

She writes, “The gradual emergence, among professionally beautiful women, of a single, cyborgian face. It’s a young face, of course, with pore-less skin and plump, high cheekbones. It has catlike eyes and long, cartoonish lashes; it has a small, neat nose and full, lush lips.”

The commodification of women was once selling the products to make us beautiful, but as ‘Instagram Face’ rises and social media continues to excel, cosmetic surgery becomes more commonplace than it ever has been before.

Presently Australia’s cosmetic surgery numbers have surpassed America’s; in 2017 Australian’s spent more than 1 billion dollars on plastic surgery, surpassing America’s procedures per capita numbers, a feat considering America is often considered the ground zero for enhanced beauty.

Since when did this new prototype of a woman, a mish-mashed version, a high light reel built to bend over; a tiny waist, big lips, no blemishes- become the new standard of beauty, and how achievable is this?

Claire Finkelstein has been a clinical psychologist for fifteen years and is co-founder and co-director at Nourish.Nurture.Thrive, a multidisciplinary practise based in Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula that specialises in helping young people who struggle with eating disorders and body image.

Claire and fellow clinical psychologist, Ainsley Hudgson, started Nourish.Nurture.Thrive after years working in the public health system and seeing how overwhelmed it had become with a “growing population with eating disorder concerns,” says Claire.

Isolation, quarantine and an increase in social media can be very triggering for not only those who struggle with eating disorders but anyone who finds themselves feeling out of control in this stressful time.

“Everybody is showing their exercise routines at the moment, everybody is making those jokes about putting on weight during lockdown and I think it’s just incredibly triggering even for people with a fairly robust sense of self-confidence and body image but particularly for people who are in the eating disorder space,” says Claire.

The showing of exercise routines is found on Instagram amongst other social media, promoting diet culture.

Diet culture is defined as a system of beliefs that worship thinness and oppress people who don’t meet this beauty standard and idea of health. The one underlying fact for nearly all diets and wellbeing programs is that thin is best, demonizing certain food groups and body types, all while promoting the most important idea of them all; if you weren’t so lazy you’d have the body of your dreams.

“It feels like you can control your weight, so in a time when you feel out of control you try and control your weight and what we know is that your weight is biologically determined within a set point and that’s one of the difficulties – all these messages around ‘this is something we can do’ and if you’re not doing it successfully you’re inadequate and that is such a damaging, damaging story that is part of diet culture,” says Claire.

The infamous ‘beauty is pain’ mantra handed down to young girls from their mothers has a whole new meaning, the pain having grown from a waxing strip full of pubic hair to a surgery scar or a vigorous training regime.

Earlier this year glamour magazine Girls Girls Girls collaborated with Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon to create a video titled ‘Be a Lady they said’. The piece included various clips from movies, news, and glamour shots to tell the story of the myriad of requests and expectations women are meant to be adhering to, ironically the women featured in the video are beautiful, thin and passive.

One of the most impactful lines reads,

‘Be a size zero, be a double zero, be nothing, be less than nothing.’

Cynthia Nixon spits these words at the screen as it turns dark and the sound of someone’s heart flatlining takes up the darkness. It is powerful commentary on the notions behind our desires for female perfection and the gruesome control it creates.

As Naomi Wolf states in her classic, The Beauty Myth, published in 1990, obsession with beauty and thinness is a form of control and oppression.

“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one,” says Wolf.

The US health and weight loss industry is worth an estimated $72 billion and Australians are estimated to spend $452.5 million on weight-loss counselling services (and the low-calorie foods and dietary supplements that go with it) in 2019-2020.

These figures show what has been in the shadows all along – this business is big money built off the back of diet culture. A truth hid underneath the bright lights of Instagram, the ‘life updates’ and the relatable posts – the influencers who make you feel like a family, like you could look like them if you had the grit – when you’re just a customer.

 Resources and coping mechanisms

For those who are spending a lot of time online and feel triggered by the change in routine, there are ways to seek help, guidance and support.

The Butterfly Foundation suggests that stretching, light exercise, talking to a loved one, drawing, being creative and mindfulness techniques can help you support your health and wellbeing during this crisis and stop negative body thoughts.

Their Helpline is also open on webchat, email or phone from 8am-midnight, 7 days a week.

Claire Finkelstein from Nourish.Nurture.Thrive admits boycotting social media is unrealistic, especially as it is one of our main sources for communicating with the outside world, however, she does recommend an ‘audit’ of who you follow.

“Use social media to connect rather than compare, use it to engage with people who are important to you, who you feel supported by, who give you a laugh who make you smile, who make you more connected and less alone and try to engage less with social media that leaves you feeling terrible afterwards,” says Claire.

Unfollowing accounts that make you feel inadequate or leave you feeling unhappy and starting to follow body positive accounts instead can stop that downward spiral of self-loathing many of us find triggered by social media.

“Research shows if you have a diverse imagery, diverse bodies, diverse beauty, or other images like architecture, animals or whatever makes you feel good – that that can really dilute the impact, the negative impact of imagery that doesn’t make you feel good,” says Claire.

Below are resources for those who need help.

The Butterfly Foundation:

T: 1800 33 4673

W: https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/

Beyond Blue:

T: 1300 22 4636

W: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/national-help-lines-and-websites

“If I can’t find my perfect job, then I need to create it.”

This was the catalyst that encouraged 33-year-old Perth mother of two, Chevon Semmens, to launch Little Land, an interactive role-play centre for young children to play and learn.

 

From a young age, Chevon had a passion for play, she aspired to work with children and own a childcare centre. Despite these dreams, Chevon opted for a career in marketing and advertising.

 However, her interest in play and learning persisted. Chevon volunteered for over 10 years with Radio Lollipop, providing entertainment to children during their stay at Perth’s Princess Margaret Hospital. Chevon recalls always finding a way to integrate play and learning, even if they were “just playing Uno.”

While on maternity leave with her first child, Chevon stumbled across a photo of a little girl with a child size shopping trolley at a role play centre in the UK. Chevon was excited by the idea of a role-play centre, “I knew this concept would come to Perth eventually and was looking forward to being able to take my own children.”

 

Prompted by a desire to transition into a different career, Chevon used the opportunity of maternity leave to consider her options and compile a list of priorities, “I wanted it to be a business that involved working with children and it had to be something creative”.

Photo credit: Lanie Sims

“I knew my ideal job probably didn’t exist, so I had to invent it.”

Inspired by the image of the little girl with the shopping trolley, Chevon announced to her husband Kayne, “I am going to open up a role play centre. He thought I was mad.”

With unyielding determination, Chevon took on the challenge of convincing her husband she could make this dream a reality.

Chevon’s family and friends became sounding boards for her new venture. “Many thought it was a good idea but probably never assumed I would go through with it, while others felt the idea was too gimmicky.” Undeterred, Chevon used their constructive feedback as encouragement to eradicate potential flaws.

“I knew the concept could work and I knew I would enjoy taking my kids there, but would others?” Chevon put together an advisory group, consisting of Paediatric Occupational Therapists, Paediatric Speech Pathologists, Early Childhood Educators, Primary Teachers and professionals who worked with children with autism. Chevon used their expert knowledge in conjunction with her marketing expertise to educate parents about the benefits the role play centre would bring.

Despite Chevon’s confidence and robust business plan, the process from conceptualisation to delivery was anything but quick. Two years of extensive planning included a painstaking search for the right premises.

“I did not want to settle for a half option. The location needed to be central, close to families, with plenty of parking and onsite facilities.”

In the midst of the search, falling pregnant with her second child threw another “amazing spanner into the works.” Financially, Chevon also needed enough money to launch the business. Rather serendipitously, she was offered voluntary redundancy from her existing day job. “It happened to be the exact amount of money needed to get the idea of the ground.”

The dream was about to become a reality.

Chevon opened the doors of Little Land in May 2019. “We were fully booked for the first three months” and the success has continued, with some ebbs and flows in the mix, as they approach their one-year anniversary.*

What can someone expect from a trip to Little Land?

Little Land offers a welcome break from the usual loud colours and noises you expect of a childcare centre. “Many parents comment on how surprised they are at how calm the environment feels.” The welcome area is filled with calming pastel colours, while the sound system plays modern songs in the form of lullabies.

Beyond the welcome area, you will find Little Land’s ‘little town’, complete with a shopping centre, school; home; doctor’s surgery; café; hairdressing salon; construction zone and veterinary practice.

Role-play is at the forefront of play between the ages of 18 months and 8 years and so each area is uniquely designed to meet the needs of children within this age range. The numbers are kept to a maximum of 30 children per session with a total of four sessions per day to avoid overwhelm for the children.

Children are given the opportunity to explore formal settings in an informal way, enabling them to take control of the experience. Many children were recently role-playing evacuations and ‘safety first’ procedures following recent bush fires. Parents who visit the centre express how valuable it is for children to be able to visit these locations on a small scale and at their own pace.

What does the future hold for Little Land?

Chevon is proud to announce Little Land have worked with the Autism Association in Western Australia to launch weekly ‘Sensory Sessions’. “We reduce the number of people who attend, change the format and provide a story book for children to read beforehand of what to expect, we also use a timer instead of a bell to mark the end of the sessions.”

Chevon’s dream is for play and learning to be accessible to all Australians. “We currently have people travelling over an hour to see us, so I would like to possibly open a second location to make it more accessible. We have also launched several pop ups, including four stalls at local events and shopping centres to help spread awareness of the benefits of our centre.”

How to balance motherhood and business

As a mum to three a half year old Zack and 16 month old Archer, Chevon admits life can get busy.

“Someone said to me recently, maybe it’s not so much as trying to find a balance between being a mother and business owner, perhaps it’s finding a blend of the two.”

“I am fortunate that I have a great husband who helps pick up the slack, whether that’s with our children or the business. We try to eat well and get as much sleep as you can with a 16 month old.”

Chevon and her husband make time for themselves separately to re-energise, “I try to get up earlier a couple of days a week to go for an hour long walk, this gives me the energy I need for the next couple of days.”

Chevon also has a day that is non-negotiable, “I always have Mondays with my boys, to play and just spend time with them, it revitalises me and reminds me how we never stop learning.”

Photo credit: Lanie Sims

Despite the huge success of the business, Chevon has realised it’s the small wins she celebrates, “I found in the initial stages of Little Land, we were so busy ‘doing’ that we didn’t stop to appreciate what we had achieved, so now we make an effort to regularly pause and express gratitude for what we have accomplished.”

Keep up to date with the latest Little Land news, @littleland_perth

Thank you to Photographer, Lanie Sims for all images supplied in this article.

 *Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Little Land has closed for the unforeseeable future. During this time, we’re determined to continue inspiring play and learning for the community and we hope it isn’t too long before we see the return of big smiles on little faces as they run through our big and little doors to wander and explore the magic.

 

The novel virus known as COVID-19 started as a collection of similar cases emerging from Wuhan, China-  a city with a population of over 11 million.  

Australia was in the process of healing from a devastating fire season when the Coronavirus (soon to be titled COVID-19) became national news, with the World Health Organization (WHO) having heard the first reports of COVID-19 on the 31st of December 2019.

In the months that have followed the pandemic has spread across the globe, encompassing Australia and leaving millions without work, or at the very least financially affected by the virus and the subsequent lockdowns it has caused.

These are uncertain times, and as many of us wait for news of government aid, job opportunities or when our old lives will get back to normal, many are left without an income.

Below are some practical ways to lessen the financial stress during the disaster movie scenario we have found ourselves in.

Monitor what comes in and out of your bank- and eliminate the non-essential items

For many of us, we have multiple cards and multiple entertainment platforms, programs and everyday expenses that are direct debited.

This is convenient usually, but if you are now left with no income, that outcome needs to be cut down. Have a look on your outgoings on your banking app and make a list of what you pay every month- do you really need to be spending $25 a month on a live sport platform when all sport is postponed? Or could you be using that $25 on food and utilities? Unfortunately, the time for luxuries is not right now, so cut your expenses accordingly.

Call and ask for extensions/account freezes/pause in payments

Do not be ashamed to ask for help, we are all in this together. Many corporations and businesses are being very understanding in this time and providing extensions and pauses for payments.

Afterpay for example can give extensions/pauses in payments if you contact them and discuss your situation, the same could go for various other payments you may have coming up, so don’t be scared to ask! The following link discusses electricity companies that will be providing extra help for their customers during this crisis. https://www.finder.com.au/financial-hardship-programs-utilities

Live that vegetarian lifestyle

Meat is expensive and perishable, and with supermarkets losing the battle against panic buying shoppers, meat and other basics are hard to find. Do not panic or bulk buy– it is unfair on everyone, especially the most vulnerable.

Buy beans, lentils, grains- these are cheap, filling and last a long time- check out this lentil dahl recipe that is perfect for meal prepping and super tasty! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4pDLh11nmA

Keep up to date with the government’s response to the pandemic and if you are eligible for Centrelink payments

There is a lot of information regarding the COVID-19 in the media that is constantly updated, and the same goes for details of government assistance and how to access Centrelink payments if you now find yourself out of work. The below article by ABC shows a step by step guide to applying for Centrelink if you’ve never used the system before and is updated regularly as the situation progresses. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-24/coronavirus-how-to-apply-for-centrelink-jobseeker-newstart/12083948

Think of others and act accordingly – stay inside! 

Stay inside and practise social distancing, this won’t last forever, but it is important we all do the right thing and act with everyone in mind. We will all get through this by acting as a community, spreading kindness and thinking of our most vulnerable.

 Shedding a light on hearing impairment within Indigenous communities.

Aboriginal people are 10 times more likely to suffer from ear diseases than non-indigenous people, and only seven per cent of Aboriginal children in remote communities have healthy ears.

Australian Ear Nose and Throat Specialist, Dr Kelvin Kong recalls a remarkable encounter; “In a community in central Australia I visited, the health worker was baffled by a patient, a little girl. She called me over to have a look and it was a normal healthy eardrum. She’d never seen one before.”

What is otitis media?

The Department of Health defines otitis media, as the term used to describe all forms of inflammation and infection of the middle ear. Infections can present with middle ear fluid or persistent discharge, and can be chronic or acute. Unless corrected by surgery, chronic infections can lead to long term, and in some cases, permanent hearing loss.

The report published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, highlights otitis media as the key condition contributing to hearing loss among Indigenous children. A condition that is treatable and preventable.

How is otitis media treated?

There are generally two ways to treat otitis media; one is through an operation called Myringotomy, whereby surgeons make an incision in the eardrum to relieve pressure caused by excessive build-up. Alternatively, surgeons perform a Tympanoplasty, which is reconstructive surgery used to treat a perforated eardrum.

What causes otitis media?

Data from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey of 2014-15, highlights how poor socio-economic factors may contribute to an increase in ear infections. Over nine per cent of Indigenous children living in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged households had hearing problems, compared with just over six per cent of Indigenous children living in the least disadvantaged homes. Poor hygiene, overcrowded housing and inadequate access to clean running water and functioning sewerage, can all increase the risk of developing ear infections.

Many Indigenous families live in remote areas; this is associated with decreased access to key health services. A lack of coordinated, accessible and culturally sensitive health care services in remote areas can lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment for ear infections.

Research shows one in five indigenous children in rural and remote areas wait longer than the recommended period of three months for audiology testing.

Reduced awareness of essential health information has led to higher numbers of premature births, low breastfeeding rates and nutritional deficiencies, all of which increase the risk of otitis media in children.

Why should we be concerned?

The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) explains that 0-4 years is the critical age range for laying down neural pathways relating to language and speech, it is therefore imperative children’s hearing during this period, is properly functioning.

Sadly, statistics show on average, Indigenous children having to wait until the ages of five and six, before having their first hearing aid fitted.

Hearing problems at such a young age can lead to poorer outcomes in areas of expressive language; vocabulary; language memory and speech intelligibility. Poor development in these key areas can increase the risk of behavioural problems such as irritability, disobedience and poor school attendance.

Beyond the education system, these problems are closely associated with higher rates of social isolation, limited employment options, low income and increased contact with the criminal justice system.

The final report from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1991) was the first to comment on the relationship between childhood ear disease, poor school performance and their connection to involvement in the criminal justice system. An alarming 90% of Aboriginal prisoners at Darwin Correctional Centre showed signs of hearing loss, while this figure increased to 95% in Alice Springs.

On a spiritual level, the art of story telling within Indigenous families forms a crucial part of their cultural identity. If children are unable to hear stories of their family history, they will not be able to share these with future family members, causing far-reaching inter-generational difficulties. A crisis of personal identity is strongly correlated with reduced self-esteem and an exacerbation of mental health problems.

How can improvements be made?

The key is prevention and early intervention. NACCHO suggests increased awareness of the importance of basic hygiene skills such as washing hands and faces can help reduce the risk of ear infections, along with timely immunisations and healthy food choices.

The Department of Health put forward recommendations to improve the training of health care practitioners to ensure Indigenous children who attend primary health care are appropriately screened or treated for otitis media and hearing loss.

Greater coordination of research and collaborative health and housing initiatives, developed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bodies is recommended to address the barriers and exclusion many Indigenous families encounter.

The Department of Health are also calling for education strategies to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Such an initiative has been trialled in remote parts of Western Australia, whereby teachers are using microphones and speakers in classrooms to create a more inclusive learning environment. The teachers have reported increased attentiveness, reduced frustration and report that students appear much happier and confident in themselves.

What does the future look like?

Data shows that the proportion of Indigenous children with poor ear health has fallen in the last 15 years thanks to the introduction of a range of Government prevention programs such as The National Healthy Ears, Better Hearing, Better Listening program, which offers diagnosis, treatment and management of ear and hearing health for Indigenous Children and young people aged 0 to 21 years.

Outreach programs; such as the Northern Territory Remote Aboriginal Investment Hearing Health Program (NTRAI HHP) have also shown promising results. The results, following their delivery of specialist ear and hearing services to high risk Indigenous children and young people in remote parts of the Northern Territory have shown so far, of the children who moved through the NTRAI HHP, 51% had improved hearing loss and 62% had improved hearing impairment over time.

There is hope that improvements can be made, however there needs to be continued awareness, understanding and support if there is to be success in improving the health and social outcomes of Indigenous children across Australia.

Role-play is an important part of child development and a way for children to make sense of the world around them. Children start to engage in role-play from around 18 months of age. Understanding why and how children role-play can provide parents with knowledge to best support role-play fun and learning

There are three key role-play categories;

  • Family; Mum, Dad, siblings or pets – allows children to explore different dynamics
  • Character or fantasy; princesses or Spiderman – helps children identify good from bad and encourages bravery
  • Functional or occupational; such as a firefighter, police or doctor, defined by specific actions and not the identity of the character – allows children to learn about their real environment

 

Role-play encourages creativity and imagination. It can provide a safe space for problem solving and support children in developing social skills (how they get along with their peers) and emotional skills (how they react to situations) including empathy, conflict resolution and teamwork. These are all important skills that will serve them in the school setting and other aspects of life.

 

Role-play can assist physical development, engaging children’s motor skills and hand to eye coordination – whether it be dressing or feeding baby or building at the construction site.

Role-play can also have a positive effect on speech and language acquisition – enhancing communication skills with the use of eye contact, turn-taking and listening skills. New words and new characters can combine to build new vocabulary for different events and experiences.

Perth Speech Pathologist and mum of three, Alex Trichilo explains, ‘Role-play is an essential part of a child’s journey to becoming an adult. It gives them the opportunity to practice language that they wouldn’t usually use on a day-to-day basis.

Little land has created a play space that integrates fun and learning, specifically designed for children up to approximately 8 years of age. The play space’s little town has been designed by a team of early childhood educators, paediatric occupational therapists and speech pathologists to offer a creative and educational play experience.Just like visiting the real shops, Little Land’s Little Growers Market is a great place to explore language. The groceries may be ‘big’ or ‘small’, or you can search for items starting with a certain letter. Visiting Little Land’s construction site can promote language in lots of ways too by modelling verbs – stack, dig, build, bang.

A little tipdon’t be afraid to use something to imitate something else. Blocks can be used as pet food and cardboard boxes are only limited by your little one’s imagination! Using items to represent other items is known as Symbolic Play and is a critical aspect of play development.

Alex says, ‘Role-play is an ongoing skill throughout childhood and is a fantastic activity for developing play at all developmental stages.’

 

‘It is important to see the progression from children playing by themselves, to playing next to other children, and then to playing in an organised way with each other in groups.’

Little Land also offers Sensory Sessions, developed in consultation with the Autism Association of Western Australia – a low stimulus environment to support the needs of children with Autism and specific sensory needs. Limited to 15 Wanderers, the Sensory Sessions incorporate additional materials including the ‘Going to Little Land’ storybook to help prepare your child before your visit, and play sequence guides to further support play and learning.

Play sessions are 90 minutes and run at 9am, 11am, 1pm and 3pm Tuesday through to Saturday.

Book your play session at www.littleland.fun