Inclusivity through School Age Care

27 July 2016

Eliza Hughes

Eliza is the Communications and Marketing Officer at YWCA Canberra

In Australia, School Age Care is underpinned by the national framework, My Time, Our Place, which aims to assist educators to provide children with opportunities to maximise their optential and develop a foundation for future success. Inclusivity and respect for diversity are key principles of this framework. 

Here, we speak with Kathleen, Geanean and Jilly, School Age Care Program Managers at Turner, Rosary and St Bede’s Primary School respectively. Read on to find out how they work to support every child’s learning and development, while removing barriers to participation.Girl and plant

The educators at our 13 School Age Care programs certainly have their work cut out for them. Many programs care for more than 50 children each afternoon, with more than 120 at Turner! The children all present a unique opportunity for educators, in terms of gaining an understanding of their social, cultural and linguistic diversity.  The goal is to find a way to incorporate these differences into all decision-making processes, and ultimately promote participation and inclusion in each program.

It starts with a philosophy,where  the overall aim is “to provide children and families with a sense of belonging through ensuring a safe, supportive, respectful and inclusive environment”.

The National Quality Framework states that an inclusive approach translates to ‘all children having the same opportunity regardless of their age, gender, background or abilities’.

Kathleen says that a big part of the philosophy at Turner is to actively encourage children to be accepting of one another. Children are supported to resolve conflict between themselves, and assisted in developing respectful relationships and empathy for each other.

Educators also make a point of helping children understand why it’s important not to exclude others, particularly on the basis of gender or ability. Often, this is achieved through reflective discussions with children about how a person’s actions can impact others.

The physical environment of each program is another important factor. At Turner, the space is divided into three areas; preschoolers, juniors (Kindergarten – year two) and seniors (Year three – six), with additional areas for indoor and outdoor play, as well as quiet and relaxing activities. This approach ensures that activities are engaging and age-appropriate. It also promotes children’s sense of independence and agency as are given the freedom to move between areas of the program, and make choices about how they want to participate.

Culturally diverse experiences are another way program managers provide children with opportunities to develop their understanding of diversity and acceptance.

Recently, Jilly and her educators at St Bede’s organised a range of activities to mark National Sorry Day. Their well-planned approach to exploring this important concept enabled children to make meaningful connections and respond with empathy and compassion.rabbits

Children were guided through a collaborative reading of a story called The Rabbits, which parallels European settlement with the introduction of rabbits in Australia, and how things changed as a result. The children also talked about how they might feel if their favourite toy was stolen or went missing. A great craft activity followed, in which children traced and cut out shapes of their feet, with one representing themselves and the other representing Australian Indigenous cultural heritage.

Meanwhile, at Rosary, Geanean and the children are enjoying a pen pal program with school children in Bhutan, South Asia, which has been running for the last six months. This began after an educator Sonam moved back home to Bhutan after completing his Master of Teaching in Canberra. Sonam now teaches at a school in Bhutan, and the pen pal program sees children at Rosary writing emails and ‘snail mail’ and sharing photographs with him and the children in his class.

Through this experience, children are gaining a better understanding about not only the differences, but the similarities they share with their pen pals, and are developing a deeper respect for diversity by communicating with one another.sonam1

All of our School Age Care educators work hard to ensure that children with additional needs are supported to participate in activities, and enjoy the same positive experiences and outcomes as every other child. For some children with behavioural or social difficulties, customised action plans may be developed by program managers in consultation with the child’s family, teachers and other relevant specialists. These plans outline a strategy to overcome the barriers to participation that the child is facing, and support them to enjoy the same learning opportunities and outcomes as their peers.

It is a collaborative process in itself for educators to come together to develop programs that foster positive opportunities for learning and developing relationships, while also catering to the specific needs, capabilities and interests of all children. We appreciate all of the School Age Care staff who work hard to provide such opportunities for the children in their care.

For more information about any of our School Age Care programs, please contact Lee Newlyn, School Age Care Manager via email at lee.newlyn@ywca-canberra.org.au or via telephone 6175 9900.

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