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Carers influential in allowing kids in care reach full potential

Eight years ago, foster carer Penny Hallett’s desire for equal opportunities for all children saw her dedicate her life to providing care.

Inspired by her experience as a volunteer for The Pyjama Foundation, Penny and her husband began to explore the idea of becoming foster carers.

In 2008, Penny’s journey began when she was matched with a young boy in care through the Foundation’s Love of Learning Program – together they played educational games, read stories, built confidence and set the child up to be much more than what life had given him.

Penny went on to mentor another young girl, where she met a foster carer who had cared for children for over 40 years and inspired Penny to explore becoming a carer herself.

In 2011, Penny and her family embarked on the process and became full time foster carers.

This Foster and Kinship Carer Week we celebrate the wonderful people in our community just like Penny, opening up their hearts and homes for children in out of home care.

“As a volunteer with The Pyjama Foundation, you are able to form a positive relationship and encourage a love of learning,” she said.

“We would read books together, sometimes we would go outside and enact the stories that sparked their imagination, or just jump on the trampoline and laugh a lot.

“The children I mentored and have in my home have the most heart wrenching stories, but you know what, they just get on with it.

“Apart from all the ‘mum things’, I see my role as a Foster Carer as being my kids advocate until they can do that for themselves.

“I can’t imagine my life not being involved with kids in care, and I am grateful for the lifelong friendships I have made with other carers and all the wonderful staff at The Pyjama Foundation.”

Child Safety Minister Di Farmer congratulated Penny on her support for children in care, both as a Pyjama Angel and now as a foster carer.

“The men and women who volunteer to be foster carers are some of the kindest and most caring I’ve met,” she said.

“Penny has given some children who need some love and support her time, care and attention both as a Pyjama Angel, then as a foster carer.

“Penny’s opened her heart, and then her home. You really can’t underestimate just how life changing that kind of support can be to the children who are looked after by our carers.”

The number of children in the out of home care system continues to rise in Australia, with more than 9,000 children currently in foster and kinship care in Queensland.

Foster and Kinship Carer Week runs from 21-28 April and aims to celebrate and thank people like Penny for their continued work in ensuring the most vulnerable children have a loving place to call home.

Townsville volunteer helps preppie soar

Back to school after the holiday break can be a terrifying time for many children, particularly those in the foster care system.

But thanks to dedicated Townsville Pyjama Angel volunteer Robyn Narratone one child’s experience has been far more positive.

Lexi* was just two-years-old when Robyn was first matched as her Pyjama Angel.

Fast forward three years and countless hours of reading together and playing educational games, Lexi has soaring confidence and Foster Carer Sarah* said she couldn’t be more grateful for the support Robyn has provided.

“When our two-year-old began to develop an interest in language and books, we referred her to the Pyjama Angel Program and her Pyjama Angel Robyn has been such a great support to her ever since,” she said.

“I think for Lexi a key benefit was providing that individual, focused attention. As the middle child and having a brother with additional support needs, it was difficult for Lexi to get the learning support which was needed in order to catch up with her age group and develop foundational skills.”

Sarah said one of her very favourite moments was coming home from work and hearing little Lexi reading ‘Where is the Green Sheep’ by herself for the very first time.

“Weekly sessions have provided effective early intervention to support the development of a range of skills for school readiness, including following instructions, focusing on tasks, being able to talk and listen, identifying numbers and letters, basic manners, writing her name and taking turns,” she said.

“She has continued to thrive with Robyn’s support and we can see that she is set up for success with schooling.”

The Pyjama Foundation North QLD regional coordinator Mel Vaughan said quality interaction with adults in the early years is vital for educational success.

“We have a number of Pyjama Angels in our program, who are matched with toddlers or children about to start school,” she said.

“These volunteers provide positive learning experiences in a safe environment and build a love of reading and learning that will hopefully transfer to formal schooling experiences.

“Robyn sang simple nursery rhymes to Lexi, played counting games, read books, improved fine motor skills through finger painting and play-dough and completed puzzles.

Helping Foster Children Stay On Task

“Concentration is like a muscle that requires regular exercise to strengthen. Some kids are born “stronger” in this area than others, but all kids can learn strategies and engage in practices that help improve their ability to focus and sustain their attention”

– Dr. Jamie Howard

Children in out of home care often lack interest in learning and find difficulty in concentrating and staying on task. With 92% of children in care below average reading skills by the time they are seven years of age and struggle to catch up, it is important as mentors to help our children build and train their ‘concentration muscle’.

Here are some tips for our Pyjama Angels to implement in visits to help their children stay on task.

1. Set A Plan

It can be a good idea to create a plan for your visits. At the beginning of your visit you can work with your child to write out a set plan for the visit. This gives both you and your child the opportunity to decide what you will aim to achieve within your visit.

2. Set Time Lengths For Tasks

When setting a plan or just completing tasks, it is important to set appropriate time lengths for specific tasks. As a Pyjama Angel, you will get to know the typical time length your child will concentrate and focus on a task. Use your understanding to set appropriate time lengths on tasks you aim to complete.

3. Use Timers

When aiming to complete a task for a specific time, it can be helpful to utilise timers or stopwatches. Clocks or stopwatches can provide a visual aid for children, and help them understand when a task will finish.

4. Planned Breaks

It is also important to ensure that you build in planned breaks. After spending some time concentrating, it is useful to take a break whether that be a small physical break such as throwing a ball around or trying a Brain Gym exercise.

Brain Gym

These exercises can be utilised if child become distracted or simply as a planned break. These small physical activities will re-engage the brain and can help a child re-focus on a set task.

* Brain Gym exercises adapted from margdteachingposters.weebly.com/thinking-processes

 

Incorporating these tips will hopefully see your visits become more productive and time efficient, though it it important to remember that every child is unique and requires different techniques. Be patient and kind and see what works best for you and your child during your visits.

If you ever feel stuck and need any assistance or tips, our team is available for a chat at 07 3256 8802 between 9-5pm Monday-Friday.

Great books you can read in the Love of Learning Program

The Love of Learning program is the only one of its kind. It provides children with the opportunity to strengthen their literacy and numeracy skills outside of school. But as a Pyjama Angel, you aren’t a tutor. You’re a mentor. Someone who can guide the children in the program and be a positive influence. You show them that reading isn’t really so bad. If you’re scratching your head about what to bring along, we have a few suggestions the could help:

2-3 years

The Empowerment series by Stephen Krensky celebrates the milestones children achieve at this age. This series has of four books: Now I am Big! I Can Do It Myself! I Know a Lot! I Am So Brave!

Another crowd favourite is the Clifford the Big Red Dog series by Norman Bridwell.

4-5 years

The works of Dr Seuss are perfect for this age group!

Other favourite reads of ours include What’s Cooking by Joshua David Stein and Pass it On by Sophy Henn.

6-7 years

The Pyjama Foundation firmly believes in cultivating the aspirations of foster children.

Goodnight stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo is a compilation of the stories of courageous women who challenged the status quo and changed the course of history. It is a great read for both girls and boys.

Another similar series is the Ordinary People Change the World Series by Brad Meltzer. Each book focuses on different key historical figures such as I am Neil Armstrong, I am Jane Goodall and I am Albert Einstein.

Read the book before the movie

8-9 years

This age is an excellent time to introduce the books by Roald Dahl. This is the man who quoted ‘Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it’. His books are great to include in the Love of Learning Program for that reason; to help children believe in magic. You don’t need to look much further than Willy Wonka for an excellent read. Other titles worth bringing include The Fantastic Mr Fox, George’s Marvellous Medicine and Matilda.

10-11 years

The books by Enid Blyton ignite the imaginations of children at this age. Blyton wrote her books early last century but they have endured the test of time. The books are large, but because the stories are written for children, they’re easy to understand. Some of the timeless and most popular series include The Magic Faraway Tree, The Wishing Chair and The Secret Seven

As a Pyjama Angel, you have full access to our dedicated resource library where you can pick up many of these books. We want our kids to use their imaginations, be engaged and love reading just as much as we do. We hope these examples can help your inspire kids to do just that.

Get more advice here:

The double-edged sword of volunteering

Love of learning program