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Cowboys star inspires children in foster care with love of learning

When North QLD Cowboys footballer John Asiata isn’t on the field or with his family, you can often find him supporting children in foster care.

As a volunteer with The Pyjama Foundation, John is one of 1400 volunteers providing learning guidance, support and mentorship for kids in care.

This year he’s gone one step further encouraging his community to join forces for National Pyjama Day on July 19.

On this day each year, businesses and schools across Townsville wear their pyjamas to raise vital funds and awareness to support children on the foster care system.

In Townsville, this Program is made extra special with the addition of John, who moves between the homes of different children sharing the joy of sports with them.

One of The Foundation’s Townsville carers detailed just how special the interaction is for her children.

“All the children love spending time with their respective Angels because they feel that they are not being judged but accepted for who they are,” she said.

“A special mention to John Asiata who came out to see the kids. It was a buzz for the kids to have a game of footy with John.

“Toby* is a big fan of the Cowboys. John stayed for some time talking to all the children in our home and they asked a lot of questions and they listened to his stories.

“He is such a lovely individual who makes it that little more special. He is an asset to have on board and I know the kids are thrilled to see him.”

Founder of The Pyjama Foundation, Bronwyn Sheehan says the number of foster children is continuing to grow every year and without extra support, empowerment and encouragement, many of the children’s futures will be compromised.

“Currently there are more than 48,000 children in foster care, and statistics show that more than 30,000 of these children will not complete high school.

“Many children in care bounce from home to home, and to difference schools which greatly hinders their learning.

Funds raised from National Pyjama Day will go towards the recruitment and training of more Pyjama Angels as well as learning resources for the children including books, puzzles and educational games.

Last year more than 1,800 participants donned their Pyjamas and raised a total $250,000. This year we hope to continue growing this number and helping children in need receive the educational support they urgently need.

To get involved, register your workplace, school or group for National Pyjama Day at www.nationalpyjamaday.com.

Healthy & Fun Food Activities for Kids!

Critter Crudites

We’ve found some super fun ways to use healthy food in creative ways for your next weekly visit. These easy and fun healthy food activities are a great way to use food with your child. Not to worry, these ideas use things you most likely already have lying around.

We believe these fun food ideas are a great way to spend quality time together where the little ones can prepare healthy food in a fun and creative way.

 

Vegetable Train 

This fun activity is great for little ones that love trains.

Fruit Animals

Does you little one have a love for animals? Try these fun food activities. Watch the strawberries and bananas transform into a lizard and an apple into an owl.

Creative Food Art

For those who want more of a challenge these food activities are for you. Let the kiddies creative flare shine with over 40 creations, from strawberry roses to fruit peacock.

Owl Veggie Tray

As we always say sharing is caring. Creating this healthy veggie tray with your little one is a great way to make snacks the rest of the home can also enjoy.

Critter Crudités

Take ants on a log to the next level with these adorable and healthy snacks.

Food Face Plate

Get creative with these fun food face plates. Your little ones could even create a food face self portrait.

Veggie Building

This is a great food activity for kiddies who love to build things. With a variety of food options to use the sky is the limit.

Food Art

There are so many different ways to create with food. These activities include simple shapes and patterns and can be created with healthy fruits and veggies!

 

If you give these a go with your little people, please let us know! We love hearing all about our wonderful Pyjama Angels’ activities on their visits. For more activity ideas, check out our blog posts for craft and science activities for all ages!

 

Find your Calling this National Volunteer Week

For not-for-profits, the hours given by each dedicated volunteer are quite often a large part of their success.

It’s because of the hard work of selfless people who make a commitment to change a life which allow children in foster care to believe in themselves and their dreams.

This National Volunteer Week, there are so many reasons to say ‘thanks’ and honour those who give their precious time to others.

We absolutely rely on our Pyjama Angels. After we recruit, screen and train these generous volunteers, they are matched with a child in foster care. They then commit to visiting the child once a week to inspire a love of learning.

Our founder and CEO Bronwyn Sheehan said it was these incredible people who allowed her to build The Pyjama Foundation from the ground up. These people believed in her mission from the start and continue to give their time – some 14 years later.

“After all these years, I have had the pleasure of working with some of the most amazing human beings,” she said.

“I have shared their tears, as they cried for those little people they cared for so deeply.

“And I have shared their happiness as they beamed with pride sharing their successes.”

How you can help

Bronwyn said her hope is to continue inspiring the community to join The Pyjama Foundation family.

“As we have grown, so have our waitlists,” she said.

“We currently have hundreds of children across the country waiting for a Pyjama Angel to come into their life.”

Becoming a Pyjama Angel offers just as much for the volunteer as it does for the child, with many commenting on the fun and fulfillment it brings to their lives.

For more information on how to volunteer, please head to our volunteer page at www.thepyjamafoundation.com/volunteer.

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. People who are 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. There is now 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. These special people are 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.

Meet Mel Green – Ipswich New Coordinator

 

 

We sat down with our new Ipswich Coordinator, Mel Green, to find out why she chose to join The Pyjama Foundation’s team (family), and to know what drives her, and other fun little tidbits!

Why did you apply for the role of ‘Ipswich Coordinator’?

I have always had a passion for helping other people and helping fundraise and run events for many not-for-profit organisations or just “good causes” – Since having my almost 6 year old I have considered becoming a Foster Carer myself and just last year completed a Teacher’s Aide course with the view of helping kids in school as well as my own son with his learning now that he’s just started Grade 1 – I saw The Pyjama Foundation to be a great opportunity to combine both of these and to be involved in helping kids in our local area that need it more than most. I couldn’t turn up an opportunity to be a part of that.

 What do you love most about your job (so far)?

Meeting new people in our community and listening to all the great stories of the success our Pyjama Angels have in creating relationships and making a difference in these kids’ lives as well as their own.

What challenges are you currently facing? (And how are you working to overcome them)

At the moment the biggest challenge is learning more about the families we can help and the volunteers we currently have to make the best matches for success in our Love of Learning Program.

 What are your goals for the Ipswich region/ branch of The Pyjama Foundation?

My biggest goal right now is to find as many new volunteers as possible to match up as many of the kids we have already waiting to be placed in our program that are yet to know what it’s like to have a Pyjama Angel in their life and what that can mean for them.

 What are you passionate about? / What drives you?

Being able to help people that don’t always get all the opportunities that others get in life.

 What do you like to do in your spare time?

I go to the gym, love family time including our 2 fur babies, camping, eating out at new places and also our favourite’s, hanging out with good friends – and LOVE to go on holidays, see places that I haven’t seen before, meet people and learn about different cultures from real people (not a tour guide).

 What are your favourite places to visit in Ipswich?

Kholo Gardens (so beautiful and peaceful), Ipswich Nature Centre, Workshops Museum, Bundamba Swimming Pool, Any of the walks/bike tracks around – especially the dinosaur footprints!

 What’s your favourite quote?

To make a difference in someone’s life you don’t have to be brilliant, rich, beautiful or prefect – you just have to care – Mandy Hale

 What’s a fun fact about you that you’d like to share?

I once moved more than 10 times in one year – and I hate moving!

 What’s your favourite children’s book?

It’s hard to pick just 1 – there are so many, but my favourite author is Dr Seuss – not only are his books fun to read, bright and happy, they all have underlying meanings or some kind of learning in a fun, playful way.

Foster carers empowered with unique training

In Australia, there are more than 48,000 children in the foster care system and of this number, approximately 75 per cent won’t finish high school.

The reality is many of these children may have never felt a sense of love and support in their lives, leaving it up to their carers to put the pieces back together.

A training initiative launched in Victoria by Carer KaFE, in collaboration with The Pyjama Foundation is aiming to provide a new level of educational support.

In 2019, Carer KaFE will be working with The Pyjama Foundation to support carers in assisting their children with their learning, an area many of them may have never felt comfortable delving into.

It’s an area The Pyjama Foundation have been providing support in for more than 15 years, matching trained learning mentors with children in the system to provide educational support.

The Pyjama Foundation Program Manager Kevin Gallard said throughout his time training Pyjama Angel community volunteers he has met many wonderful carers who he describes as the “angels”.

“Our Love of Learning program allows us to support these carers by providing them with a special Pyjama Angel for their child, often giving them an hour of respite each week,” he said.

“This training takes this support one step further, empowering our carers with the tools to directly support their children with their education.

“Our program offers tried and tested learning methodologies which are research based and match the current curriculum.

“We demonstrate to foster parents how to support their children with literacy and numeracy in a fun and engaging manner.”

Launched in 2017, Carer KaFE provides learning and development opportunities for Kinship and Foster carers throughout Victoria.

Program Manager Penny Daly said this type of education was something carers were calling out for.

“Our evaluations and feedback from kinship and foster carers across the State told us that helping children and young people with their homework is something carers need support with,” she said.

“After seeing Kevin present at the Queensland National Foster Care Conference, we knew that we had found the perfect answer to the carers requests.

“Carers leave these sessions with a bag of wonderful resources that turn homework help into fun games.”

Kinship and Foster carers said the support received in this session was invaluable, providing strategies and resources to use for all ages.

“I felt stuck in helping my child educationally, now I have strategies to help and resources to use,” one said.

“I learnt new techniques to help my 6-year-old who at present hates school as she has issues with being told what to do. She won’t even know I am helping now,” said another.

For more information on Carer KaFE and its work in Victoria, www.carerkafe.org.au/.

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