COVID-19 conversations with children

Rear view shot of a mother speaking with her young daughter

ACECQA’s General Manager, Strategy, Communications and Consistency, Michael Petrie, shares insights and learnings to support conversations with children.

All of us here at ACECQA are focusing our efforts on working with governments to provide the children’s education and care sector and families with up to date and reliable information about Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Whether that be health advice, information regarding financial sustainability for services, or advice for families on what activities they can do at home with their children, we are here to support you as best as we can throughout this period.

Talking to children about COVID-19 and what to expect going forward is critically important and would be a current priority for all parents and families.

Every parent knows the personalities of their children, especially how they react to changing circumstances. The coming months will be a test of the resilience of all of our community, not just our children.

Each child or age group will have their own level of awareness, and it is important to answer their questions honestly so they have the level of reassurance they may need.

On this point, I’d like to share a discussion my wife and I had with our children about COVID-19.

Following last month’s government announcements regarding travel restrictions and closing restaurants/venues, my wife and I decided it was important to have a conversation with our children about what was happening… but, more importantly, what was to come.

Not exactly knowing where their respective level of awareness was at – even though we had briefly discussed ‘the virus’ with them – we started with the basics of what COVID-19 is and the health issues associated with it.

Both of my children are in primary school, with a ‘we already know this’ attitude, and they told us their teachers had discussed the virus and the importance of hand washing, covering mouth/nose when coughing or sneezing and keeping a level of distance between people.

Starting with the basics was good, as it resulted in them asking us questions about their school closing and online classes until holidays started. We replied that, at this point schools weren’t closing, but if they did, their teachers could provide online lessons for them to complete at home until school holidays started.

I’d love to be able to report that they were happy with this answer – but the groan we received was exactly what we expected!

We quickly turned the conversation to what we really wanted to focus on… and this was to outline what was likely to happen in our house and community over the next few months.

We explained that to help limit the spread of COVID-19, there would need to be a number of changes to how we lived. Mum and Dad would probably be working from home for the next little while, they wouldn’t be able to play their team sports on the weekend, we couldn’t go out to restaurants or the movies, they wouldn’t be able catch up for play dates with their friends, and their grandparents would no longer be able to fly across and stay with us as planned.

This was the confronting bit of the conversation and the part they didn’t really understand.

A lot of questions followed, so we did our best to explain why COVID-19 meant there needed to be fundamental changes to their, and everyone’s, way of living for the time being.

We explained that we all had to do our part, but that it wasn’t all bad news. There were alternatives we could explore as a family – we could chat to friends and grandparents over the internet, all four of us could play more games at home together (yes, including PlayStation!), we could have movie nights and our own weekly sporting competitions in the backyard (my knees willing!).

While we couldn’t give them the definitive answer as to when things would be back to normal, they did, for the time being at least, seem reassured that everything was going to be different for a while and that’s ok.

My wife and I know this is just the start of the many conversations we will have with our children over the coming months, and they know to come and talk to us if they do become worried about anything. There are no silly questions during this time, and keeping open conversations running to mythbust any fears that might develop is very healthy.

As I mentioned at the start, every parent knows their child and how to talk with them. Different age groups have different levels of understanding of the world around them.

So, if you are looking for tips on how to engage in these conversations, we will be sharing advice from experts via ACECQA’s family focused StartingBlocks.gov.au on its website and Facebook page.

Services can access the latest information, support and guidance about COVID-19 on the ACECQA website. You may also wish to share these resources with the families at your service:

Go well.

Michael Petrie

Building Belonging: A toolkit for early childhood educators on cultural diversity and responding to racial prejudice

Megan Mitchell, Australia’s first National Children’s Commissioner, talks to We Hear You about the launch of a new comprehensive toolkit by the Australian Human Rights Commission to help encourage respect for cultural diversity and tackle racial prejudice in early childhood settings.

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“I don’t play with black kids cos my dad told me so.”

“I don’t want my colour skin because no-one likes it and it’s yucky.”

Do these sound like things children in your service have said to you?

These are examples of comments from children that early childhood educators provided to the Australian Human Rights Commission, in a survey on the challenges to educating about cultural diversity and addressing prejudice.

Last year, the Australian Human Rights Commission conducted a survey with over 400 early childhood educators across Australia to capture their views and experiences of cultural diversity and racial prejudice in their early childhood services.

Many educators reported hearing comments like those above. What’s more, educators told us that they commonly encountered prejudicial attitudes or behaviours from parents and other educators, as well as from children.

43% of educators said they had heard a child say something negative about another person’s racial, cultural or ethnic background and 49% told us they had heard a parent say something negative on the same grounds.

“[A parent said] ‘I’m not racist, but how can someone from another country teach my children and we cannot understand what they are saying’.” (Survey respondent)

 “A parent was disgusted that we had to show respect to Aboriginal culture, even though we celebrate other cultures in the centre.” (Survey respondent)

Many educators indicated they felt unsure how to effectively respond to these challenges.

“I think the main difficulty is that many people feel uncomfortable addressing prejudice. So if a child makes a comment, educators aren’t confident in talking about the issue and instead give an answer about how it’s not nice to say those things or we’re all friends in preschool.” (Survey respondent)

In response to this, the Australian Human Rights Commission, with the support of a reference group made up of early childhood educators and other specialists, has developed its very first early childhood resource.

Building Belonging’ is a comprehensive toolkit which includes an eBook, song with actions, educator guide, posters and lesson plans. The resources aim to provide educators with simple and practical ideas on how to handle challenging or confronting questions about racial differences, while also offering children stimulating activities and games to engage them with ideas around cultural diversity.

It is important that children in Australia today grow up with an appreciation and respect for the diversity of cultures, races and ethnicities that surround them.

As National Children’s Commissioner, I seek to promote and advocate for the rights of all children and young people in Australia. This includes making sure children and young people know about their rights and how to claim them.

Children are never too young to start learning about their rights and responsibilities. Children who grow up knowing that they, and everyone around them, have rights will carry the messages of respect and dignity that accompany this knowledge into adulthood.

Through engaging with these resources, educators have an opportunity to shape positive practices and provide all children with an early sense of their value, agency and belonging.

I hope you find these resources useful in assisting children in your services to develop empathy and respect for others. I’d love to hear what you and the children in your services think of the resources. You can get in touch with me via email or social media:

Email: kids@humanrights.gov.au

Facebook: MeganM4Kids

Twitter: @MeganM4Kids

Information about the ‘Building Belonging’ toolkit and links to the free resources are available on the Australian Human Rights Commission website.

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Embracing natural spaces and communicating with families

This week on We Hear You, Natalie Cowley from KU Lance Children’s Centre at Millers Point in inner city Sydney tells us about how her service has made plans for continuous quality improvement after its assessment. Natalie has been working at KU Lance for a year and a half and has been teaching in early childhood for almost eight years.

At Lance we have achieved a beautiful, calm and natural environment, using only natural materials and no plastic materials in any of the spaces. Our reasoning behind this is we believe children deserve to have beautiful things to engage with and to develop a respect for the world around them.

When I first started at Lance with Donna, the centre was very different. This was not the focus, as Donna and I had previously worked together at another centre where we incorporated the ELYF and used natural materials. Knowing what kind of positive effect this has on children and their development, we focused our time and energy on changing the focus of Lance.

Within a year, we had changed the environment to be more nature focused, plastic free and over all a beautiful place to be. Interactions with children and the quality of care & education greatly improved and become the focus. Many of the staff did struggle with this change, most being able to learn from it and finding a new philosophy. Our practices improved with these changes, which allowed for strength in particular NQF quality areas (1, 2, 3 and 5).

Our assessment visit was early to mid last year and we received a rating of exceeding standards overall. There were a few areas that we were recommended to further improve in as we received a meeting standard in two areas as opposed to an exceeding. From this we further developed our natural spaces, both indoor and outdoor. Focusing on children and family involvement in the program and room set up, ie asking for suggestions or parents to help bring things in or get involved in classroom experiences such as cooking etc.

An area we needed to spend more time on was parent and community involvement. A lot of the families in the centre are quite busy and work long hours and often do not have time to come and contribute to the program, be involved in centre happenings or have time to read the program, journals and documentation. I thought of ways in which I could improve this and get more parent and community involvement. Donna (our director) suggested that we email families the daily diary. We began doing this a couple of months after the assessment and the response was overwhelming. Families loved receiving the daily diary while at work and would respond via email or mention at pick up how great it was to get an insight into their day while they were at work. From this great response, I came up with the idea to start a centre blog. Updating every 2nd day with learning stories, photos and centre happenings. This has also had a great response, with the parents looking at it often and commenting on posts with ideas/suggestions or positive feedback. The quality of our family interactions improved greatly from these changes, being able to communicate through social media has allowed for a lot more family involvement and from families that may not of shown much interest (due to time restraints) previously.

Natalie Cowley
Natalie Cowley

I have been working for KU Lance for a year and a half now and have been teaching all up for almost 8 years. Our director Donna has been at Lance for over two years and teaching for over 20 years. Since our quality assessment, we feel our service has come far in providing an exceeding standard of care for all the children and families attending our service.

Images of KU Lance Children’s Centre’s natural spaces:

KU Lance outdoor space

KU Lance indoor space KU Children's Centre