Happy Australia Day – What does it mean to you?

Australian face painting by Linda Bell of Face Paint Artists image credit news.com.au

Australian face painting by Linda Bell of Face Paint Artists image credit news.com.au

I am an immigrant. It nearly sounds like a dirty word, but it’s no secret. We came to Australia 9 years ago on Christmas Day. Just a little ‘jump across the ditch’ from windy Wellington to sunny Queensland.

We learnt that moving countries is no small deal. Given the closeness of New Zealand to Australia, given the cultural similarities, the same language, and how many Kiwis are already here, and given that we had holidayed here many times, we expected an easy transition. And yet the feelings of isolation, having not knowing a single soul in Queensland,  the discrete (and not so discrete) differences in social interactions, the deeply ingrained differences in attitudes towards varying social classes and cultures, meant settling in here was no easy task. We’ve seen a number of our fellow New Zealanders move to this beautiful land, only to return back as they too found the differences which we do not see when we holiday here, are harder to bare on a daily basis.

Yet nine Christmases and nine Australia Days later, we are still here. Our daughter will turn four at the end of this week. With her slightly confused accent, she is a real Australian Kiwi (or should that be Kiwi Australian?)

I am privileged to work with young Australians from varying cultural backgrounds on a daily basis. I teach Indian-Australians, Kiwi-Australians, Muslim-Australians, Ukrainian-Australians, Chinese-Australians, Aboriginal-Australians, English-Australians, Irish-Australians, and many more wonderfully diverse Australians. Nine years on from our move here, I am grateful to have the privilege of living in this beautiful land, of working hard to contribute to our fine community, and for meeting many inspiring people.

To me, Australia Day is about taking some time to remind myself how privileged I am to make a life for myself and my family in this land. It’s about gratitude for what this country provides me. It’s about continuing to build the multicultural pride that we grew up with in my homeland, here.

So happy Australia Day everyone. May you celebrate with gratitude, understanding, inclusion and peace.

Your Child’s Self-Worth Depends on You

Guest post by Fiona Russo

Michael and I were paid the most unexpected compliment last week. Charlie’s ECDP (‘special’ pre-school) teacher told me that she’s impressed by our positivity when we talk about Charlie.

Now, we get quite a few comments along the lines of ‘you’re handling things so well’; ‘you’re doing a wonderful job’; ‘you take everything in your stride’; ‘I so admire the way you just get on with it’ and so on, and we appreciate every one of them, truly.

In this case, though, I was wrong in assuming that’s what she meant.

Gayle is a lady with years of experience in special education. She loves her job, and really cares deeply about her students (or does a brilliant job of faking it, haha). She’s always interested in little breakthroughs or setbacks, changes in routine and diet, likes and dislikes – all the things a good teacher cares about and more, because her little charges each come with some extra challenges.

I hear her every time I go to the school, patiently listening to parents talk about lunchboxes and drink bottles, clothes and toileting, splints, wheelchairs, calming techniques and medical issues.

The compliment Gayle was giving me was about the way we talk about those seemingly mundane things. 

She said that she had never heard us say ‘Charlie doesn’t like that’, or ‘Charlie won’t eat that’, or ‘Charlie can’t do that’.

Instead, she told me that we would say things like, ‘It’s not her favourite thing but give it a go’, or ‘I’m sure she’ll enjoy it but she may need a little extra help’, or ‘we’re working on that’.

In fact, she went on, the most negative thing she can remember hearing us say was that Charlie is allergic to something so she can’t have it, but she maintains that even then I said ‘We need to avoid those because of allergies, but Charlie loves these ones instead!’.

Makes me sound like some sort of deranged Stepford Mum, doesn’t it?After receiving this compliment somewhat awkwardly in the doorway of the school, I started to pay attention to the chitchat with some of the other parents.

I was surprised I’d never noticed it before – there was a lot of unintended negativity in their conversations. 

Here are some of the choice ones I remember (names changed of course):

“Noah has Vegemite sandwiches today, but he probably won’t eat them.”

“Sarah has juice in her drink bottle because I can’t get her to drink water.”

“Jamie doesn’t do slides.  His legs aren’t strong enough to stop him at the bottom.”

And some were even worse…

“Good luck getting her to go to the toilet.  I’ve given up at home.”

“Joe won’t stop sucking his thumb, so it’s a waste of time to try to get him to clap.”

I should point out that each of these parents seems to me a loving, caring, involved caregiver. I’m sure they’d be horrified to think that they were being so negative.

However, their children were right there.  Within earshot. 

It’s not something I’ve ever given any thought to, but now that I am thinking about it, it seems so obvious. Self-esteem is as important for children as it is for adults, but their world is small.

Your children set their own expectations by yours. They base their self-worth on your opinion.

That goes for all children, not just the ‘special needs’ kids, and it’s a huge responsibility. My Mum and Dad always told me I was clever, that I could do anything I set my mind to. It’s this foundation that gives me confidence as an adult and I’m so grateful that I have it.

Michael and I are lucky to have had this example set so well for us by our own parents that it comes naturally to do the same.

So… I’m going to do something I don’t often do with this blog. I’m going to offer advice, to those who perhaps aren’t as lucky as we are.

I believe it, I stand by it, and I’m going to try to be more conscious of it myself:

Think before you speak.  Show your children that you have confidence in their abilities.  Tell everyone, and do it loudly where they can see and hear you.

It is the greatest gift you will ever give them.

It matters.

Thank you, Fiona for allowing me to share this with our readers. It is such an important message. This is one of the ways in which we write our children’s Life Script. We have a poster on our Learning Studio Wall which says:

“If you want your children to improve, let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others.”

I’ve learnt not to apologize for my daughter in many situations (ie when she wants to scan the grocery items at the checkout and the person behind has to wait a little longer). I’ve learnt that the way I speak about her to others is what she will grow to believe of herself. We are hopefully helping her to understand her strengths and her weaknesses, but to know that her weaknesses are not something to be ashamed of and that these too will develop and change over time.

You can find more from Fiona here


Reading at Home

“Reading aloud with children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.”
— Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams, Educational Psychologist

A conversation I have had with many parents lately has been around getting their child to read at home. We do wonderful work here in our Learning Studio to improve reading skills, but some parents still have difficulty getting their child to read at home. Here are some tips to help encourage and engage your child in reading:

  • It doesn’t matter what they are reading; it just matters that they are. Let’s not worry about the genre or text type; instead, let’s begin to celebrate that they have an interest in reading, no matter what it is. Whether it be a motorbike magazine, a cartoon based book (such as Geronimo the Mouse), something online, fact, fiction, or anything in between, it’s the actual reading of words that matters.
  • Let them make choices in what to read. Yes, they may chose the exact same book every night, but it means they are still enjoying and engaged with this book. Often, they find a safety and comfort in knowing what the story is about. To introduce variety into their reading diet, alternate between who gets to choose the story each night, or read two stories; one your child chooses, and one you choose.
  • Set up a special reading corner/space at home. Having somewhere special to go to enjoy reading can make a big difference. A tidy space where books are easily accessible is important, and a level of comfort can give that little extra motivation. For older children, a simple gesture such as a lamp on a table next to their bed may be enough. There are loads of easy ways to create your very own family reading space and Google is a great inspiration.

Check out some of these simple and realistically achievable reading nooks and corners that are reasonable to set up in the average home.

living-room-window-seat-cozy-reading-spot-nook-storage-for-books-shelves-idea-design-idea-for-teen-bedroom nook 2 nook 3 reading-nook-1-e1329421241586

 Images courtesy of 

http://www.flor.com/blog/cozy-kids/, http://www.modernparentsmessykids.com/2012/08/fall-project-set-up-book-nook.html, https://hipmommies.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/cozy-reading-nook-decorating/, http://sweethomedesign2013.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/living-room-reading-corner-designs.html

And here is what it looks like currently in our house (excuse the low quality photograph, this was ‘an opportunity captured but not interrupted!’)

Indi's reading corner has easy access to her books where she make make a choice on what she 'reads' (she re-tells the story, and reads the pictures), her comfy sheep skin rug, and is slightly blocked by her bed and rocking chair to separate it from the rest of her room and reduce stimuli.

Indi’s reading corner has easy access to her books where she can make her own choices on what she ‘reads’ (she re-tells the stories, and reads the pictures). She has her comfy sheep skin rug to sit on, and is slightly blocked by her bed and rocking chair to separate it from the rest of her room and reduce stimuli.

  • Read with your child. Alternate between you reading to them, and them reading to you. It might be a page each, a chapter each, a book each (long or short), an article each. Make it about spending time together, and not focused on the chore of ‘checking’ their reading. If you know they are going to have difficulty on a particular word (especially names), tell them what it says as soon as they get to it. It is our job to teach them how to read, and it is your job is to give them opportunities to read and to feel good about it. Mileage is important. The more they read, the better they will become. A little reading should happen every single day. Reading with your child is not just for younger students. Relationships with our children don’t stop when they reach high school. Find a topic that you can share together. It could be related to a building project you can do together. Get creative and enjoy this time.
  • You DO have time to read together. As I eluded to above, reading with your child could be as little as 5 minutes or as long as an hour. You do not have to complete an entire story. I often let our 4 year old know how much I am going to read to her that night. It’s not uncommon for me to say “Indi, Mumma is feeling exhausted tonight, so we are going to read 4 pages (we’re reading picture books) and will finish the rest tomorrow.” Reading together does not have to be only at night time. Take any opportunity where you have 5 minutes to devote to your child.
3 (and a half) year old Indi and her Dadda taking an opportunity to read together

Indi (3 and a half years old) and her Dadda taking an opportunity to read together

“Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift.” — Kate DiCamillo, children’s author

What works for you when it comes to reading at home with your children?

Do you have a reading nook at home?

Email me a photo of your child reading at home or of your special reading nook and I will share them with our readers 🙂


Their Life Script

If you were to run an audio track of a day in your house, what would we hear? What are the words you use and how are they delivered?

The old saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’, a child’s chant, with very little truth to it. Yes we need to raise our children to be resilient and stand up against the occasional harsh word but this is done through installing in them a strong sense of self. Something that requires thought. Something that requires your thought, and some reflection on the messages you are both intentionally and unintentionally delivering to them on a daily basis. Something that requires thought around the words you use every day.


What names do you call your child? Pet names, nick names, names that build them or names that bring them down? It’s not just the words though; it’s the tone they are delivered in. 

In our home even though she is only in the first stages of acquiring language, we are very aware that our little one is observing everything, and this includes how we address her, and each other. It’s not uncommon to hear both her Father and I telling her how clever she is, how funny she is, how loved she is and how beautiful she is. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m a FIRM believer in raising our children to be strong and independent but this comes from a strong, secure foundation of unconditional love and acceptance. We also tell her when necessary that her behaviour is frustrating and “I don’t like it when you are yelling at me” (she’s 8 months old but it’s yelling at me all the same!). The thing here is when we come across negative behaviours we remove the behaviour from her. This means we tell her we don’t like what she is doing but we still love her. Never do I want to hear myself tell her ‘you naughty girl’. This will not be her life script.

I understand completely that her life script will be developed from the messages her Father and I send her and each other. We do not fight in our house. It’s not that we always agree with each other but her Father is my best friend, why would I want to yell at him? We discuss things; love, life and business, and we discuss them in front of her because she is just as much a part of this family as we are, and as she grows so will her contribution, thoughts, ideas, feelings, and her love. A daughter learns what to expect in her adult relationships by watching how her Mother allows herself to be treated by her partner/husband. What her Mother accepts, how she allows herself to be treated and how she treats herself will become her daughter’s life script. A son learns how to treat his future partner/wife by watching how his Father treats his mother. If there is something that I wish I was not passing onto my daughter then it is up to me to change it in myself first.

parents fighting

So how are your children developing their sense of self worth, their sense of how they fit into your family and the world around them? What words are you giving them to express themselves? How are they seeing you play out your life script?

Have you even thought about your life script? – What are the records (or tapes and CD’s if you’re not old enough to remember actual records!) that play over in your head? Not the music ones from our past but the things you subconsciously tell yourself about yourself. Have you stopped and listened? Are they the negative “I don’t deserve any better”, “It’s too hard”, “I can’t cope”. Because like it or not, these are the messages you are passing on to your children. It takes time and effort to turn them around but isn’t it worth it? Let me ask you again: What life script do you want your children to have? “I can”, “I deserve it”, “I am good enough as me”, “I am proud of myself”, “I know how to love”.

Of all the things we say to our daughter this one thing is the most important:

Our Indi (6 days old) photography by Carly Webber Photography

Our Indi (6 days old) photography by Carly Webber Photography

“I love you every day (even when you’re asleep)”

And yes, we tell her every day.

So tell me, how has your life script affected you? Have you made the effort to change it in anyway? And of course, what do you say to your children?

Emotional Safety in Learning

When I watched Laurie Lawrence’s video (link at bottom), a particular part resonated with me:

“Watch as Harper’s body language indicates she really doesn’t want to do this activity. Good teachers should recognise this and change the activity slightly to get the desired results.”

This is the same for teaching and learning in any environment; whether at school or tuition, good teachers and tutors should recognise the body language of their students and provide support as required.



Emotional safety is such an important thing to understand when teaching and learning. In fact, safety is the second level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and is a basic human need. It is something we are always monitoring at Back to Basics Tuition and we make changes when we see a student needs a little more ‘care’ than they usually do.

Grimm’s chart about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, 2011)

Grimm’s chart about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, 2011)

Some days we need to just suck it up and get on with the task, and some days we need a gentle heart and steady hand to guide us.

credit Image courtesy of stockphotos / FreeDigitalPhotos.net​

credit Image courtesy of stockphotos / FreeDigitalPhotos.net​

Laurie Lawrence Swim School – Harper Swimming Video