Succeeding at school: What have parents got to do with it

By Amy Graham 

This summer, you might be preparing for your child to start school or move into a new class. This can lead to a mix of feelings: excitement, sadness, trepidation, uncertainty. I could swear it is harder for the mums and dads than the kids! But did you know there is so much you can do as a parent to help your child navigate this transition successfully and chances are, it is simpler than you might think. And no, it doesn’t involve flashcards, Jolly Phonics or tutoring. Nothing in the research says that children benefit from flashy, expensive toys or that the activities have to be academically orientated. In fact, the greatest gains are experienced by children who have a wide range of toys and learning materials to explore, opportunities to play with a warm and engaging parent and talk about what is taking place, and a rich and diverse range of experiences out of the home.

As parents, we are a child’s first and forever teacher. I know this, both as a parent of three children but also as an educational researcher. We have so much rich knowledge about our child and have taught them since birth, even in nuanced ways. My research explored the tremendous contributions that parents make to helping a child succeed at school, both through their positive and encouraging beliefs and their enriching and diverse preparation behaviours. It reinforced my belief that parents really do matter and they are a crucial partner in a child’s learning.

Fundamentally, on every measure, children experience greater success when they have engaged parents. Parental engagement has emerged as the new benchmark to forecast children’s educational outcomes. Some research concludes that parental engagement is the most effective factor in a student’s educational success, over and above factors within the child or school. But it is not a single behaviour, expectation or aspiration by parents that makes the difference nor is it a perfect formula. Rather, it is about communicating the overall message to your child that education matters and that you have high expectations for them. This can be done through simple conversations, where parents and children are positively discussing school and what they can expect in the new environment. It is also about parents spending time with a child to support their learning.

If your child is starting school for the first time, and has not attended childcare or an early learning centre, this transition could be more pronounced. My research showed that stay-at-home parents engaged in more behavioural preparation in the year before starting school, than those children who attended childcare services. This could be because parents assume the necessary skills and attributes that are needed to successfully transition to school are taught in these settings, or it could be that working parents are especially time-poor. So what can you do? Pay close attention to your child’s social skills and self-regulation: traits which are often developed more in the social environments of early learning and care. It may be that you could arrange a play date with a friend of your child’s from kindergarten that they will be attending school with, play board games that encourage turn-taking (and modelling how to be a ‘good’ loser) or teach mindfulness to your child.

How can parents support their child’s learning at home?

· Read to and with your child. Parents in my study were doing this far more than any other preparation activity, and it is a great way to bond and develop an early love of literacy. A recent study found parents who read one book a day with their child are giving their child a 1.4 million-word advantage over their peers who have never been read to.

· Spend time playing with your child and show an interest in what they are doing.

· Facilitate a range of experiences, both in and out of the home.

What can we do to make the transition easier for children?

· Make sure they are familiar with the environment in a fun, non-threatening way. Visit the school playground in the holidays, make sure they know where the toilets are and arrive early to show them where to go and where you will be at the end of the day.

· In the months leading up to starting school, try to work on your child’s self-care and independence. Ensure they can ask for help if they need, toilet independently, open containers and lunchboxes, and know how to behave in a group.

· Save your tears for the car ride home. Kids need to see that you are excited, proud and confident that they will love all that school has to offer.



Mini Mindfulness

It’s one thing keeping up with your own self-love/mindful/diet/fitness regime, but what about one for your little one too?

Whether it’s enrolling them in gymnastics, taking them to Nature Play or buying the latest fad sensory toy, we all try to encourage healthy mental and physical habits for our kiddos. Keeping fun in mind through all of this is also an art.

Lucky for us, local artist and illustrator Jana Rushforth has come up with an easy and ADORABLE way to encourage mini mindfulness…

Happiful Journal, a print-at-home daily gratitude journal for kiddos. This 98 page ebook is a place for your child to connect with their emotions, cultivate gratitude and nurture their curious mind. In addition, there are 20+ fun activity pages for your child to do during the school holidays, when you go out to dinner or even on a rainy day!

Kiddos can also customise the journals by choosing the hair colour, style and skin tone of their cover. The journal is available in colour and monochrome too, which kiddos can colour-in themselves!

We chatted to Jana about her new journal and inspirations:

What skills, both practical and mental, do you think Happiful Journal will assist kiddos with?

The Happiful Journal can assist kiddos with their bedtime routine and help them relax and unwind before sleep. It also shows kiddos it’s important to prioritise self-care, by taking 10 minutes to mindfully write or draw about their day.

I designed the journal with illustrations, written prompts and exercises for kids to use their creativity. These encourage them to use their creative skills like drawing, writing or colouring-in to quiet their thinking minds. The journal also helps kids process their emotions by introducing them to the idea of seeing and identifying emotions through cute emoji illustrations.

How did you learn mindfulness and gratitude yourself? Or what practices do you use yourself?

I experienced post-natal depression and to help me I started journaling what I was grateful for each day. I found each day I could find three things I was grateful for and this practice really helped my mental health. I use drawing as a mindfulness practice to process my feelings and thoughts, it brings me back to the present moment and stops my brain overthinking.

I also make sure that every day I go outside and just be present in nature. This could be looking at the clouds, picking a flower, watering the garden or watching a bee. I find doing all these things brings mindfulness and gratitude to my daily life.

*10% of the journal sale will be donated to Kids Helpline.

The Happiful Journal is available at
The print-at-home ebook is $24 and the made to order hardcopy is $45.
There is also a free printable daily journal page at:

Australian Red Cross: When can I move my child from a rear-facing to a forward facing seat?

Australian Red Cross: When can I move my child from a rear-facing to a forward facing seat?

Australian Red Cross – When can I move my child from a rear-facing to a forward-facing seat?

Whether it’s driving your little ones to kindy, grocery shopping, or adventuring to the playground, you always want to know your kiddos are safe! New parents can often feel overwhelmed when it comes to important things like car seat selection, installation and proper usage.

Key questions regularly posed to the Red Cross Baby Seats team indicate that many parents have similar concerns and a common one is; When can I move my child to the next car seat?

Babies travel safest in a rear-facing car seat, and are best to stay travelling in that format, until they outgrow the particular car seat in use. This may be until they are two to three years old.

Children should stay rear-facing for as long as possible. As your child grows, it may appear that there is no room for their legs, but this is a minor consideration as rear-facing is still the safest position for them to travel. You should only move your child to a forward-facing safety seat, incorporating an in-built harness, when the maximum height requirement on your rear-facing restraint is reached.

The Red Cross Baby Seats team has been offering a professional fitting and checking service to South Australian families, local and international visitors, for over 40 years ensuring their capsules, carriers and car seats are fitted correctly. The team consists of staff and volunteers dedicated to maintaining the safety of children in cars.

For more information on how the Red Cross could assist you, please call them at 08 8443 9700.

Opening hours: Monday – Friday 9am until 5pm. Closed on weekends and public holidays.



kids playing on ipad

All I Want For Christmas is ……..Kind Minds

In a world-wide first, South Australian owned and operated legal firm Cavalier Legal has today launched an initiative leading up to Christmas to teach kids about the effects and prevention of bullying and cyberbullying using an online Advent Calendar.

The initiative, called Kind Minds, is an online platform created to find innovative ways to teach kids to be more aware and vigilant about bullying and cyberbullying.

Cavalier Legal Principal Solicitor and founder Carmine Alvaro, said: “Simply by accessing the website every day in December and clicking on the corresponding date on the advent calendar, children will uncover a brief fact or suggestion about bullying and cyberbullying and how to deal with it.”

Users of the website will then be able to spin a virtual wheel for a chance to win one of over 25 prizes on offer each of the 24 days of the Advent Calendar.

Mr Alvaro said: “The purpose of the initiative was to find a new and fun way to get kids to want to learn more about bullying and cyberbullying, why it is happening, and how to prevent it.

“There are already some great resources available, both online and at schools, and so this is simply a way to incentivise them to learn more about the issues and why they should use those resources.”

The brief facts and suggestions offered in the calendar range from explaining what bullying and cyberbullying may look like, offering “Bullying Hacks” being ideas on how to deal with bullying if it is occurring and providing links to other online resources which offer support to kids dealing with these issues.

The website is currently being promoted and offered to students of select schools around the state including Salisbury High School and Christian Brothers College but anyone can access it.

Mr Alvaro said: “For this introductory year, all of the prizes have been donated by Cavalier Legal. However, we hope that with the success of this year’s initiative we can grow the idea and that next year we will have more companies willing to donate prizes and be a part of the initiative, so that in-turn more kids will also be incentivised to log on.”

ipad game and child

Prizes include vouchers to use at Amazon and Dymocks, as well as monthly subscriptions for Spotify and Apple Music.

On Christmas eve, if all of the days leading up to that date on the calendar have been completed by the user, they will also have the chance to win a $100 gift voucher to use at the Beachouse in Glenelg.

Mr Alvaro said: “There are so many kids and parents who are dealing day-by-day with how devastating bullying can be, as well as its long-term effects.

“Lately, we have heard quite a lot about the changing and strengthening of laws surrounding bullying, and cyberbullying in particular, to keep up with modern technologies.

Following the tragic suicide death of 14-year-old Amy “Dolly” Everett in January 2018 due to cyberbullying, there was a call for review of South Australian anti-bullying laws last year. However, the Statutes Amendment (Bullying) Bill 2017, introduced into the South Australian Legislative Council in late September 2017, remains unimplemented by South Australia’s parliament.

“It is clearly an issue that our government bodies and the legal industry take seriously and hopefully the appropriate action for its prevention continues to be discussed.”

“Kind Minds offers a way to take a step back and allow kids to be more engaged and aware about these important issues and how to prevent it from occurring from a young age, while also incorporating the spirit of Christmas and the excitement of winning a prize.”




Over 19,000 SA children learnt how to speak robot this year!

Commissioner for Children and Young People, Helen Connolly has today announced key outcomes of her ‘Learn to Speak Robot’ Commissioner’s Digital Challenge. Participation was robust with an estimated 19,026 South Australian children completing the Challenge in its inaugural year.

This figure represents 217 public and independent schools and 31 public libraries around the State, and equates to approximately one third of primary and combined schools. Of these, 27% of the overall number of participants came from regional schools with 23% from South Australia’s remote area schools. The vast majority of schools are expected to register for the Challenge again in 2020 with positive feedback received from students who participated (see a selection of children’s testimonials below).

Adelaide’s Thorndon Park Primary School were chosen as recipients of the major digital reward – a new school website donated by project supporters EWS – when one of their students had this to say about their experience: “Although I wasn’t that interested in things like coding at first, experimenting with Grok and has made me insanely interested in a future of technology and even an education career in it. So, thank you!”

The Commissioner’s Digital Challenge is not a competition, but is designed to encourage children of all ages in South Australia to increase their uptake of digital skills. It is made available FREE to schools, community groups, libraries and families via a dedicated website ( where hundreds of digital activities curated with input from some of Australia’s (and the world’s) leading digital industry players can be accessed with ease. They include activities from Microsoft’s MakeCode,’s Hour of Code, Grok Learning, Digital Technologies Hub, CS Unplugged and Code Club Australia. Digital rewards donated by Microsoft, JB HI-FI Solutions, Grok Learning, Advanced Technology Project and Thinkfun Games were awarded to schools and libraries submitting the best testimonials. Strong support for the Challenge has also been provided by Girl Guides, Scouts, Children’s University Adelaide, Public Library Services SA, EdTechSA, the Australian Computing Academy and the Computer Science Education Research Group.

‘Learn to Speak Robot’ re-opens on Day 1 of Term 1 in 2020, at which time the second challenge in the series will also be launched; a Mars-themed design thinking challenge called ‘Space to Dream’. ‘Space to Dream’ is designed to encourage children to ‘lean in’ to their innate creativity and limitless potential. In 2021, the Challenge will expand to include systems thinking, digital literacy and digital citizenship components, with these programs being developed hand in glove with industry to ensure relevance to technological changes and advancements occurring in real time.

Details of which SA schools received Digital Challenge rewards:

Mem Fox’s ‘The Tiny Star’ is Helping Children Grasp Loss

Mem Fox’s ‘The Tiny Star’ is Helping Children Grasp Loss

The Tiny Star

A life-cycle story aimed at the very young and also those much older.

Renowned author Mem Fox and illustrator Freya Blackwood have created this touching and charming story about the journey of life to help our little ones grasp the notion of loss.

We asked Mem Fox a few questions to get an insight into the thought process behind her newest book:

What inspired you to write this book?

I bonded with my grandson the day after he was born. He was premature and was in hospital for the first three months of his life, so he was in a fixed place and couldn’t escape my loving attention, my songs, my reading aloud, and my endless chatter.
But it was when he was about three that I came to realise the strength of our bond and I was alarmed about the future. No one in my acquaintance died until I was 38 when a friend died of a heart attack. None of my close friends has died even now, and I’m 73. My parents lived till their very late 80s, and although I was distraught each time, it was time for them both to die, given their dementia. Grief struck me hard when my younger sister died two years ago, but given her circumstances also, there was a sense of relief, for her sake.
I didn’t know my own grandparents because I’d grown up in a different country, so their deaths left me unmoved, except for the death of my paternal grandfather, whom I re-met when I came back to Australia. I grew to love him when he was in his 90s and I was in my early 20s, but I didn’t have a bond with him when I was a child.
My grandson will experience the death of my husband and me perhaps within the next ten years. The grief doesn’t bear thinking about. It took me six years to write The Tiny Star, so it’s not for him anymore. He’s nine. It’s more for me, I guess, to comfort myself. And of course, I hope it comforts parents and those very young children whose grandparents eventually disappear, and who need a more cheerful ending to the sad ending of that relationship.

Do we, as a society, talk about death enough?

No, I don’t think we do talk about death enough. If we did, it would be less ghastly for everyone concerned. It’s pointless pretending that everyone lives forever or hoping that the people we love won’t die. I don’t think it’s necessary to talk about death if it doesn’t come up in the conversation naturally, but when it does, or when a death occurs, it seems to me to be almost wicked not to deal with it with the greatest sensitivity, head-on. To avoid it is surely psychologically dreadful.

What can shared reading do for a child’s development?

Shared reading, from 0-5 and after, provides a bountiful basket of goodies that will nourish a child educationally, socially, linguistically, and scholastically for the rest of their lives. The attachments they form with us when we read to them, through the laughter and the sighing, the excitement and the silence, the love and the comfort, will make them feel psychologically safe, and thrilled to be alive. They will learn to talk early, with sensational vocabulary. They will fly into reading at school. Their success and happiness will be our success and happiness. Far from being a tedious duty, reading to our children is scrumptious fun and helps us, let alone the kids, unwind and totally relax at the end of our very busy days.

The Tiny Star is available from all good bookstores.