Mess and Mindcraft

As a child, I used to build the best cubby houses with my sister, Julie. We would collect anything that could be useful to construct the most elaborate structures. We would not always agree on our designs and would occasionally argue about what should go where and what the cubby was for -a fort, a hideout, a doll’s hospital, etc. We would spend a little time playing our make believe games in them and then deconstruct to build something more elaborate. Sometimes our cubbies fell down on top of us. Luckily there were not too severe injuries.

Dad finally got sick of the cubbies popping up in surprise places in the backyard. “Eyesores” he called them but palaces, space stations, pirate ships they were to us. He built us a strong, safe cubby house. We still imagined this to be all manner of things, but it was never the same as our own creation. It also stifled a lot of wonderful learning opportunities that we had building our own. In saying that, I still built a secret door through the fence into the neighbours and a lookout on the roof.

Building these cubbies helped us to learn how to share, solve problems, compromise and co-operate with each other. We would have some big arguments but we learnt from these. We took risks and learned that with risk comes consequence. Standing on the roof of a flimsy structure can lead to significant injury. I have the scars to prove it. I learnt many lessons the hard way.

Play is essential, vital, critical, and fundamental to every child’s social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development. Play is essential for learning and learning is the centre of everything we do at school. This is why we allow children to build cubbies and play with sticks. We know that there will be arguments and disagreements. These occur in all play situations with children whether it be in a game of soccer, football, handball or a game of chess. It is in this real life problem solving that the best, lifelong learning occurs. Just as we do not ban children playing soccer because they argue about the rules, we do not ban all children because some argue or have disagreements. Instead we help the children learn to solve their issues in an increasingly mature manner.

Just like my “Dad built” cubby, our adult designed steel and plastic playgrounds do not attract the same interest, passion and creativity from our children, as do a pile of sticks, logs, branches and planks of wood. Nor do they provide as many wonderful learning opportunities for children to be creative, constructive and to learn essential social skills.

Rather than them creating worlds on Mindcraft, give children some large cardboard boxes, planks of wood, branches and other “junk” so they can create their own imaginary worlds through their cubbies….and learn.

Actions Speak

This is Kevin. Kevin is our Groundsman. Kevin arrives at school very early each morning and works through until the afternoon. He is multi skilled. He is an artist. You can see his creativity around the school in rock sculptures, garden designs and plantings. He is a problem solver, constantly working out strategies to fix or make things for our school. He is a mathematician measuring, calculating, weighing, budgeting, working to time limits and meeting deadlines. He is a tradesman involved in plumbing, painting, building and constructing.


The school looks so good and is so well maintained because of his work and creativity. Kevin takes pride in all that he does. And it shows. Kevin is a vital member of our school community.

Our school, our students, our school community. We are all vital members of our school community. Our school exists for our students. Our teachers and SSOs do not talk about “My Class” or “My Students” but rather “Our School” and “Our Students”. We are all responsible for the success of our students and our school, and this includes “Our Parents and Caregivers”.

Like teachers and SSOs, parents and caregivers are essential members of our school community and like staff, your words, actions and behaviours model expectations to our students. When parents and caregivers solve problems calmly through dialogue and conversation with each other or with staff they show that they too follow our School Values of Good Manners and Friendliness. Conversely, if they swear at each other from their cars outside the school, it undermines our values.

When parents and caregivers allow children to learn by their mistakes and the consequences of their actions they show that they too follow our School Values of Resilience and Persistence. Conversely, if they rescue their children they undermine and stop their learning.

When parents and caregivers get their children to school on time they demonstrate that they value learning and also model organization and time management skills. What does constantly being late teach children?

Kevin works so hard to have our school look the best it can be. Hopefully we are all proud of our school. I am not proud of the litter around the yard and I always try to model picking up litter despite never dropping it. How powerful it would be for all members of our school community to pick up papers as they walk through the school? It would show their pride in our school. It would model to the students that they should keep the yard clean and show care for our school by keeping it clean. It would encourage students to do the same. It would show that we all appreciate the great work being done by Kevin and it would show that we all have pride in Our School.

Our actions speak louder than words. Kevin doesn’t talk about painting a wall. He just gets about doing it and doing it well. Thanks Kevin for being such a good role model for Our School, Our Students and Our School Community.

Mum’s Project

There are not many things I remember about Primary school. It was 50 years ago, but some significant memories remain. I remember vividly my Year 5 teacher who, on day two of the year, twisted the tuft of hair near my ear until tears came to my eyes and said, “You do the right thing by me and I’ll do the right thing by you.” I came top of Year 5 that year. He ignited my passion for a love of history and planted the seed of travelling the world to see places my eyes were opened to in class.

I recall being told off for organizing a game of Red Rover involving girls and boys. Apparently, girls were not allowed to play such games. I thought that this was unfair.

One vivid memory that sticks with me was leaving a homework project to the last minute and mum jumping in to help me. I recall her using the encyclopaedia to find the information that I should have found, writing the notes out for me to copy, sketching the illustrations for me to colour and even outlining and shading some areas that I did not do well enough. My project turned out to be a masterpiece. I proudly handed it in on time to the teacher. I received a high mark.

Why do I remember this project out of all the work that I did in the seven years in Primary School? It wasn’t the high grade. It was because I still feel guilty that it was not my project at all but my mother’s. She had rescued me because I had not done the right thing, had not been responsible and had left everything to the last moment. Would I have learnt more by failing? Would I have learnt responsibility, time management, more about the topic, etc had my mother let me fail?

Any time we assist a child we need to ask the questions: “Is this helping or rescuing?” “Is the ‘help’ making the child stronger or weaker?” “What lesson will he or she learn from my help?” The grade that I received was not earned by me. Was my lesson that deceit is OK? Was it that adhering to timelines is not important?

At school, we define FAIL as First Attempts In Learning. Had I done my own work and failed, my teacher could then have worked with me on the skills I needed to develop. I would have learnt how to be better organized and how to plan my time to meet deadlines.

My dear mother thought that she was doing the best thing for me in “assisting” with my project by doing most of it for me. Hopefully, as a parent I will not do the same thing. I do not want my children feeling guilty for learning the ‘wrong’ lessons.

False Rescues

Our children are the most important things in our lives. If our children were in danger, I am sure that we would all do whatever we could to rescue them, even to the point of giving our lives.

Have you ever taught your child to swim? We hold them up on the surface, tell them to kick their legs, move their arms and breathe deeply. We let go, they go under but we are there to lift them to the surface again.

Imagine you never letting go. Your child would never learn to swim and would always be dependent on you when in the water. Not letting go could put your children eventually in mortal danger of drowning if you are not around.
Letting go is an essential part of learning and growing.

We strive to have learning at the heart of everything that we do at Hackham East Primary. A “False Rescue” is when, in attempting to help a child, no matter how good the intentions, we actually stop learning.

All children must learn independence. Are they carrying their own bags to school and putting them in the appropriate place outside the class? Are they getting their own equipment out at the beginning of the day? Do they put their own lunch in the lunch bag, dress themselves? Do they do their own homework? I recall, as a child, leaving the completion of a project until the last moment. My mother jumped in to help me finish it on time, actually doing some of the research for me. This was a false rescue. Did it teach me that there were consequences for my poor organization or did it just reaffirm that mum would always be there to rescue me?

We can unintentionally rescue children from thinking. When a child asks a question, it is so easy to give an answer. By responding to their question with “What do you think?” we not only get our kids to think but also learn what they think. We learn about their knowledge, their assumptions and their misconceptions. We can then question them further to help them think through their own thinking. Their thinking will go deeper than just getting an answer from us.

We no longer “false rescue” students by cocooning them at playtime with rules and regulations. With high expectations instead, we want children to take risks, think for themselves and problem solve by allowing them to ride scooters and bikes, build cubbies and play with sticks. If there is an altercation such as who owns which cubby materials, we teach them to problem solve, reach compromise and come to agreements rather than make the rules and solve the problem for them and stopping the learning.

Letting go can be very difficult but it is all about learning. False rescues stop learning. Parents and teachers must work together, in partnership to help build strong, resilient learners.

Chester – The School Dog

The School Dog – Chester the Wonder Dog

Chester‘Hi my name is Chester. I am a cute and cuddly Golden Retriever and I have lots of hair, that makes me very hot in the summer time. I go to the vet often and have had lots of needles to make sure I am healthy. My owner has taken me to lots of classes and they have helped me to become ‘obedient!’

I recently had my 4th birthday. My owner says I have now officially grown out of my ‘puppy stage’ and I am now responsible and patient enough to help children.

 I love to have my ears and tummy rubbed and especially like it when I get brushed.

 I will sit and shake hands on command, but am yet to master rolling over. I am great at running after balls and sticks i
 I feel like it, but sometimes I am a bit lazy and ‘forget’ to bring them back to people! Everyone says I am ‘cute’ and so ‘placid.’ I am not sure what ‘placid’ means, but I think it is a good thing as they say it in a nice way.

 I love visiting Hackham East Primary School on Monday and Fridays.  I am now the school dog. When I am at school I stay in the office and sometimes I visit classrooms if I am invited. When I am not guarding Mr Thiele, Ms. Sally and Mr Megson’s offices I get to listen to kids read, or sometimes they come down to visit me and give me a tummy scratch or tell me to sit and shake hands. I like it when the children come to visit me as otherwise I just have to listen to boring meetings in-between napping and my guard doggy duties. Sometimes I get to visit the staff room and see the ‘big people’ at school. I like this, but sometimes they say my name in a high-pitched screech, but that is OK because then they grab me and try to kiss me. I LOVE my job. – Written by Chester and assisted with the typing by Sally Slattery. (When will Apple invent an iPawd for dogs?)

I am definitely not a “doggy” person, nor a cat fan. My three kids have been pestering for a dog for years. I gave them fish in aquariums. Nothing has changed my mind about dogs… yet.

Last year I attended my first SAPPA Conference where scientist and inspirational speaker, Matt Church, began his session with a photo of his two kids with the family dog and an almost throw away comment about how every child should have a dog due to the health benefits of having dogs as support in the family and workplace to foster empathy, nurture, care and positive wellbeing.

Just prior to this, Sally Slattery, Deputy Principal and inspirational educator, had visited for a weekend work meeting and brought Chester, a golden retriever to be doggy-sat by my kids. Apart from leaving a “calling card” in the garden, I was impressed by the affinity he had with my children who wanted to cuddle, pat and play with him until he flaked on the door mat, exhausted by the attention.

Following the SAPPA Conference, I asked Sally what she thought of the idea of Chester becoming the ‘school dog’. His J&P (or is it J&D?) specifications would be negotiated but would involve being read to, being available to be patted, scratched and cuddled by a range of children who may even be anxious, angry and troubled, and to be taken for the occasional walk. Sally immediately embraced the idea.

We presented a proposal for a School Dog to the Governing Council, who to our surprise was overwhelmingly supportive. They had one stipulation that Chester attend every Council meeting!

Chester the Wonder Dog visited for a day for an interview and an audition to see if he was the ‘dog for the job’. He passed with flying colors! He was an immediate hit with staff, children and parents. He had so much attention that at times he needed to take himself away to curl up in a secluded spot to sleep.

He now knows that he works Mondays and Fridays and waits excitedly in the mornings at the front door for Sally to let him in the car for the trip to work. On arrival, once out the car, he does the obligatory sniff around the front garden and then bounds into the staffroom and offices to say hello to everyone. He shares an office with Sally and freely roams around the administration areas. He only goes into the yard on a lead with responsible students and adults, at appropriate times.

He has been on extensive and ongoing visits to classrooms to teach children how to be with Chester to ensure safe handling, so that they are familiar with appropriate ways to interact and also to support timid students gain confidence when he is around.

Students have done a risk benefit assessment. The benefits are immense. The perceived risks have become learning opportunities.

Chester – Risk Benefit Assessment

Benefits/Positives Perceived Risks
  • Helping students calm down
  • He makes children happy
  • Teaches children to care for others
  • It is great to pat Chester when I am escalating with my choices
  • Makes me happy
  • Taking Chester for walks help me to make strong choices because its only something you can do if you are going to be responsible
  • He is welcoming and friendly
  • He makes me feel more comfortable with my own bad haircut.
  • Pulling Chester’s tail and making him upset
  • Some students tease him with food and then take it away from him
  • He eats from bins
  • Calling his name and then walking away from him when he obeys a command


Chester and LiahEach class has a Chester Card which is brought down with individuals or pairs of children for 5 minutes of Chester Time. The cards list the positive things children can do with him and how.

Parents and caregivers understand that Chester is trained to be a support dog and has authorisation to be on school grounds. No other pets, including dogs and cats can be on school grounds without permission.

There is an abundance of research around the health, stress and wellbeing benefits of having dogs in different workplaces and care systems. Many workplaces are now exploring the benefits of having a workplace pet or dog to help reduce stress and increase happiness and positive wellbeing.

Research shows:

  • Interactions with therapy animals can decrease stress in humans
  • Playing with or petting an animal can increase levels of stress reducing hormones leading to children (and adults) feeling more relaxed and calm
  • They can help to reduce anxiety, tiredness and provide emotional support
  • Animals help to build responsibility and empathy in children

Positive benefits we have already seen through Chester’s interactions with students and adults have been –

  • The calming effect he has had on several children who were angry, upset or heightened – they calmed much more quickly by patting Chester and we were then able to help them discuss the problem and discuss ways to positively re-engage back in the classroom
  • Providing a positive reinforcement for students who always do the right thing in class – they have been able to come down and spend a short amount of positive time interacting with Chester in the office
  • Supporting some of our students to have a positive start to the day – they come and say a quick hello to Chester on the way to class
  • A positive impact on staff happiness and wellbeing – he puts a smile on their face and they love popping by to give him a quick pat


Chester and CrowsChester is now a popular and valued member of staff. He has his favourites and will often be found lying at Lee’s feet in the front office or following Jae around knowing that she will eventually give in and feed him some of her lunch. And speaking of lunch, Chester hoovers around the staffroom finding any morsels of feed that may have landed on the floor and twice has managed to remove my lunch from my bag and eat every bit, including the wrapping. I have forgiven him … just.

Everyone loves Chester the School Dog. Including me.

Messenger Article

Helping Kids to be Successful Failures

IMG_0004Six weeks ago our daughters competed in the Women’s State Invitational Gymnastics competition. Both had been training for 6 months, three nights per week for three hours each session. They were both desperately hoping to qualify for Australian National Level 4. At the end of 2 days of completion, we waited for the gradings to be announced. After the names of those qualifying were called to stand, both our girls were left sitting. My wife and I felt so disappointed for them both. They had each missed out by less than 2 points. They were understandably disappointed.

What, as parents and teachers, do we say to our children when they are challenged, struggle and fail? It is easy to wrap them in cotton wool and give them sympathy. It is easy to make excuses. It is easy to let them give up. Too many students drop out of commitments such as choir or instrumental music when the challenge gets high. The easy way is to run away from the disappointment, from the emotional pain and from the challenge.

We were able to empathise with our daughters and talked about times when we had not achieved what we set out to do. We encouraged them to keep trying.

The following stories of well known people who had failed, but kept pressing on until they became successful, are good to share with your children to help build resilience.

After being cut from his high school basketball team, he went home locked himself in his room and cried. – Michael Jordan, 6 times NBA Champion, 5 times NBA Most Valuable Player and 4 times NBA All-Star.

He wasn’t able to speak until he was almost 4 years old and his teachers said he would “never amount to much” – Albert Einstein, Theoretical Physicist and Nobel Peace Prize Winner.

Was demoted from her job as a news anchor because she… “Wasn’t fit for television.” – Oprah Winfrey, Host of a Multi-Award-Winning Talk Show and Most Influential Woman in the World.

Fired from a newspaper for “lacking imagination” and “having no original ideas” -Walt Disney, Creator of Mickey Mouse, Disneyland and Winner of 22 Academy Awards

At age 11 he was cut from his team after being diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency… which made him smaller in stature than most kids his age. – Lionel Messi, 3 time FIFA World Player of the Year

At 30 years old he was left devastated and depressed after being unceremoniously removed from the company he started. – Steve Jobs, Co-Founder of Apple Inc and Co-Founder of Pixar Animated Studios

A High School dropout, whose personal struggles with drugs and poverty culminated in an unsuccessful suicide attempt… – Eminem, 13 time Grammy Award Winner, sold over 90 million albums worldwide.

A teacher told him he was… “Too stupid to learn anything” and that he should go into a field where he might succeed by virtue of his pleasant personality. – Thomas Edison, inventor to the light globe and over a thousand other inventions.

Rejected by Decca Recording studios, who said “we don’t like their sound”… “They have no future in show business” – The Beatles, the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed band in history.

His First Book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Was Rejected By 27 Publishers. – Dr. Zeuss, best selling children’s author in history

His Fiancé Died, Failed In Business, Had A Nervous Breakdown And Was Defeated In 8 Elections. – Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the USA.

Here is the link to the Youtube clip called Famous Failures outlining the above stories. It finishes with the quote, “If You’ve Never Failed, You’ve Never Tried Anything New”. We want our children to try, learn how to fail well in order to build resilience to become successful.

This weekend our girls once again competed for their Level 4 Gymnastics. After 6 weeks of practicing the skills that they failed last time, both achieved their goal.

Failure builds resilience. Resilience builds success.


Nothing can be learnt without a question being asked. QuestionMy children range from 3 to 7. Every parent with children in this age group will remember their barrage of questions about every conceivable subject. Why, why, why..? Their brains are like sponges, soaking up every bit of information to make sense of their world. Children learn more in the first 7 years of their lives than in the remainder.

Something happens around 7 or 8 years of age and their questioning becomes less frequent. Is it because parents and teachers start asking all the questions and children are expected to come up with the answers? At Hackham East School we are working to turn this around. We are encouraging children to question. Teachers are only allowing children to put hands up to ask questions rather than to give answers. When a teacher asks a question, every child is expected to have an answer or an opinion. Every “I don’t know” is a learning opportunity.

The great women’s tennis player, Billie Jean King stated that every lost point was a research opportunity. “How could I have done that better?” More is learnt from mistakes than successes because one is prompted to ask questions about what to do to avoid making the same mistake again. Asking for help when something is not understood should be encouraged and not be seen as a sign of weakness. Billie Jean would not have been embarrassed to get feedback from her coach.

Parents and caregivers can assist at home by encouraging questioning. Ask your children what questions they asked during the day.

  • When a child asks a question, try answering with a question rather than an answer such as
    • What do you think? or What is your explanation?
    • Do you agree or disagree and why?
    • How would you decide about ……..?
  • Encourage questions beginning with Why, How, What if …

Why do children stop questioning? That is a very good question. Let us try to foster our children’s natural curiosity for learning by encouraging them to ask questions.

The Learning Pit

I am a big Doctor Who fan. He is always able to solve the unsolvable by seeing the unobvious and deducing the implausible. He may need some assistance from his female companion or his sonic screw-driver but he always works out what to do to save the day. Despite having two hearts his skills are not superhuman rather those of problem solving through logic, deduction, perseverance, persistence and asking the right questions.

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? Developing the skills and strategies in dealing with the unknown and the new is something that all children will need to be successful in the future. The world that our children are growing into will be very different from our own. Change is occurring so quickly in everything. Technology is changing every aspect of work and society. Manual and skilled jobs are being replaced by robots and automation. Our children will be working in jobs that have not even been dreamt of yet. Adaptability and an open, learning mindset is key.

How do we assist children to develop these skills?

One cannot be a nimble thinker and problem solver if one is fearful of being stuck, fearful of making a mistake or fearful of the discomfort of not knowing what to do. We want children to have a go and be risk takers but we too often cotton wool them to the extent that we rob them of their opportunity to learn.

The Learning Pit is a good metaphor for talking to children about the learning process and resilience.The Learning Pit Getting stuck is where the best learning takes place. When we are stuck we might get negative feelings like discomfort, frustration, helplessness towards our learning. We hear children say, “I won’t do it.” or “I can’t do it.” If we intervene at this stage and rescue by doing it for them they will learn that getting stuck is a bad thing, that the negative feelings are bad and they will continually shy away from a challenge. They will not develop persistence or resilience toward learning.

As a child struggles with a problem get them to ask questions to clarify and explore the options. Answer their questions with questions rather then an answer so that they are doing the thinking and solving the problem themselves. Ask them where they might be able to find help – internet, Youtube etc and let them explore. As they begin to get themselves “unstuck”, they will gain confidence in their own abilities and develop an “I can do it!” attitude. This will benefit them throughout their lives.

Doctor Who thrives on challenge. He doesn’t give up. He isn’t rescued. He persists and succeeds.

Stuck? Great! Good learning happens when you are stuck.

Persistence and Resilience

Skateboard I was recently at a BBQ and tried out a friend’s new skateboard. Being an aging “kid” and keen surfer I “surfed” this skateboard around the garden with modest flair, weaving through garden furniture and verandah poles. A young boy was upset because he could not turn the skateboard that he was on. He asked me to show him how to turn. He showed me what he was doing. He was standing incorrectly with both feet together. I showed him and put him in the correct position and suggested that he practise. One try, did not work for him so he gave up immediately, sat down and cried. I tried to encourage him back but he seemed to be more intent on seeking sympathy than mastering skateboarding. His father said that he always “spits the dummy” when he cannot do something immediately.

Our school virtues include PERSISTENCE and RESILIENCE and are crucial habits for children to develop to become successful learners and successful adults. They are defined as:
• The habit of trying again and again without complaint or the need for a reward.
• The habit of accepting failure as the stepping stone to success and bouncing back.
• The habit of seeing problems and difficulties as things you can do something about to make better.

Think of anything that you have learned or mastered. Riding a bike, learning to walk, talk, write, surf, skateboard, fix a car, cook, land a BMX jump… all are learnt through having a go, making mistakes, falling over and getting back up and having another go.

Billie Jean King, a tennis legend, described every lost point as a learning opportunity rather than a loss. All successful learners bounce back and keep trying.

What can we do as parents and educators to help our children learn persistence and resilience? We can redescribe problems as challenges. Give encouragement to try again rather than offer sympathy when a child “trips up” and falls. Help them to see that we learn more from our mistakes than our successes and that failure is a stepping stone to success.

Try asking your child questions such as:

What did you do today that really challenged you?

What mistakes did you make and what did you learn from them?

What did you do that really made you work hard to achieve?

Everyone who is successful has had to practise for thousands of hours. One doesn’t practice what one has already mastered. We practice what we can’t do over and over until we can. Mastery is only achieved through taking one step at a time, picking oneself up after every fall, learning from mistakes and having another go. Developing persistence and resilience will lead to success.

Let’s get our kids back on life’s skateboard every time they fall to help them become persistent and resilient learners.