We sat down with one of NCNS’ Early Childhood superstars Zoe Harris to talk about all things early childhood.
Zoe has been an Early Childhood Worker with NCNS for over 7 years but more impressively has worked in early childhood for over 30 years; from working with young children with cerebral palsy to working as a primary school teacher before becoming an Early Childhood Worker for NCNS.
A typical day for Zoe varies, whether she is running Paint the Town REaD, Braddock Playtime Playgroup, various children’s events or Messy Play Bootcamps.
At the beginning of our chat, we asked Zoe how she would describe her day job to a child. She laughed and replied, “Playing with stuff and getting other people to play with stuff! Haha.”
What do you love most about your role?
I love being able to connect with kids and families, supporting, and encouraging them to learn. Learning doesn’t have to be big and scary; the small everyday things make a difference.
Zoe facilitates Braddock Playtime Playgroup on Wednesday mornings at Braddock Public School. Averaging 18 kids and 18 parents each week, this playgroup is a positive, engaging and supportive playgroup with lots of activities for both children and parents to enjoy.
Are playgroups important and why?
Playgroups are important for young children as they provide fun activities that also help them develop fine motor, gross motor, social and emotional skills. Children get to interact with other children where they may not get what they want, may have to share and learn valuable lessons about social interaction. These not so fun things help prepare children for when they go to big school.
Everything we do at playgroup has a reason. Each fun activity encourages participation while providing children with valuable skills. For example, craft helps with creativity, language, thinking and fine motor skills. During music & story time children learn about group dynamics, listening, sharing, following directions and language development. During morning tea we provide a mixture of healthy foods like sandwiches and fruit to encourage them to try new things. If children, see other children eating a type of food they are more likely to try it. All these things help children learn without them even realising that they are learning.
Playgroups are not only beneficial for young children; there are also many benefits for parents. At playgroup parents are able to talk with other parents about what they are going through, what is happening with their children, share ideas and provide comfort when relating to other parents who are going through the same things. It is a great way for parents to socialise and an opportunity for their children to socialise and learn without parents having to lead them. Playgroups give parents ideas of activities to do at home with their children and provide information on child development so parents can know what to expect, the next steps their children may take.
Playgroups are also a great stepping stone for parents who may be nervous separating from their children. At playgroup, children have the opportunity to develop independence without parents having to leave them completely. Over time, parents can prepare to send children to childcare and feel confident that their child will be able to cope without them.
What is Paint the Town REaD?
We run Paint the Town REaD at two locations, Cranebrook and Kingswood Park. We take early literacy to children and their families so they can have fun with books. We read to kids, encourage kids to read to us, plus we do rhyme and games. I have become a familiar face that kids can come up and chat to.
What is a common question you get asked from parents?
The most common question I get from parents is “Why does my child do that?” I talk with parents about child development, inform parents about why they could be doing or behaving in a certain way and provide easy tips to encourage desirable behaviour.
What are your top tips for parents?
- Be engaged with your child
- Remember you are their parent and not their friend
- Get off phones/tablets/computers and play, talk and/or read with your child
- ENJOY your kids!
- No one is perfect. Not you or your kids
What is one thing you have learnt from working with children 0-5 years?
Expect the unexpected! Haha
This year you have held a number of Messy Play Bootcamps in different locations in Cranebrook and Kingswood Park. Why are you so passionate about messy play and what made you decide to do so many messy play boot camps?
I love messy play! I decided to run all my messy play boot camps to show and remind parents that children learn by playing, that it is ok for children to get dirty. Children need to be able to experience mess as they learn so many skills while they are doing these messy activities.
Parents can worry so much about keeping their kids clean and can be afraid of mess or they may not know how to start or what to do. When we do messy play, we focus on really cheap and easy activities that parents can do at home with their kids. We make take home ‘recipe cards’ so that if children love an activity, they have the instructions and ingredients so they can take what they have done with us and replicate it at home or at school so that it becomes something that they do regularly. All families can do these activities as we use stuff you would already have in your pantry.
Activities we love to do at our boot camps are making homemade play dough, finger painting, simple science experiments using bicarb soda and vinegar, sensory play with flour and coloured rice.
As well as playgroup, Paint the Town REaD, events and Messy Play Bootcamps, you also run Keeping Children Safe & Circle of Security – Parenting programs. Could you tell us more about them and who they are for?
I love Keeping Children Safe (KCS). KCS is an information program letting parents know about what abuse and neglect is, and how this effects children. We talk about simple ways we can help to protect our children. It is a course that everyone should do, especially since many of us are unable to be with our children every second of the day. This program gives you the skills and confidence to have those uncomfortable conversations about keeping safe, and how to identify the signs that mean something is going on. I usually run this program twice a year in term 1 and term 3.
Circle of Security – Parenting is a program about attachment with our children. We look at how children interact with us, what they need and how we can best keep that attachment strong. We look at ourselves, as quite often without realising, we may not be as open with our kids. We look at our strengths and our weaknesses so that we can become the best parents that we can be. I would recommend this to all parents and its especially good for parents of newborns and very young kids as most parenting programs are for children over 2.
Finally, what advice would you give parents of children 0 – 5 years old?
No one is perfect. Give yourself a break, reach out to services, go to playgroups. Be wary of yourself getting overwhelmed with all the different information out there on google. It is important to play with your children, but we don’t have to do that all of the time. It is okay for children to get bored; they learn to think for and entertain themselves.
Give children good food that has what they need to develop physically and mentally. This also will instil good eating behaviours for the rest of their lives. Avoid junk as long as possible!
Routines and structure are your best friends. It is ok to vary but giving children a basic understanding of what happens each day will help your child and help you.
Children learn more in the first 2 years of their life, than they will the rest of their life. Early education is like the foundation of a building, we do not see it, but if its not there we would crumble!
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