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Dealing with grief and loss – Andrea Driver

As a parent we are often thrown knee-deep into a situation before we even know what has happened.

I was in this exact situation a few weeks ago as we coped with losing our beautiful family dog. I am not an expert on grief or loss but every child and every adult will experience grief or loss in their own unique way and time. In many ways grief is like a roller coaster and it can be extremely difficult to support children when parents may also be grieving. For some children losing a family pet can be their first experience of death and our first opportunity to teach them about coping with the grief and pain that inevitably accompanies the joy of loving another living creature.

While it can be difficult to talk to a child about death, it is important to be honest with them and help them to understand what has happened. Children will look to the adults in their lives to help them understand and respond. The support they receive helps children learn to manage and deal with losses that will happen throughout their lives.

Sharing your feelings of sadness and loss with a child can help them understand why you are sad, and see that it is alright to express sadness.

Children may experience grief in bursts, seeming okay one moment and the next they are not. Allow children space and time to grieve in their own way. Give them the opportunity to talk about how they may be feeling and answer their  questions simply and honestly.

Growing up is an ongoing process of change for children. Changes such as losing a pet or family member, moving to a new home, family break-up or starting childcare or school brings new feelings, challenges and learning.


Nurture the curiosity of a child’s mind. – Andrea Driver

Matariki, the Maori New Year is celebrated across New Zealand during late May, early June.

For many preschool and school age children this may mean a visit to the local planetarium, a time to prepare and share food, plant vegetables or a time to gather with family and friends to reflect on the past, celebrate the present, and plan for the future. In my world Matariki has evoked a curious thirst for exploration in my eight year-old daughter. A desire to learn more about the stars, planets and the solar system. I am sure my household is one of many, perhaps hundreds sneaking out into the wintry night to explore the wonder of
the stars.

From the moment of birth, perhaps even before birth, the child has an innate desire for curiosity and exploration. It is this natural curiosity and drive for growth and development that encourages the child to explore, question, and wonder, and by doing so they learn. Consider the newborn baby that tunes in to faces, sounds and objects, the toddler that is busy morning until night, walking, climbing and running and the four-year old’s inquiring mind full of ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions. Children are learning about themselves, about people, things and the world around them. Some want to explore with their minds while others explore in more physical ways. The more curious the child is, the more they will learn.

Curiosity is an essential disposition for our children to be the forward-thinking adults of the 21st century that we will need.

How do we as parents and educators nurture curiosity and ensure our children become curious adults and lifelong learners? One way is for parents is to be curious with their child. If they like music, play it for them, dance with them, make instruments together. Children learn so
much more through the activities that capture their attention and imagination.

You don’t need to have all the answers to your child’s persistent questions, pose your own thought provoking questions and explore together. Adult approval and positive attention is vital to reinforce the exploring child. It is through approval and warm, responsive interactions that
children develop a love for learning, build confidence and belief in themselves and their ideas.


Growing resilient children for today. – Andrea Driver

Mental health in New Zealand is a topical issue —some may even say we have an epidemic of mental illness. Many New Zealand families are coping with multiple and complex everyday stress. Stress on families means stress on children.

In today’s world all children face stress, disappointment, challenges and loss, and while some children seem to naturally be more resilient than others, we can and must nurture resilience in all children. Resilience is the ability to successfully manage life and adapt to change and stressful events in healthy and constructive ways. Some people would say we are born with the capacity for resilience. I believe it is something we grow and work on throughout our entire lives.

Early childhood educators are ultimately striving to nurture preschool children to become competent and confident learners and communicators. We want children to be confident as they grow and contribute to society. As children grow, life presents them with many challenges and often the confidence we have nurtured in them is not enough. Children need more. They need resilience. Parents can help build children’s resilience by modelling how they manage and get through stress, hardship and trauma.

When parents model calmness and an ability to be flexible with everyday stress, they are showing their children how to cope and promote resilience. Building a loving relationship with children is an important way to support children’s resilience.

Be empathic to your child, see the world through the child’s eyes. No matter how much time we spend with our children or how successfully we are at teaching them to believe in themselves, all children will at some time experience disappointment, frustration, grief, fear and anger.

While we can’t protect our children from every hurt but we can foster their self-belief, maintain a strong connection with them and nurture their capacity to cope with everyday challenges.

We can’t change the world overnight but we can nurture our children’s resilience every day. Until we can give our children a better world we’ll have to give our world more resilient children.


Fruits and Vegetables for little tummies

By Debbie Winton

How many times do we ask ourselves, “how can I get my children to eat better”?

Over the years of caring for my own four children and 8 years as an Educarer looking after many others, I have seen many common objections to healthy food. This has lead me to develop a learning plan for educating children so they can easily learn how good food makes a positive impact on how there little bodies feel. When they understand and acknowledge that, it’s amazing how readily young children embrace new and healthy ways.

Children are natural sponges for learning and very helpful at a young age so it’s easy to start early. They like to share their new found words of wisdom and teach others which allows for lots of opportunity to practice and extend this learning.

In order to adapt their eating habits, children need opportunities to prepare and taste new foods. Learning some practical cooking skills can help them rely less on pre-prepared foods that are likely to be high in sugar and salt or ‘bad fats’.

Furthermore, food tastes develop at an early age, and encouraging healthy choices early in life can help to create lifelong preferences for healthy foods.

The learning plan
Firstly, I have pictures of vegetables and fruit. We use them as flash cards so children learn what each fruit and vegetable is by vision, we play games with these like, sorting vegetables by colour or groups. Here’s some great downloadable flash cards and there are dozens more easily found with a quick google search. We make up games as we go, the important thing is to make the games fun. This takes pressure away from the ‘eating’ and shifts the focus to learning which young children love to do.

Along the way I ask questions like, “What do you think that would taste like?”, “How do you think it will feel?” This opens up an opportunity to introduce a food later because you have already raised their interest in it.

Next we learn how fruit and vegetables grow, e.g. on a tree like apples, in the ground like potatoes, above the ground like spinach. We often plant a few so they can help nurture and eventually harvest which is an exciting time for them. It also helps their understanding of seasons and why some fruits and vegetable are available at certain times of the year. In Hawke’s Bay we are lucky to have a number of places you can go to pick your own – a great day out for learning and adventure.

We go on trips to local vegetable sellers to see the fresh produce and how it’s been grown. You can ask, “What vegetables and fruit do we need on our shopping list this week?” Get them to find what you need at the supermarket. Ask, “What fruit do you think you need in your lunch box today?” “What vegetables shall we prepare for dinner”, with their new knowledge they are more than willing offer ideas.

Preparing snack and meals together
Children seem to think it is great to help make tea or their own snacks for lunch.

Preparing vegetables or fruit for snacks like carrot or celery sticks with hummus, washing cherry tomatoes or removing stalks from berries are all valuable experiences. Not only do they teach children about the food but also skills like the pincer grip (using the finger and thumb to pick up an item), hygiene or using a knife safely.

All the time we talk about what each food is and how good it is for their body. For example we can teach them that foods high in Vitamin C like berries, oranges, and kiwifruit help heal cuts and wounds, fight colds and keep our teeth and gums healthy. Here is a lovely resource with lots of fruit and vegetables grouped by colour and explanations about their health benefits. And, here is another that lists the individual benefit of each. Also, is a great resource for finding information on almost any fruit or vegetable.

Once a child has some ownership of their food they are usually more willing to try it. Little by little you will see their readiness to embrace new foods and it doesn’t matter if they eat a little or all of it. They’ll get there in their own time.

Healthy Eating Awards
There is nothing quite like an award for a child.

I have seen children turn down junk food in favour of a carrot or piece of fruit. Not because they necessarily prefer it, but because they want to choose a healthier option.

You can encourage this by introducing a sticker chart or other reward system when your child makes good food choices on their own.

Healthy snack suggestions

  • Vegetable sticks – keep these in the fridge. Serve with cottage cheese or hummus
  • Cold cooked vegetables – cook a few extra roast potatoes, cubed kumera pieces, peas and sweetcorn at mealtimes to have as snacks the next day. Toddlers especially like variety, colour and ‘snack size’ items
  • Fresh fruit – serve whole or cut up with yoghurt
  • Frozen – bananas, oranges, berries, peas

Some more tips

  • Lots of water – Keep a jug of cold water in the fridge in the summer months. Children need plenty of water to keep their bodies working. They need to drink more when they are active and when it’s hot. Children need lots of small drinks through the day. Keep offering drinks, as they may forget to drink when they are active and become dehydrated very easily
  • Activity for appetite – Regular physical activity keeps children healthy and work up an appetite for good food. Physical activity helps children: develop strong muscles, bones and joints, improve their balance and flexibility, develop and maintain a healthy heart and lungs, maintain a healthy weight and have fun, make friends and feel good about themselves
  • Let your child control how much food they eat – make mealtimes fun rather than a battleground. They will eat when they are hungry never doubt that

Why education about food and nutrition is important
Nutrition is fundamental to developing a sense of well-being and to meeting the growth, development, and activity needs of healthy, confident children and young people. Readiness to learn is enhanced when our children are well nourished.

There is considerable evidence linking children’s nutrition to educational outcomes. If children are malnourished, have nutritional deficiencies, or are obese, then their learning is likely to be affected. Let alone, their self-confidence. Numerous studies such as Food Nutrition Guidelines and Nutrition can greatly impact your child’s learning ability in New Zealand and overseas have demonstrated a link between nutrition and learning, and shown the beneficial effects of restoring nutrition to appropriate levels.

Teachers in early childhood education services and schools report improvements in children and young people’s attendance, attention, behaviour, and levels of concentration where the provision of healthy food and drink has become normal practice. It makes common sense really, if we feed our body what is required then we become more balanced.

What and when an individual child eats is affected by a number of factors including:

  • Their knowledge and attitudes about food and health
  • Their individual tastes
  • Their socio-economic status
  • The education level of their parents/caregivers

Children and young people’s eating habits are often driven by a mind-set rather than a physiological reason. Many do not eat food just because of its nutritional value. They also eat because they like the taste, because “it’s time”, because it’s what is made available to them or it’s what their friends are eating and, sometimes, because it is what they are able to prepare.

The many interrelated factors affecting what children choose to eat makes it important for them to be able to access accurate knowledge and information about food and nutrition.

So let’s all start introducing them to real food and make it fun so their little minds are aware of the options available. Let’s teach them that treats are exactly that and not to be confused with real food. Let’s teach them they have a choice for their wellbeing.

Our children have the right to knowledge and choice for themselves, their health and their future.