Holiday Hindhaugh!

How many times have you heard someone talking about packing the kids up, jumping in a 4WD and heading off around Australia? Well one KPS family has actually done it; they’re doing it right now, in fact. Emma and Tom Hindhaugh and their three boys, Ben, Sam and Patrick set off at the beginning of Term 2 on a three month around Australia adventure.H19

They’ve been on the road for 42 days now and, as you and I are shivering in the playground, they’re taking camel rides on Cable Beach! This week I checked in with them for the KPS blog.H3

What was your overall plan for this trip?
The plan is to travel for Term 2 and the school holidays – all up, 14-15 weeks. We are doing a clockwise loop mainly of WA and Northern Territory, starting by going across the Nullarbor and then across to just north of Perth. We follow the coast to Broome, across the Gibb River Rd through the Kimberley, up to Darwin and then down the guts through Central Australia and back home to Melbourne. Not sure how much of SA we will see – depends on time.H7

We are travelling by 4WD named Yoda (a Toyota) and towing an off-road camper trailer. It is pretty compact but folds out to sleep us all. We have since inherited (from a fellow traveller) a small tent that two of the boys sometimes sleep in. The camper trailer has lots of storage, a slide out two-burner stove, a fridge, a big water tank and, most important, a queen size inner sprung mattress for Tom and me.

The boys are either on camp stretchers or themorest mattresses. With another fridge in the car we are fully self-sufficient. We are doing a combination of staying in caravan parks, camping in national parks and even a little bit of free camping.H9

Is this something you have always wanted to do? Was it a recent decision?
Tom and I had travelled a lot in Europe and Africa when we first met and then bits and pieces through Asia. Neither of us had seen much of WA and none of NT. We had always said we could do it in bits with the kids. We realised the best parts are pretty remote so then dreamed of the big trip. Last year I said to Tom if we want it to happen then we have to make it happen so we did.H6

How long did you prepare for the trip? Did you do a lot of research?
On and off for a year. I mainly did the planning and it was done in bursts and then nothing for a while. Research, yes a fair bit. Reading travel books, internet, and speaking to other people who had done the trip.

We have a basic idea of where we are going but this changes and so do timelines. In fact a significant change happened recently after talking to another traveller – scrap one place and go to another.H1

What have the highlights and lowlights been so far?
Highlights: Swimming with whale sharks, gorges at Karinjini National Park {everyone’s}
Lowlights: two blown tyres and a smashed side window, all done within about four days of going in and out of Karinjini NP.
And for the kids:
Sam: smashing the window
Ben: the northern goldfields, just north of Kalgoorli – hot, too many flies and he stepped in a massive, very nasty lot of prickles. Also, some of the long drives.
Patrick: walking too much.H14

What’s the biggest challenge?
No time away from each other.

What do you and Tom miss most about being away from home?
I miss cold water to drink now that it is hot all the time (mid to high 30s) and I don’t like the smell of bore water. Oh and the dishwasher! I also miss catching up with friends and other family. Tom misses friends and family too, an indoor kitchen and a longer bed!H18

What do the kids miss?
Friends, not school!!! And their beds sometimes. Ben misses the footy but we are getting updates. (Tom and I miss this a bit too.)

How are you all coping with limited access to WiFi/electronics?
The boys have had virtually no screen time. Initially they asked, but now they don’t because they know the answer, or they don’t even think about it. For me, it’s sometimes annoying because I’m trying to get the blog done. But I’m loving the time it frees up and loving my kindle!!H4

How are you all coping with living in a very confined space and spending all that time together?
It depends on the day and even sometimes the hour or the minute. Just like at home we can all get along fabulously and then someone is out-of-sorts and everything goes pear shaped. The boys miss their friends and having time away from each other.H10

The weather is brilliant though so we spend most of the time outdoors; loads of swimming which they all love and quite a few long walks which they have, as a rule, been fantastic about. On the long drives the boys have been surprisingly good. They have been doing lots of drawing and writing, making up the most amazing stories. We have also listened to quite a few talking books which keep everyone quiet and enthralled.

Thanks, Emma, Tom, Ben, Sam and Patrick. Sounds like an awesome trip and something your family will always remember.

You can follow the Hindhaughs on their trip at: http://hindhaugh.net. They’ve got some great stories and the photos are fantastic!

Jacqui Tomlins

Advertisements

Love the skin you’re in…?

About 15 per cent of all girls and women will experience an eating disorder at some time in their lives – a massive epidemic: Raising Girls, Steve Biddulph

Last term, my daughter, Stella (Grade 4) was in tears when I picked her up from school. Her class had been talking about the food pyramid and as Stella is a very ‘fussy’ eater and doesn’t have a balanced diet she had assumed she must be unhealthy. I explained she was a healthy weight for her age, slightly taller than average and in good health generally.

I vaguely remembered Stella crying about the same thing the year before in Grade 3 and this got me thinking about self-esteem and healthy body image in my children. I wondered if the children were too sophisticated for this basic information. Was this information alone, enough? Are we underestimating our children? And do we need to start addressing positive body image at an earlier age?food pyramid

My neighbour, another mum, thinks we’re over thinking the whole thing; mostly we’re well educated, understand good nutrition and the need to be active, she says. Similarly, another friend suggested we need to teach our children about balance – input equals output. Our input (food) needs to be balanced by our output (activity and exercise). All very sound, sensible advice.

The problem is, we can’t control all of the influences on our kids. I can control some influences on Stella: what she watches on TV and what magazines are in the house but I cannot control the rest of the world.

Over Easter, Stella came to some of my gym classes with me. I exercise with a group of women in their fifties who are all exceptionally fit, trim, strong and, outwardly, healthy. During one of the classes much of the talk centred around one woman who had lost 5kg in the last week thanks to ‘the Dukan diet’. It was a ‘miracle’ and everyone was off to buy the book.strong girls

Another mum who has recently lost weight explained she had been ‘good’ since Christmas but ‘bad’ over Easter. (Can’t we cut ourselves some slack over Easter?) Stella was engrossed in this conversation and I was a little bit heartbroken. I guess I wanted Stella to know that your looks don’t really matter and it’s the old cliché of what’s on the inside that counts. I’m still sad Stella had to hear this conversation, and that I was at such a loss to explain the importance we place on our appearance. Why are we so obsessed with our weight? Why are we so ashamed of fat?

Recently, I was talking with our neighbour who will soon be attending her Year 12 formal soon and there was lots of discussion about dresses. I LOVE fashion and I loved looking with her for the ‘perfect’ dress. One afternoon, my neighbour was showing me some photos of what her friends had worn to their formal the year before. I was shocked at the appearance of one girl; she looked skeletal. Scarily thin. Unhealthily thin. I was more shocked by my neighbours’ comment that this girl might have had anorexia for a while. It was the casual way this sixteen year old referred to anorexia. Like saying she’d had a cold for a couple of weeks. Like I might refer to having a new handbag for a night out. I couldn’t believe that something I take so seriously was referred to so casually. Are eating disorders the new accessory?

Earlier this year I bought Steve Biddulph’s Raising Girls. I’ve never been into parenting books, but I think it’s fabulous. Biddulph writes with such compassion and empathy, never judging, just explaining and suggesting.raising girls

Raising Girls has a chapter ‘Body, weight and food’. Biddulph writes about Health At Every Size (HAES), about ditching Body Mass Index (BMI) and using other markers as a measure of health including blood pressure and heart rate: Two key principles are intuitive eating and doing physical activity that is joyful instead of focused on weight loss…We need to switch our focus to health, enjoying eating and physical activity…to go to bed at night feeling good for having engaged in health-giving behaviours, rather than beating ourselves up for not yet being a certain number on the scales.sporty girls

Not long ago Mamamia published an article quoting the actress, Kate Winslet, who had posted the following on Facebook: As a child, I never heard one woman say to me ‘I love my body’. Not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend…No one woman has ever said, ‘I am so proud of my body…So I make sure to say it to Mia (Kate’s 12 year old daughter) because a positive physical outlook has to start at an early age.

Whilst I know enough not to draw my children into my own body and self-esteem issues (Do these pants make my bum look big?), it’s never occurred to me to say anything about how amazing our bodies really are. I don’t really give much thought to what our bodies are made for and capable of; I just assume they will keep on keeping on. And as for praising our bodies, that’s something new that I’ll try to take on board.

When I began writing this piece I had more questions than answers. Everyone I spoke to shared my concerns and was very passionate in their beliefs. There is really good help and advice out there, and I’ll try and work this in to my family’s everyday lives. And as a friend always says: Love the skin you’re in.healthy girls

(At the time of publishing the author was eating her way through a bag of scorched almonds. But if no-one sees, it doesn’t count. Right?)

Sam Robertson

Fees and funding follow-up

Last week I posted a blog about voluntary fees which prompted a lot of discussion. I think it’s been great to start a conversation amongst the school community about something that’s really important and that affects the future of our school.

In this week’s blog I’m going to try to summarise the conversations I’ve had, and the issues that have been raised with me over the last ten days. The range of opinion is broad, as you would expect, and I shall attempt to convey that range.

I’m also going to share some thoughts and ideas about how we, as a school community, can improve the situation in regard to voluntary fees and provide an even better learning experience for our kids.

P1060401

I started this follow-up with a very interesting chat with Robin Grace about the demographic make-up of our school. While in many ways the Kew Primary demographic is similar to a number of surrounding schools, we are a little different from other school in the Boroondara area.

We are more culturally diverse than many, with over 22 nationalities in the school, and we have a slightly different socio-economic make-up. We have higher numbers of families on the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), a scheme of government financial assistance provided to low-income families.

We welcome a fairly constant flow of refugee families, families from local shelters and community housing and new arrivals to the country. We have a transient population of people coming from overseas and interstate, and we have a significant number of single parents and one-income families.

Robin estimates that these groups comprise somewhere around 15-20% of our school population. I’ll come back to this later.P1060418

It has been pointed out to me that last year many parents had to find extra funds to buy iPads and that this would have had an impact on people’s capacity to pay voluntary fees. Additional expenses were also incurred by some families who had to manage care of their children as a result of the teacher’s industrial action.

Some parents felt that it was important to acknowledge that families that weren’t in a position to pay their fees made a huge contribution to the school by volunteering for a broad range of activities instead.

A number or parents said they hadn’t paid their fees because they hadn’t got around to it/had forgotten/it had slipped below the radar and they were glad of the prompt to do so.

Some parents felt that the reason other schools had such a high contribution rate was because families at those schools were made to feel bad about not paying; that they were basically shamed into doing so. While there is certainly some support for this approach at Kew Primary, my sense is that the vast majority of people do not want to go down this path.

The low morale of the school in recent years, and a sense that the general communication between school and parents has not been as good as it might, were also cited as reason why people may not have paid.P1060407

So where does that leave us?

I think we need to acknowledge all of that and start talking about change and improvement. I think we should begin with a realistic expectation of what we can achieve. According to our Business Manager, Faye Pattie, while we have currently received about 36% of voluntary fees, in past years this has reached around 50% by December.

Let’s assume that 15-20% of families are not in a position to pay, and that another 5-10% may choose, for various reasons, not to pay. I think – and Robin agrees – that we should be aiming for collecting somewhere between 70- 75% of fees. That’s basically an increase of 25% and that may take more than one year to achieve.

So let’s start to think about how we can effect that change. I’ve come up with a few thoughts and I’d love people to comment/email with others.

  • Our new Acting Assistant Principal, Andrew Searle, mentioned that at his school information was provided to parents at various Prep information nights, which seems like a great idea.  An explanation of how the funding works very broadly could be given and some details about where voluntary fees have gone in the past and what they might be used for in the future.
  • It would be great to know on an on-going basis what the fees are being used for. The School Council President is going to put a notice in the newsletter once a term letting us know what the school is doing with the fees and how the kids are benefiting.
  • For those people who are able and willing to pay all their fees at the very beginning of Term 1, that’s fantastic; it means the school can budget and plan a little. But if not, how about you pay for your first child at the beginning of Term 1, your second child at the beginning  of Term 2, and your third and fourth, if you have them, at the beginning of Term 3 and Term 4. I think that might make it easier for some families who want to contribute, but who find it difficult to come up with multiple fees in one hit.
  • A new Funding, Communication and Marketing sub-committee of School Council, convened by Julie Coleman, has just been set up. One of the aims of the sub-committee is to look at the issue of communication and to develop a broad plan to address some of these issues. If you’re interested in being on the committee that would be great.  Just let me know and I’ll pass your name on.
  • The issue of morale is bigger and on-going and there is no easy fix. My sense of this from talking to people is that, as a school community, we are finally able to leave the past behind and move on, and that people are feeling much better about the direction the school is heading. Of course, until DEECD resolve the issue once and for all and we can finally employ a new and permanent Principal, morale will remain an issue.  But we do have a strong and stable leadership team for the time being.P1060421

I started this discussion a couple of weeks ago by confessing I hadn’t paid my fees. I am one of those people who can afford it and haven’t because I’m slack. So this week I am going to pay the four levies for one of my kids: (Library Fund, $75, Grounds and Oval Maintenance, $65, Building Fund, $100, and Technology Support and Maintenance, Levy $50). In Term 3, I will pay for my second child, and in Term 4, for my third.

It’s not an easy issue this one, and there is a broad range of opinion. For me, I know that the school can’t do everything it needs on the money it currently receives and so I’m happy to pay. I know that my contribution will go some way to improving the daily experience for the kids and that’s important to me.

I saw a great quote this week:  I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realised I was somebody. Lily Tomlin

Jacqui Tomlins

Fees, funding and our future

I have a confession to make; a proper one, a serious one. I’ve kept quiet about it until now and when the topic’s come up in the playground I’ve just kept my head down. And when the last lot of paperwork came home, I just slid it to the bottom of the pile.

But no more. I’m going to deal with this once and for all. I’m finally going to come out. So here it is: I haven’t paid my voluntary school fees. And it’s not just because I’ve haven’t got around to it yet; I didn’t pay them last year either. I used to pay quite consistently, but somewhere along the line – for reasons I can’t even remember – I stopped.

And then recently the subject came up again and it got me thinking. I haven’t the faintest idea how the funding works for our school. What we get from the government and what that covers. What the voluntary fees actually go towards. How many of us pay them and how many don’t. No clue.

So, I thought I would put on my investigative blogger hat and go find out some answers to these questions. This is what I discovered: prepare for a bumpy ride.

P1050818
The funding we get from the State and Federal government covers the salaries paid to our staff which is broadly calculated on a per-capita basis – set amount of money for each child. We also get funding for general operational expenses which cover some classroom resources, some building and maintenance and some cleaning, but there’s a shortfall in all those areas. We get some money to cover relief teachers when staff are sick, but again, not enough.

In fact – and I was pretty shocked by this – government funding represents only 33% of our operational budget. That’s all. We have to make up the rest with our voluntary fees and if we don’t, things don’t get done, or the kids just miss out.

We don’t get funding to cover any kind of staff professional development, excursions, extra-curricular activities or sporting events. We don’t get money for any kind of major refurbishment or for replacing stuff that packs up or falls down. Apparently, we’ve already spent the amount the government has given us for this year for building and maintenance.

The voluntary fees are separated into four categories: Building Fund, Library Fund, Technology Support and Maintenance Levy, Grounds and Oval Maintenance Levy. Currently, we are down on all of these by pretty significant amounts:

Building Fund: -$31,000

Library Fund: -$23,000

Technology Support and Maintenance Levy: -$15,000

Grounds and Oval Maintenance Levy: -$20,000

Basically what this means is that we are currently about $90,000 short on what we need for the school to function properly in all these areas.

This problem is compounded by the fact that last year our payment of voluntary fees was our worst ever! Obviously, there’s a cumulative effect which, over time, has a huge impact on what we can achieve.

P1050814
Now, the most interesting thing I discovered is that to date 36% of the voluntary fees have been collected at Kew Primary. I wondered how this compared to other schools and did a quick check of Eastern suburb primary schools with similar fees. South Camberwell, Chatham and Mont Albert collect about 95% of their voluntary fees each year, and East Kew, about 90%. Ouch! That’s a huge difference.

The disparity between us and those other schools surprised me to be honest and I started to think about why that might be. I’m going to speculate here, but I think we’ve gotten into a kind of downward spiral, a negative mind-set; the school’s had a very rough ride over the past couple of years and I think that may have had an impact. Somehow we need to put the brakes on and start spiralling upwards again.

So where has the money gone in the past?

The old sandpit had become toilet-of-choice for the extended family of possums living in the roof of the junior school hall and was quickly becoming a major health hazard. It was dirty and unhealthy and needed to go. The cost of removing the sandpit and putting new bitumen down in its place was $26,000. The lovely new sandpit was funded entirely out of money raised by the PTA ($16,000). P1060090
The canteen was also struggling to keep up with Occupational Health and Safety standards with wonky shelves and cracked bench tops and old unreliable equipment. The canteen refurbishment cost $28,000.P1050810

The electrics in the library had long since given up the ghost and were in desperate need of replacement. The removal of walls, relocation of shelving, and painting throughout cost approximately $15,000.

And if I pay all my fees this year, where will the money go?

In the first instance, the voluntary fees will go towards making up the huge shortfall between what the government provides, and what we need to pay for the basic operational costs of running the school.

The school is doing a great job of adopting new technologies and making sure our kids are well educated in this area and equipped to meet the challenges they’ll face in high school and beyond. However, the data infrastructure of the school is old and antiquated and already can’t cope with the volume of data the school currently uses. We need to upgrade this urgently.P1050881

Last term one of the teachers told me quietly that it was almost impossible to get anything done in the afternoons because the kids were all melting like icy poles. Our new building is awesome, but there’s no air-conditioning and that’s something the government will never fund, and the PTA would have to sell an awful lot of sausages to cover it. If we could get close to collecting the same percentage of money as those other local schools, we might have a chance of funding some air-conditioning.

The data projector in the library needs to be replaced, the computers are very out of date, and there are a lot of books that look oddly familiar to ones I read forty years ago. Oh and we need some new furniture.

Someone suggested recently that it would be great to have a proper running track. Nice idea.

So now that I’ve come clean, I’m still not promising to stump up four different levies (for three kids) this week, but I’m going to make a start. I read an article in The Age a while back about how some schools are closing their libraries and replacing them with ‘technology research centres,’ or some such horror. Books and reading are important to me and I want my kids to have a great library that’s well-resourced so I’m going to start by paying the Library Fund.

Both the Building and Library Fund are tax-deductible and a few parents have mentioned to me that they plan to get those paid before June 30th.

I think our school’s in a good place right now, but imagine how much better it could be – and how much it would benefit our kids – if those of us who can, paid our voluntary fees.

Thanks.

Jacqui Tomlins

cropped-1e3d6b801ef6db3b15b12e5d3762a976.jpg

Retro reads

What memories do you have of reading independently when you were young? I have lots, starting with an obsession with Elizabeth’s boarding school escapades in Enid Blyton’s The Naughtiest Girl series, through to smuggling a copy of V. C. Andrew’s Flowers in the Attic into the house when I was in Year 8 and reading it shamefully in snatched instalments (shamefully because even at age 14, I recognised that it was a terrible book!).

Although bookshops are crammed with new releases, there are lots of children’s ‘classics’ that are worth a look and I particularly like introducing my kids to books that I enjoyed at the same age.

Now I’m declaring this an Enid-Blyton-free-list (same goes for Roald Dahl). Yes, I have already slipped the Naughtiest Girl in this post but I’m quite sure everyone remembers reading Blyton and Dahl when they were young and there is certainly no shortage of titles by these authors in book shops. Instead, this is a list of some of my favourite retro titles that are as great for kids today as they were when first published.

Milly-Molly-Mandy-Stories by Joyce Lankester Brisley

milly-molly-mandy-1

Milly-Molly-Mandy dominates my early reading memories. It’s a book that was read aloud to me and a book that I then read alone. It’s the first book I was caught reading under the covers with a torch. And without question, it’s the book that made me love reading. And for those that are familiar with these charming stories, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s all about the map. Milly-Molly-Mandy is suitable for kids aged four and over.

Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary

ramona-the-brave

I still have a soft-spot for sparky little Ramona. There are a number of books in the Ramona series and they are just as relevant today as they were when I read them in the late seventies. Ramona the Brave is suitable for kids aged seven and over.

Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume

tales-of-fourth-grade-nothing

I think of Judy Blume as a reading-rite-of-passage but after a straw-poll amongst friends, I discovered that some people didn’t read any Judy Blume when they were growing up. Start with Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing – it’s the first in a series of five books about a character named Fudge (before Diary of a Wimpy Kid, there was Peter and Fudge).Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing is suitable for kids aged 7 and over.

The Borrowers by Mary Norton

the-borrowers

I was completely captivated by these tiny people who ‘borrowed’ household objects and used them for all sorts of purposes. You’ll never look at hidden corners in your house the same way again. The Borrowers is suitable for kids aged eight and over.

Hating Alison Ashley by Robin Kleinhating-alison-ashley

How many times did I read this book over in grade 6? Countless. I must admit, I was horrified by the 2005 movie version of the story – the casting was completely wrong and the whole thing was pitched at teenagers so ignore it and go for the original – after all, the book is always better! Hating Alison Ashley is suitable for kids aged 11 and over.

How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell

9780440445456

As a child, I read everything I could get my hands on. My brother, who is a year younger than me, was not a ‘reader’ in primary school. Until How to Eat Fried Worms. It’s appealingly gross. How to Eat Fried Worms is suitable for kids aged eight and over.

Also check out:

My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards (age 5+)

Eloise by Kay Thompson (age 5+)

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (age 8+)

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White (age 8+)

The Dark is Rising series (age 10+)

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (age 10+)

What books make your list of favourite ‘retro’ reads?

Katrina Whelan

http://booksaremyfavouriteandbest.wordpress.com

PS Coincidently, Ruth has just ordered a stack of children’s classics for the library which should be available next week:The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bornhoffen, A Brief History of Montmaray, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Black Beauty, Emil and the Detectives, I capture the castle,Little Women, Peter Pan, Swallowdale, Swallows and Amazons, The Adventures of Hucklebury Finn, The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows, The Wolves of Willoughby Close, Treasure Island, What Katy Did, The Jungle Book, The Railway Children, The Worry Tree and Heidi.