What brought you to Fairy Hills Kindergarten? Why did you decide to volunteer?
“I was looking for a place to volunteer with children. At that time, I was completing my studies in audiology and I hadn’t had opportunities to do a lot of paediatric contact hours. We don’t have any young kids in our family, so I wanted to enhance my confidence working with kids.
“I also liked the idea of giving back to a place that gave me so much. I attended Fairy Hills as a child some twenty-three years ago, so I have special memories from my time there.”
How did you find the experience. What kinds of things were you doing?
“I was volunteering once per week, mainly helping out with the two- and three-year-olds. We’d play educational games, we’d explore in the playground, and if teachers were writing reports or things like that, I’d help by engaging and playing with the children, doing the fun stuff!
“I’d also accompany the educators and kids on excursions around Ivanhoe, helping them cross the road, things like that. Neena [Lead Teacher at Fairy Hills] was really friendly, welcoming and accommodating.”
Any special moments? What do you remember most?
“One of the kids, a little girl, she was quite quiet. I made some extra effort with her, asking her questions, and I got her talking to me. She was actually really outgoing and sweet and smart.
“I was very shy kid, and mum would always push me to go and get that icy pole, go and talk to that person, otherwise you’ll miss out. And I think I recognised that shyness in that little girl. I thought, ‘she’s so much like I was!’. Opportunities to connect with children like that has helped me learn to connect with kids more generally.
“Also, all those years ago when I was a kindergartener at Fairy Hills, we were given little memory booklets with photos, and I still have mine. In those photos, you can see the coloured blocks that I played with and the boats [in the playground], the stained glass, the little costumes. All those things are still there from when I was there, so it was very nostalgic seeing children have the same magical experiences that I did, with the toys I played with, and in the space I remember. That was very special for me.”
Have the things you learned volunteering at Fairy Hills helped in your career?
“Audiology is the study of hearing – your ears are the pathway to the brain. As an audiologist in a hospital for example, being able to notice whether a child was reaching their milestones, or if they’re behind in terms of language and communication abilities, that’s important. My interactions with the children, observing them develop, noticing which children had language delays, that was beneficial.
“Now, if a child presents to me in my clinical work, I'd be able to pick up issues or delays in development quicker. It was real-world experience that complemented my studies well.
“Also, interacting with kids didn't come naturally to me, so it was good experience to be a little bit silly and practise engaging with children. Learning how to talk to someone else's child is such a valuable skill – if you don't have experience doing it, how would you know how to do it?”
What did you enjoy most about your time volunteering?
“Each day was different. The sessions were never repetitive, which kept it fun and engaging for me and also for the kids. One day you'd be playing with paints, the next you’d be helping with ‘cooking’ in the ‘kitchen’ or clay moulding. And the kids think you’re an amazing artist – lots of compliments on my artwork, which is always nice!
“The teachers offered plenty of opportunities to be tactile, and it was fun using my imagination. They made an effort to give me variety and offer me opportunities to do things that would benefit me. The staff were really lovely. I always felt welcome, valued.”
What about challenges? Did you find anything particularly difficult?
“If the kids were misbehaving, I found that challenging to deal with as I didn’t know how to handle it, but the teachers were always quick to step in. They had this incredible way of resolving conflict or challenging behaviour with empathy. That was educational for me to see.
“Also, the kids are really smart, so sometimes they would try and take liberties with me, asking me permission to do this and that. You want them to like you, but you quickly work out that they’re asking you because you’re not a teacher and perhaps you don’t know the rules. I learned fast to pass those requests onto the teacher.”
What would you say to someone considering volunteering with Kids First? Any advice?
“I’d recommend it absolutely. The staff make transitioning into volunteering really easy and straightforward. I know the teachers appreciated having me there, as much as I appreciated the opportunity.
“In the kindergarten, no two days are the same, the kids made my time so special and they will for you, too. Interacting with children, seeing everyone's personality sparkle is interesting and rewarding. Sometimes, they really surprise and challenge you with some of their questions and different perspectives, which makes the day interesting and the experience eye-opening.
“If you have the time and you're wanting to help out in your community, volunteering is a very rewarding thing to do.
“Also, who doesn’t love an opportunity to play with playdough!”