Respect plays a vital role in our everyday lives and now, thanks to a quirky initiative of Speak Up Now – Stop Domestic & Family Violence – Maleny and Blackall Range, our youngsters can be more confident in enacting this precious value.
by Judy Fredriksen
Building and flying a kite might seem like a frivolous pastime – a fantasy sport for dreamers not doers – and appear to be far removed from the regimental environment of a classroom. But for Sherryl Gregory and Val France, spokespersons for SUN (Speak Up Now), it is a unique way of engaging youngsters to talk about respectful relationships at home, at school and in the community.
Keen advocates against domestic violence, the members of the Speak Up Now committee are made up of people from the former Maleny Quota Club; Zonta Club of the Blackall Range; the Rotary Club of Maleny; and the Maleny Neighbourhood Centre.
With professional backgrounds in education, law, medicine, health, counselling and communication, these volunteers are well equipped to provide helpful guidance to our children.
The idea first came about with a suggestion to hold a community kite festival with a theme of respectful relationships, using funding from a council grant, says Sherryl, a retired school teacher with expertise in career education.
Sherryl continues: “I got thinking that maybe we could go into the schools and do a similar thing but one-on-one with the schools, rather than a big community event. I’d done a lot of thinking about how we could connect with the national curriculum.
“Rotary already had a good relationship with The River School, and they allowed us to do the pilot event there in June last year.”
Focusing on children in grades five and six, Val, Sherryl and other SUN members have recently attended The River School along with Conondale and Montville State Schools, using a kite-making exercise to gently talk about the importance of respect and personal values.
In a brainstorming session, the students identified their own expectations of respect, freely sharing them with the rest of the students.
“They came up with some really good examples,” says Sherryl. Amazingly, many of the examples matched those produced by professional counselling services like Kids Helpline, which Sherryl had used for research.
Transposing the abbreviated findings onto laminated cards, she then asked the children to read out the messages to the rest of the class.
The cards reflected inspirational quotes like: “Respect is treating others the way you want to be treated; Respect means you care enough to think about others’ feelings before you act; Respect is listening to others and their ideas; Respect is accepting others for who they are”.
Then came the fun part. These words, along with personally devised symbols and images, were used to decorate the kites.
“And every single kid wanted to be involved,” adds Val, a lawyer.
While they had a captive audience, the SUN team also optimised the opportunity to break down gender barriers, discussing preconceived ideas around stereotype male/female roles. Can girls be engineers? Why can’t the woman mow the lawn and not the man? Why can’t the man do the cleaning?
“Now there are so many different varieties of families, we want to let them know it’s okay to be different,” says Sherryl. Afterwards, to reinforce the messages, the students participated in some simple role plays.
“There is the fun part, but we also have a bit of a serious part where we want them to help us to speak up about respect. If they start speaking up about it, saying ‘that’s not being respectful to me,’ isn’t that going to improve things?
And what better way to spread the message than with a fun activity like decorating and flying a kite.
“When we made the first kite up, it was at the Precinct. It was the most exciting thing – the kite actually flew!”
However, the kite-making exercise doesn’t just stop there; it extends beyond the classrooms.
“The intention is that they will take them (the kites) home and share them with their families. Underlying messages, hopefully, get out there to their siblings and parents,” explains Val.
“At The River School, they then had an assembly and the children brought in their kites again and they presented them to the rest of the school.”
Students received little gift bags which included some domestic violence resources. Included were a safety card; a miniature rugby stress ball; a DV sticker; a wrist band; and pencils printed with messages like: ‘No’ to domestic violence and Respect.
“They really liked that,” says Val.
Sherryl continues: “If the discussion around respect is to be successful, you’ve got to have some sort of connection with the kids and having a kite workshop is the connection.”
And the verdict? Well, the glowing feedback from The River School and Montville State School says it all:
“All the students were engaged and enjoyed exploring the topic of ‘respect’”, says Emily Smith, the teacher from Montville State School.
While Sue Attrill, the Deputy Principal of The River School says: “I would most definitely be keen to invite the Speak Up Now group to visit our school again next year to continue this important conversation.”
Let’s hope more schools come on board with this wonderful opportunity. If you would like to know more about Speak Up Now, please contact: Speakupnowstopdomesticviolence@gmail.com