The Invisible School Bag: Insight into our Children’s Wellbeing 

Leading Moriah College Primary School this year has been a rewarding adventure filled with challenges, triumphs and complex mini-dramas. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a team and the members of each team to grow a school with vision and impact. I take this opportunity to celebrate the members of the Primary School Executive and the members of their teams who each play their significant part so that each piece of the puzzle does what it needs to for the greater good of our Moriah Family. 

Nikki Grauman, the Deputy Head of Primary School, Wellbeing contributes a critical lens to our Primary School Practice and has shared a deep dive into the schoolbags each child carries with them as they enter our school each day. 

The Invisible School Bag by Nikki Grauman, Deputy Head of Primary School, Wellbeing

Best available research indicates that one in seven Australian children and adolescents have mental health difficulties. A Headspace Report conducted during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic found approximately one in three young people experienced high levels of psychological distress. In essence, these problems can come to school in an ‘invisible school bag’ that educators, parents and even the students themselves are unaware of.  

If we think about our own children’s first day of Kindergarten, a memory we may have is of packing their school bag and showing them where to locate everything inside. We probably put a lot of thought into what food we sent for lunch and recess, labelled their books with great care and made sure to pack a spare hat, jumper, sunscreen and a raincoat, just in case. Then off our children went, bag on their back, ready to face their first exciting day of school. 

I am certain that, without consciously realising it, along with packing their bag, was an array of hopes, cares, worries and dreams that we had running through our minds, as we handed over the school bag and sent them on their way. 

I think that a pertinent question that we should be asking ourselves is, ‘What is it that our children are carrying with them – in that bag – that we cannot see?’ This is because the invisible baggage that our children carry can have a tremendous impact on how they will learn, behave or react; and what types of relationships they will have with their peers, their educators, and members of their own family. 

With the unprecedented times we find ourselves in following lockdown and online learning, it is critical that we make the time to sit down and ask our children what is in their invisible school bag? And to revisit this question on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis; so that we do not lose sight of the simple and complex things that can impact on their day, their attitudes, and their learning. Their answers may surprise you and may hold insight into their behaviours, their thoughts, and their emotions. 

To teach each child, we have to reach each child. Our children’s ‘invisible school bags’ are very telling.  As parents and educators our role is to create safe environments and foster strong and reliable relationships that will allow our children to share their stories, dreams, fears and their goals. Children and young teenagers who can understand and manage their emotions are more likely to express their emotions, bounce back after feeling strong emotions, control their impulses, think through consequences, and make sound decisions calmly and appropriately. 

Helping your child recognise and name emotions helps them build the framework for managing their own emotions. In school we provide multiple opportunities to build on and develop students’ emotions in an effort to self-regulate. When a child can self-regulate, they are better geared for the learning environment, are able to cultivate and navigate friendships and relationships and develop independence.

Our challenge is to pay closer attention to what we don’t see in relation to the baggage our children carry around with them. By naming and noticing these invisible barriers, we can start to take steps to help unearth them. The irony being, that identifying the invisible may make us see our children, more than ever before. This will help us identify and improve the learning pathways of our children and allow us to develop a new understanding of why our children respond and behave the way they do. Doing so is a win-win for all as the positive relationships we develop can be built on a foundation of hope, encouragement, guidance, appreciation, and achievement.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nikki Grauman is the Deputy Head of Primary School, Wellbeing

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