When Belinda Rule noticed a rise in the number of children who had high level-needs coming into kindergarten, she decided to try a strategy that no one else had before in a C&K (Creche and Kindergarten) centre.
After some initial research, she made the courageous decision to introduce Millie—the assistant therapy dog—and there’s been no turning back since.
Millie’s presence has not only made an enormous difference to the wellbeing and learning of children at C&K’s Eimeo Road Community Kindergarten (Eimeo Road), its success is now being replicated by some other centres in the area.
The strategy is also one of the reasons the Eimeo Road Director and teacher was this year’s recipient of C&K’s Excellence and Innovation Award for Professional Excellence, and the organisation’s overall Emeritus Professor Mary Mahoney AQ Excellence Education Childhood and Care Award.
C&K Early Childhood Education Manager Sonia Stewart says Millie’s active presence has resulted in measurable growth in every child’s learning disposition. It has also increased “the peace, purpose and endeavour in Belinda’s class”.
“Millie the therapy dog supports the children’s social, emotional, spiritual and intellectual learning and character by her calming presence, which is essential for those little ones who have, or are experiencing, trauma and challenge,” Sonia says. “The empathy and unconditional love Millie shows the children no matter their challenge is something wonderful to watch unfold.”
The initiative has also attracted international and national attention, with researchers from Queensland and the United States of America approaching Belinda about doing research projects on the program.
Millie isn’t the only animal at Eimeo Road—guinea pigs and chickens have also been introduced.
To further help students with high-level needs, Belinda has also introduced an Inclusion toolbox, which includes a wide range of sensory resources to help all children better engage in activities.
“Belinda’s collaborative practice in Mackay honours a transdisciplinary approach involving Allied Health professionals: Kids Matter, Autism Queensland, music therapists and the Early Childhood Development Program (ECDP),” Sonia says.
“Belinda supports succession planning of our profession through her relationships with local high schools who run the Certificate III in Child Care Services program with their Year 11 and 12s,” she says.
Children’s learning at Eimeo Road is centred around their ideas, needs, passions and wonderings. Building each child’s confidence, resilience, respect, compassion and courage also plays a key role in their learning.
Sonia says families have “trust and faith in Belinda and her passionate and inspiring teaching team”.
Congratulations Belinda on your nomination.