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Australia HIPPY helps preschoolers through coronavirus pandemic, prompting calls to expand program

03:21  29 september  2020
03:21  29 september  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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The HIPPY program is designed to help children enjoy learning before starting school. (ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler) © Provided by ABC Health The HIPPY program is designed to help children enjoy learning before starting school. (ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)

Parents are calling for a specialised learning program called HIPPY to be expanded across regional Australia after it helped hundreds of families through the pandemic.

The two-year Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters is designed to empower parents and prepare four and five-year-olds for school.

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Tutors visit families once a fortnight with activity packs for parents to complete with their children at home.

Amy Shannon's five-year-old daughter Cydi is among HIPPY's newest cohort of graduates in Rockhampton.

"She absolutely adores HIPPY, to the point where when we found out she was graduating she cried because she didn't want to finish it," Ms Shannon said.

"It brings the best out of you as a parent, and your child.

"I honestly didn't have the confidence in myself, until I started the program, to be able to sit down with her and go: 'This is what you need to start to learn'.

"Me being new to Rocky … it made me more social, it got me out and about and meeting new people."

Changing the trajectory

The federally funded program operates in 100 communities across the country, 70 of which are regional, rural or remote.

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HIPPY Australia manager Marian Pettit said it had provided a lifeline to many parents through the pandemic, because tutors could also refer families to other community services.

"We change the life trajectory of families," Ms Pettit said.

"We build the parent-child relationship and we improve the home learning environments.

"When schools were closed, the parents knew how to work with their child through a structured approach, plan their other children's day, so that they could enjoy the learning that they were doing remotely from school and home.

"When things are changing within the community, they've been able to be an additional support and communication network to families, in some cases, who are quite isolated from others."

Helping parents return to work

The program also provides part-time employment to train and upskill parents who have spent years out of the workforce.

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"[We] provide a transitional labour market program for parents so that they can be the tutor and then they can go on to other employment within the community," Ms Pettit said.

Mother-of-three Marri-ann Sadler said it was the perfect opportunity.

"It has been the most worthwhile experience, especially being a tutor and a mum doing it," Ms Sadler said.

"Being a tutor, they actually help us study to get us back into the workforce, so it's about empowering parents."

Who can join?

The program is rolled out based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics' Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas, which ranks areas according to advantage and disadvantage.

"With a lot of programs often you need to have a healthcare card or be in the low socioeconomics, but this is for everybody," Ms Sadler said.

"Sometimes I think we forget to take that time to sit back and actually do stuff with the kids because life's so busy.

"It really sets them up to have a good start at prep."

Program coordinator Sandy Hansen said all 17 graduating children had blossomed since HIPPY Rockhampton launched in 2019.

"I think if you get them ready to learn and get them to love learning before they get to school, it really just makes that journey throughout school a lot easier," she said.

"They're eager to learn and they're willing to try new things and give things a go."

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