Coming across an article in The Sector about a UNE project developing new resources for young children in Defence families must have felt like serendipity for early childhood educator and military spouse Alison Tammen.
“As an early childhood educator and Defence spouse, I thought, ‘this is awesome’! It also struck me because it was from the University of New England, where I had trained. I sent an email to the project leader, Dr Marg Rogers, not really expecting to hear back, but I received a lovely long reply,” she says.
Alison is now looking forward to sharing her experiences to help other families as part of the project’s steering committee.
“As an early childhood educator, I’ve always been confident in communicating with young children but when my husband was away a lot with the Air Force, we were still young parents grasping at straws trying to keep on top of everything.”
“If there were online games and resources available then to use together as a family, I definitely would have tapped into it.”
Alison says the toughest time for her young family was when her husband worked in the UK every other six to eight weeks for a period of three years.
“During this period, my son was at preschool, so he was four, and he had a really good relationship with his dad. His behaviour often declined when my husband went overseas, and I always informed the teacher when Dad was away, not to excuse his behaviour, but just so she knew what was going on.
“My daughter was two years younger. She took longer to bond with her dad, which could have been for many reasons, but he was away a lot when she was really little, so I think that may have had something to do with it. But she had a great relationship with him by the time she was around five or six years of age.”
Alison says they used a range of strategies with the children to prepare them and involve them each time their dad went away.
“We had very clear communication with the children. We used to talk to them about what was going to happen. They would help Dad pack his suitcase and they’d always come to the airport to say hello and goodbye to him.
“I would tell them, ‘Daddy’s coming back’ and we would cross off the days from eight days down, my son would always put the mark on the calendar, so we used that as a strategy.
“When my husband came back is actually when the children’s behaviour declined. It was a readjustment each time for all of us, and it would take a week or two for things to settle down and find our new routine.”
However, Alison is keen to point out that there are many positives about being part of a Defence family, and her children look back on these fondly.
“They remember going to their grandparents’ place for a barbecue dinner every Friday when their dad was away – we were lucky to have that support.
“We also had two overseas postings to the US. That was a really special time for us as a family. We had a great team of other Australians, both Defence and civilian, and we supported each other and really became each other’s substitute families. Twenty years on, we still have a connection with some of them.
“The kids were really upset when we moved from the US to Newcastle. They had their friends and routine and didn’t want to leave. So the first thing we did when we arrived was to go to the beach to have fish and chips. It helped them see it wasn’t going to be all bad!
“I think you’ve got to always be positive, show the children that a new situation can be fun and work hard to make the most of it,” she says.
Alison will meet with the other members of the project’s steering committee for the first time in the week leading up to Easter, which will help shape a new suite of free online resources for Defence families and educators based on early childhood research and learning design expertise at UNE.
“I think having these new tools for parents is such a great idea. It will be really interesting to be part of something that’s so new and that will touch a lot of families and will be able to offer support.”
The resources will be developed with the help of a grant from The Ian Potter Foundation. The resources for parents and early childhood educators are due to be available to the community in 2023 after pilot control testing and evaluation with parents and educators.