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Little Learners

The first time I went into an orphanage I was struck by how quiet it was. I couldn't believe that a room full of babies or toddlers could be totally silent like it was. In orphanages all over the world, it is like this ... there are often many children and few carers. The very first baby rooms I saw had 9 cots per (very tiny) room, 2 babies per cot, 2 rooms per carer... 36 babies, one carer. It was difficult for staff but even more so for little children growing up in a silent world with little stimulation. Times have changed and the orphanages I have visited in more recent years seem to have a better staff to child ratio and better facilities but the fact remains that children who grow up in institutions tend to have delays cognitively; emotionally and physically. Type it into any search engine and you will see the research ...

Since that first encounter with a silent baby room, I have searched for ways in which we can reach children earlier ... to somehow avoid the delays that we see in many of the older children who attend our school.

In 2015, my fellow Co-director of Education (and amazing grant application writer), Carolyn Wood successfully applied for our second Australian Embassy Grant (Beijing). The main aim of this grant was to set up and resource our very first 'baby rooms' in Xi Wang Le Yuan.

Like most of the classroom planning we have done over the last six years, we had lots of email conversations; Skype calls; drawings backwards and forwards and ideas sent to and fro ... I loved seeing the progress shots as they came ... an email with photos was like a Christmas present!

But the best thing of all was being there in September 2015 when we opened our baby classes for the very first time ... Little Learner's Green and Little Learner's Pink started with 12 babies. Some of these babies were our youngest Eaglets, but most of them we had selected from the orphanage floors below us. It was an absolute delight to watch these children blossom in front of our eyes in their first month at 'school'.

In the last 12 months, our very first Little Learners have learnt to walk, play, interact with others, attach to caregivers and basically develop as children should. Their development has been so good that almost all of them have had their adoption paperwork completed and of those that have paperwork, all have been found by their 'forever families' and are waiting now for their 'Gotcha' day. This is such a credit to their wonderful teachers and teacher aides. When these children first came to us, they had little to no experience with life outside the orphanage ... but their world opened up when they came to Little Learners. The children in the photo above were in their first week of school - they were still a little shell-shocked when I took this photo. Look at them now ... 12 months on and in Beginner's Class ...

When I arrived this year, our Little Learner's Class on the 9th floor was being renovated. The class had temporarily moved downstairs to the 7th floor and there were only five children left. Before I arrived in China, I had arranged to go downstairs and see who was there who would fit into our vacancies in Little Learners. Once the renovations were complete and we had set up the rooms again on 9th floor, we moved the existing class back upstairs and XiaoMo and TianYue joined us taking our numbers to seven.

Both of these beautiful girls have medical needs (as does YiFei, a young boy from fourth floor who will join us when he recovers from his recent heart surgery). These photos were taken on their first day ... and yes, they were as shell-shocked as last year's babies were. We went in and spent time with them every day, reassuring them, holding them, playing with them, showering them with love. It didn't take long ... on their third day, TianYue started to crawl, XiaoMo started to smile ...

Seeing these children 'come to life' is the greatest gift in the world ...

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