Every year communities around the country are hit by floods, fires and cyclones. But we rarely hear about the trauma children experience during these emergencies. The terror as a disaster bears down on their community. The distress as they watch their parents become afraid, uncertain and stressed - the people they trust most to keep them safe. The anxiety as they're uprooted during an evacuation, leaving behind everything they love, knowing that their pets and their homes might not be there when they return. Children are generally resilient. But emergencies can leave them feeling completely powerless. They can lose their sense of safety and trust in the world.
They don't always know that they can reach out for help and despite how strongly they might be experiencing trauma, that they can recover. Disaster education in schools teaches kids how to respond to and cope after an emergency. Students look to their teachers to help them make sense of difficult events. Often their teachers have experienced the same emergency, giving them a unique empathy along with the same emotional, psychological and physical challenges.
Age appropriate discussion and activities can help equip children to look after themselves as well as others and to deal with the strong emotions they may feel. Red Cross has developed a suite of lesson plans to help teachers educate students from preschool to year 12 about emergency preparedness and recovery information.
These lessons, based on Red Cross' Rediplan, help children think about the consequences of disaster. They complement the work of the fire services and SES's, whose materials focus upon surviving a particular hazard. Using the lesson plans in schools helps children learn that they can prepare for, adapt to and recover from change, even difficult and unexpected change, and that there is a positive future after disasters.
Life always has challenges and the plans provide children with a set of tools that they can use in any challenging situation. Using inquiry based methods, and guided by their teachers, the children draw on each other's knowledge and experiences, as well as other resources. Teachers are well placed to both educate children in effective strategies to be safe and be a listening ear. This kind of education in schools provide children with an opportunity and framework to work through challenging experiences and gain a sense of mastery over the experience.
The lesson plans provide teachers with a solid and safe starting point to do this important work. I have wondered if teaching emergency preparedness and recovery in schools is too much to ask of teachers. But the lesson plans provide teachers with a solid and safe starting point to do this important work. Good teachers will gage which activities are right for their students and are reminded in the plans that some children may not want to speak about their personal experience.
The plans are designed to gently provide an opportunity to speak about the experience, plan for recovery and to recognise what they did and can do to be safe and psychologically strong. Building Emergency Preparedness and Recovery Lesson Plans into the curriculum is so important for schools in disaster prone areas.
But as extreme weather events occur with even greater frequency, they are important for children everywhere. Emergencies happen everyday and natural disasters are a climatic reality for Australians. We can't afford not to equip our children with some basic lessons on being prepared to respond and recovering from a disaster or emergency. These are lessons that will last a lifetime.