When Millie the dog was introduced to children at the C&K Eimeo Road Community Kindergarten, the effect was immediate and palpable.
Eimeo C&K Director Belinda Rule, who has just been named a finalist in state teaching awards, said one unsettled child stopped crying immediately.
“We’ve had little people who have been aggressive change to be softer. Our non-verbal children, you can hear them trying to talk to her,” Mrs Rule said. “Even with some of our parents coming in, talking about some challenges, she is always there jumping into their laps. She’s very intuitive. It’s that unconditional love she has for people.”
Faced with a rising number of children with additional needs, Mrs Rule had read research on dogs helping children, particularly those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which sparked her decision to trial Millie – her family’s Maltese Shih Tzu cross.
The outcome has attracted international and national attention, with researchers from Queensland and the United States of America asking to undertake research on the program. Millie has also paved the way for other C&K Kindergartens in the Mackay area who have since introduced their own dogs.
Mrs Rule’s courage to try different solutions for the challenges she and her kindergarten community face is just one of the reasons she has been named a finalist for this year’s Queensland College of Teachers TEACHX Innovation in Teaching Award.
To further help students with high-level needs, Mrs Rule has introduced an Inclusion toolbox, which includes a wide range of sensory resources, and works with Allied Health professionals, Kids Matter, Autism Queensland and music therapists. She is also instrumental in helping senior high school students study a Certificate III in Childcare and helping support others in the community with their Diplomas.
“I’m proudest of building up our kindy to not only just a place for our community to feel safe, but to have a reputation to help kids with additional needs; being able to be an educational hub for our community as well, so not only are high school students and university students coming to see us, we’ve got a really good relationship with the C&K College and also MRAEL, which has got a really good relationship with the government to get workers back in to doing Certificate IIs and Certifcate IIIs,” she said.
Mrs Rule has also spent years building connections with the local Indigenous community, recently securing a bus to pick up children to help break down current transport barriers.
The former flight attendant said she loved being a kindergarten teacher because they were treated like ‘rock stars’ by the children, and they were able to build strong foundations for the children socially, emotionally and academically through play, utilising their wonder to learn and engaging their critical thinking.
As a finalist, Mrs Rule received $500 for professional development.