'A Big Day In' for children with a disability

Posted on 13 October 2016 by Emma Leunig

Four joyous young children playing in a ball pit as more coloured balls rain down on them

Children with a disability don’t always have the opportunity to spend time away from the things they know. Often their world can consist of their home, school and sometimes the homes of extended family. But as we all know, part of growing and developing is our ability to find our identity away from familiar environments, to try new things and build new relationships.

This can be challenging for children with a disability as the risk is that any changes to routine can cause anxiety. Often a break would also be beneficial for their families but there can be a reluctance to allow their child to stay away for too long.

Parents know intimately how to respond to their child’s needs and can experience anxiety when their child is away or introduced to a new environment. However, exposure to new experiences is a great way to connect with community, make new friends, and strengthen social skills. MacKillop Family Services’ A Big Day In program helps children with a disability begin this journey.

Big Day In is available to children with a disability who live in the western suburbs of Melbourne and is responsive to the individual needs of the child and their family. The program operates on Saturdays, and juniors (aged 7-10 years) and tweens (aged 11-14 years) have the opportunity to experience fun and exciting activities with a new group of people in a safe, centre based, environment.

A Big Day In endeavours to provide individualised support to each of the participants, while remaining mindful of group dynamics. The day is broken up into different components and separate zones are set up to respond to the individual needs of each participant. If a child in the group doesn’t feel like participating in the activity, they don’t have to. For example, they may choose instead to chill out in the sensory room - a quiet space set up away from the action with relaxing music, dimmed lighting and things to hold, feel and squeeze to help manage emotions.

Most recently we held A Fabulous Fun & Furry Festival where participants had the opportunity to experience being a zoo keeper. They had a visit from a travelling farm in the morning and then a wildlife encounter in the afternoon (many of the children were braver than the staff when it came to cuddling up with the snakes and lizards!). In between these sessions the children got crafty making animal inspired masks, decorating biscuits to look like bugs and watching the animated film Madagascar.

“To see Max* having fun interacting with the other kids when we picked him up was fantastic. The day also gave me the time to catch up on a few things I haven’t had the chance to do in a while.” – Parent of a Big Day In participant    

Lunch, dinner and snacks are included in the schedule with hot dogs and pizza being popular choices - but these are always balanced with fruit and/or vegie platters. A small financial contribution is required from participants to offset the program costs.

A Big Day In is also an ideal lead in to MacKillop’s Great Break Camps, which involves a weekend away from home. Children get to know some familiar faces and activity expectations, and staff learn more about the specific support requirements of each child.

Upcoming Big Day Ins

  • Saturday 17 December, 2016 - Christmas Celebrations
  • Saturday 1 April, 2017 - Easter Extravaganza
  • Saturday 13 May, 2017 - Make Mother's Day Special

For more information please contact Merita Whelan on (03) 9680 8444 or merita.whelan@mackillop.org.au

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.