Deb Ryan Let's Count Interview
Let's Count at work is a fantastic program for parents which is delivered through their workplace. An experienced educator from The Smith Family runs a one-hour workshop with practical tips and resources parents can use to help their child develop numeracy skills during those critical early years.
As well as giving parents the confidence and skills to support their child's learning, Let's Count at work is a fun and unique way for an organisation to engage their employees.
Let's Count at work is a growing social enterprise delivered by The Smith Family – making the workshops an easy way for businesses to support the charity. The workshops are paid for by the business with the funds channelled back into The Smith Family's education programs for children in disadvantaged communities across Australia.
It was piloted by 300 parents and carers working at Origin Energy and has now been successfully delivered at numerous organisations across Australia. The workshop is based on the principles and activities used in the Let's Count program, which was developed in particular to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds and has been shown through a three-year evaluation to increase the maths skills and enjoyment of preschool-aged children, their parents and carers.
Interview with Deb Ryan, National Lead Facilitator for The Smith Family's Let's Count program, and the offshoot program for businesses, Let's Count at work
Deb Ryan is the National Lead Facilitator for The Smith Family's Let's Count program. An educator, advocate, parent and grandparent, her passion is early childhood and the important role that parents play in young children's development.
Question: Why has The Smith Family developed the Let's Count at work program?
Deb Ryan: Love it or hate it, maths really is an unavoidable fact of life! We know that developing a child's maths skills is just as important as their reading skills, but typically this is an area parents are less certain about. The Smith Family created Let's Count at work as a fun and interactive learning experience that can be delivered to parents and carers through their workplace. Run by an experienced educator from The Smith Family, it's a fantastic way for organisations to engage their employees, providing practical information on how to develop the maths skills of young children in their care.
Question: How does this initiative benefit The Smith Family?
Deb Ryan: When businesses host a Let's Count at work session for their employees, the fee for hosting a session is channelled back into The Smith Family's education programs for disadvantaged children across Australia. More than 20 companies Australia-wide have already hosted a session and we'd love to see more businesses get involved!
Question: And how will this program benefit Australians?
Deb Ryan: Maths is a subject area that is critical to everyday life, however, Australian students are slipping behind other countries in maths and science, with those from disadvantaged backgrounds most at risk of not having the basic numeracy skills we all need. Research shows that developing a child's interest and skills in maths before they start school boosts their achievement later in life, but there's tended to be less of a focus on this area. By attending a Let's Count at work session, family members can find out simple activities they can do with young children, how to use board games that the whole family can enjoy, and how to find and explore maths in the everyday.
Question: What inspired the Let's Count at work program?
Deb Ryan: As Australia's largest education charity, The Smith Family is well aware of the research on early brain development and its impact on future education and life outcomes. Families want the best for their children, but many struggle with how to actually engage with their young children in a way that encourages curiosity, and challenges and develops their thinking. With a society leaning more towards digital learning and entertainment, we want to help parents re-engage with their toddlers and preschoolers, have fun and learn wherever and whenever they are, using simple everyday items that they already have on hand. No fancy computer games, or high tech toys, just a sense of fun, a cooperative parent and whatever is at hand.
Question: What are your hopes for the Let's Count at work program?
Deb Ryan: That parents from all walks of life have the opportunity to learn about their child's maths potential, and that they are inspired to Notice, Explore and Talk about Maths with their child wherever they are. With parents having increasingly busy lives, the idea that you can do maths as you go through the day is often a great revelation. I would love to see families using the Let's Count principles in the supermarket, at the doctor's waiting room, during their walk to the park – everywhere!
Question: How can parents help prepare their young children for school?
Deb Ryan: By engaging in maths with their child, parents can build a firm foundation for later school success. Understanding that -Maths is all around us' is the key to helping your child become a powerful mathematician, even when they're in preschool! But so many people have a less than positive reaction to maths – through negative school experiences, family circumstances or a lifelong belief that they are -bad at maths'. However, maths ability isn't genetic – it's created early through hands-on experiences and curiosity, and then bolstered by formal academic learning as we progress through school. Everyone can be a powerful mathematician!
Question: How can we incorporate numeracy skills into everyday life?
Deb Ryan: You can expand your child's mathematical understanding by doing basic activities such as shopping, cooking and bathing. All of these activities, and many more, are grounded in concepts such as number, measurement, volume, estimating and sequencing. The key however, is to engage with your child while they play. Notice what they are doing, and their surroundings, explore the environment with them, and talk about what you are both doing as you play.
Question: How can Australians get their hands on a Let's Count pack?
Deb Ryan: By asking their workplace to host a Let's Count at work session! It can be held during a lunchbreak and we usually recommend a group size of 12-20 people. Everyone who takes part in a session gets a Let's Count pack to take home with games and activities to use with their children. And it's not just for parents – we've had aunts, uncles, grandparents take part… anyone with children in their lives can benefit. And all proceeds from hosting a session are channelled back into The Smith Family's education programs with disadvantaged children. So it's a win-win!
Question: Can you share some results of the Let's Count at work program?
Deb Ryan: We've had some really great feedback from participants in the workshop. One person said: 'This has been a wake-up call for me as a parent – the stats really spoke to me." Others have commented that they love the fun and interactive nature of the workshop, and the idea of integrating maths into their family's everyday routine. There's nothing I love more than hearing parents say they can't wait to get home to try the games and activities with their kids!
For more information, visit www.thesmithfamily.com.au/lets-count-at-work
Interview by Brooke Hunter