Changing lives through our Take a Break program

Our Stories

The first glimpse we have of Rose, a teacher from Western English Language School (WELS), is on Cottage by the Sea’s outdoor climbing net with the kids – they had asked her to join them. “We want to support the kids – from a distance – to build their confidence,” she explains. ‘’We call it ‘scaffolding’.” By meeting children in their world, it enables their experiences to truly resonate and helps foster long-lasting confidence. 

Rose has been teaching at WELS for more than 20 years and has stayed at Cottage by the Sea on multiple occasions for Take a Break programs. “It’s a great place to visit,” she says. As a mother, Rose understands first-hand the value of children spending time by the sea, eating good food, working together as a team and being around positive role models.

The children on this week’s Take a Break program have all recently arrived to Australia from more than 15 countries, including Samoa, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Argentina, Afghanistan, Chile, Pakistan, Iraq and many more. Their life experiences across these different cultures are varied. But what they have in common is their resilience, gratitude for the small things in life and a collective sense of joy. “They appreciate what they’ve been given – all the things we can take for granted,” Rose explains.

Their focus this week is all about making new friends and learning things along the way. For all the students, English is their second or third language which can make communicating with each other and staff challenging, but this is all part of the learning process and makes for great problem-solving and bonding. Camp Leader Tori noticed that throughout the week, even if the kids couldn’t understand what each other was saying, they were still smiling and laughing with each other. “They were just all happy,” she explains.

Increased confidence is one of the many benefits the participants can experience as a result of working through challenges on the Take a Break program. Rose explains that this is one of the most notable benefits she witnesses. “This place just gives them that confidence,” she shares, adding that she has also observed their increased willingness to try new things, including new foods. Independent impact studies have shown that Cottage programs leave a lasting impact on children, from increasing their confidence and self-belief to enhancing their sense of belonging. You can find more information about this research with Deakin University here.

This group of children are from different school campuses, which has given them the opportunity to connect with other children they otherwise wouldn’t have crossed paths with. “They’re making new friends with kids from different campuses,” explains Rose. “To all come from different schools and countries, it was great to see how they all gelled together,” adds Tori. “They were such good kids. They all got along so well,” Tori continues.

Many of the children on this program have also spent time with participants from their same culture, which has given them an enhanced sense of connection. Two boys from Samoa are based at different campuses, but being on this same program at Cottage has given them the opportunity to become friends. Despite some of their challenges at school, such as low confidence and reduced learning, they have found a greater sense of belonging by their shared commonality. “They’re having a ball together,” shares Rose. Another two children from the same township in Columbia have also been great company for each other – the young boy has even been helping as a translator for the young girl, who hasn’t been in Australia for quite as long as him.

New experiences by the sea

For the majority of these children, they have never been to the beach before. You can’t help but smile at the excitement on their faces in experiencing the ocean for the first time. “Seeing their joy is priceless,” says Rose. They have all had their own unique experiences with this discovery.

For one participant during a boogie-boarding activity at the beach, it was pure and utter appreciation. This child grazed his chin while boogie-boarding for the first time. Once he was cleaned up with the appropriate first aid, Camp Leader Sam gave the child an icy pole to help soothe his mouth. He didn’t know what to do with the icy pole – he didn’t realise that it was something for him to enjoy.

For another participant on a beach swim, the experience was about overcoming fear as an obstacle. This young girl didn’t want to get in the water. Rose encouraged her to wet her feet with her at the shore, which helped her dip her toes in the ocean. Nearby, Sam was digging a hole in the sand. The young girl was curiously watching the saltwater enter the hole Sam had dug. By the end of the session, she had completely transformed her attitude towards the sea and was dabbling her feet at the edge of the water of her own accord.

Early in the week, the group went for a beach walk to the pier at Point Lonsdale. During this excursion, the kids were so curious and fascinated by the fishing at the pier and were fortunate to have a demonstration by one of the local fishermen. As he cast his rod into the water, the kids followed the movement of the fishing line with wonder. “You had to see their faces,” shares Rose.

Unlocking the power of awe

One new oceanic experience the participants shared as a group took place at the beach next to Cottage. Feeling the sand on their skin was a whole new experience in itself. As they were building sandcastles, one of the boys started yelling, “Shark! Shark! It’s a shark! I see a shark!” and made a shark fin with his hand on his head. The whole group looked on to try and spot this “shark” in the water, and then one fin popped up, then another, then a few more. One of the girls shouted, “No, not a shark – it’s dolphins!” She was right – there was a pod of dolphins cruising past about 10 metres from the shore. The group watched in awe as the pod of dolphins put on a show. Seeing dolphins during their first time at the beach is an experience that will stay with the children long after they return home.

This experience of witnessing dolphins encapsulates the value of cultivating awe in our lives. Engaging mindfully with nature is one of the many ways we can unlock the transformative effects of awe. This powerful emotion can improve our health and wellbeing in many ways, from enhancing our sense of connectedness with others to boosting our mood, soothing our nervous system and enhancing our focus. And we don’t need to wait for a pod of dolphins to swim by, either. We can cultivate this everyday sense of wonder in daily life simply by paying attention and being curious, which is something the children on this week’s program are well adept at doing. Cultivating awe has also been found to come more easily from new things, which makes participating in a program at Cottage by the Sea a powerful way to help unlock the life-changing impact of awe.

Turning ordinary into extraordinary

Many new and impactful experiences have also occurred on land for this group, too.

One of the participants is a boy from Cambodia who lives with his grandmother. “He’s always smiling,” shares Rose. “Nothing fazes him. He’s so resilient.” He was incredibly appreciative of the welcome gifts at Cottage. Every child on a Take a Break program is gifted a welcome bag to take home –including hand-knitted goods by our volunteers – which is placed on their bed as they arrive. This young boy was thrilled to be gifted a teddy bear and a hand-knitted scarf. “The one that goes around here?” he asked Rose while directing his hands around his neck. He didn’t know the word for “scarf”. Young children like this participant are so polite, grateful and appreciative of the small things – this perspective turns the ordinary into something extraordinary. On their first night, Rose tucked all the children into their beds and noticed that the majority of them had their gifted teddy bears tucked in with them.

Another one of the participants arrived at Cottage with literally nothing, as his house had tragically burned down a week before this program. The team at Cottage ensured that the young boy went home with bags of essential items for him and his family. Big bags loaded with clothes, household items, teddies, toys and blankets – despite not being able to replace his original possessions – are invaluable to someone who has lost everything.

For all of the participants in this group, a sleeping bag was a new concept. “We had to show them a YouTube video to explain what they were,” explains Rose. “That in itself was a novelty to them,” she adds – sleeping in a sleeping bag. A seemingly mundane object is transformed through the eyes of these children. 

Dessert was also a foreign concept for these children. As they cleared their plates from dinner one night in preparation for dessert, they were confused because they were not familiar with enjoying a sweet course at the end of a meal. Once they realised what was happening, they were so excited and appreciative of the new experience. “It was really eye-opening,” shares Tori. “It just makes you a bit more grateful for what you have,” the Camp Leader continues.

Rose explains how their experiences at Cottage leave a lasting impact and help to enhance their engagement back in the classroom at school. “They’ve made better connections,” she says. “Those memories do last – I know they do for them.”

Feedback from participants

  • “Thank you for everything. Thank you for playing with us. And thank you for being kind to us. Thank you for making the camp fun!”
  • “Thank you for everything. Thank you for playing basketball and soccer.”
  • “Thank you Kim for the lovely food you prepared and thank you for cooking gluten-free food.”
  • “Thank you for everything. Thank you for playing basketball with me. Thank you for the camp!”
  • “’Thank you for playing with me in the 4 days that we went to the very tall building. When we walked at the beach, we saw 5 dolphins! And thank you Mr Kim, the food is so good! The rice and the noodles. Thank you Sean, Belinda, Dave, Will, Louise, Bonnie, Brad, Tori, Shelby, Sheree, Sam and Kim.”