Jayneen Sanders photo.jpg

Jayneen sanders

Author, mother, wife, educator, early years learning enthusiast. 

Jayneen Sanders smiles warmly as she watches the children and parents play and chatter at the Playgroup Play Extravaganza. She is quietly perched behind a stall, piled with colourful books. Her husband is by her side, proudly sharing the books she has written with people passing by. Jayneen is quite prolific, having published over 100 stories for children. An accomplished author and educator, Jayneen has veered down several paths, all leading her to enlighten, empower and enjoy the precious window of childhood. She carries threads of wisdom with her, gathered during many years of teaching and parenting. With those threads, Jayneen has woven a safety blanket for many.

Jayneen is one of the few children’s authors to address body safety, gender equality and respectful relationships. She walks where others tiptoe. While the books are designed for children, they are rich sources of information for teenagers, adults and older adults, in varying degrees. When Jayneen begins storytime with the children, it is easy to see that she gets great reward when sharing and interacting with the kids.

Jayneen has taken the time to discuss and ponder some of these topics. See the full transcript below.

There are not many children’s books that tackle the tricky topics that yours do. How empowering has it been to write and generate discussion about such subject matter?

Very empowering both for myself and for the children I write for! I love that my books generate discussion between caregivers and children, and have the potential to bring about societal change. As a teacher and a mother, I have always respected a child’s voice. Too often children are diminished simply because they are children, but we all need to remember, they do have rights as defined by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and one of those rights is to feel safe and listened to.

Have you observed that the way children live out their childhoods is increasingly different than times gone by, due to technology and the way that children are able to see and receive information?

Absolutely! It has changed so much; even since my children were little 10 to 15 years ago. And not always in a good way, sadly. I am seeing less and less imaginative play and exploration by children. And also, and this is deeply concerning, more parents now engaged on their phones rather than with their children.

In what ways does the online realm help or hinder our children of today?

I have found that children’s attention spans have appeared to lessen over the last 20 years. Where I might have a group of children’s attention for 30 minutes, 15 years ago, I now have it for 10 minutes at the most. I put this down to an increase in ‘screen time’. My personal advice is screens are great in small doses but play-based learning and imaginative play is crucial for all children. I do worry also that the more children and their parents interact continuously with their phones, the less face-to-face contact we are having as a society. It is through reading body language and personal interactions we learn social and emotional skills such as empathy and compassion. For our older kids, I am deeply concerned by the easy access to pornography and the implications on their social and mental health. There are a range of issues associated with continual online use by our young people (many books have been written about this) but my advice to parents and educators of young children is to minimize screen time use and have open and honest conversations with your child as they grow into adulthood. The pluses are: we are now a ‘global village’, connected and able to share ideas. Without technology, none of my books would have reached the people they get to today. So, for that, I very am grateful!

Gender, respectful relationships and body safety is at the fore of public discussion at the moment- with Harvey Weinstein, the #metoo campaign, Lisa Wilkinson’s gender pay dispute, and today Don Burke, along with a string of allegations made in the Australian media after an investigation launched by Tracy Spicer. The royal commission is also an ongoing issue. So often, it is the children that come into the firing line. So often, things are buried away or quietened. Your books speak up in a space where a lot goes unsaid. In your opinion, what is the best way to educate and empower children from a young age? How have you navigated this complicated territory in a way that both children and parents feel comfortable with?

Children’s books are a great vehicle to use when discussing necessary but difficult topics with children. They open up important conversations and there is a lovely interaction between adult and child. During this process, it is important the child is listened to and given a voice to ask any questions or concerns they might have. The best way to educate and empower children around the topics of Body Safety, consent, respect, gender equality, empathy and anxiety is to firstly educate yourself on these topics, and to secondly find the best resources to broach the subject in an age-appropriate way with your child. I hope my books provide a user-friendly and engaging vehicle to do just that! That is why they were written, both from an educator’s and parent’s point of view.

Have you received any backlash about your books, or are people mostly supportive?

I am really proud to say they have received no backlash. In fact, quite the opposite. This generation of parent and educator are keen to empower children and give them a voice. They do not want (and rightly so) children to be silenced as they were in the past, with shocking and devastating consequences. They also want to empower children from a young age so they will grow into empowered teenagers and adults. If a girl or boy at eight years old can stand tall and say, ‘This is my body! What I say goes!’ than chances are they can do the same when the challenges of the teenage years come their way.  

Some people have great trepidation when discussing ‘grown up’ topics with children. What advice would you give to a worried parent or carer who is unsure about what they should tell/share/discuss with their young children?

Body Safety, consent or respect are actually not ‘grown up’ topics. We are not talking to kids about sex or the act of sexual abuse, why would we? We are educating children. Just as when we teach road safety or water safety, the lessons are age-appropriate. Body Safety Education (which includes consent and respect) simply teaches children:

        the correct names for their private body parts

       the difference between safe and unsafe touch

       not to keep secrets that make them feel bad/uncomfortable

       what to do if they are touched inappropriately

       general assertiveness — especially in relation to their own body and helps to reduce bully

Do you think that we are going through a period of positive social change?

Absolutely! And the Internet has helped with that. People can share their messages, blogs, etc. for positive change. I started writing books to empower children seven years ago with my first book, ‘Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept’. Since that time, I have seen such a dramatic change in attitudes to Body Safety Education in particular. Parents really do want to empower their children. The next step is getting our schools to come on board and see that this type of education is crucial for every child. There is still quite a bit more work to be done in that space.

How have you seen schools change over the years since you first started teaching?

Yes and no. Good teaching practice has always been there. When I first starting teaching, 35 years ago, I loved group work and creative ways of presenting my lessons. The children were always active participants in the learning process. To be honest, I think I still teach in the same way today! However, the pressures on teachers these days are massive. So much assessment and administration, leaving less and less time for actual teaching and meeting the needs of individual children. There is far more weight placed on formal assessment of children. When I first started teaching, taking anecdotal notes about children and spending time observing their learning was much more prominent than formal assessment. I am a big fan of play-based learning and I would love to see more of it in mainstream schools.

Young girls in particular are being increasingly sexualised by retail fashion/toys and media in general- how do your books promote gender equality and individuality?

My books promote gender equality by stating in all the ‘big ways’ there is no difference between the genders. We all have hopes and dreams and we all bleed. We are more the same than we are different. However, each person is their own unique self and should be valued for who they are and not defined by their gender or race, for that matter. My books promote diversity and gender equality by giving everyone an equal voice. Sometimes I feel like we are all fighting a tsunami as advertising overwhelms us with the sexualisation of young girls, in particular. Everywhere we look gender stereotypes are constantly being reinforced. As parents and educators we have to actively unpack and challenge what our kids are seeing through discussions, books such as mine and by using more gender-neutral language, e.g. police officer not policeman.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a children’s book author?

I get to relate to children. I feel my talents lie in remembering what it was like to be a child, and to not be heard. I hope I can be their voice when they have none. I also love to see my vision come to life through the amazingly talented designers and illustrators I am so fortunate to work with. Many have become my close friends as they bring to life the stories and images I first visualize in my head. I am very grateful for their talents.

In ways, do you think that your books are as much for adults as for children?

Very good point. And yes, my books are very much for adults are they are for children. I hope, through my books, adults can see the world from a child’s point of view; though they be small, they have a voice! And adults need to listen to that voice and respect it. For too long, children have been expected to be seen and not heard and, as we know, that has not always kept them safe. Adults are 100% responsible for keeping children safe, so they have a responsibility to listen to their concerns and worries. On a very practical level, I always provide the adult reader with Discussion Questions to help them unpack the key points with the child, so the learning objectives of the book are reinforced.

Article by Sinead Halliday