Saying no is child's play
Ten-year-old Caitlin Scott sits on the carpet, her blonde hair neatly tied back from her face. She is quiet, a bit shy, but not afraid to admit she has already faced situations that could have endangered her personal safety.
She was asked to do something wrong, she tells the teacher, but adds quickly that she didn't do it. The others in the group nod in agreement.
She is not the only one.
The eight P6 pupils from Parkhead Primary in West Calder are among the first to try out the latest personal safety resource developed by Learning Curve Software for West Lothian local authority, in conjunction with Edinburgh City Council.
Keeping Myself Safe - a replacement for the existing resource, Feeling Yes, Feeling No - is up to date on all issues that could put children in a position of personal danger and it uses the latest technology to deliver.
It even has a catchy song the children already remember, after just one session.
"Feeling Yes, Feeling No was terribly dated," says Rita Angus, acting head of Parkhead. "I realised this about four years ago when I was curriculum support for personal safety and child protection in the authority. I planted the seed then but wasn't sure how to take it forward.
"We needed a new resource that covered the range of issues facing young people today, such as internet safety and grooming, and it needed to be in a format that would engage the children."
Initially, Mrs Angus worked with education officer Frank Monaghan on a personal safety resource for P1, also called Keeping Myself Safe, but she still pushed for a replacement for Feeling Yes, Feeling No. Two years later, she joined Mr Monaghan again as part of a development group for the new resource.
"Feeling Yes... was dated but it had some superb teaching materials, so we wanted to make sure the new resource was similar," she explains. "It has good online information and attractive, helpful offline resources."
She was also determined that the resource would be sensitive, so areas that might cause problems for certain pupils could be approached gently. "It is possible to miss out sections and leave them for another time or to run with them and make sure the pupil has suitable support," she adds, suggesting that she might sit with a particular child if she anticipated a problem.
The software comprises 10 animated stories, which throw up numerous issues that can be discussed in class or in small groups, and which provide opportunities for role-play and drama.
"Keeping Myself Safe is quite prescriptive. For those not confident teaching personal safety, it provides lots of structured lessons and follow-up activities. But it is also flexible so that the more creative teachers can veer away from it if they wish," says Mrs Angus.
Each story has an interactive question section and there is a safety toolbox, where suggestions of how to deal with worrying or dangerous situations are given.
The response of the P6 pupils is enthusiastic. "It's really cool to go to the different stories," says Andrew Smit. "And I like the song. You can listen to it with the singing or just have the music and sing along on your own."
The other children agree the song is good, but also suggest the comic-book style makes it more fun.
"It's easier to feel involved because they are cartoons. You feel like you could be the girl yourself," says Kayleigh Brown. "It's better watching the cartoon rather than having the teacher read a story and then discuss it."
"I like the way it opens like you're in a comic shop and you can go into different stories by clicking on the books," adds Grant Holden.
Caitlin nods in agreement. "It's good to know these things because then you will have more confidence in how to deal with it properly. It makes it easier to say no."
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THE 10 ANIMATED STORIES:
The Town Nikki sneaks off to town without telling her parents. Explores issues relating to trust between adults and children, the keeping of secrets, the influence of peer groups and taking risks for fun.
My House Chris is being physically abused by his stepfather. Raises awareness of personal safety and physical abuse and the right of young people to feel and be safe.
The Swimming Pool Jimmy receives unwelcome attention from his sports coach.
Shows the importance of personal space, explores difference between good and bad touching and gives strategies for being assertive and how to remove oneself from compromising situations.
The Skate Park On his first trip to the skate park on his own, Chris is bullied by older boys. Highlights issues facing young people when being out and about on the streets, considers precautions that can be taken, how to recognise warning signals and examines problems of mobile phones and how children can seek help by dialling 999 or phoning ChildLine.
The Youth Club Focusing on grooming through the story of Zoe who befriends an adult male, this story looks at how to recognise feelings of not being in control, the concept of trust and ways of stopping unwelcome behaviour in others.
The Park Ben faces the dilemma of alcoholic experimentation while mixing with his football friends: should he or shouldn't he? The central theme is the effect of peer pressure and the issue of taking risks for fun.
The Bus Jessica is subjected to inappropriate touching by a male passenger.
Explores issues of personal space, inappropriate touching, recognising warning signals and how to be assertive.
The Chat Room Rashida befriends someone she thinks is her age in a chatroom and arranges to meet him. Deals with risks associated with the internet and the grooming processes employed by paedophiles.
The School Concert Lucy recognises that her friend Sara is having problems and discovers she is being subjected to sibling sexual abuse. Enables consideration of inappropriate touching and personal space, and how to stop certain situations from developing.
The Woods Paul admires his new pal Mark. However, Mark involves him in experiences that are inappropriate for Paul's age. Raises issue of sexual abuse between peers.