Robyn Gerrity, Carol White Family Centre – COVID-19 response


The Ministry of Education worked with partners to develop a package of options so that children across the education sector could continue to learn at home. Support was also prepared for households with children under five, to help parents and whānau keep their children engaged in learning through play.

The Minister of Education announced a number of ways in which to support learners at home, this included:

  • Increasing the number of students who have internet access and devices.
  • Delivering hard copy packs of materials for different year levels.
  • Funding two television channels to broadcast education-related content – one for English medium and one for Māori medium, including content that is targeted to Pacific and other communities.
  • More online resources for parents, available through the Learning from Home and Ki te Ao Mārama websites, and fast-tracking ways to connect Learning Support Coordinators with families remotely.

For children in early learning, packs were delivered to families and whānau at addresses supplied by early learning services who receive Targeted Funding for Disadvantage (TFFD). One of the services to receive this was the Carol White Family Centre.


First message sent to families after the lockdown took place…..

“I hope you are all good and healthy. I apologise on behalf of Robyn and other teachers of the Carol White Family Centre regarding the kindergarten’s closure for a while. We believe that the Government has made a very fast and wise decision to keep children safe during these difficult times. We have missed all children very much, including mummies, daddies, aunties and grandmas. We pray you are all safe and well together at this time. Please share this message with your children, little ones and older ones. We love you all very much, from aunty Robyn and all your beloved teachers.”

As part of our lockdown response, one of our teachers set up a private group on social media. There was such a great response from the families we had to move to a different social media site to accommodate the level of engagement by our families.

This is Robyn on the right, she is the Head Teacher at Carol White Family Centre and Safia on the left. Safia played a critical role as both an IT expert in setting up the social media site and supporting families to navigate it and also in translating material as required.

One of our initial responses was to engage with the ‘teddy bear’ idea that was sweeping across New Zealand. Robyn, our Head Teacher, put her photo on the site and encouraged the children and families to do this was well. Sharing their home experiences.

This provided a fabulous start to energise our community into sharing photos and video from home with the teachers and all the community of families involved. All these communications were given in both English and also Dari, the language of Afghanistan. This is the main first language being used in the centre at this time. Other languages currently include Tamil from Sri Lanka; Rohingya from Burma; Persian from Iran and Arabic and Kurdish from Syria. All families are involved in the phone tree and social media and are also using some English plus their first languages with each other.

It was quite huge, but the response was just beautiful. So we started getting all these photos and stories, and all the most gorgeous photos of children in their beds with their toys, and their little beanies on and all like that. And then the families really took it over.

The families started posting all sorts of lovely things that were happening in their homes. Cooking was a favourite experience. 

Traditional food prepared and so proudly shown to us during lockdown

At one point Safia made a a video with her and her son on how to make playdough. They also explored looking at various products and how to use them. Families started acting on these ideas and then we started giving all the feedback of the families doing it. It’s doing simple things, but very lovely and fun and doable.

There were such fun experiences being posted on the site.  Sisters from Afghanistan, five and four years old, because the weather was so lovely, running around their home with these water guns, firing on each other. 

Safar sisters Maryam and Zahra  with their water guns, our weather over this time was glorious.

Then we got a message to tell us that the MoE wanted to send all the children special boxes called Early Learning Packages, full of interesting resources for children to play with. Marlene Rai from the Ministry of Education was instrumental in helping the Carol White family Centre access the resources. 

Due to the fact that the school campus was not accessible due to legal lockdown closure rules made it illegal to enter school grounds, Robin had to work with the Principal of the School to contact the ministry, which also involved the Minister of Education. So special arrangements were made and Robin booked in advance and a specific time to go on to the campus. Robin entered the campus to access the database for all the individual addresses which were needed if all the children were to receive these early learning packages. It all proved to be a real drama, but with persistence all was achieved and I was able to  transcribed all the addresses on to a  paper copy from my mobile phone which contained photos of addresses!

A message was then sent to all the families in the service sent through their social media site….and also translated for the families – it included this message:

سلام بر همه!


حال شما چطور است؟

امیدوارم همه شما خوب و سالم باشید

اول از همه ، من به نمایندگی از رابین و سایر کارکنان مرکز خانواده کارول وایت از خانواده ها تشکر می کنم که داستان فرزندان خود را در این گروه برای ما به اشتراک گذاشتند. همه ما از این امر قدردانی می کنیم و خوشحالیم که می بینیم  که چی یاد می گیرند  کودکان در این وقت قرنطین. من همچنین می خواستم به شما ها اطلاع دهم که بسته های یادگیری کودکستان

برای کودکان و نوزادان در راه است. با تشکر از عمه رابین که به تازگی با وزارت آموزش و پرورش بسیار کار کرده است تا بسته های یادگیری کودکستان را برای فرزندان مرکز ما تهیه کند. بسته های یادگیری کودکستان از طریق پست در درب  هر خانواده تحویل داده می شود. وما امیدوارم همه اطفالان در اوایل هفته آینده آنها را دریافت کنند. با تشکر از همه ، ایمن و سالم بمانید.


از طرف رابين


“First of all, I want to thank the families is on behalf of Robyn and the other staff of the Carol White Family Centre who have shared the stories of their children in our online group. We all appreciate and we are glad to see the children are learning and exploring during lockdown. I also wanted to let you guys know that the early learning packs for young children and babies are on their way. Thanks to Aunty Robyn who has been working very hard recently with the Ministry of Education to ensure the learning packs are delivered to all the children. The learning packs will be delivered to each family through the post at your door and I hope everyone will receive them as early as next week. Thanks everyone, stay safe and healthy.”

The Early Learning Packages were couriered from Wellington to the individual homes. The packages were, from birth. All our babies got their own packages…… right through to the six year-olds. 

They were beautiful quality. There were also resources for parents. There were all sorts of things were in the boxes. The boxes included great storybooks. Beautiful, like the Yellow Digger, really high quality New Zealand storybooks. Everyone got a Wonky Donkey CD. And Wonky Donkey books. They got balls and card games of Snap, and all those preschool card games that children love. Little building blocks, little cars and trucks, chalk for the pavement and loads of beautiful coloured paper and coloured pencils.

We are all so excited about the time we have had over lockdown and the many images and videos that we have taken that we have decided to make a COVID-19 book of all the families contributions. Many have sent their stories in first language. It will be an exciting opportunity to celebrate their positivity and resilience during a very important time in New Zealand’s history. A time when families shared some very special times with their children. Thank you to the New Zealand Government and the Ministry of Education for the wonderful gifts of the early learning packs for all our families, this was very much appreciated by all those who received them.

More images and videos below….

Stay Informed!