As of 2023, age-appropriate consent education becomes mandatory throughout Australian schools, making new book Kit and Arlo Find a Way: Teaching consent to 8–12 year olds an essential resource.
Research shows that it is never too early to introduce consent education – something Vanessa Hamilton knows well. More than 25 years as a sexual health nurse and educator has made her one of the most sought-after speakers on sex and sexuality in Victorian schools. She has teamed up with renowned children’s book author, teacher and AEU member Ingrid Laguna, who came up with the idea for the book after being inspired in one of Vanessa’s sessions.
Ingrid knew that feelings of shame and confusion following non-consensual sexual experiences from her own life had carried through into adulthood. She says hearing Vanessa speak made her realise that consent education should start as early as possible.
“Children learn about giving and receiving consent in their younger years,” Ingrid tells ACER’s Teacher magazine. “It starts in the playground when they are negotiating an enjoyable game to play with one another. Kit and Arlo Find a Way is not about sex or sexuality, although it aims to lay the foundation for mutually respectful and enjoyable relationships in later years. As children, we learn how to negotiate, express what we do and don’t want, recognise, interpret and understand what others do and don’t agree to. We learn social and emotional intelligence.”
Kit and Arlo Find a Way, which aligns with the recommendations from the 2021 report by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), lays the foundation by showing how characters negotiate how to play a playground game. The storybook is written as an action-packed, relatable page-turner about four 11-year-olds – Kit, Arlo, Harley and Vanya – as they develop and explore the nature of friendship.
Key topics include body boundaries and safety; sense of self, personal strength and self-determination; shared responsibility for ‘yes’ or ‘no’; enthusiastic and ongoing consent; courage to withdraw consent; verbal and non-verbal cues; empathy; ‘swap’ instead of ‘stop’; managing disappointment; listening to your own truth; consent and ethics (being an upstander); consent laws; respectful relationships; and better friendships.
“In order to solve the epidemic of gender-based violence in Australia, consent needs to be taught from a young age (age-appropriately) and be based on a positive framework, well before they are sexually active.”
Vanessa Hamilton, author & sexuality educator
The story is a narrative in its own right, but the strength of Kit and Arlo is that it contains the many components of consent and incorporates respectful relationships education in an age-appropriate way. This makes it a vital resource for primary schools doing the essential work of teaching kids skills in communication and decision-making that will carry through to their interactions in life.
“In order to solve the epidemic of gender-based violence in Australia, consent needs to be taught from a young age (age-appropriately) and be based on a positive framework, well before they are sexually active,” says Vanessa. “Taught consistently, in plain language, with a focus on breaking down rigid gender stereotypes and disrespect, we can create a positive consent culture, where children’s default position is to ask: ‘Is everyone safe? Am I providing a safe space for others? Do I feel safe?’”
Research shows that school-based prevention initiatives can reduce the likelihood that students will go on to experience or perpetrate sexual violence, as well as promoting healthy relationships and general wellbeing. However, educators need adequate training and support to deliver them.
Designed and created for use in classrooms for students in Grades 3 to 6, the book has accompanying discussion prompts and learning activities directly associated with each chapter. Teachers and students can read the story in class, chapter by chapter, then use the discussion points to facilitate conversations about consent in child-friendly ways. A dedicated Kit and Arlo digital teaching resource platform was launched on 1 June, with evidence-based teaching activities, videos, webinars, podcasts, resource links and lesson plans designed to tie in with the story.
Kit & Arlo Find a Way is published by ACER. Read a Q&A with authors Ingrid Laguna and Vanessa Hamilton on ACER’s Teacher magazine website.
MORE RESOURCES FOR TEACHING CONSENT
talkingthetalksexed.com.au/kit-and-arlo – shares nine videos to support teachers addressing these topics in the classroom
talkingthetalksexed.com.au/talking-the-talk-virtual-classroom – a Sexuality Education resource that is based on capacity-building for teachers to deliver ‘done for you’ sexuality, consent and respectful relationships lessons: Virtual Classroom
talkingthetalksexed.com.au – includes further resources, such as blogs and podcasts
Vanessa Hamilton’s Sexuality Education resource links: vanessa-afdf.mykajabi.com/Links-for-Sexuality-Education-and-Respectful-Relationships-Resources
Ingrid Laguna’s website- ingridlaguna.com