Geelong program Mini Mates is big on fun and learning for kids with a disability

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Learning to ride a bike, making friends and experiencing new environments are among Sarah’s many achievements since starting in the Mini Mates program at Gateways Support Services in Geelong.

Six-year-old Sarah – who loves chocolate, cute animals and learning how to do things – returns home from the program tired but happy and willing to share all the interesting things she got up to.

Sarah’s Mum, Rachel, registered her daughter for the program hoping it would help her become school-ready by broadening her social environment while having fun.

‘I liked the idea that each day had the same beginning and end, thus meeting Sarah’s need for routine, while adding a playful challenge by having different activities and outings each time,’ Rachel says.

‘It was also great to know that all the staff actually understand the children’s needs.’

Mini Mates is a weekend recreation, social and skills development program for 5-7 year olds with an intellectual disability or additional needs. Participants require a current NDIS plan with Core – Assistance with Social, Economic and Community Participation funding to register.

Based out of Geelong, activities and outings include the Museum of Play and Art, We Rock the Spectrum, parks plays, BBQs, and yummy meals out to venues such as the Pancake Parlour.

Recreation Coordinator Ebony Bottrell says Mini Mates is a great program for younger participants to join in fun recreation programs that build on social skills and provide community engagement.

‘Our participants are supported by skilled workers who assist participants to build resilience in the community, peer relationships and emotional regulation,’ Ebony says.

‘There are opportunities to build friendships that continue to blossom as children get older and move through Gateways Support Services’ different recreation groups.’

Rachel says her daughter has gained confidence and the ability to adapt to a range of environments and people.

‘Her favourite moment was when she came home and was beaming that she was getting better and faster at riding a bike,’ Rachel recalls.

She says the professional approach, flexibility and knowledge of support staff ensured Sarah felt welcome and was able to settle into an unfamiliar setting relatively quickly.

‘Staff keep a calm demeanour with all the children and take the time to understand where each child is coming from,’ Rachel says.

‘The flexible structure make it adjustable to any child, while also introducing some structured learning environments, making it an ideal way to assist children be better able to adapt to school.’

Find out more or register for Mini Mates via the recreation section of the website.

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