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Children make their mark with Matlda
February 26, 2021
Matlda is not the usual resident you would find in a refuge.
However, she is making a difference among the children taking part in the Make Your Mark program at Emerge.
Matlda is a social robot who can engage in dialogue, read and recite text, dance and play music. She can be programmed to tune into individual children, motivating them to better engage with others and help to modify their behaviour.
Make Your Mark is a creative arts therapy program that provides a safe space for children, aged between five and seven, who have experienced family violence or a family breakdown.
Run in collaboration with La Trobe University, Make Your Mark is investigating how the use of the social robot, MATLDA, can improve social engagement and learning outcomes for the children.
Jane, one of Emerge’s arts therapy therapists, said the results would provide an understanding of how assistive technologies like Matlda can be used to support the learning, social interaction and psychological impacts of children traumatised by family violence.
“It is an important study as we know that when some of these children go to school, they find that the stress of classroom learning can impact upon their behaviour and wellbeing. If Matlda, together with arts therapy, makes a difference in helping children who have experienced family violence regulate their feelings and behaviour, this will be a step forward,” Jane said.
“The research, we hope, will help us better understand and respond to their needs and challenges, and make a contribution to future directions in relevant policy,” she said.
Among the research questions that the project is hoping to answer is whether Matlda can help increase their confidence and learning, encourage participation and create a sense of fun.
For Jane, working with a robot has been an interesting experience not just because of what she can program Matlda to do but because of the immediate effect the robot has on children.
“They are intrigued by her, they love the fact the she talks to them directly. As soon as they see her, their faces light up and they become more interested and engaged,” she said.
“Because the robot is patient and non-judgemental – as well as being interactive – they have been able to form a bond with it,” Jane said.
Over one million Australian children are exposed to family violence each year, affecting mental and physical health, social relationships and learning.