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Pillowcase Program

To help build children's knowledge, skills and confidence to act in times of adversity, Red Cross run a disaster resilience education program, called the Pillowcase Program.

Disaster resilience education for school children

While vulnerable to disasters, children also have considerable strengths which they can draw on before, during and after an emergency.

To me this program allowed the students to not dwell on the one disaster impact but to embrace preparedness for all emergencies. My students talked about this activity the next week. It obviously was something that impacted on many of my students.

Principal, Queensland
Children creating Red Cross poster

Building disaster knowledge and resilience

Disaster resilience is the ability to anticipate, prepare for, respond to, adapt to and recover from the impact of emergencies. Practical skills that contribute to disaster resilience can be learned and practised. Children who participate in disaster resilience building activities have been shown to be better equipped to deal with an emergency.

Research also suggests that educating children in disaster preparedness plays a part in creating a culture of preparedness and resilience in the community as a whole. Children are positive change agents in their households and communities. If given the opportunity to participate, they can make a very real and positive difference before, during and after an emergency.

I learned how to be calm if something goes wrong and also knowing what to bring if I was in an emergency situation.

Year 4 student, South Australia

The Pillowcase Program

The Pillowcase Program was originally inspired by events during Hurricane Katrina in the US. While evacuating campus, students of a local University used pillowcases to carry their cherished and basic possessions. After hearing this, Red Cross staff developed the concept of using a pillowcase as an emergency kit. The program quickly grew into a preparedness education program that has since become known as the Pillowcase Program. Its success in the US prompted an international expansion of the program, supported by the Global Disaster Preparedness Center and The Walt Disney Company.

Delivered by Red Cross volunteers and staff, the workshop encourages children to be active participants in their own emergency preparedness. The content is non-hazard specific and includes activities to highlight the importance of being prepared and how to prepare both psychologically and practically for an emergency.

Aimed at students in Years 3 and 4 (ages 8-10), the one hour workshop involves engaging discussions and interactive activities to help students:

  • Understand and discuss the importance of being prepared
  • Prepare their mind for the thoughts and feelings that may arise before, during and after an emergency
  • Know the difference between need and want items and what to pack in an emergency kit

Each student is then given a pillowcase to decorate and take home, to start their own personal emergency kit.

Links to the Australian Curriculum

The program has been developed with links to the Australian Curriculum, in particular to the stated aims of:

Year Level Civics and Citizenship Health and Physical Education


Why people participate within communities and how students can actively participate and contribute (ACHASSK072) Interact with others with respect to share points of view (ACHASSI059, ACHASSI080) Explore how success, challenge and failure strengthen identities (ACPPS033) Investigate how emotional responses vary in depth and strength (ACPPS038)
4 Interact with others with respect to share points of view (ACHASSI059, ACHASSI080)

Explore how success, challenge and failure strengthen identities (ACPPS033) Investigate how emotional responses vary in depth and strength (ACPPS038)


For teachers who'd like to run further disaster resilience lessons in their classrooms, lessons plans are available for download.

Complementing other disaster resilience programs

The content of the Pillowcase Program complements that of hazard-specific programs run by fire and SES.

Register your interest

To book a Pillowcase Program workshop, find out more, or become a volunteer with the program, please send us the form below.


Register your interest