The vast majority of parents want to do the best for their children, but some struggle to do so. This is often because they don't understand the important role they can play or know how best to support their children's development.
The messages from research are crystal clear. When parents have the knowledge, skills and confidence to provide the kind of relationships and experiences that children need to learn and develop, it makes a real difference to children's futures.
Learning starts long before a child is able to talk and look at books - or even shake their first baby rattle. A child's experiences from the moment of birth, if not before, affect how the brain develops and their later outlook on the world, ability to learn, relationships and behaviour.
The human brain is unfinished at birth. A baby's brain develops at an astonishing pace: from 25 per cent at birth to 80 per cent of the fully formed brain by the age of three. This development is not automatic, but is 'experience dependent'. During the first three years of life, the brain makes trillions of new connections between nerve cells in response to their experiences. These connections govern the development of language, emotional, physical, social and cognitive abilities.
For practitioners working with vulnerable children and families, research evidence provides a very hopeful and positive message - how parents relate to their children and the activities they do with them have a greater impact on children's development than their socio-economic background. This does mean, however, that vulnerable parents need the information and support in order to provide their children with the best start and overcome cycles of disadvantage.
So how can parents support their young child's learning and development?
Early home learning is not just about the kind of pre-educational activities that the words may suggest. It is about a much wider range of experiences that provide the love, security, stimulation, encouragement and opportunities that help children flourish and grow to achieve their full potential.
Creating a positive home learning environment
Opportunities to explore and learn
Being child focused and led
Developing literacy and language
Adapted from Wheeler and Connor (2009) Sources: Nutbown et al. (2005); Siraj-Blatchford and McCallum (2005); Sylva et al (2004); Siraj-Blatchford et al (2002); DfES (2002); National Literacy Trust (2001)
What about childcare providers who are effectively offering a home learning environment?
The messages about what children need at home to learn and develop are equally relevant for providers such as childminders and daycare settings caring for children for a significant proportion of their waking day. Building in time and opportunities for one-to-one interaction, talking and listening with babies and young children will be important in addition to group activities and play.
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