The importance of parents in children's learning
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
- Developing adult-child relationships that are loving, warm and responsive.
- Listening, responding and talking from birth.
- Engaging in shared thinking as a normal part of daily life - explaining, speculating, describing, making connections and open questioning.
Opportunities to explore and learn
- Giving opportunities and encouragement to explore and develop independence whilst offering support when needed.
- Providing real experiences that make sense to children and including children in everyday routines.
- Providing opportunities to learn in meaningful, enjoyable contexts.
- Going on visits.
- Creating opportunities for children to have friends to play.
Being child focused and led
- Following a child's interests and encouraging their ideas.
- Allowing and encouraging a child to lead play whilst playing together.
- Recognising success and praising to build confidence and self-esteem.
Developing literacy and language
- Chatting together as much as possible as part of normal daily life.
- Developing understanding of letter sounds and patterns.
- Oral storytelling - sharing stories at home about everyday life, past experiences etc.
- Singing songs and rhymes.
- Talking about words, letters and sounds in context e.g. environmental print, picture books.
- Using a wide variety of text - reading with and to children and encouraging repeating of favourite stories.
- Encouraging and affirming early mark making and writing attempts.
- Painting and drawing.
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)
Download Activities and behaviours that create a positive home learning environment.
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.