From the beginning, there are many things that can be introduced to support a child’s ongoing development. But parenting is a complex business, with so much to think about and be concerned over. Some may be meaningless worry, doing little more than keeping social media pages busy – and you up at night! So how do you support parents to do the simple things that really will make a huge difference to their developing child as they prepare them for life?
As you consider the phrase, “preparing a child for life,” many different things may come to mind.
You may think about personal qualities and life skills that you would wish to bestow upon them, reminiscent of good fairies over the crib of Sleeping Beauty. You may consider professional skills such as financial independence, while being able to set and achieve their goals and remain motivated and engaged with all the world has to offer. You may think leading a happy and healthy life should be the “gifts” that appear top of your wish list, maintaining a positive attitude and bouncing back when life throws adversity their way. Or the strength of their relationships, alongside their ability to engage well in social situations, while taking care of themselves as they actively make healthy choices.
In some instances, the differences we can make to our children take root very early on. What may seem only a slight or barely considered change in our behaviours can have a staggering impact when you view them over the long-term. But are your parents aware of just how far back you must go to see the impact of the choices made? And just how early positive choices will start to have a positive effect?
- For example, how well a child can manage to sit at a school desk without fidgeting and with enough comfort to concentrate on the lesson began with the “tummy time” they received as a baby
- Their vocabulary on starting school will depend heavily on how well they are communicated with from birth. Hearing tens of millions more words in a communication rich home than one where this is not a feature
- And the ease with which they take to reading and spelling will depend on the moments of quietness in their early years when they were given the opportunity to hear subtle differences in sound?
So, let’s look at some of the small yet significant differences you can introduce, both to your own routines and practices and those of your families. So that from day one you can make significant long-term impacts on the children in your care. Impacts that will continue to take effect for generations to come!
Supporting a child’s language
Firstly - talk to children - a lot. From day one. Surrounding children with language makes a huge difference to the number of words hear, that they begin to recognise – and in time – use. By the time they start school, this difference will impact their social skills, their vocabulary, and their ability to communicate. Meaning they will not only be better able to understand the lesson, but they can also get involved in it, contributing ideas and asking for the help they need.
Supporting a child’s communication
To support children’s communication, you also need to actively hear them. So, listen as they discover their thoughts and feelings, and show them that they are worthy of being heard. Even when all they are communicating with is babble. You can teach your children some Baby Sign Language, even a few words will offer them a different way to communicate from a very young age, with benefits being seen in many areas of brain development. And please help your parents to understand how important it is to avoid using screens until their child is at least two years old. Sensory stimulation is hugely important to a developing child, but this needs to be a two-way exchange in ways that screens cannot offer - but do detract away from.
Supporting a child’s physical development
It is so important that children are not secured in a chair for any longer than necessary. Give them opportunities to feel what their growing bodies can do as they strengthen their muscles and bones. As they explore their environment, they are even developing muscles deep within their eyes, in ways that sat looking at one distance cannot do. So, offer them “tummy time” from the first months of life as they develop their core systems in ways that are essential for sitting comfortably when they are older. And offer them lots of experiences to investigate, to touch and manipulate.
Supporting a child socially and emotionally
Offer children opportunities to develop their social and emotional skills, with frequent opportunities to interact and play with others as they see others engaging and sharing. Children at any age are very good at letting us know when an experience has become too much and their emotions are becoming triggered – so talk to your parents about the subtle signs as their baby turns their cheek, or their mobile child moves away, avoiding more tricky encounters.
And most of all, give them time to just be…
Children need opportunities to experience stillness, connectedness and moments of centred well-being. Social media would have many parents believe that they should be filling every moment of their young child’s lives. So, take this pressure off and allow time for magic and imagination, spending time in nature, singing nursery rhymes and playing silly games. Encourage them to read to their child from the time they are born. Picture books with bright images will keep a baby entranced while books that their toddler can touch and manipulate will keep them enthralled.
As children grow, they are perfecting their abilities, learning how to think, to process information and behave appropriately. This takes their whole childhood, so avoid rushing this vital development, or accelerating to the next stage. Help parents to marvel in these early years as they lay the foundations that will have such great impact through all the years to come.
Support your parents with their own suite of talks at Nurturing Childhoods; written to complement the reflective practice you can embed as you gain the Nurturing Childhoods Accreditation. Underpinned by the DfE professional standards, this action research accreditation will help you realise positive change, tailored to the needs of your setting from day one. So, join me as we surround our children with adults who understand the importance of early childhood. As together, we realise the potential of every child.
About the author:
As Founder of Nurturing Childhoods, Dr Kathryn Peckham is a passionate advocate for children’s access to rich and meaningful experiences throughout their foundational early years. Delivering online courses, training and seminars, she works with families and settings to identify and celebrate the impact of effective childhood experiences as preparation for all of life’s learning. An active campaigner for children, she consults on projects, conducts research for government bodies and contributes to papers launched in parliament. Through her consultancy and research she guides local councils, practitioners, teachers and parents all over the world in enhancing children’s experiences through the experiences they offer. A highly acclaimed author and member of parliamentary groups, Kathryn also teaches a Masters at the Centre for Research in Early Years.
Get in contact with Kathryn by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org