World Population Day

World Population Day

On Saturday 11th July the United Nations marks World Population Day, an initiative to focus attention on the urgency and importance of the population issues which threaten our planet, our resources and ultimately, our very survival.

“All our environmental problems become easier to solve with fewer people, and harder — and ultimately impossible — to solve with ever more people.”

Sir David Attenborough, Population Matters Patron


It took 200,000 years for the human population of the earth to grow to 1 billion, another 200 years to reach 5 billion, and only 25 years to reach a massive 7.7 billion people. Approximately 83 million people are being added to the world’s population every year and our population is more than double today what it was in 1970. The UN says that even assuming that fertility levels will continue to decline, the global population is expected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 10.9 billion in 2100, according to the projections – that’s half as many people again, by the end of the century.
(Source: United Nations World Population Prospects 2019)

So what?

More people demand more resources – they need more food, clean water, sanitation, homes, public services etc… And this is at a time when we are already struggling with world poverty, famines, diminishing resources, global warming, mass species extinctions and wealth imbalances. The systems of the past are failing as they are proven to be unsustainable and we are being forced to rethink everything we do just to survive.

The UN believe that everyone has the right to a good quality of life, yet sustainability must be at the heart of the solution going forward or it’s like using a sticking plaster to heal the San Andreas fault!

Potential solutions

The good news is that UN projections suggest that even very small changes in the size of families around the world, could collectively, make an enormous difference – the difference between 7.4 billion by 2100, or an unimaginable, 16.6 billion!

What is needed is a consistent and coordinated approach towards sustainability – where communities, governments and organisations tackle the problem by providing education, promoting women’s empowerment and giving access to family planning.

Population rates are not growing at the same rate all over the world. More than half of the growth in the world’s population over the next 50 years, is expected to be in sub-Saharan Africa, where the fertility rate (family size) remains high. The total fertility rate is broadly represented by the number of children a woman is likely to have in her lifetime. The birth rate is the number of babies born per thousand head of population, and this increases when there are large numbers of young people in the population. In sub-Saharan Africa in 2018, the average age was just 18. A replacement rate of 2.1 would see populations stabilising when other factors such as childhood deaths are taken into account.

Encouragingly, fertility rates are lower today than they were 50 years ago in every country in the world except for the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rates are expected to fall worldwide and by 2050, no country is expected to have a fertility rate of more than 5 births per woman by 2050. But that will still push the global population up before the trend reverses and we see our population fall and will only be achieved by consistent and continuous effort.

Success is possible

There are many countries around the world where they have successfully reduced their birth rates by introducing targeted, creative and ethical family planning programmes. Thailand for example, reduced its fertility rate by nearly 75% in just 2 generations and fertility rates in Asia have dropped by nearly 10% in the last ten years through targeted programmes. (UN sources).

The single biggest way to reduce fertility rates though, is through empowering women and evidence shows this to be the number one most powerful solution to tackle climate change in coming years too.

Empowering women would mean:

  • Equal access for women globally in education and the workplace – fertility rates are inversely proportional to the time a woman spends in education
  • Giving women unrestricted access to contraception and abortion – it is estimated that more than 200 million women who want to use modern contraception, do not have access to it or there is a social pressure not to use it
  • Ending the practice of child and forced marriage
  • Eliminating poverty
  • Giving women equality to men within the law
  • Eliminating patriarchal attitudes that create suffering for women and prevent them accessing positions of power
  • The adequate provision of parental leave and childcare opportunities
  • Improving reproductive health – according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), “some 830 women still die every day from pregnancy or childbirth complications, and these remain the primary cause of death for 15 to 19-year-old girls globally”

As the saying goes, “charity begins at home” so it is important that we in the UK look to our own house as well as viewing the wider global issues, and ensure that everything we do is consistent with empowering women from an early age. As early years professionals, we are at the forefront of shaping the beliefs and values of future generations so need to take this responsibility seriously.

Things you can do to mark World Population Day

  • Talk about population issues – in your setting, blogs and social media channels
  • Write to your MP to raise the issue of over population and encourage governments to take appropriate action
  • Think about your own practices and policies – are they consistent with empowering women and girls and supporting their right to education, freedom of personal choice and healthy living?
  • Donate to the cause through charities such as Population Matters
  • Join a local group to help campaign in your area
  • Help tackle other planetary issues by reducing over-consumption, helping restore threatened habitats and biodiversity, tackling climate change, and reducing plastic waste and pollution

For more information see:

Population Matters – a UK-based charity working globally to achieve a sustainable future for people and planet

More men needed in early years

More men needed in early years

In December 2018, we reported on Wright and Brownhill’s book, entitled “Men in Early Years Settings: Building a Mixed Gender Workforce” which highlighted the problem of the gender imbalance in the early years practitioners. At the time, less than 3% of the early years workforce were male, and despite various initiatives to try to recruit more male staff, the statistics show little improvement so far.

However, that does not mean that nothing has been done, but parliamentary infighting over Brexit (remember that?!), a quick general election and the coronavirus pandemic, have somewhat stalled the progress that might have been made. The problem has not gone away though, and we wanted to revisit the issue to keep it in the minds of recruiters, trainers and owners of early years settings.

It is thought that a lack of male staff is due to a combination of factors such as prevailing attitudes, gender stereotyping and low wages, but the impact is the same – many children are not getting as a balanced an input in their early years as they might. For some children, whose fathers are absent from their home life for example, males working in early years may be that child’s only positive male role model.

In April 2019, the then Children and Families Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, announced a £30,000 grant to support a scheme run by the Fatherhood Institute, as part of a wider funding initiative to develop the general skill level of early years practitioners. The FI grant is to help provide more male role models for children in the early years.

At the time, Nadhim Zahawi said: “Every child needs a role-model to guide them – whether that’s a parent, a close family member or friend, or someone at nursery or pre-school that makes a difference in their life. “The early years staff who support children in the first few years of their education equip them with important skills before they reach the classroom, getting them on track to succeed as they get older.

Just as parenting is a shared responsibility, so is kickstarting a child’s love of learning. I want more men to play a positive role in educating and caring for our next generation. That’s why we’re supporting the Fatherhood Institute to encourage men from all walks of life into early years careers, to give children the best start in life and be a part of this important and rewarding sector.”

The Fatherhood Institute is already providing a number of practical resources such as the ‘MITEY’ (Men In The Early Years) campaign which is run with help from a steering group of academics, employers and practitioners. The MITEY network includes male early years practitioners, supportive female colleagues, managers and owners and others with an interest in gender equality and early child development.

The MITEY website has information, advice and input from existing and new male practitioners including ‘myth busters,’ case studies, and conference information, and acts as a virtual resource to connect like-minded individuals and organisations doing their best to make Britain’s early years education workforce more gender-diverse. They are encouraging everyone to sign up to the MITEY Charter which “sets out a series of statements clarifying signatories’ commitment to working towards a mixed-gender workforce.”

One of its recent publications, “The MITEY Guide To Recruiting Men”, available from their website, is a 20-page guide calling on all early years employers to take an active role in recruiting more men, not only because it doubles the talent pool from which to recruit, but because it begins to breakdown barriers and gender stereotypes, showing that men can be professional caregivers and educators for the early years too. And not just in early years education – there is a gender disparity within general teaching, social care and other caring professions as well.

One thing that the team behind MITEY recognise is that they cannot change things on their own and so they are actively seeking out anyone who can make a difference and contribute to the cause. It might be a careers adviser that challenges preconceptions about early years roles, or a trade union that helps fight discrimination, or an employer who is willing to confront gender bullying within its own establishment. If there are to be more men working in early years, it will take a concerted effort from everyone and MITEY want to hear from you.

Some longer-term research being undertaken by Dr Jo Warin from Lancaster University, in conjunction with The Fatherhood Institute, aims to “improve understanding about the barriers that stand in the way of more men taking up employment in the Early Childhood Education workforce; to learn about possible solutions; and to harness this evidence-based knowledge in ways that can help the UK diversify the gender of its workforce in the most efficient and effective ways possible.”

This research is set to run until the end of January 2021 and its findings and recommendations will be published once collated.


But what can be done now?


Whilst we wait for more research-based recommendations to emerge, there are some fundamental things that can be done at grass-roots level, including:

The positive promotion of male early years practitioners in booklets, promotional materials and websites including images and case studies

Challenging gender bias with parents, staff and the public – for example if they express concerns just because you have a male employee, or if they assume that ‘some jobs are only for women’. Research suggests that tackling this early in a child’s school education can have a significant impact

Making sure your setting’s policies and procedures are relevant and do not assume any particular gender bias

Promoting case studies of both male and female practitioners when talking to potential recruits

Raising awareness and promoting early years careers at all relevant opportunities – by visiting local schools and colleges, including all boys schools for example

Campaigning for better training, pay and recognition of the professionalism of the early years workforce

Joining the MITEY network


We spoke to a few of our Parenta male learners to find out how they chose childcare as their career; and what they thought about the lack of men in early years.

“I’ve completed my Level 3 with Parenta Training and not looked back since. I really do feel that the childcare industry is lacking male role models and I would encourage anyone who has an interest in looking after children to take up an apprenticeship – you won’t regret it! What my childcare training has shown me is the importance of these young children having a male role model during their time in childcare, not just at home.”

George Ross – Level 3 childcare practitioner

“If you have enjoyed babysitting younger siblings then definitely consider childcare! I’m looking forward to starting my Level 3 so that I can continue my learning journey with Parenta. One of the main benefits of having a male apprentice in a setting is that so many of the children enjoy and benefit having a male presence, particularly when doing the more physical activities.”

Callum Griffiths – Level 2 completer

“I’ve completed my Level 2 with Parenta and really looking forward to doing my Level 3 and then Level 5 too! Ideally, I would like to run my own childcare setting. I would really encourage any guys that are thinking about going into childcare to do it! There is probably not enough exposure for males working in early years and I feel like the children get so much out of a male carer, especially when doing sports activities.”

Michael Baulk – Level 2 completer

Mark-making in early years

Mark-making in early years

What is mark-making?

The term ‘mark-making’ refers to the creation of different patterns, lines, textures and shapes – in effect, the ‘scribbles’ – that young children make with various tools (pens, pencils, chalk, paintbrushes, crayons etc.) It is one of the earliest stages of writing and helps to form an essential part of developing both gross and fine motor skills in children.


Why is it important?

Writing is a skill that we take for granted as adults. Like so many other skills acquired in our early childhood, writing is something that must be learnt gradually. Mark-making isn’t just about ‘teaching children to write’. It’s so much more than that. It is crucial for children’s development because as well as enabling a child to learn to write, making marks can benefit a child physically, and also help to develop their imagination and creative skills.

Children can mark-make using a variety of implements – ranging from a finger to a paintbrush, stick, pen, pencil or piece of chalk – whatever they like! As long as they are using the muscles in their hand and arm to make different shapes, then they are on their way to becoming a writer.


Top tips

  • Always try and offer fun, interesting, engaging and multi-sensory ways to mark-make and your children will be on their way to mastering the physical side of writing!
  • A child is far more likely to want to mark-make if it feels good – and is messy too! Have sharp pencils and good quality pens for children to use and plenty of water based paints!
  • If a child is struggling to hold a pencil properly, encourage them to hold a much shorter, thicker pencil or a broken off bit of chalk – this naturally encourages a proper grip, rather than a ‘technically correct’ grip.
  • Apart from the obvious developmental benefits that mark-making brings, it also gives children the opportunity to express themselves in a non-verbal way. Generally, between the ages of 2 and 3, the marks children make in this way start to have meaning. They use it as a way to share their thoughts and feelings, giving practitioners a new insight into their lives that they didn’t have before. It builds on their understanding of the world and allows them to tell a story, or create a ‘gift’ for someone or record what they see. This could be the first time that you have seen the children express themselves, other than verbally or with body language.

Physical development

To be able to control a writing implement, children must first develop their hand-eye coordination. Then, they must build up the muscles in their hands, their arms and even in their shoulders. Throwing balls, climbing, running and jumping will all help to refine the large muscle groups that children need in order to write.


There is no rush!

Learning to write is a gradual process. It needs to be taught in an active and engaging way over a period of time. We know that children develop at different rates so they will all learn to write at a different pace.


Skills and abilities needed for writing

To be able to write, children need the following skills and abilities which can take time to develop which is why mark-making is so important:

  • Gross and fine muscle control
  • Hand-eye co-ordination
  • A positive attitude and interest in writing
  • Ability to grip a pencil
  • Ability to recognise and recreate patterns and shapes
  • Knowing how and what to write, according to the defined purpose

A good sign that children are progressing well through their mark-marking journey is when they progress to being able to use thick felt tips or crayons to make circular or straight lines on a piece of paper. Then, at around 4 years old, children begin to write their first words, starting with their name. Some of the letters may be reversed or missed out of the word completely, but this is an important milestone. From now on, children can proudly sign their name on the drawings and artwork that they’ve created – and you can pass these on to proud parents!

Here are some top tips and games that you can use in your setting to help the children on their mark-making and writing journey:

  • Make sure you always have plenty of pens, crayons, chalks etc. and paper too so the children can mark-make whenever they feel like it, not just at allocated times of the day. Children who have the freedom and opportunity to make marks and draw are more likely to engage in the process of writing.
  • Non-permanent mark-making using different coloured chalks and allowing the children to draw on patios, walls and pavements is great fun, particularly in the warmer weather.
  • Using mud, sand, paint (and snow if you have an outside space) will stick in the children’s minds and will motivate them to want to do more.
  • Using scarves and ribbons to make letters and numbers in the air can be made into a dancing game and will keep the children engaged for hours!
  • A firm favourite is a game where the children use their fingers to draw on their friend’s backs – it is sure to bring many giggles to your setting!
  • Although not mark-making, supporting children to manage buttons, zips and put on their clothes will help them master their hand control.
  • Doing jigsaw puzzles, building Lego and threading beads on to laces will also help children develop those fine motor skills which are so crucial for writing.

And finally…

Praise effort rather than outcome. Children who are corrected frequently may become exasperated or lose interest in the writing process. Conversely, those who receive praise for their mark-marking and efforts to write will naturally want to keep trying and will inevitably get better over time.

Remember that it’s important for children to see adults making the effort to write and mark-make. This helps them to realise that we live in a world where marks are valuable and provide meaning. Ensure that you role model this and you will have a setting full of children who can’t wait to start their writing journey!

Plastic Free July

Plastic Free July

In the children’s film, “WALL-E”, the waste pollution on planet earth grows so bad that it forces all the humans to evacuate on a spaceship, leaving behind robots to clear up the mess, periodically sending back probes to see if the planet has recovered enough to support life again. Whilst this is charming children’s story on one level, and on another, it could be viewed as a dystopian view of humanity’s future- a doomed, everlasting existence floating round space because we couldn’t solve our planet’s pollution problems!

Perhaps we should all see it as a warning and put all our efforts into finding a practical solution before it genuinely is, too late.

The Covid-19 pandemic may be waning, but it has revealed some unexpected benefits for our planet as air pollution levels dropped during lockdown and nature seemed to breathe easy for a short while as we humans ceased our non-essential activities. So, there is hope, and we at Parenta believe there is also the will – and as the old adage says, “where there’s a will, there’s a way!”

Plastic Free July is one initiative which aims to get everyone around the globe doing their bit, however small. It’s not so much about pressuring governments or making grand gestures (although no one would disapprove of that), it’s more about getting a ground swell of support for small changes that have a big impact.


What is Plastic Free July?

Plastic Free July is a global movement started by the Western Metropolitan Regional Council in Australia in 2011 as a way to reduce waste. They started by replacing disposable coffee cups and moved on from there. So far, their ideas has inspired over a quarter of a million people in over 177 countries to make a difference and reduce their reliance on single-use plastic.

Often, we as consumers feel that we are presented with a fait accompli regarding plastics, as food comes ready-packaged, alternatives seem costly, or we simply cannot see another option. But the organisers of Plastic Free July use the tagline “choose to refuse” in an attempt to educate us and show us that we really do have the ability to redress the balance in our shopping choices and everyday decisions. They recommend everyone starts small – by choosing one thing such as plastic water bottles, single-use coffee cups, or plastic cutlery, and go from there.

Their website hosts a free downloadable poster for getting started called, “My challenge choices” which gives suggestions on how to begin. Whether it’s using beeswax covers instead of plastic cling wrap, or shopping at the deli counter instead of always opting for the pre-packed bacon, the website is full of great ideas and resources.

Over the last few years, nurseries and their clients have become more and more aware of the impact that plastic pollution has on the environment, as well as the large contribution that the early years sector makes to this, with its use of disposable nappies, plastic cutlery/straws/plates and plastic toys and games. We’ve run several articles in the magazine over the last few years to promote alternatives, and you too can join in the crusade and get on board now with Plastic Free July. 

Here are a few ideas from the website to get you started:

As an individual

  • Refill water bottles
  • Buy and use a reusable drinks cup for your take-away drinks
  • Look at alternatives to disposable tampons and pads for plastic-free periods
  • Switch to reusable nappies
  • Exchange liquid soap for bars of soap to reduce packaging, or choose brands that will refill old, cleaned-out bottles
  • Seek out plastic-free alternatives to toothbrushes and toothpaste such as bamboo ones or refills
  • Visit the deli counter and only buy the amount you need, wrapped in biodegradable packaging
  • Always take reusable bags with you when you shop
  • Refuse single-use plastic straws or bring you own reusable alternative
  • Avoid teabags that use plastic – you’ll be surprised how many there are

In your setting:

  • Set up a water refilling station and advise the parents
  • Buy refills for everyday supplies rather than new bottles – things such as hand soap, washing-up liquid and cleaning products
  • Buy food supplies in bulk and decant into reusable containers rather than buy pre-packaged food
  • Reduce or eliminate your use of balloons and glitter
  • Use alternatives to plastic straws such as paper or reusable ones
  • Organise a park or beach clean-up (following social distancing rules of course)
  • Link up with other nurseries or groups who want to reduce plastic waste too, to see if you can make savings together (once we are fully out of lockdown, of course!)
  • Hold an awareness event or encourage the parents to get involved in Plastic Free July too by using your influence and your social media connections
  • Challenge your staff to join you in your commitment
  • Campaign in your local area by writing to your MP or local council for better recycling facilities, policies and practices to reduce waste

There are many useful resources on the Plastic Free July website which you can find and download here. These include posters, informative videos, promotional products and social media assets to help you promote the event. Even if your setting is not fully back from lockdown, this is a great time to begin planning for your future, which should include reducing your setting’s impact on the environment.

Remember that 12.7 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean each year, and we absolutely have a duty to protect the environment for the benefit of future generations. What will be the point if we spend all our time raising a generation of responsible, well-rounded and caring individuals and then let them inherit a waste mountain? Surely they, and we, deserve better? Which means taking action NOW.

We’d love to hear your ideas for reducing your plastic consumption – email us at to let us know what you’re doing and the impact you’re having


For more information, see:



World Youth Skills Day

World Youth Skills Day

What are you good at? DIY? Cooking? Construction? Designing? Or are you great at customer service or organising things? Everyone is good at something and we all possess at least one skill or talent that we can share with the world and use to not only enhance our own lives, but those of our families and communities too.

On Wednesday 15th July, people across the world will celebrate World Youth Skills Day – a day set aside to help to build confidence, empower communities and fuel economies. It’s organised by WorldSkills, a worldwide organisation supported by the United Nations and various countries and industry partners, who see a role for education, industry, government and policy makers to raise the profile and recognition of skilled professionals around the globe. Their vision is to improve the world through the power of skills and their mission is to raise the profile and recognition of skilled people, and show how important skills are in achieving economic growth and personal success, as well as addressing the challenges of youth unemployment in the world. With the Covid-19 pandemic set to adversely affect the employment prospects of many young people in particular, there has never been a better time to champion their skills, join in and help.

How did it start?

At the end of the Second World War, many country’s economies, especially in Europe had been devastated by 6 years of brutal war. There was a huge skills shortage which needed to be addressed if the world was to get back on its feet, not only to rebuild the infrastructure that had been destroyed, but to avert a new economic depression. Spain and Portugal recognised the need to promote skills in their youth and Francisco Albert Vidal was charged with creating a skills contest to inspire and motivate them.

This led to a small competition in Madrid in 1950, and although small compared to today’s standards, it started an international movement.

In 1958, the competition moved abroad for the first time, to Brussels, Belgium and in 1965 it came to Glasgow, UK. As more and more countries joined the movement, different skills were added and new outreach programmes included. The competition returned to the UK in 1989 in Birmingham, and by 2007, the Japanese hosts at Shizouka introduced the “One School, One Country” initiative which paired each country’s competition team with a local school in the host country. The teams worked with the schools over the week to introduce them to a variety of vocational skills and diverse cultures. Currently, there are now over 84 member organisations, potentially reaching two-thirds of the world’s population and the competitions are bigger than ever. Competitors need to be 22 or under, but in certain team events, the age limit is to 25.

Competitions, conferences and collaboration

Although July 15th is celebrated each year as World Youth Skills Day, there are competitions, selections, trainings and other country-led initiatives going on throughout the year in individual countries and regions. The worldwide international competition is held every two years, with the next one being in China in Shanghai in 2021, and there are European competitions every second year too.

But it’s not all about competition – it really is about motivating and encouraging young people to learn skills that can potentially change their lives. The WorldSkills website says:

“We believe #SkillsChangeLives. Through the power of skills, individuals, communities, and countries are propelled towards a more prosperous future.”

WorldSkills UK is the official WorldSkills member for the UK and is recognised by the United Nations. It has been influential in raising awareness of the need for young people to acquire new skills to advance their socio-economic conditions since its inception. They have a lot of free resources on their website including a careers advice toolkit, tutorials and skill demonstration videos, and the opportunity to have a Skills Champion (a young person who has proven their skill in a competition) visit a school or college to talk about their experiences and teach some skills.

Whilst this may not seem as relevant for early years children as for older young people, there are many settings across the UK who employ apprentices which could benefit from learning new skills or enhancing the skills they already have. As a responsible employer, it would be advantageous to empower your workforce right across the board. The range of skills promoted by WorldSkills is diverse; from aeronautical engineering to floristry; fitness training to web design; and stonemasonry to digital merchandising to name just a few, so there really is ‘something for everyone’. 

In the UK, there are 4 main categories:

  • Engineering and Technology
  • Digital, Business and Creative
  • Health, Hospitality and Lifestyle
  • Construction and Infrastructure

New skills are being added as they develop and competitors can now compete in health and social care categories, so we, at Parenta, are keen to see if early years or nursery practitioner skills make it into the competition arena soon.

All of these events and competitions raise the awareness of youth skills and can help you in your recruitment drives whether there are competitions or not because attending events will ultimately bring you into contact with careers advisers, trainers and young people who are interested in apprenticeships, training and upskilling themselves.

WorldSkills UK LIVE 2020

The UK’s largest skills, apprenticeships and careers event is planned to take place on November 19-21, 2020 but obviously this cannot be confirmed at present due to current lockdown restrictions. However, you can sign up on the website here to register your interest and receive updates and relevant information about the event and other related WorldSkills UK content.

To show your support for the day, WorldSkills UK are encouraging people to use the hashtag  #SkillsRuleTheWorld on their social media accounts and share a behind-the-scenes photo of how they develop, share and get young people to develop their skills at work. Why not inspire the young people in your setting to learn some new skills such as cooking, some DIY or basic construction? You never know when they might come in handy!

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