This month, I’m working with the Department for Education on a campaign to raise awareness of the importance of home learning environments for children’s success.
Too many children (28% of children in England) are not meeting the expected level of development in their communication, language and literacy by the time they leave Reception. Learning starts at home, long before school, and the Department for Education aim to support parents, offering practical advice on how to fit quality interactions into parents’ daily routines.
So here a few simple tips that could make a real difference to your child as they enter school for the first time, to give them the best possible start.
As a primary school teacher for many years, with Literacy as my specialism, as well as being a mum of two young children, this is something I’m incredibly passionate about – it’s never too early to chat, play or read with your children!
- Talk to your baby as much as possible – the more you talk, the more they will hear and eventually repeat.
- Narrate what is happening as they’re playing or you’re carrying out tasks e.g. ‘the red car is going down the blue ramp quickly’, ‘Mummy’s doing the washing up’.
- Ask them questions from day one and when they’re old enough to babble back, listen, show interest and continue talking to them, as though it’s a real conversation.
- Answer their questions! As busy mums, so often it’s easier just to brush off constant questions from our toddlers but indulge this curiosity – answer their questions honestly, explain things and get a conversation going.
- This absolutely doesn’t have to involve expensive resources or stacks of toys. Pinterest is great for free ideas of games and activities using things you already have at home. Play.hooray is a brilliant Instagram account for inspiration too!
- Role play is a great (and free!) activity that most children will adore you getting involved in and is a fantastic opportunity to develop those language skills, as they practise the art of conversation with you.
- Build a den – put a blanket over some dining chairs, cushions inside and see what happens next. Maybe they’ll start acting out having a campfire, or a sleepover with their best friend, or maybe they’ll be hiding from a dragon – who knows but just go with it and embrace the chance to be a bit silly.
- Show them how to play imaginatively – this is often tricky as an adult and we almost ‘forget’ how to make up stories with their dolls house or action figures but they will love you for it.
- You don’t have to provide a classroom-like stimulating experience – often some crayons and paper will be enough. Junk modelling always goes down a treat so save those egg boxes and cereal cartons and let them just have a go and see what they come up with.
- Bedtime is a great opportunity to introduce reading to your children. It’s a huge part of our bedtime routine – they both love this part of the day and get excited to put their pyjamas on and pick out a story each.
- Don’t worry about feeling silly when you put on voices or act little bits out – it only makes it more fun for them!
- Don’t worry if you don’t have a huge selection of books for the kids to choose from – children LOVE repetition. You can find out our top books for preschoolers here if you do need some inspiration. Or take them on a library trip – it’s a free and fun afternoon out!
- Lots of libraries also run story time sessions such as ‘Rhyme Time’ so check your council website to find out if there are any near you.
- Lead by example – let children see you reading real books, magazines and letters. They’ll be curious and want to do the same!
- Read everything (within reason!) out loud – show children the purpose of reading and they’ll soon imitate.
- Lose the words! Picture books are just as important as stories with words during the early days. Talk about what you/they can see and introduce new vocabulary. Aim high with the vocabulary you use – kids enjoy learning and using fancy, new words so don’t be afraid to use more complex language with them.
Overall, the key thing is to engage with your child. The more you chat, play and read with them, the more they will learn from you – their greatest role model. Encourage their ideas, instil confidence and acknowledge mistakes (from you and them) and who knows where it will take them?!
And don’t forget to check out my blog post on the top books for preschoolers, tried and tested!