Q&A with Psychologist Dr Elizabeth Kilbey
With the current school and nursery closures, and many more parents around the country staying at home for extended periods of time, it’s more important than ever to keep children engaged and stimulated in their early years (ages 0-5).
Alongside this, currently over a quarter [i] of children in England are not achieving the levels of communication, language and literacy they need to thrive by the time they finish their reception year. The Department for Education wants to change that and developed Hungry Little Minds, a campaign aimed at supporting their child’s language development right from birth.
During this time of uncertainty – early learning is more important than ever!
Many parents may be unaware that there are lots of simple and easy things they can do before their child goes to school which can set them up to flourish socially and academically in later life.
Child psychologist, Dr Elizabeth Kilbey, who is supporting Department for Education’s Hungry Little Minds campaign, shares her views on the importance of early learning at home and why it should be a key priority for parents.
What are the benefits of playing, chatting and reading with your children at an early age? How will it help them at school?
Helping your child through playing, chatting and reading is vital in supporting their early development, social interaction as well as literacy and communication skills - these are the skills they are going to need to really help them settle when they start school or return to school, in the case of five year olds. School is not just about the learning literacy and numeracy, it’s about being able to manage these skills when you are in a group setting and be able to get on with your classmates. These are really important life skills for children that you can help with the development of.
How important is the home learning environment?
Research tells us that the home learning environment is essential for getting children ready for school. It’s the place where they spend most of their time and where they feel most comfortable. It is actually a brilliant environment for getting them ready for all the things that they are going to do while in school. With school and nursery closures, it’s important to remember that your child will learn a lot being at home. For example, getting your children involved in day to day activities like making their bed, tidying up toys and vacuuming, provides many opportunities for talking and learning throughout the day.
How significant is reading for a child’s development?
Reading is crucial to a child’s development. Words are everywhere, and there are so many different ways parents could engage their child, such as getting them to look what letter a word starts with, or even turn it into a game and get them to become a word detective! There are also lots of opportunities throughout the day for your child to read words at home, for example on food labels, on clothes or toys, you don’t need pricey books. All of these skills will help a child’s early literacy skills, which will be absolutely vital for their reading.
How important is chatting for a child’s development?
Talking is key in developing language skills. So, talk with your child about as many different things as possible even if they can’t say much back. Have a look out the window and describe, or name, all the things you can see. There are endless fun twists to this game – name all the red things (can use any colour), name or describe any plants or animals…. Or use the opportunity of being at home to have a conversation about what they have been doing or something that interests them – like a favourite toy or character, a make-believe play or anything they are exploring or looking at. Nursery rhymes are also a good conversation starter.
You don’t always have to read a story; you can always make one up. Use bath time or bedtime as an opportunity to make a fun short story with some of their toys or even some made up characters. Get them involved in deciding ‘what will happen next’ – this is brilliant for developing imagination and communication skills.
How important is playing with your child and how does it help their development?
Time spent playing with your child is time that is never wasted. Playing together builds language and social interaction skills. It also helps build the emotional bond between you and your child. Examples could include playing peekaboo, pat-a-cake, I spy or role play games, it all counts.
Don’t forget about creative and imaginary games which are brilliant for developing your children’s minds. You can use anything - empty boxes, pots and pans, cushions. Anything you have around the house to make into something make believe like a pirate ship or desert island.
For imaginative play, where you use an item to represent something else, for example pretending a banana is a telephone, is one of the best ways of helping children’s development. Try making up an imaginative game with four things you can find at home and see how many different ideas you can come up with. Don’t forget you can be as creative as you want to be with your child/ren.
[i] Source: 27.6% are currently not achieving levels communication & language and literacy by the time they leave reception.ii
Source: MYE2-All Table = 652,400 children aged 5 in England
27.6% of the 652,400 5-year-olds = 180,062 (over 180,000)iv