We provide home learning activities every month at Riccall Pre-school. Research shows that children flourish and achieve more when parents and practitioners are interested and involved in their learning and development. Home Learning for pre-school children is not ‘home work’ in the same sense as home work for older children. It means supporting early years children to learn and develop the key foundation skills needed to be ready for school and later life. We want children to be able to
- Be safe – to know what’s appropriate and make good choices and to understand that they are in control of their own bodies.
- Converse – to be able to talk and listen.
- Be able to ask questions or ask for help.
- Make friends, understand everyone is different and celebrate difference.
- Explore the environment (locally and further afield as we get older).
- Be curious and investigate.
- Be resilient – not be afraid to get it wrong – to be happy to have a go and be happy to have another go until the planned outcome is achieved.
- Be creative in different ways.
- Be adaptable and make change work for them – especially unexpected change.
- Work effectively with others in a team and/or work effectively alone.
- Be imaginative and not be afraid to ‘think outside the box’.
Why is Home Learning important?
Home (the environment and the relationships) is the most significant environmental factor that will help children to learn. Parenting behaviour influences child development from the moment of birth. It is important for parents are carers to remember that:
What parents do is more important than who they are.
What makes a good home learning environment?
Love, security, stimulation, encouragement and opportunities to flourish all promote children’s learning. It’s not rocket science, a happy child will thrive and learn. Children need:
– A secure and stable environment;
– Intellectual stimulation;
– Parent – child conversation;
– High aspirations. (Desforges, 2003)
So it’s OK to ‘aim high and reach for the sky’. Health warning – ‘Pushy parents’ need not apply. Not everyone will achieve the same things or want to! But all children should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential. And all children should feel that they have the right to try.
Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)
We base our provision on the EYFS which provides developmental statements by which we assess children’s learning and development. Under the current EYFS there is a particular focus on communication and language because it is the bedrock of interaction; it threads through everything and should be considered at all times. Communication and Language covers Listening and Attention, Understanding and Speaking (verbal and through signing).
Early language development is crucial. The early communication environment in the home provides the strongest influence on language at age two – it has a bigger effect than social background. So, if you have a baby, are you talking to baby face to face? Are you singing to baby? Do you point out and name things in the environment? Do you look at books together? It’s impossible to talk too much to your baby! Let baby see your face when you talk, be expressive and respond enthusiastically when baby gurgles and coos. Resources are available for you to borrow from Pre-school (see TALK, SING AND READ WITH YOUR BABY).
Everyone now knows that the quality of early years settings can affect children’s learning and development. But, research has shown that the quality of the home learning environment has the biggest impact on cognitive* development, and has three times the impact on literacy than quality of pre-school attended.
(Sylva et al., (2008). Effective pre-school and primary education 3-11 project (EPPE). Report from the primary phase).
* Cognitive skills relate to cognition, i.e. the ability to process information, reason, remember and relate. Good cognitive skills mean that a child will be able to learn effectively.
So, the three elements that we all need to develop to support effective early home learning are:
- The relationship between children and parents/primary carers;
- Parent’s and primary carer’s involvement in pre-school life;
- Children’s playing and learning at home.
Children’s brain development
How children are treated has a clear effect on brain development. Parents need to trigger nerve connections to promote learning and development from birth. The advice is Use it or lose it! Early experiences can cause a reduction in connections and sadly neglected children’s brains are 20-30% smaller .
Activities that promote baby’s development
All of the points below will be automatic to many parents but not so obvious to others, especially if their own childhoods did not provide them with these experiences. Here’s how you can trigger nerve connections with your baby:
- Holding,touching and soothing;
- Play – it’s how babies learn;
- Singing songs and action rhymes;
- Looking and pointing at picture books together;
- Regular routines and physical care to provide safety, sleep and food;
- Stimulation – things to look at or explore by putting in mouth etc.
- Close loving relationship with one or more adults;
- Warmth and affection – through eye contact and smiles;
- Attention and conversation – chatting even to very young babies.
Bringing it all together: toddlerhood to starting school
The importance of talking to young children
Hart and Risley’s long-term study (1995) highlighted the direct connection between talking to children and children’s linguistic and intellectual development. Five specific ways that parents talked to children consistently had the most positive impact:
- They just talked, generally using a wide vocabulary as part of daily life.
- They tried to be nice, using lots of praise and few negative commands
- They told children about things, using language with a high information content.
- They gave children (appropriate) choices, asking them their opinion rather than simply telling them what to do.
- They listened, rather than ignoring what children said or making demands.
Play is children’s work
It is important to remember that play is the way children learn new skills and make sense of their world. The activities in the figure below, derived from research including the EPPE study (Sylva et al., 2004), have been identified as having a marked impact on children’s learning:
- Child-centred play: letting the child take the lead when playing;
- Arranging for children to play with their friends at home;
- Playing with letters and numbers;
- Visits and community activities;
- Singing songs and nursery rhymes;
- Painting, drawing and messy play;
- Problem-solving and encouraging children’s ideas;
- Getting down on the floor and playing together;
- Reading with and to children, and telling stories.
Important Things to Remember About Child-Directed (Child-led) Play
- Follow your child’s lead & interests.
- Don’t compete with your child.
- Don’t take over the play or try to dominate.
- Engage in role play and make believe with your child. Don’t try to make it real or make sense in an everyday way – be imaginative!
- Use descriptive comments instead of asking questions.
- Reward quiet play with your attention.
- Be enthusiastic.
- Repeat the game at a later date if your child is still interested. This shows your child that you enjoyed spending time with him/her and value it. It will also embed your child’s learning (e.g. new vocabulary, understanding of the world, maths concepts etc.).
- Tell your child that you enjoyed playing and learning with him/her.
- Share the experience with pre-school if you get chance to take a photo and write a sentence about it.
- Take the game outside if you can.
- Be physical – run, jump, climb and crawl.
- Laugh and have fun.
Resources available from Pre-school include:
- Talk, sing and read with your baby – books and song sheets
- Maths game packs
- Communication and language games
- What it means to be ready for school – information for parents
- Story Sacks
- Sound walk sheets
- Tailor-made reward charts designed specifically for your child
- Library books
- Song sacks