It's not just me, is it? I'm sure you must have noticed that if you're talking with someone about education it doesn't take long for some "jargonese" to slip into the conversation. You know, those terms like “Quality Indicators”, “Co-ordinated Support Plans”, “Experiences and Outcomes” which, quite frankly, can sometimes leave even experienced folk a bit bamboozled. It's even worse when abbreviations are used and you're left feeling like you're the only person in the room who didn't receive the memo listing this week's acronyms (been there, done that and definitely got the T-shirt!).
I've a tendency to glaze over when this happens but there's one term which has never lost its impact for me. Whenever I hear "parents as prime educators" I want to punch the air and shout "yes!" (anyone who knows me, knows this is quite out of character....). Like a lot of jargon it can sound a bit pompous but the reason it strikes a chord with me is because it's so TRUE.
It might be stating the obvious but there's no doubt that the unique relationship between parent and child allows learning to take place in an unstructured, informal and organic way which can be quite different from what happens in a designated learning setting. For young children learning is continuous, it’s not just about what happens when they're at nursery or school. We're all the same really, aren't we? Watching a documentary, having a conversation, reading a book - all of these can teach us new facts, make us aware of others' opinions, help us gain insight into the world we live in.
In the same way everyday interactions with children provide so many opportunities for this kind of learning. It's not about "teaching" them how to read, write or do sums and no qualification or special equipment is required. It's about recognising the amazing opportunities we have on a daily basis to help a child explore and understand their world. Sharing stories, songs and rhymes; letting them join in with whatever you’re doing, talking about what you see when you're out and about. All of these have immense value and build a solid foundation for learning in the future.
Maybe you're a parent and you're thinking that you know all of this already - fantastic! I guess I'm writing this in case there’s someone out there who's lacking a bit of confidence, who thinks that education is something that mainly happens at nursery or school and hasn't appreciated the massive impact they can have. If that's you then I just want to say "Go for it - you have super powers!".
Little things that make a BIG difference:
Use interesting vocabulary
Don't always go for the simplest words; even if children don't use them when they're speaking, they'll get to understand what more complex words mean if you use them in context.
Recite and sing nursery rhymes together
The ability to recognise rhyme is an important pre-reading skill and although they might seem old fashioned, young children love the patterns, sounds, actions and nonsense of traditional songs and rhymes.
Point out signs, notices, labels, logos and street signs and read what they say
Noticing this "environmental print" helps your child connect letter shapes with words and their meaning.
Read to your child. Then read some more.
Research shows that children who are read to regularly are likely to pick up reading skills more quickly and easily.
Talk about numbers
Being able to count out loud to 10, 20 or 100 is great but look out for opportunities to count items together too - how many bananas you buy at the supermarket, red cars you see when you're out for a walk, socks you put into the washing machine. Doing this helps your child understand that number names match amounts.
Talk about anything!
Conversations with your child where you both take turns to speak and to listen have been shown to be crucial for language development. Chat with your child, don’t ask too many questions, give them time to respond and build on whatever they say.
The NSPCC have a brilliant initiative called Look, Say, Sing, Play which is all about “brain building” and well worth a look.