All parents want their children to be happy and are keen for them to develop new skills and to learn. There are many different stages of development throughout childhood, and we can learn and develop new skills throughout our lives. However, research shows that the early years, from 0-3 years old, is a time of rapid brain development when the neuro pathways, on which further learning is based, are being laid down. These pathways are the foundations for language development, coordination, motor skills, visual skills, listening skills, and focus. During this time, the quality of interaction between the child and their main caregivers, both at home and at school, plays a vital role. So what can we do to support children in their early years?
Talking to your baby as much as possible is important for future language development. Some people think that because the baby cannot understand you, that it is not important to talk to them. But a baby can pick up on the rhythm and sound patterns right from the beginning. They recognise tone of voice and they recognise their caregiver’s voices above others. It is also not necessary to use baby talk. If you use the correct words you will find that when a child is ready they will use these words too. As the child begins to speak, the adults around them have a unique opportunity to help to develop their vocabulary and their ability to communicate. For example: if a child points at a dog and says ‘dog’ we can model language and extend their speech ‘Yes, look at the furry, brown dog’.
Reading and sharing books right from the beginning is also a great way to introduce children to a whole range of vocabulary, and the world beyond their own experience. Most children love it, too! It is possible to start sharing books as soon as a child can sit up. Cloth books are a great way to start, followed by chunky board books. Some parents worry about how much the child is understanding, or reading something too hard. It is not necessary for a child to understand every word as long as there are interesting pictures and the adult reads in an engaging manner. Over time, the child will become more and more receptive and will ask when they don’t understand. In the meantime, they are developing an early love of books and language.
2. Movement and Curiosity
Encouraging your baby to reach for objects and touch things is also important. Let them have plenty of time out of their pram or cot to explore what is around them. Let them look at and touch everyday objects (as long as it is safe). They don’t need fancy toys; as many of us have observed when the baby or toddler is given a new toy they often play with the box as much as the toy inside! Encourage curiosity as much as possible. Let your baby or child watch you do all the everyday things that need to be done – cooking, cleaning, shopping. When they are ready to crawl let them go and explore! Babies experience the world through all their senses and we should encourage this as much as possible. As the child grows, they continue to need hands-on, sensory experiences with a range of materials and objects. Playing with water, sand, rice, foam or play dough is both fun and calming. It helps children develop a range of skills, from fine motor skills to understanding how different materials react.
Play, play and more play! Play is how we are meant to learn the boundaries of our environment and ourselves. It is how we learn cause and effect, how we learn to problem solve, and focus. Many of the ‘traditional’ toys are best – building blocks, shape sorters, jigsaws and matching games. There should be a balance between adult-directed play and child-directed play. We don’t always need to show a child how to do something ‘properly’, they can learn a lot by playing with a toy or game the ‘wrong’ way and then work out what to do.
At HAIS, we value the early years and the role that parents play in their child’s development. We have an excellent teaching team who work in partnership with parents to provide a rich learning environment and plenty of opportunities for interaction and play. We enjoy seeing the children in our care flourish and develop their early skills.
Ms Helen Trethewey
Learning Enhancement Coordinator