Formality could scupper bid to encourage early learning

The government recently announced plans aimed at helping parents become involved in their children’s early learning. Is this another half-baked example of the nanny state in action, or is it a well thought out strategy designed to ensure that all children get the best possible start in life?

From the moment a child is born, the business of learning begins. Research has proved time and again that children’s experiences in their early years have a major impact on later life.

It is vital that children put down really firm foundations on which learning at school can build and most children entering school do so. They arrive with good communication skills, varying levels of independence and some idea of learning through play.

However, there are a significant number of children entering the education system without these fundamental skills. It is my view that any scheme that supports and encourages parents to interact in a positive way with their very young children has to be beneficial.

The scheme that has been proposed, however, needs to be viewed with some caution. There is talk of issuing learning diaries and albums to parents which they can then share with professionals. In my opinion there is a danger here of making the process too prescriptive. As a nation we are very keen to get children into the formal learning process as soon as possible and if we are not careful this could happen again with the early learning stage.

For good early learning to occur it should be essentially led by the interest of the children. Young children learn with excitement and enthusiasm when you harness their natural curiosity to explore the world around them through a multi-sensory approach enjoying exploring through touch, taste and smell as well as speaking about the experience and being physically active.

If, as parents we become anxious about the quality of what we are recording then we are in danger of losing the fun and enjoyment that comes from a spontaneous learning situation.

Rather than putting forward a prescriptive model focusing on recording evidence what I would prefer to see happening is funding put into schools and other early years establishments to enable early years practitioners to spend time talking to parents.

The parents who need support are often those who had negative experiences at school as children, which continues to act as a barrier to them becoming involved with educational establishments when they become parents themselves. This could be extended, with the additional funding, to a drop-in facility.

Dawn Forshaw is the head teacher at Wellfield Church Primary School, Burnley, Lancashire


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