Hungry Little Minds
The Department of Education’s Hungry Little Minds campaign is perfect for any parents looking for more guidance on early learning at home during these particularly challenging times! It is aimed at assisting their child’s language development right from birth and is supported by child psychologist, Dr Elizabeth Kilbey, (best known for appearing on Channel 4’s The Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6-year-olds).
Currently, over a quarter 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, and the need for this campaign has rarely felt more pressing.
There are lots of simple and easy things parents (and older siblings who may be off school) can do to support their younger children while at home, which can set them up to flourish socially and academically in later life.
Dr Elizabeth Kilbey’s top tips on supporting children’s learning at home:
1. Spending one-on-one time
with your children helps with their social and emotional development. Now that parents are spending more time at home, you can include a number of one-on-one sessions with your children throughout the day, and this can include chatting about any topic such as animals, shopping, favourite cartoon characters etc.
2. Talking is key
to developing language skills. So, talk with your children about as many different things as possible even if they can’t say much back. For example, you could describe, or name, all the things you can see out the window. You could spot all the red things, name or count any forms of transport, name or describe any plants or animals.
3. Schedule indoor activities
These can really help a child’s communication skills, as you can talk to your child about what they would like to do in the house. This can be simple things such as painting a picture, creating a teddy bear’s picnic with soft toys or a den using cushions and blankets.
4. Other parents
can be a huge source of support for ideas on how they help their children’s early learning at home. Find out about parent / community online groups that are in your local area. The focus should be on different ways adults can keep the children entertained at home, which can encourage parents to share ideas and inspire each other during the week. For example; share details about a new game you have recently played.
5. Include family and friends
in your parenting journey. With the current situation, even though you can’t physically see some of your close family and friends, you can involve them in your journey by communicating with them over the phone – whether that’s by video calling or by writing them a letter. If you have neighbours close by, you could draw pictures / encouraging words and display them in your window for your neighbours to see.
Help foster an interest in the written word. Lots of parents read with their children regularly and this is great for their development – not just reading them stories but talking with your children about what’s on the page in picture books. And there are lots of opportunities throughout the day to read words, for example on food labels, on clothes, on toys and adverts; you don’t need pricey books. There are words everywhere, so take the chance to show as many of them as you can to your children while you’re spending more time together at home.
7. Make up a story
You don’t always have to read a story; you can 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.
8. Have a routine
It is now more important than ever to ensure that you and your children have a daily routine. Research tells us that children can thrive in calm, predictable environments. So, find a way that works for your family and try and stick with it each day. Perhaps think about how you would like bedtime, or mealtimes, to work and build a routine around that. You could even include some ‘creative time’ throughout the day where your children spend some time drawing, or ‘reading time’ where your children can read their favourite book.
9. Get them involved
Getting children involved in day-to-day activities like making their bed, tidying up toys and vacuuming. Involving children is a good way of gaining their cooperation and there are so many opportunities for talking and learning.
10. Give them choices
Learning to make choices and show preferences is an important skill to support learning. So, give your children the chance to make choices where they can. It’s easier with things they can see so they can learn the names of things, like what breakfast cereal to have, what top to wear, or which story to read. It can be as simple as asking if they would like a banana or carrot stick.
11. Take care of yourself
Supporting parents’ wellbeing is vital in supporting children’s development. We know that parental health has a big impact on our ability to look after our children and to help them grow and develop. Even though we can’t leave the house, ensure you reach out for help when you need it. Find out about online emotional support groups and don’t be afraid to ask for support.
12. Creative and imaginary games
are brilliant for developing minds. Imaginative play, where you use an item to represent something else, for example pretending the sofa is a desert island or 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. You can use anything - empty boxes, pots and pans, cushions. You can also try role-playing games together such as shopping. Set items out on the sofa, give your child a bag and some pretend money. Then switch roles and let them be the shopkeeper.