Note: This article was first written for and published at the Carrot Ranch Literary Community as part of a series supporting parents with children learning at home. The focus of the article is early childhood development and contains information and ideas that teachers and schools may find suitable for sharing with parents.
The early years are crucial to child development and what happens in those years can be used to predict, to some extent, what will happen in that’s child’s future.
I had already intended sharing videos about early childhood development in this post, and still will. But when my sister told me about this Ted Talk by Molly Wright, a pretty amazing 7-year-old, I just knew I had to share it first. She does a great job of summing up the importance of the early years. I’m not going to summarise her talk for you as it’s only 7 ½ minutes long and I’m sure you will enjoy it more coming from Molly.
For me, the only thing she leaves out that I wish she had included is reading stories. Although it’s probably understood, I would like to have heard it mentioned.
Now back to my original plan of sharing two Ted Talks.
(Tip: I understand that watching talks can be time consuming. I find I can often follow them just as well, or better, when I watch them at increased speed. In case you don’t know, to do this is easy. Click on the Settings cogwheel, select Playback speed and choose the speed that suits you. I often try 1.75 first and adjust down if necessary.)
The first talk is Lessons from the longest study on human development by Helen Pearson.
In the video, Pearson reports on a scientific study conducted in Britain for a period of 70 years, collecting information about thousands of children. The study began in 1946 with a survey of mothers who gave birth in England, Scotland and Wales during one week — 14,000 babies. The study was repeated in 1958 and 1970, in the early 1990s and at the turn of the century. Over 70,000 children and five generations were involved. The scientists tracked the children every few years as they grew. They now have an enormous amount of data about a huge number of children and about which thousands of academic papers and books have been written.
The focus for Pearson in the video, is “about how to use science to do the best for our children.” She says the biggest message is “don’t be born into poverty or into disadvantage”. The study found that, if one was born into poverty and disadvantage, they were more likely to struggle throughout life, in school and at work, with physical and mental health and life expectancy. And, Pearson reports, the disadvantage begins early in life and continues into adulthood.
But not for everyone. Pearson says that not everyone born into disadvantage ends up in a difficult situation and that this study helps to explain why. Pearson says,
“In this study, children who had engaged, interested parents, ones who had ambition for their future, were more likely to escape from a difficult start. It seems that parents and what they do are really, really important, especially in the first few years of life.”
Doesn’t that sound very similar to what 7-year-old Molly Wright had to say?
The things Pearson lists as making a significant difference include:
- talking and listening to a child
- responding to them warmly
- teaching them their letters and numbers,
- taking them on trips and visits
- reading to them every day.
Pearson reinforces this by saying that “children whose parents were reading to them daily when they were five and then showing an interest in their education at the age of 10, were significantly less likely to be in poverty at the age of 30 than those whose parents weren’t doing those things.”
Another part of the study mentioned by Pearson looked at the connection between bedtime routines and behaviour. It was found that children with a regular bedtime routine were more likely to be better behaved than children whose patterns were irregular. Perhaps that’s not so surprising either. But what is pleasing, is that the study found that when children’s bedtimes became more regular and followed a routine, their behaviour improved. Add a book into the mix and it sounds like a recipe for success to me.
So, what is the message? Most of us know the benefits of all the things that both Molly Wright and Helen Pearson told us are important. Now the science confirms it too. And what I think is especially wonderful about Molly’s Wright’s video is that it is making a difference to new mums and through them, their children.
Molly’s talk was prepared as part of the Thrive by Five initiative of the Minderoo Foundation, a program which aims to increase access to early childhood education. It has been shown in maternity wards across Australia and beyond and has had close to 2 million views already. That’s a lot of lives that have been changed and which will impact positively upon our world in many and varied ways.
However, now for a slightly different point of view, I share this video by Yuko Munakata.
Munakata tells us that parents matter, but that the ways in which they matter is complex and difficult to predict. She says, “For anyone who has ever been a parent, stop blaming yourself, as if you are in control of your child’s path. You have influence, but you don’t have control. For anyone who has ever been a child, stop blaming your parents.”
This reminds me of one of my favourite quotes about parents and children. It comes from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.
“And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of to-morrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”
This brings me to a final recommendation of Munakata, with which I totally agree, that we should enjoy each precious moment we have with our children for their future is uncertain and not in our control, all we have is now.
How perfect — enjoy every precious moment with your precious children.
While you are here, remember to check out the complete readilearn collection of
over 480 teaching resources for the first three years of school
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