by KATE BUTLER.
Before my daughter (now 2 months old) was born, my partner and I read everything we could get our hands on so that we would know what to expect before, at and after the birth… what we needed to do in taking our baby home, how to care for and provide for our child. We wanted to be informed and ‘ready’ for anything.
Now, two months later, baby daughter in arms (or baby capsule actually) I have just talked with a good friend who (sadly for her) mentioned the importance of the first 5 years – and something called brain research.
I am afraid I lost it at this point and confess to be slightly disappointed that I hadn’t heard about this ‘big idea’ before…. Our baby was a long awaited and much anticipated addition to our relationship– we officially became a family! Now, having experienced what it means to not sleep at night, become knowledgeable about nappy brands and be able to have in depth conversations about the pros and cons of purchasing said brands– there is ‘another thing to worry about on the horizon.
Another cup of coffee and some reassurance along the way and I felt slightly more positive. OK, onwards and upwards I say. So my partner will just have to start a new research plan – finding out what this brain research is all about. We will not be stopped in our goal of conquering all barriers to our goal of being good parents.
Much to my surprise, delight and every other good word I can think of…the early stimulation talked about in the brain research does NOT mean early academic pressure. It refers instead to the learning that happens when children engage in rich play with people who matter to them (of which I am one – the parent, the extended family and others with a lot of contact with her).
Delving deeper –my curiousity piqued…. so what does rich play look like?
It is about ‘sensory stimulation’ (being rocked and sung to; playing with water and natural materials (including mud and sand); listening, tasting, hearing, and smelling different items…. In fact, play holds all the early stimulation that a child needs to develop holistically (that is children’s physical, social, and thinking capacities, including language development).
Through playing with a wide range of materials, children explore, discover, predict, develop problem solving skills, take risks, use language, engage in mathematical experiences, use symbols (picture and letter symbols) and become social to name but a few.
What I was really pleased to understand is that relationships really count in play and learning; the investment of time, interest and thinking that I, and my partner can provide as parents actually supports my child in both noticing and understanding what is happening around her. I love being with and playing with my daughter and what is great about this is that every time I notice what she is looking at, or respond to her ‘talking’, or sing a song or read a story, I am helping her to learn.
So – another disaster averted – I get this message. From what I can see, the research did not mean brushing up on my foreign language skills or my ability to read sheet music to my daughter. It was about what I was already doing – it started when she was born and she sought out my gaze in those first few hours of wake time and when I, and all the people who matter to her most developed strong, responsive relationships with her.
It seems the first five years of my daughter’s life are the really important, maybe the most important for her and by my family and I taking the time to engage with her and help her make meaning of everything around her I am helping her to have the best start in life to grow up and be whoever she wants to be.
Goodstart Early Learning is Australia’s largest early learning and care provider with more than 650 centres across Australia. The Goodstart team of 15,000 staff educates and cares for more than 73,000 children from 61,000 families nation-wide.Our mission is to provide high quality, accessible, affordable and community-connected early learning in our centres and partner and openly collaborate with the sector to drive change for the benefit of all children. We’re for children, not-for-profit and believe the first five years matter and last a lifetime.
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When has your child’s knowledge and abilities surprised you?