Hands up, who thinks their parents or carers are their most important teacher?

Posted by Dan Breslin / Wednesday 20 April 2016 / Children's centres Early intervention Inequality

If you ask someone which teacher made the biggest difference to them, some would pick the teacher at junior school that made algebra a little easier to understand. Others might pick the secondary school teacher that sparked off an interest in art or music. 

But how many would pick their parents or carers? Probably very few because we think of teachers and memories of school spring to mind.

But parents, carers and those who are there in the early years are the very first teachers we have. It might not be explaining complex maths equations or telling us about natural geography. It’s parents and carers that help us to learn how to talk, play with others and solve problems.

It might be easier to forget but without this how many of us would be where we are now?

It is all the little things that parents do that make the difference in the early years. Particularly what happens at home. Playing games, reading books and drawing might seem like just play for children. Together these are often labelled as part of the home learning environment and research shows this plays a big role in later educational attainment.

Many children will get the environment they need to reach a good level of development before they start school. Unfortunately, there are too many that don’t. In some of the most deprived areas in England as many as two in five children aren’t reaching the level of development expected by age five. This can be for a lot of reasons, poor quality home environment, poor housing and parental challenges and stresses.

The solution comes in different parts. Good early education is important. A childcare place that helps children explore and interact with others has been shown to make a difference in stopping children falling behind their peers. The other part is doing more to help parents create the best environment at home that enable children to learn and develop healthy.

There are lots of ways we can help parents and no two will be the same. There has been a lot of investment in early education, but the time has now come to invest in helping parents develop the best environment at home.

The Prime Minister recent speech on life chances showed a commitment for government to making parent classes the norm. This is a positive step. But we have to make sure these are flexible and suited to the different needs of parents. For some this could include tips and examples of fun activities parents can do with their children to help them learn and develop. Even simple things like weaving numbers and letters into everyday chores.

Most school teachers will have years of training, courses and on the job learning. The path to being a parent or carer doesn’t come with minimum entry criteria. It is time we give the other most important teachers in a child’s life the right support.

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