You are your child’s first toy

All your baby really needs in the first few months of their life is you. The model and appetite for exploration, discovery and skills that you establish with them now has far-reaching impact on their emotional intelligence and academic success in later life. But there is no need for Beethoven CDs and dull educational flashcards. You already have everything you need.

In fact, two of the most natural responses we have as parents in those early weeks and months – singing nursery rhymes and rocking our babies to sleep – are already working hard on your behalf to give them a brilliant start. Nursery rhymes are a great introduction to literacy because they teach your baby early phonic skills, the hearing and manipulating of letter sounds, long before they can talk.

Meanwhile, and unlikely as it sounds, when you rock your baby in your arms or bounce them gently in a chair you are giving their eyes a workout. These gentle movements help them achieve an early sense of balance, learning to absorb large amounts of information without it becoming jumbled. This carves out the mental grooves for reading and writing, when they will need to move their eyes rapidly across a page.

You are your child’s first teacher.

The model for learning that you establish early on has long-lasting influence on their academic success. Research support this, so the earlier you get involved in your child’s education, the better.

All of which doesn’t have to mean dull sessions at the kitchen table reciting times tables. Keep it fun. And if you feel you have let things slip, start small. Just five minutes at a time will have a huge impact. Here are some ideas:

  • Read every day – even if it’s just one book
  • Ask high quality questions, e.g. If you did it again, what one thing would you do differently? How do you know?
  • Offer a variety of experiences. However ‘educational’ a particular activity is, if you do it too often you’re missing the opportunity for wider learning
  • Revisit activities to deepen understanding
  • Encourage different ways of thinking: e.g. evaluation, prediction, calculation, counterfactual thinking
  • Provide lots of open-ended activities that require problem solving and flexibility of thought. This helps your child learn to think for themselves, and that’s when learning starts