As parents, we will do absolutely anything to protect and prepare our children for life. There is a sense of pressure and responsibility when it comes to our children’s success and it is our primal instinct to equip them with as many resources as possible to ensure success.

In helping our children become literate, we often hear parents leaning towards the idea that teaching their children to read and write before they start school will ensure academic success – it is something we have heard for years but as an early childhood educator and mother I can assure you we have this wrong.

For most children, reading and writing are formal learning behaviours that are best left until the age of seven.

This is backed by longitudinal studies and research on brain development which shows the frontal cortex, which is associated with numeracy and literacy, is not something we move into until the age of seven.

It was only just recently that Nathan Mikaere-Wallis, researcher and educator stated:

“Pushing 3 to 7 year olds towards early reading, writing or maths will not improve their long-term chances of success. Instead, it’s far more important to foster positive social and emotional skills.”

In a world driven by technology and speed, it is more important than ever before that we start supporting our children’s need for down time. Giving them opportunities to be bored, for just ‘being’, and simply playing.

It is silly to think that we have to defend our children’s right to play (real play, not activities directed by adults), but here I am defending it again, even though it’s backed up by current developmental theory and research.

So, the question remains. How can I give my child the best head start at school? It is all about fostering imagination and providing our children with opportunities to develop it for themselves when they are very young.

As parents and educators, we can take some steps to inspire our children’s imagination and creativity:

  1. Spend time outdoors engaging with nature
  2. Allow lots and lots of time for unstructured/undirected play
  3. Encourage art activities that nurture your child’s creative expression (rather following prescriptions and conforming)
  4. Ask open-ended and thought-provoking questions “What do you think would happen if?”
  5. Engage in verbal activities – riddles, rhymes, silly games, “I spy”
  6. Tell stories to your child – get them to tell you stories!
  7. Limit screen time
  8. Give them basic tools to play – basic house hold items and natural/generic materials (forget the fancy plastic toys and keep it simple and open ended). The more passive the item the more creative your child can be.
  9. Allow for plenty of down time – time to be BORED!
  10. Give them the freedom to explore the world around them. Provide opportunities for our children to actively use their senses as part of their exploration of the world.  This is a simple as playing in a pile of wet leaves, smelling a flower, feeling a pile of cut grass, listening out for dogs barking.

Kelly Warren has a Master of Education, is an early childhood teacher and programme developer for New Shoots Children’s Centres. Kelly has just finished her first book called “Take Another Look” (a re-write of the 70s classic, which was first authored by Pat Penrose).

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