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. This 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.

Nathan Mikaere-Wallis, researcher and educator, recently stated: “Pushing three- to seven-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.”

Children need down time

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 than 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 with – simple household items and 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 your child the freedom to explore the world around them. Provide opportunities for them to actively use their senses as part of their exploration of the world. This is as simple as playing in a pile of wet leaves, smelling a flower, feeling a pile of cut grass, and listening for dogs barking.


  1. I would be really grateful if you could please provide references for the statements above, particularly regarding the lack of benefit in teaching formal reading prior to the age of seven years. Thank you.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here