The Foundation Years: preventing poor children becoming poor adults
The Report of the Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances
Taken from the Review Findings
We have found overwhelming evidence that children’s life chances are most heavily predicated on their development in the first five years of life. It is
and the opportunities for learning and development in those crucial years that together matter more to children than money, in determining whether their potential is realised in adult life.
The things that matter most are
a healthy pregnancy;
good maternal mental health;
secure bonding with the child;
love and responsiveness of parents along with clear boundaries,
as well as opportunities for a child’s cognitive, language and social and emotional development.
By the age of three, a baby’s brain is 80% formed and his or her experiences before then shape the way the brain has grown and developed. That is not to say, of course, it is all over by then, but ability profiles at that age are highly predictive of profiles at school entry.
By school age, there are very wide variations in children’s abilities and the evidence is clear that children from poorer backgrounds do worse cognitively and behaviourally than those from more affluent homes. Schools do not effectively close that gap; children who arrive in the bottom range of ability tend to stay there.
I said to the man
"This poem was written in 1908 by Minnie Louise Haskins, an American lecturer at the London School of Economics, who wrote as a hobby. It was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth the late Queen Mother, who showed it to her husband King George VI. He included it in his famous Christmas message broadcast in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War. After the King's death the Queen Mother had it engraved on bronze plaques on the entrance to the King George VI Memorial Chapel, Windsor, where both are now interred. It was also read at the funeral service of the Queen Mother.
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'
And he replied, 'Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!'
So I went forth and finding the Hand of God
Trod gladly into the night
He led me towards the hills
And the breaking of day in the lone east.
So heart be still!
What need our human life to know
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife of things
Both high and low,
God hideth his intention."
Shove off! Common courtesy is far from common
IT WAS hot and humid when the man from the RAC arrived. He was on time, he was polite and he got straight to work. I offered him something to drink. I was the first customer that day to do so, he said. I offered him some ice, and the shock made him hit his head on the bonnet.
Why on earth would someone not offer the bloke who turns up to mend his car a drink? I suspect the reason is that we are losing our grip on the common courtesies that oil our dealings with each other. Too few of us even know what common courtesies are, and this hides the fact that we are also becoming deliberately ruder and more thoughtless.
Today’s indulgent parents do not want to make their little darlings sit down and write thank-you letters for birthday presents. Many of those who send gifts say that they do not want to receive a note of thanks that has been written with a scowl. That leaves a gaping hole for bad manners to jump into. Before you know it, no one is saying, “Excuse me” when he pushes past you on the street. Actually, before you know it, no one is stopping when he has run you over.
I don’t wish to see a return of unthinking, automaton-style courtesies, although that would be better than no manners at all. But I am aghast that we think so little of those who are providing us with a service. My decorator has worked for all manner of clients. Most, he said, had not once offered him refreshment despite the fact that he was working on their home all day for three weeks at a time. One wealthy woman provided a cuppa only if the family au pair was there to make it.
IT IS hard to avoid using some sort of hired help as we dash around, busy with careers or having manicures. We have people to deliver pizza, wash the windows, entertain our children, trim the hedge, walk the dog, and polish the floors. And every time I meet one of these helpful souls they express astonishment when I hand them a coffee or proffer a tip. It is scandalous that most of us feel obliged to hand over an extra quid or two to a taxi driver we have never met before and are unlikely to meet again, but that the gardener, whom we see once a month, earns less and does more for us, goes untipped and unappreciated.
It is not about money, it is about attitude. For me, to brush my teeth before visiting my dentist is a basic courtesy. What must it be like to have to peer all day into mouths that expel stale or garlic-infused air? But I have to report that my dentist has long since stopped expecting such consideration from his patients.
Having your hair cut tomorrow? How many of you will forgo that shampoo your hair needs on the basis that it is some young girl’s job to wash it for you? I have been told unprintable tales of filthy scalps and of how these greasy and dandruffed clients settle into their chairs unabashed.
We discuss when and how children should be taught in school about sex, whether personal finance should be introduced into the curriculum or whether Latin is a waste of time. But children need to be taught common courtesies with the same diligence that they are taught the alphabet. For instance, children who do not thank the person who ladles out their school lunch should go to the back of the queue. Eye contact and smiles, an ability to know how to respond when someone bids you good morning, or asks you how you feel are among the most important skills a school can teach. A child schooled in the art of consideration would never grow up to believe that it was acceptable to treat other people like serfs or to walk away from the scene of an accident.
And no mechanic who had ensured that you could start your car again would depart wondering why he had bothered to act so promptly.
SKIP: the national parenting campaign for New Zealand
Faced with concerning levels of childhood and youth dysfunction and crime, a decision was made at government level that the key to healing this trend lay in the quality of family life and parenting in particular.
In short, SKIP (‘Strategies with Kids, Information for Parents’) is a campaign specifically designed to transform the way people think about parenting in New Zealand. The key to this programme
is that, through its universal, non-judgemental approach it is taking “the whole topic of parenting into the light”, establishing the idea that good parenting is a learned skill (and that there is nothing ‘wrong’ with people who engage in learning it) and, crucially, “putting parenting to the forefront of people’s minds and speech”
Motivated and designed with a focus slightly more on child discipline than development, the campaign is structured around six core, research based, distinct principles identified as being necessary for children to grow into happy, capable adults:
1. ‘Love and warmth’;
2. ‘Talking and listening’;
3. ‘Guidance and understanding’;
4. ‘Limits and boundaries’;
5. ‘Consistency and consequences’; and
6. ‘A structured and secure world’.
A UK parenting campaign: ‘5-a-day for child development’
What then might a UK parenting campaign look like? Can the lessons outlined above from New Zealand be adapted. The ‘5-a-day’ concept could therefore operate as an ideal structure. It is recommended here that a campaign should be fully designed...that identifies the 5 most beneficial things that could be done by parents on a daily basis to aid their child’s development in the earliest years.
1) Read to your child for 15 minutes
2) Play with your child on the floor for 10 minutes
3) Talk with your child for 20 minutes with the television off
4) Adopt positive attitudes towards your child and praise them frequently
5) Give your child a nutritious diet to aid development