'How much will this baby change how we live our lives?’ wonder many expectant parents. ‘Enormously’ is the only true answer—but there is much guidance on what parents need to do to create the most nurturing home environment for their developing child.
Young babies, toddlers and preschoolers are like adults in many ways. They swing between established routines and patterns of behaviours to exactly the opposite.
The baby who has slept through the night since eight weeks old suddenly wakes twice a night for the next six months; the toddler enjoys cereal for breakfast every morning until you purchase the next packet and then only wants a boiled egg.
A nurturing home environment is one that listens to and responds to the shifting and changing needs of babies and young children. It is how parents do this that is fundamental to a quality learning experience for young children and builds a foundation for later learning, when more ‘rooms’ and ‘wiring’ are laid down in the developing brain.
For younger babies it is important to learn each baby’s clues and respond quickly to them by holding, cuddling, rocking, feeding, talking with, singing to, smiling with and making eye contact. As the baby ‘serves’ us its latest reaction to its world, it’s important that as parents we ‘return’ a loving and engaged response.
The baby wakes up crying in his cot. As mum walks towards him, saying, ‘so you’re awake, here I come’ the baby stops crying and smiles as he is picked up. It is this natural flow of response and loving touch that lays the foundation for ongoing healthy growth including healthy brain development.
Children need secure relationships with adults and predictable and established routines where adults and children share control of the learning environment and experiences—after dinner we have a bath, then a story before bedtime—which book would you like tonight?
Our values and beliefs impact on what we do and how we parent. When we view children as active and resourceful learners we support them to become independent and allow them, for example, to feed and dress themselves and provide equipment and clothing to enable this to happen as well as allow the time it takes to do this.
In a nurturing home environment young children are supported to practise choosing, thinking, negotiating, problem solving and taking risks through relationships, materials, and experiences that are open ended and have a variety of possibilities.
The coloured blocks and sets of people allow children to create and recreate play that replicates the context of their own situation.
Knowing a little of the stages in child development allows parents to more actively predict and cater to their child’s individual interests, strengths and emerging needs. Even giving yourself your child’s eye-view can make a big difference. For example, getting down at eye-level with your toddler so that you can see what is in their ‘line of sight and interest’ allows you to block off or remove items of interest before the toddler is reprimanded or something is broken.
Nurturing home environments see the potential of everyday experiences and household chores to enhance children’s learning when they are close by a trusted adult.
The ‘plastics’ draw in the kitchen, emptying the cutlery container from the dishwasher, an additional cloth to wipe the table, the toy catalogue in the post, sorting and folding the washing, all hold possibilities for learning and allow young children to be close by.
- Learning at home happens in the context of relationships.
- Children learn best when they feel secure and happy.
- Learning is promoted when parents know what to expect, set predictable routines and encourage children’s growing independence. This includes remaining close by as they begin to explore, discover and play.
- Everyday experiences support learning as parents involve children in these.
- As parents listen and respond to children they are laying the foundation for later learning, they:
- give them opportunities to practise choosing, thinking, negotiating, problem solving and taking risks
- provide a variety of open-ended materials and experiences and encourage children to explore materials, experiences, relationships and ideas
- give them opportunities for inquiry—where children can ask questions, investigate, gather information, consider possibilities, form tentative conclusions and test and justify them
- actively ‘join in’ with their child’s play and ‘tune in’ and respond to children’s views and ideas.
- Understand the significance of attachment for babies.
- Respond to baby’s cries quickly and learn their cues.
- Give time to strengthen muscles and practise skills safely—tummy time.
- Give toddlers the opportunity to explore with the safety of a trusted adult nearby.
- Read books and participate in conversations (see our story on reading).
- Give lots of opportunities to play outside and be physical.
- Provide experiences based on each child’s needs and interests, including time with friends, time outside to practise physical skills.
- Limit media and screen time.
- Extend children’s knowledge and interests through books, outings and the internet.