Parents should take up their role as children’s first teachers

Early experiences have a great impact on children’s development and investing in parent education can alter these experiences for the better. [Courtesy: iStockphoto]

Covid-19 has taught us that learning is both important and possible at home. When the pandemic hit and schools closed for almost a year, parents faced the new challenge of being parents and teachers. Embracing this role was not easy. Some said they were busy, others claimed they could not support children’s learning because they were not teachers.

Luckily, some children benefited from virtual learning interventions. Unfortunately, for those from poor communities with limited access to internet or radio, learning was not possible. While most interventions targeted primary and secondary schools. Infants and toddlers, some of whom had started pre-school and those still under the care of their parents, were overlooked.

According to Dr James Mustard, a renowned Early Childhood Development (ECD) champion and advocate for young children and families, early human development sets a child’s trajectory in later learning and life. From birth to age 5, a child’s brain develops more than at any other time in life. And early brain development has a lasting impact on a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school and later in life.

It is therefore crucial that parents are empowered to nurture their children and fully support their growth and development. After all, a parent is a child’s first teacher. They feed and nourish their children's hearts, souls and minds way before they start interacting with other learning structures.

As the world marks the International Literacy Day today, we need to reflect on the importance of strengthening the role of parents and families as the child’s first teachers. Parents need to be equipped with the right attitude, knowledge, and skills to give children a strong start in life.

Efforts by organisations such as ChildFund in implementing ECD programmes in under-resourced communities to support parents and caregivers to build responsive parenting skills are improving the situation.

To reach their full potential, children need the five interrelated components of nurturing: Good health, adequate nutrition, security and safety, responsive caregiving and opportunities for learning, according to UNICEF, World Bank and World Health Organisation. These programmes operate through group sessions and involve fun, interactive activities like games and role-playing to build on what parents already know and do.

The programmes also integrate home visits in which trained community health volunteers visit the most vulnerable families to review the information learned, make referrals to health, social welfare and other locally available services. Illiterate or not, parents participating in these programmes are well armed with the information they need as they are taught in their local languages in their local environments and supported with visually illustrated materials that make comprehension easier. 

These programmes aren’t just for mothers. Fathers, too, need them. Male involvement in parenting is crucial for the development of well-functioning families and children. In some regions, due to the prevalence of HIV and Aids, many grandparents who have turned into the primary caregivers are also engaged and learn new things even in old age. Things like positive discipline, allowing children to ask questions, the importance of adults playing with children — things that were unheard of in Africa.

Early experiences have a great impact on children’s development and investing in parent education can alter these experiences for the better, and lead to the development of successful adults. Properly nurtured children are more likely to perform better academically and to lead healthier and more productive lives as adults.

 The writer, Chege Ngugi, is the Africa Regional Director of ChildFund International.
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