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Building a Firm Foundation

Have you ever watched as a house was being built? Did they start with the furniture? The walls? The floors? No! They start with a foundation. If that foundation is not stable and firm the whole house can start to fall apart or even be difficult to build up.

Learning is the same. Setting a firm foundation is key to success later in life. So if we think of our children's growth and education just like the building of a house, we can think of the foundation as the first 5 to 8 years of their life and development. These first years are essential but often carry with them a misunderstanding.

One of the biggest misunderstandings I have heard from people is that children need to go to a school or creche to learn what they need to know before starting grade 1. I want to be clear up front that I am not against school/creche during the first 5 years of a child's life. All I want to speak to is the importance of parents taking an active part in their child's early development and foundation-laying years (as they should for the entirety of their child's upbringing). I understand there are many circumstances in which parents do not have the privilege of staying home with their children during that time or there may be a lack of training and resources for some parents within their contexts to even know how to help their child develop at that early age.

Lesedi Educational Materials was created for that very purpose - to seek to encourage and support parents with resources and knowledge to be able to give their children the privilege of having a firm foundation in learning so that as they grow and learn they will have more opportunities for success. As we've mentioned in previous blog posts, we are strong believers in the play-based methods that encourage children to learn through natural curiosity and active, multi-sensory activities. This can happen at school, but there is something so helpful and special about learning that takes place in the comfort and security of a child's home with a loving parent, with one-on-one attention.

So if we are to encourage parents to take an active role in the early foundation-laying in their child's development and education, what are some key "bricks" to include? We are talking about "bricks" that can be set from birth to 5 years when 90% of a child's brain is developing.

BRICK 1: A Sense of Belonging

Every human being on planet Earth longs to belong. This is natural. Every child born or brought into a family, seeks to find their place in that family from the very beginning. Parents are called to provide

their children with the security of knowing they are loved, cared for, and belong to the family. When children have that stability, it gives them the freedom to explore, learn and grow, make mistakes, and begin to develop an understanding of who they are as individuals within the safe boundaries of their family. I personally have 2 children who entered our family through foster care/adoption. I know first-hand that developing this sense of belonging doesn't just "happen" and can be a long hard road. It needs to be developed daily through our interactions with our children, our purposeful loving pursuit of a relationship with them.

BRICK 2: A Healthy Environment

Every child should have access to a reasonable healthy environment. I'm not talking here about only organic food and the best medicine money can buy. It is pretty wonderful that a healthy environment can be gifted to our children in very simple ways. A lot of what our world says we "need" is not really what we need but what we want. Our child's basic needs include (besides a loving family environment which we've already spoken about) a balanced diet (again, nothing fancy just basic vegetables, fruit, a bit of protein and starches), clean clothes (again, not a lot!), and a place to rest. Everyone's circumstances are different and you may be discouraged with what you are able to provide for your child versus what you wanted/expected you could provide. But children don't expect as much as we do as adults.

BRICK 3: A Stable Routine

Many parents do not realize how important routine is to children. Children are so flexible that routine is often neglected. I am not speaking, however, of allowing your child to take control and be in charge of your day, where your child never learns to live under the loving authority given to them for their good (because if we let children lead they don't know what is good or best). That said, a basic routine, especially beginning from birth, of eat-play-sleep is important. Children will learn to predict and find stability in a life that is mostly predictable. Again, very important that your child also learns that sometimes life doesn't go as planned and we need to adapt and not get upset or freak out when it does. You will find as you establish a clear routine at home, from birth, that your child will feel more settled and happy and able to take on the "surprises" in life more easily. The type of routine you establish will really depend on each child - some need more structure than others.

BRICK 4: A Safe Space to Explore

All children learn through curiosity and exploration. They develop and begin to understand their limits and their abilities through play and exploration of the world around them. Parents can create a safe space for this to happen and give children opportunities through play and stimulation for a child to keep developing. I have been around children who haven't had that safe environment to explore and their development is delayed. As soon as they are placed in a loving family, with safe space to explore, their development grows astronomically. It is an amazing thing to observe. We can stimulate our children by providing them with outside play time in a variety of contexts (parks, play areas, the garden, etc.), reading to them every day, giving them a variety of play tools to explore (this can be simple things like boxes, bottles, and textured materials around the house - you don't need fancy toys to do this!), speaking to them using a variety of vocabulary and encouraging other people in our circles to engage them as well, expose them to different languages we are familiar with, listen to good music, explore the arts through play, sing and dance to counting songs, and so much more! Notice that nothing I mentioned requires you to have a lot of money for fancy toys or be able to afford special outings. Keep it simple and engaging.

BRICK 5: A Joy for Everyday Learning

Developing a sense of joy for learning in a young child is a big part of their success in future. This does not require your child to go to school. You can develop that joy at home easily. Allow time for exploration and free play, encouraging creativity and problem solving. Be an example of life-long learning by reading, listening, and growing yourself. Incorporate learning in to everyday activities (we wrote a whole blog about this!). Teach your child important life skills like getting dressed, washing, cleaning up, cooking, and more. Encourage a love for reading books by listening to audiobooks, reading every day, and even creating your own stories with toys. Have fun with maths by counting bugs in the garden, building lego towers, talking about colours on a nature walk, finding shapes around your home, playing pattern hand clapping games, and more! Go on play dates with other families of littles to develop social skills with other children and learn to share and be mindful of others. There are so may fun ways to encourage a joy for learning.

Although these are not the only "bricks" to consider, they are very important. As you can see, hopefully, these bricks do not require special finances or a privileged life, and they don't require a structured classroom setting. You can very easily, with the right support, build a firm foundation for life-long success within your own home. It may seem small or insignificant but how you go about life with your child in the home from birth to age 5/6, impacts how they will do in school as they grow older. Speaking from experience as a grade R teacher, I can state confidently that children who had these basic bricks in their foundation were much better prepared for school. I also recognize that many parents do not know where to begin implementing some of these things and I would LOVE to chat to you further if you would like to. Seek support from friends or family around you, your community, your church, families who you notice are doing it well (no one is perfect!). We all need help from each other.

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