A digital programme that sends game ideas and tips on child development to parents could improve important skills in the early years, according to new Oxford University research.
The randomised controlled trial conducted by Oxford’s Department of Education and published by the Sutton Trust today, suggests that the programme has positive effects on children’s concentration levels, determination, and ability to make their own decisions.
The study tested EasyPeasy, a digital programme for parents and carers of 2-5 year old children that encourages positive parent-child interaction through play in the home. The programme was trialled by 302 families from eight children’s centres in Newham, all in lower income environments.
Parents taking part in the trial, funded through the Sutton Trust and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation’s Parental Engagement Fund used the app for 3 months, and reported improvements in their children’s ‘cognitive self-regulation’. This means they were better at persisting with difficult tasks, making decisions independently, and working things out for themselves – sometimes described as ‘grit’. These capabilities strongly underpin children’s ability to learn and succeed at school, and are considered essential for ‘school readiness’.
The app also had a positive effect on parents’ sense of control, with parents reporting that they felt more able to get their child to behave well and respond to boundaries, as well as feeling more able to stay calm when facing difficulties.
Leader of the evaluation from the University of Oxford, Kathy Sylva, said: ‘Sending game ideas via an app offers a new and innovative way to support parents, reaching them directly in the home. The two evaluations of EasyPeasy provide promising evidence that this mode of delivery can really work.’
These findings build on similar results from an earlier evaluation of EasyPeasy carried out with a very different community demographic in Bournemouth, which showed significant positive benefits for children’s cognitive self-regulation and parents’ sense of control.
Previous research commissioned by the Sutton Trust found a 19-month gap in development between the richest and poorest children at age five, a strong predictor of future outcomes in education, health, wealth, and wellbeing.
There is evidence that engaged parents and a vibrant home learning environment are major influences on children’s development, yet little is known about how to better support families who are struggling to provide this. These results are an important step towards understanding effective ways for parents to support their child’s early learning at home, and help them get ready for school.
Last week the Department for Education announced a £5m home learning environment fund, run by the Education Endowment Foundation, to give families extra support to help with children’s early language and communication skills.
Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation and of the Sutton Trust, said: ‘We know that the attainment gap between the richest and the poorest pupils begins before they’ve even started school, and is a strong predictor of future outcomes in education and wellbeing. Tackling this gap early on is critical to breaking the cycle of disadvantage and improving social mobility.
‘It is vital that parents engage with their child’s learning and development, but this can sometimes be difficult. It is very encouraging therefore to see the promising findings that EasyPeasy – an inexpensive and easily accessible app for parents and carers – is having a positive impact on both parents and children.’
Feedback from parents testing the app revealed positive results. Julian Grenier, a headteacher from Sheringham Nursery School, which used EasyPeasy as part of the trial, said: ‘EasyPeasy is a 21st century approach that builds on the longstanding traditions of nursery education and community work with families. We know that parent support at home makes the biggest difference of all and EasyPeasy helps us to share these messages with parents in an accessible way. Parents tell us that they like the app and they enjoy the activities with their children.’