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July 17, 2018

It’s often thought that pre-schoolers need to be in large group-based care environments so they can learn how to ‘socialise’ before they start school...

Our adult interpretation of being ‘social’ is being with lots of people. However, we don’t engage with all these people at once, as our ‘social’ skills are our ability to relate to people one-on-one. It’s knowing how to talk with people, read body language and facial cues, and how to respond appropriately that makes us enjoyable to be around.

Naturally, we want our children to develop social skills that will help them make friends. It is this hope that drives many parents’ education and care choices leading up to school, but research is showing that we might be approaching this in the wrong way.

Parents often believe education in large group environments is key to socialising young children, however, research suggests when it comes to relationships, quality wins over quantity. Our brain can only manage positive social relationships with a limited number of people. Research tells us that young children learn best ‘in partnership’ with someone guiding their social interactions, such as a parent, Educator, Nanny or Au Pair.

Nathan Wallis, a trained early childhood educator lecturer and child counsellor, says children do best when they’re anchored into a relationship with someone. They need to know they have a go-to person when their parents are not there. “When we measure social skills in four-year-olds, the only children that have better social skills than the kids that stayed at home until 18 months are the kids that stayed at home for the first three years,” he says. Home-based early learning allows children the space to discover who they really are within a secure relationship framework. This supports adults to more effectively guide child behaviour and support the development of the important social and behavioural skills that children need to succeed in life.

There is often a belief that children should only mix in a group with other children the same age. The concept that children can only make friends with those of the same age is a myth that most likely evolved from our classroom days where we only spent time with people our own age. However, just as we have friends of all ages as adults, so too will our little ones. In fact, a child who is mixing with children both older and younger than themselves will be acquiring a much wider range of social skills than one who is mixing exclusively with those of the same age and stage of development. They will be learning important dispositional skills like how to be inclusive and show empathy for others. Older children also have an opportunity here to be a leader and model appropriate behaviour.

Because social and behavioural skills are so important, it’s no surprise that research is now showing that a child’s ability to regulate their emotions and be in relationship with those around them is far more important than their ability to recite their ABCs and 123s. Mr Wallis says there is no rush to prepare your child for school by getting them to recite their ABCs and 123s, because children under the age of seven learn differently. They need social and emotional skills rather than cognitive skills. Research shows that children’s social and emotional skills are more important as they related directly to how the child thinks of themselves as a learner. If a child is confident to learn, they will keep pushing. Parents should avoid asking right or wrong questions, Mr Wallis says, instead asking ‘why’. Create the thinker before putting the facts in.

The most intelligent child will be the one who has had the most free play, Mr Wallis says.

 Children develop language skills and learn the importance of communicating clearly through free play. They are also unknowingly developing their mathematics skills as they count the blocks they add to their tower and using problem solving skills as they construct a hut. Adults still play an important part in progressing children’s learning and giving them knowledge and perspective, providing the scaffolding for their learning.

Here at PORSE, we understand what the research shares around the developing brain and the power of low ratios to support relationships and learning. The one-on-one relationships PORSE Educators develop with the children in their care allow each child to feel safe and secure, so they can explore and learn. In the early formative years when a child’s brain can only manage positive social relationships with a limited number of people, quality wins out over quantity every time.

To find the best childcare solution for your family contact PORSE today: 0800 023 456 or visit!

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