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Irish Independent 11/25/15   Early start closes the education divide of rich and poor


 

With 90pc of brain growth happening before the age of five, without early intervention, generations of children’s life chances are determined before their first day of school.

At three years of age, there are already big differences in language and mathematical development between children from rich and and poor backgrounds. This gap will widen if not addressed before a child starts school.

A programme pioneered in Ireland in Dublin’s Docklands is showing how early intervention, at home, can eliminate that gap. Children from educationally disadvantaged families are now entering school and scoring above the norms of children in middle class schools in English and Maths.

The Parent Child Home Programme (PCHP) is a school readiness programme that aims to nurture pre-school children’s early literacy and numeracy skills through educational play.

Over a two-year period, home visitors conduct half-hour visits twice a week with children aged between 18 months and three years during the academic year.

Each week, the home visitor brings a book or toy, and uses it to model play and interaction activities for parents (or sometimes grandparents) and children to do together.

The programme is designed to strengthen the relationship between parent and child, and the books and toys are left after each visit to encourage interaction between the parents and their young children.

The PCHP originated in America in 1965, and was first introduced in Dublin in 2007, as part of the Early Learning Initiative (ELI) at the National College of Ireland.

Many parents are unaware of the importance of play and verbal interaction for their child’s development, particularly parents in disadvantaged areas.

They may be working multiple jobs and have little time, there may not be books or toys available, or they may not have had that quality time playing with their own parents when they were growing up.

Dr Grainne Kent, research assistant for the ELI, says: “In families from higher socio-economic backgrounds, parents would have the skills to encourage their kids, but some parents in our area might not have those skills. It’s about teaching the parent how to promote the child’s development.”

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