Thursday, 1 November 2012

Perry and Posters

Do you ever have that thing where you notice something, or hear about it and suddenly it's everywhere? That's been happening to me a lot lately. I visited my boyfriends family home and met his parents for the fist time last weekend. Only six months after we moved in together, you know, not overdue or anything. On his bedroom door he has a poster, placed there when he was twelve or so and hasn't been moved in over 20 years. A list of instructions for living, shine your shoes, say please and thank you, never refuse a brownie an other phrases and sayings that when you're 12 seem profound. Less than a week later I found exactly the same list, this time accredited to a 95 year old man bestowing advice to his grandchildren, as opposed to poster designers coming up with lists of what would sell to impressionable teenagers, pinned to someone's inspiration board on Pinterest. The same advice, the same cheesy but reassuring homilies that life will be ok- you just need to eat more cake and mind your manners.

Another one of those things that's been popping up everywhere in my life is the Perry Preschool Project. A trial from 1960s America where they gave half of the group of poor black children pre-school and half not. And found over the course of the next 40+ years that although the educational benefits weren't lasting the social ones were: kids with pre-school had better relationships, less drug and alcohol problems, less arrests, less time in prison, less unemployment and earned more money. This research, which I should have been aware of in my line of work for several years has recently been popping up all over the place, on the website for my new job, at an All Party Parliamentary Group meeting I was lucky enough to attend recently and today, walking home, on an episode of the podcast This American Life. It's reinforced something I did already know, although I didn't have as much evidence as I should to back it up- that early years is the most vital time for children and where so much more of our time and resources and support should be going. And not just through pre-school but through parental support too. What happens to a child between conception and five is can set the course for the rest of their lives and we need as a society to make sure that is the best experience possible. Not just through better parenting and supporting parents to know what they should be doing (although that's important) but by addressing structural inequalities in our society that mean parents with the least money often have the least opportunities for positive parenting because of the other very real issues they're facing.

Preschool and parents who have the ability to be engaged and involved in their child's learning and development can transform a child's life chance. Children who are securely attached to their care giver, who know there is someone who can care for them and soothe them and protect them, some one who can teach them life lessons and support them, have the best start in life. Not all of life's lessons are are cheesy as the ones in the poster, but supporting parents to pass them on to their children should be everyone's priority.

As an aside- I've read that advice three tmes now- apart from the trees and the sunsets it's getting more and more profound each time.

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