5-A-Day is an evidence based programme, with its genesis in New Zealand’s SKIP National Parenting Campaign. Learning from SKIP was considered and in 2011 presented as a compelling opportunity for the UK coalition government to improve social mobility: “Drawing directly on the science of early child development, such a ‘5-a-day for child development’ campaign could successfully identify a series of small, manageable steps based on easily graspable, tangible and readily packageable ‘hooks’ that would enable the key messages to take hold in parents’ minds.” Patterson
The five cornerstones to help children flourish are;
- reading or storytelling
- playing with
- talking to
- ensuring a healthy diet.
Play and stimulation build connections in the baby’s brain, helping speech and social development, and preparing for the school environment.
Last year, one of our residential centres took 5-A-Day a step further, creating a structured programme which became part of their work with severely disadvantaged parents who, perhaps had never been read to as children and who were unused to the idea of ever playing with their child, let alone at least three times a day, as we recommended.
When they arrive at the house, each parent receives a 5-A-Day goody bag with an age-appropriate book and toy, a wall chart reminder for daily tasks, and other fun learning materials. Key workers explain 5-A-Day to parents and help them get to grips with it. There are also weekly sessions with families gathered together which focus on one of the five elements; for example a budget cooking session, online resources (for singing and nursery rhymes), a group outing for outdoor play and stimulation, hand and foot prints, to celebrate and praise. Each session is self-contained so new families can join in at any time.
A high proportion (two thirds) of parents at this house have learning needs and the programme content is adapted accordingly.
The programme has now been running for nine months, with staff constantly fine-tuning in response to parents’ feedback. Families are extremely positive about 5-A-Day and keyworkers confirm that parents’ knowledge about child development and their parenting skills are hastened and reinforced by the programme. As the weeks progress, parents’ 5-A-Day reports show them each day fulfilling more of the tasks. We hope that this behaviour becomes habitual and continues once they return home. Some parents have told us this will be the case.
“I didn’t know I was supposed to praise my son each day or read to him, they should teach us about this. I’m going to take my calendar home and make sure I fill it in every day.” Young mother.
We are now introducing 5-A-Day at our three other residential houses and as part of our outreach work.