Last week I attended the formal opening of a new extension at the Gooseberry Bush Nursery at Rosemellin. It has enabled them to expand their provision for two year old toddlers, open a cafe for young parents to meet and support one another, create more room for their breakfast club for children at both the nursery and Rosemellin School as well as provide additional space for the Children's Centre. They also had some new gardens and outdoor adventure play space.
I first met Gill Smith, the founder of the nursery, about three years ago and became persuaded of the overwhelming importance of early years support along the lines provided by Gooseberry Bush and others like it. We know that the first three years of a child's life are the most formative. Unless they learn to communicate, to share, to explore and to socialise with other children then they will often start school behind their peers and struggle to catch up for their rest of their childhood.
We have some amazing primary and secondary schools in the Camborne, Redruth and Hayle areas but there has been a worrying trend. Virtually all head teachers in primary schools tell me that over the last twenty years or so they have seen a persistent rise in the number of children in need of speech and language therapy or other forms of intervention when they start in reception class.
The reasons for this growing problem are no doubt varied, but those like Gill Smith who understand these things point to problems caused by modern technology as being at least one of the contributing factors because it has changed the way some parents engage with their babies. In the past, prams would face back towards the mother so that a toddler had visual contact with their parents and there could be eye contact and plenty of verbal engagement. Now, it is most common for prams to face forwards so there is less such contact and parents are often on their mobile phones. These days, when a baby smiles for the first time, rather than see that engagement reciprocated, he or she is just as likely to see a camera phone put in front of them so parents can capture the moment.
The government has recently extended free childcare for low income families with two year old children in recognition of the fact the younger we offer support, the greater the impact. We also need to do more to help parents before children reach two and consider extending the support for toddlers beyond fifteen hours per week. Things like breakfast clubs also have a role to play by making sure children are eating well and teaching them to sit around a table and socialise and, yes, hold a knife and fork properly
George Eustice can be contacted at email@example.com or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.