Have you ever felt pressured to buy fancy Montessori play equipment? Or like you need to curate an educational, Waldorf-style living room? If you’ve ever glanced at the glamorized parenting content on Instagram or Pinterest, we’d bet you have. It’s so preeeeetty!
Colorful puppets, sustainable wooden toys, climbing contraptions, clever projects… How do people think of these things? (Or afford them, for that matter?)
Many of us want to offer our kids educationally enriching experiences at home. Which is awesome! Until we go overboard and burn ourselves out trying to be expert educators. Or wallow in feelings of guilt when we don’t live up to these high expectations.
Sometimes you just need to throw on another episode of Bluey to stay sane. That’s OK.
We talked to Haylee Dunlop, Operations Manager of Sydney’s Bright Futures Early Learning Group, about how we should be approaching our kids’ education at home. Here’s her advice.
Think about how you want to approach your child’s education
“Considering how you want to approach your child’s education is as essential as deciding what kind of parent you want to be,” Haylee says. “Essentially, YOU are your child’s first educator.”
Whoa, pressure’s on! But relax – she also says this:
“We need to view education through a holistic lens. Too often numbers and letters come to mind when we think about education. But ideal education approaches develop the whole child – their physical, social and emotional development.”
Right. Phewf. So education isn’t all calculus and expository essays. Nor is it all about sensory play and creative activities. A lot of your child’s development happens just by being around you, observing your behavior and interacting with you. Your job is to be present for your kids and stay aware of how your words and behavior is guiding them. This is also a chance to pick up on what they’re naturally interested in, how they learn new things, and what educational approaches they may be suited to.
Align your style with your education provider
Once you’ve figured out what matters to you when it comes to your kids’ education, selecting a childcare service or school that matches up with this can be tough. You might go out of your way to scope out specific childhood education methods you like, but Haylee says “don’t put pressure on yourself to employ the exact same ones at home”.
For example, if your chosen childcare center is inspired by Reggio Emilia learning, it doesn’t mean you need to transform your home into a mirror image of the classroom (as cool as the classroom may be).
“The center/school is a very different environment to the home environment,” Haylee points out. “At the end of the day, you know your child best. Use educational techniques you like or can employ at home, and don’t worry about the rest.”
Show interest in your child’s developmental journey
Haylee encourages parents to get involved in their kids’ education. She explains:
“That will look different for every family, but as a minimum I encourage all families to speak to their child’s teacher or educator. An open dialogue between families and educators ensures that your child’s holistic needs are being considered, which is better in the long run.”
Don’t expect too much of yourself
We asked Haylee why so many parents feel pressured to act as educators for their kids (um… even though we pay someone else for that?).
“I believe the extra pressure comes from trying to be the ‘perfect parent’ and create learning experiences that require excessive work to set up,” she says. “Really, all children need is their parents to be present, responsive and invested in what they’re doing.”
So before you get OTT about your nursery setup, remember that your child is going to get so much more out of spending time with YOU than they will from a beautifully designed room. (But also, don’t feel guilty if the room design is mainly for your benefit. It’s OK to want pretty things for them!)
Get ideas and inspo – but don’t overwhelm yourself
There’s nothing wrong with turning to social media for nifty activity ideas for your kids, though Haylee adds an important disclaimer:
“Please remember, as with everything, social media is filtered and we only see what people want to present us with. Many Instagram ‘parent influencers’ are sponsored, receive free toys and merchandise, and spend a lot of time setting up learning experiences. Please be kind to yourself, learn what you can, use what you want and remember that all your child needs is you.”
In saying that, here are some of her go-to Insta accounts for inspo:
And searching these hashtags can be great too:
Expert contributor: Haylee Dunlop
Haylee is the Operations Manager of the Bright Futures Early Learning Group, based in Sydney. She is also a mum to her daughter Neve.