Replacing ‘should’ with ‘why’ and ‘wow’

A Better Start
Nicky Hawkins

Interacting with babies and young children builds their brains.

This all-powerful insight lies at the heart of Big Little Moments. It’s a campaign that’s been developed with and for the A Better Start partnerships and is currently being rolled out across five communities in England.

The campaign is about early emotional, social and language development – and the factors and actions that shape it. It distils vital evidence into accessible, engaging and fun content. It’s been designed by creative agency 23red, each of the A Better Start partnerships and the FrameWorks Institute, where I work.

Translating the science of early childhood development

At FrameWorks we’ve spent fifteen years helping people understand what happens during the early years and why this matters. Research from around the world shows that the early years matter more than people often realise.

While evidence is clear that the first years of life are an extraordinary time of rapid development, this is often not recognized or understood by members of the public. Skills developed in the early years provide a foundation for future learning and growth. But members of the public often assume that this is a simple time, where babies ‘just grow’ without the need for much attention, input or intervention.

The importance of explanation

The Big Little Moments campaign seeks to equip caregivers with a better understanding of why the early years matter – and to increase the frequency of brain-building interactions as a result. It brings to life the everyday things that caregivers can do to build social, emotional and language skills in young children via a series of ‘Big Little Moments.’ Crucially, it explains what’s so ‘big’ about these moments using three powerful explanatory metaphors, developed and tested by FrameWorks.

This combination of powerful explanation and tangible guidance represents an innovative approach to communicating this issue. There is no shortage of ‘advice’ for parents and caregivers. From screen time to nutrition, there are countless lists of desired behaviours for those taking care of children. Yet they frequently focus on the “what” to the exclusion of the “why.”

Take the idea of reading to children. This is frequently espoused as something caregivers ‘should’ be doing to support healthy development. But without a sense of why this matters, busy caregivers may de-prioritise it in favour of actions that meet babies and children’s more immediately obvious needs, such as nutrition and hygiene. They may also reason that story-based entertainment via a screen serves the same function. By equipping caregivers with an explanation here – sharing a story creates an interaction that helps children learn and grow – this ubiquitous advice takes on a new significance.

Making it fun

Big Little Moments injects fun, play and inclusiveness into the conversation about children’s development. Evidence-based advice can sound preachy and

conversations about ‘parenting’ are often mired in judgement and mistrust. By combining positive down-to-earth language with a bright and fun creative approach, the campaign succeeds in striking a different tone.

Collaborating to bring evidence to life

The fun and outward simplicity of Big Little Moments has been built on solid evidence and a great deal of collaboration. Evidence around what children need to develop healthily and evidence about how best to communicate this have been brought to life through a creative and collaborative approach.

The campaign was developed over a two-year period prior to its launch. FrameWorks worked with the National Lottery Community Fund and the five local A Better Start partnerships to establish the vision and brief for the campaign. 23red then spent a year bringing this to life with regular input from the local partnerships, The National Lottery Community Fund and FrameWorks. The original commitment to evidence remains strong. A comprehensive evaluation programme is underway to gauge the impact of this innovative collaborative approach. The findings will be published in 2020.

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication. The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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