My daugther's favourite nursery rhyme was Humpty Dumpty. As a baby, she'd grin and gurgle to keep me singing; later she'd pull my sleeve demanding 'Umpy-umpy'. As my enthusiasm for Umpy waned, her's increased. So I'd sigh and perform as long as patience allowed. 

Twenty-odd years later it's the smiles and cuddles I remember rather than the impatience. In fact, I wish I'd spent more time singing, playing and chatting, and less responding to the constant distractions of modern life. 

Because I now know – after ten years research into child development – that those precious moments were vital to my daughter's language, her self-confidence, social competence and capacity to learn. Thank goodness for Umpy. 

Yesterday, the Scottish Government launched its new campaign Play, Talk, Read to encourage parents and carers of under-threes to play, talk and read to their children every day. It's in response to a mountain of research showing that the way adults interact with small children makes an enormous difference to their life chances. 

We now know that 75 per cent of brain growth happens during the first three years of life. That's also when we lay down an estimated 50 per cent of our language capacity. Babies of talkative parents grow up with a far better grasp of language than those of taciturn ones. Three-year-olds who've been cuddled and encouraged to play are better learners than those who haven't – or who've spent long hours staring at a flickering screen. 

It's easy to assume that 'playing with your children' comes instinctively but this is not always the case. Nowadays many mums and dads have little experience of babies before they bring their own home from the hospital. With increasingly busy lifestyles parents and carers often find themselves feeling overstretched and exhausted, so playtime isn't always a priority and is often left to Cbeebies. 

Research increasingly shows that screen-based entertainment is no substitute for real-life interaction and first-hand experience of the real world. So it's time to relearn and celebrate 'natural' parenting skills. 

The good news is that giving a child the very best start in life doesn't require a huge bank balance or hours of time each day. One-to-one interaction is about ditching the expensive toys and playing with whatever's to hand in and around your home – water, empty packaging, leaves, cardboard boxes, pots, pans, sticks and stones. It's about seeing the world through a child's eyes and just having fun together. 

This can be anywhere – on the bus, in the park, in the garden or at home – talking about everything you see and do, singing, moving to music, and telling or reading stories with your child. For example there are action and talking games to get your little ones communicating, ideas for turning everyday household items into fun toys and lots of play tips for 0-3s from babies through to toddlers. However, the real play experts are children, so often it's just a case of following their lead and letting them teach you! 

But the ground-breaking Play, Talk, Read campaign isn't just about the direct benefits of love and play for individual children. Research also shows that positive early parenting has far-reaching repercussions for families, communities and society as a whole. The way we interact with Scotland's youngest citizens makes a huge difference to all our futures.

Sue Palmer is chair of The Play Commission.


Source: Scotsman –