Early years development: why the Government should invest in custard baths

Posted by Sam Reeve / Tuesday 22 November 2016 / Children's centres Early intervention

Why custard, curiosity and child development should be essential ingredients in government policy.

Custard is a wonderfully versatile substance; a dessert menu staple in its liquid form and, in its more solid state, a building block of patisseries on high streets up and down the country. But custard is perhaps less often associated with being a learning device and I for one am beginning to see this as a missed opportunity.

My experience at a children’s centre last week altered how I think about childhood development and will forever change my perception of how we learn. This is a grand conclusion to reach but, to explain, allow me to share a little of my epiphany moment.

young girl painting NCH branding

At Action for Children we are driven by a desire to do what is best for children – a recognition that every child has a unique potential and a belief that each should have the support and opportunities they need to reach it. We also accept and celebrate that every child is different, encouraging a positive and supportive approach to childhood development.

The public affairs team at Action for Children frequently visit our services to see what this looks like, so we can talk about our experiences and successes, and properly advocate for the children and families we serve.

"I can’t think of any better way to get to grips with the complexities of non-Newtonian fluids than to sit in a bath of custard."

Last week was my first such visit and I found myself surrounded by excited children, engaging parents and enthusiastic practitioners. From sessions sharing the significant benefits of breastfeeding to support groups for those families with children who have additional needs, my experience underlined the importance of contact and interaction to development throughout the early years. But one moment in particular stood out, and this brings me back to custard.

We will all instinctively know that a jug of custard can easily be poured over our apple crumble. At the same time, many of us will be familiar with custard’s curious properties which mean it can be walked on despite being a liquid. But explaining the intricacies of this concept to many graduates, let alone a child aged under a year old, can be an uphill struggle.

The themed “messy play” activity I experienced during my visit therefore offered a fascinating insight. On the face of it, the nine-month-old sat in a custard bath holding a wooden spoon was having the time of her young life; the freedom for disorder and imagination placed no boundaries on the potential for fun. Such joyful curiosity, however, is actually a central part of a child’s early development.

Exploring the world around them and learning about textures are happy by-products of this type of play and aid the development of cognitive skills such as memory and coordination.

Fair by five logo

It is in the early years than these abilities develop more than at any other stage of our lives and, importantly, I can’t think of any better way to get to grips with the complexities of non-Newtonian fluids than to sit in a bath of custard.

Action for Children’s Fair By Five campaign is encouraging the Government to focus on these crucial early years – before children reach the classroom – and offer support to parents to make sure that every child has the opportunity to learn in this way. By doing so, we can take steps towards making sure that every child reaches a good level of development by age five and is ready to enjoy and benefit from starting school.

Perhaps the Government should invest in more custard baths…

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