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Funny mummy Ari contemplates the value of play dough for kids.

The great existential question that has been bothering me lately is, who the hell invented play dough? And how do we punish them?I’ll be frank. Play dough is one of the great loves of my son’s life. He is the king of play dough, in fact, and I freaking hate the stuff.

In fact, I hate it so much I hide it in a big plastic tub behind walls of chaos in the labyrinth of things-that-need-to-be-sorted-out-but-I-cannot-currently-deal-with that I call our garage. I hide it so well that pretty much no one can ever find it, not even me.

Except the child.

The child has a sixth sense about both hidden play dough places, and hidden chocolate biscuit places, I’ll give him that. He does not have a sixth sense about where his shoes, socks, school hat, library books or swimming goggles are, which would be far more useful.

It’s all about motivation I guess. He can find that damn play dough tub in about half a nano second. He will never, ever find his school hat or his second running shoe. As far as play dough goes, his modus operandi is quiet stealth, which I should have cottoned onto by now. If ever my kid, who is in the habit of providing a running narrative of exhausting questions I am required to answer non stop, is ever quiet I know he’s up to no good. NO. GOOD.

 

He will ask me a series of stupendously tedious and exhausting questions, while he observes me sidle towards the teapot so I don’t lose the will to live.

Sometimes, however, I just need to sit down and have a cup of tea, stare blankly into space and not answer any questions. Heck, sometimes I don’t KNOW THE ANSWERS TO HIS QUESTIONS, ISN’T THAT WHAT GOOGLE IS FOR? The kid knows the game. He will ask me a series of stupendously tedious and exhausting questions, while he observes me sidle towards the teapot so I don’t lose the will to live. In these moments of weakness, he ever-so-quietly tootles up the hallway and slips into the garage, scales the pile of stuff for the council pick up, like a mountain goat, and seizes the play dough tub toot suite.

Then he drags it into the play room and sets about making a complicated sea anemone that he saw some deranged mother, who has nothing better to do, make on YouTube. Of course, his sea anemone looks nothing like the YouTube mother’s sea anemone. OF COURSE IT DOESN’T. That YouTube play dough mother has an online play dough making course she’s selling. Why the heck else would you make a sea anemone out of play dough?

 

 

My son, bless his play dough loving heart, is not wise to the ways of crafty-YouTube-mothers-making-a-buck-on-the-side. He will spend five minutes trying to make his sea anemone look like a sea anemone, and not like a lump of pink and yellow stuff, and then yell, “MAMA, CAN YOU HELP ME?”

Then he drags it into the play room and sets about making a complicated sea anemone that he saw some deranged mother, who has nothing better to do, make on YouTube.

Obviously, the only thing to do is to pretend not to hear. Never works.

“MAMA, HELP PLEASE! HELP PLEASE! MAMA! MAMA! MAMA! MAAAMMAAAAAAAAAAA!”

The point is, this could go one for hours – me pretending not to hear, and the child chanting my name like some sort of mantra. The other point is, I will crumble first. So the only way to deal with it, is to sit down with the child and try to make a play dough sea anemone while fobbing off questions about why our sea anemone looks so rubbish in comparison to the YouTube one.

Toot suite.

Did you know that parents have more of an influence on their children than we probably realise. From reading bedtime stories from a young age to sitting down to eat a family meal together it can further children’s development immensely.

It might be a scary thought for parents (including me) but there is a mountain of evidence indicating what parents do is the single biggest determinant of healthy child development and wellbeing. In a recent speech, Dr Lance Emerson, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Youth Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY), suggested parenting was such a significant public health issue that it was the “modern day equivalent to safe drinking water.

The good news is that the evidence shows that parents can make a big difference through some simple things. Firstly, reading to children from a very early age is positively linked to future literacy and attachment. Just talking to your children is a critical part of developing their vocabulary. Long before they can talk children are learning words, the more words they hear the more they learn.

“No matter how wealthy the family background, children would still struggle if they did not get the basic positive home environment.”

Now you might think that is all very obvious and I must be talking about disadvantaged families. The facts are that whilst there is less reading and conversation in disadvantaged families, in our most advantaged families 15-20 per cent of children are not read to regularly.

Other evidence shows that simply having shared family mealtimes is linked to better school outcomes, better social skills and having more school motivation in young people.

Even better news was found in a long term study in the United Kingdom. The Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE) study has been tracking large numbers of children since 1997. The research explored the sorts of environments that families provided by looking at things such as reading, songs, nursery rhymes, painting, drawing, teaching numbers, going to libraries and making play opportunities with other children. The results were clear. The amount of these activities present in the child’s home environment was the most significant factor in longer term outcomes for children. Whilst high quality early childhood care and education and high quality school helped children catch up, what happened at home was the biggest predictor of long term school performance.

“What parents do is more important than who they are.”

The really big finding was that these types of family behaviours could significantly make a difference even if children were economically disadvantaged. As the EPPE said ‘what parents do is more important than who they are”. The flipside was more sobering. No matter how wealthy the family background, children would still struggle if they did not get the basic positive home environment. The simple fact was that the sorts of positive things that parents did were not dependent on money or a parent’s level of education. They were about attitude and spending time with children.

I know we’ve all got a million other things to do and things to worry about but next time you make a choice about spending time with your children, about eating meals in front of the TV, about how long you really need to stay in the office (note to fathers in particular) try and remember that parents do matter.