smalltalk: helping young children learn at home
To give parents – particularly those experiencing disadvantage – greater confidence and further strategies to help their young children learn at home.
Who we worked with
This project was funded by the Victorian Government Department of Education and Training and during the rollout of the program we worked with many dedicated staff in community agencies and local councils across Victoria.
What we did
We first built the evidence base on workable strategies by conducting the early home learning study of more than 2200 families. This was one of the largest systematic, community-based studies undertaken in Australia.
The study findings were then used to develop the smalltalk program, which is now delivered through supported playgroups in Victorian local councils and community services organisations. Facilitators convene the groups and coordinate activities such as reading together, talking, listening and playing, and engaging in interesting activities. What this does, is help parents gain skills in an informal way. The practical, low-intensity approach of the program makes it easy to introduce into existing supported playgroup services.
We also established three key pillars to ensure the program’s success:
- an ongoing system of smalltalk training for early childhod professionals who work for local councils and community service organisations
- ongoing support to help councils and agencies implement smalltalk
- a process of continual quality improvement to ensure the focus remains on achieving good results.
The Early Home Learning Study results – now published in the scientific literature – showed that parents talked to their children more often and provided them with a more stimulating environment when they adopted strategies designed to support that behaviour. We also found that children communicated with their parents more and improved their fine motor skills. And when in-home coaching was offered, the results were even more significant.
The smalltalk program is now a feature of more than 800 supported playgroups in Victoria. The number of playgroups using smalltalk will increase now that the Victorian State Government will fund supported playgroups in all Victorian council areas. The program also featured in the in-home support services provided to more than 550 families in Victoria during 2016–17.
smalltalk has begun to develop a national and international reach. We have now trained facilitators in both NSW and Queensland. And the Early Childhood Development Agency – a branch of the Singapore Government – has also adopted the program and begun the process of staff training.
Local councils are building on the work of smalltalk. Victoria’s Brimmbank Council was a finalist in the 2017 Victorian Early Years Awards for its innovative program Still Talking. The program built on the progress made by smalltalk families as they developed and their children grew.
smalltalk has exciting potential to assist families across Australia and internationally. Contact us to see how smalltalk can meet your needs.