Selling the science behind child’s play

We were recently engaged to come up with a strategy that would help persuade schools and teachers across the country to take part in the only national census of children in their early years: the 2015 Australian Early Development Census (AEDC).

As we learned more about the triennial census of children in their first year of school and how the results are being used, it became clear that when it comes to readying children for school, there’s more science at play than many people think.

You might have guessed that our approach would articulate a campaign message through a range of communication tools and channels, and that we equipped influential education stakeholders to help spread the word; standard issue in a national communication strategy. But at the centre of this web of activity stands the most powerful communication tool of all: the census itself.

Going beyond ‘the three Rs’

Unlike NAPLAN or phonological skills tests that focus on literacy and numeracy, the AEDC has established five key areas to help teachers measure early development. As well as profiling a child’s wellbeing now, the census can also tell us about the experiences they had before reaching school age by assessing other skills no less important for learning, such as social competence and emotional maturity.

A communication tool that helps families

It is this holistic approach that goes beyond traditional academic indicators that makes census results so powerful. It gives communities, education professionals and governments a common language and a scientific evidence base to discuss how they can help families cultivate the habit of learning through play and positive childhood experiences.

For some communities, remedial action to address patterns of vulnerability shown in census results has taken the form of facilitated playgroups for very young children where parents can learn how to prime infants for later learning through different kinds of play. Some schools use the AEDC results to form relationships with preschool and kindergarten services to make children’s transition to school smoother.

Although our campaign to encourage schools to take part in the AEDC features many finely tunned tools and resources, we are humbled by the enduring influence and impact of a childhood census in its third collection.

By Alan Fitzpatrick

Case studies of schools using AEDC results:
Case studies of communities using AEDC results: