The app helping parents with kids in isolation
Exclusive: While the debate about school closures and the impact upon students' education rages on, the teaching of our littlest Australians has been forgotten.
Even the conversation about childcares has focused almost solely on the system's value in terms of caring for children of working parents - but early education has an equally important role to play; the caretaking of children's neural development.
Jay Weatherill, Chief Executive of the Minderoo Foundation's Thrive by Five initiative and former South Australian premier, said the rate of change of a child's brain from birth to five should be factored into early education discussions.
"There has been less discussion about the early years and what children may be missing out on with childcares and kindy not available and my view is that it is even more important than what happens in the schooling years and should receive even more attention," he said.
To bridge this gap, CoLab - Collaborate for Kids, a partnership between the Minderoo Foundation and Telethon Kids Institute - has developed a free app based on science targeted at parents who are stuck at home with kids who may be missing out on early childhood education.
"Every child starts learning right from the start and the critical part is to put information in the hands of parents so they can assist with their child's learning," Mr Weatherill said.
Research has shown that the quality of early childhood centres in Australia is a postcode lottery but the Bright Tomorrows app has been revamped to put an expert in the pocket of every parent.
Developed with isolated parents in mind, CoLab director Professor Donna Cross said the app is stacked with 1000 science-backed activities that can be easily worked into the everyday and help ease housebound sibling fights or calm down emotional toddlers who don't understand why they can't play in the park.
"Matching socks is an incredibly important skill for understanding size and relationships or fill a jar with glitter and shake it and watch it settle - that encourages children to take some big breaths and talk about how our emotions get stirred up and we need to sit down for a while to calm down," she said.
"All of these opportunities are in our everyday life - we can fit in a huge amount of brain building just talking to our children."
Each tip has a 'brainy background' to help parents understand the science behind it and is designed to fit around the age and sex of your children, even taking into account family values.
Some big names came together to create the app content including the Telethon Kids Institute and Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest's Minderoo Foundation as well as the Bezos Family Foundation, Raising Children Network, Better Beginnings, and Michigan University.
Next week CoLab are launching a campaign to promote the app across Australia.
"Think of the app like your friendly local librarian," Minderoo Foundation Co-chair Nicola Forrest AO said.
"Instead of searching through a library for advice or ideas, the friendly librarian meets you at the door and offers you ways to engage with your children based on their age and interests and your priorities and values as a parent or carer.
"The app learns as it interacts with you so, as you continue to visit, the recommendations, or 'moments' as they are called in the app, will feel even more personalised to you and your family."
Mother of five Angeleen Naidu said the app has been invaluable in helping her survive isolation with her children, aged from 10 months to 9 years old.
"It means I have expertise at my fingertips, I am a teacher but I still find that it gives me triggers to remind me of what my children need," she said.
"I can see that it would be really helpful to people who might be feeling really overwhelmed and like they are not going to be able to enrich their child.
"It is really good for people who might be feeling a bit lost."
Originally published as The app helping parents with kids in isolation