Social and emotional development is EasyPeasy

Sal McKeown
Monday, February 25, 2019

The EasyPeasy app engages families and children with game ideas and supports children’s social and emotional development and school readiness, according to a research trial. Sal McKeown explains.

Families who participated in the trial found the app helped them to stick to rules and boundaries
Families who participated in the trial found the app helped them to stick to rules and boundaries

How it started
EasyPeasy was created by Jen Lexmond, an author of the Character and Resilience Manifesto and a former policy specialist on social mobility and education, who worked for organisations such as Demos, Nesta and Government Digital Services. These roles made her aware of the lack of social mobility for many children and young people and the importance of early years education. ‘Where you are in your development at ve is a strong indicator of your salary, education and career as an adult,’ she explained, ‘and this seemed wrong to me.’

Jen started to unpick the skills children needed to develop if they were to succeed at school. These included vocabulary, attention and self-regulation. She decided to move from a theoretical framework to a more practical approach and developed EasyPeasy, a digital service and programme for families with children aged two to five years. The model is that the app is licensed to nurseries, children’s centres and primary schools which would then enrol parents. Every week for 20 weeks EasyPeasy sends reminders, a bank of game ideas, tips and advice about learning through play and video clips of real families playing in their homes to parents’ mobile phones. e idea is to give parents time to try out the new activity and see how suitable it is for the child over several days, to see how they can adapt or expand it for their child and gradually over several months to ‘form habits around home learning’.

The advantages of EasyPeasy
The games are simple and require no special equipment. They are to be played together by adults and children at home. For example, Band Practice encourages children to experiment with pots and pans and a simple table football game involves using straws to blow cotton wool balls towards the goals. They also provide a welcome alternative to screen time and online activities. Children have to listen to instructions and follow the rules. ‘Each activity has the same ‘golden ribbon’ of parents explaining their expectations, an appropriate challenge, a good dose of praise, and a celebration,’ Jen explained. Over time it is expected that children will develop impulse control, turn-taking and will learn to focus their attention and use descriptive language – all key skills for the EYFS framework.

Rather than being a piece of technology used in isolation, EasyPeasy links into what the child and family are doing in their day-to-day life so local practitioners are involved, even if the child is not yet involved with the service.

The programme is attractive to parents because it relies on the technology they are already using – their mobile phone. When a parent clicks on to a text message, they are connected to EasyPeasy’s content and their ‘Pod’ – an online community of parents and practitioners at the setting. rough their Pod, parents can ask for advice, share concerns and learn from each other.

Every setting receives training on how to set up EasyPeasy. is includes ideas of how to attract parents and get them to sign up and also guidance to make sure they comply with the General Data Protection Regulation. Once up and running, the app lets practitioners track parents’ involvement through weekly reports but, more importantly, they can engage with parents and develop better relationships by suggesting ideas to make games more appropriate for children at di erent ages and stages and by sending news of activities in the setting.

There are advantages for both parents and practitioners. Over time, parents – even those who do not come to the setting to collect their child – engage with the sta and the network and can have more informed conversations with their child. is helps to build bridges between the home and the classroom and when sta use EasyPeasy’s games in the nursery or playgroup, many of the children know what is going to happen and what they should do because they have already tried it out at home. Not only will sta save on planning time but the activities are generally greeted with a more positive response from the children who like the sense of familiarity.

The trial
In both trials there was an ‘intervention’ group who all received EasyPeasy week-by-week and a comparison group which acted as a ‘no-treatment control’ during the period of the trial, but who received the app after the trial was completed. Bournemouth was an individual-level randomised controlled trial (RCT) while in Newham eight children’s centres were involved in the trial – in total 302 eligible families with children aged 3-4 years. Four centres were allocated to the intervention group, and four were allocated to the comparison group. e two groups
were balanced so there was a similar proportion in each group of children with English as an additional language (EAL), proportion of children eligible for free school meals (FSM) and proportion of children with special educational needs (SEN).

Practitioners in Newham
Tatiana Suliga and Rehema Essop work at Sheringham Nursery School and Children’s Centre in Newham, east London, which was one of the rst test centres for EasyPeasy. ey work with children aged 2 to 4 with families predominantly from South Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. ey are now in their second year of using the app and have enrolled over 70 parents and have applied for an additional licence for 200 families.

Speech and language is a major focus for sta and one of the things they like about EasyPeasy is that the ideas can be introduced into everyday life, rather than being an extra activity that parents and children have to make time to do. ‘All the games are very simple,’ explained Tatiana. ‘ ey don’t need any special equipment.’

One game, Safari, is designed to improve imagination. All they need is two chairs and perhaps the inside tubes of toilet rolls to act as binoculars. ey have to comment on what they see and hear: ‘I can see something with a long neck’, ‘I can hear a roaring sound’ – so the game involves imagination, the language of description and builds children’s vocabulary and knowledge.

Rehema added: ‘EasyPeasy is effective because parents have smartphones and use them all the time and this way they are using them as a vehicle to help their children’s learning and development.’

The evauluation
The Sutton Trust, working in partnership with Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, established the Parental Engagement Fund to increase attainment for disadvantaged children in the early years through the development of more e ective parental engagement. ey evaluate di erent projects to identify which are the most e ective interventions and to see which can be scaled up cost-effeectively and sustainably.

EasyPeasy was one of six organisations that the fund worked with. An evaluation team from the Department of Education at the University of Oxford, acted as an independent evaluator and ‘critical friend’ during the pilot.

The findings
This study found that families in the intervention group (those with access to EasyPeasy) had signi cantly higher scores than the comparison group on two outcomes noted and reported by parents: children’s cognitive self-regulation and parents’ sense of control. Cognitive self-regulation is sometimes called ‘grit’. It means that the children persevere and work things out for themselves, make decisions and can concentrate. ese are seen to be reliable indicators of a child’s school readiness.

Parents also reported that they felt more in control in their dealings with their child. ey commented that they found it easier to ‘get their child to behave well’ and ‘respond to boundaries’. They also reported being able to ‘stay calm when facing difficulties’.

Although originally trialled just in Newham and Bournemouth, EasyPeasy is now being rolled out to settings in different regions. If you would like to know more about the programme and the research evidence, contact EasyPeasy’s research manager, Nicola Doherty, at nicola@easypeasyapp.com. eye

References

Abidin RR (1995) Parenting Stress Index. 3rd edn .Psychological Assessment Resource, Odessa, FL

Howard S, Melhuish E (2016) An early years toolbox for assessing early executive function, language, self-regulation, and social development: Validity, reliability, and preliminary norms. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment 35(3) pp 255-275

Jelley F, Sylva K, Karemaker A (2016) EasyPeasy parenting app: ndings from an e cacy trial on parent engagement and school readiness skills. e Sutton Trust, London

Kendall S, Bloom eld L (2005) Developing and validating a tool to measure parenting self-e cacy. Journal of Advanced Nursing 51 pp 174-181

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