If you’re the parent of a preschool-aged child and you’ve spent some time in lockdown over the last two years, then you probably have a new-found respect for children’s educators. And if we’re being honest, you’re probably all too familiar with my good friend ‘screen time’. Because while we’d all love to keep our children stimulated with wholesome educational activities for twelve hours a day, the reality is, that can be hard to do – let alone when you’re trying to hold down a job or care for other children at the same time.
Enter Budding Brains Learning. The brainchild (sorry, but I had to) of primary school teacher friends Alex Pickering and Raema Martyres, Budding Brains is all about empowering parents to take a hands-on, whole-child approach to their children’s education. During lockdown in 2020 the pair developed a unique set of activity boxes, full of resources to help parents keep their preschoolers engaged and inspired. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed at the responsibility of home-pre-schooling, the Budding Brains founders will set your mind at ease. “There is no doubt in our minds that parents are absolutely doing it right”, they tell us. “Parents have been singing, talking, reading, and telling stories to their children as soon as they were born… Let’s also not forget that it is a child’s parents who have taught them how to begin to recognise and regulate their emotions, hold a fork, go to the toilet and follow simple routines within the house.”
So above all, the Budding Brains founders want you to know you’re doing a great job (that’s you, parents). And if you need some backup? Well that’s exactly what they’re here for…
What inspired you to launch your company Budding Brains Learning?
Being friends who are both primary school teachers, our catch-ups often involve us talking ‘shop’- sharing ideas, tips and resources for educating our own preschoolers at home. During lockdown last year, we had many friends asking us what we were doing to keep our children entertained at home. We researched activity boxes online and noticed a gap in the market for boxes that not only entertain and engage children in activities but are also grounded in educational outcomes.
We firmly believe that the preschool years are critical in developing the foundation skills of learning. We know that parents want to prepare their children for school as best they can, so we set about designing a ‘box with a difference’- high quality and unique for preschoolers and parents alike. It was essential that our activities nurture the ‘whole child’- carefully balancing academics, creativity, problem solving and development of fine-motor skills.
Months were spent designing and prototyping the handcrafted timber Brain Board included in each box. Our Brains Boards are made in Australia by a local design company, using timber that has been dyed using non-toxic organic dyes, with each box featuring a different colour to collect. Boxes also contain an abundance of carefully curated reusable educational activities and craft that are all linked to the Australian Curriculum to set children up for success at Kindergarten and beyond.
You talk about how parents are their child’s first teacher - which can feel overwhelming for a lot of parents. Are we doing it right? And if not, how can we do better? What are some key ways we can incorporate learning into our preschoolers’ lives?
There is no doubt in our minds that parents are absolutely doing it right. Our brand is about maximising the wisdom and passion that already exists within parents. Parents know their children best. Budding Brains Learning is all about empowering parents to be part of their children’s learning journey, giving them teaching tips and resources to make a difference in those early years of life when the foundation skills of learning are built.
It is important to recognise that parents have been singing, talking, reading, and telling stories to their children as soon as they were born. This means that parents have played a pivotal role in developing their children’s language skills from birth. A key way to incorporate learning into preschoolers’ lives is to continue to build their language skills and general knowledge by reading aloud to them, engaging them in conversation and asking their views on different topics of interest. Building vocabulary really is one of the most invaluable ways to incorporate learning into your preschoolers’ lives. Weave language into everything you can. Children who have wide vocabularies are linked to later success with reading and writing. Language surrounding time such as morning and afternoon, along with days of the week, months and seasons can all be part of your everyday language with your preschoolers.
Let’s also not forget that it is a child’s parents who have taught them how to begin to recognise and regulate their emotions, hold a fork, go to the toilet and follow simple routines within the house. Embedding learning into your preschooler’s average day is key. Some ideas can be as simple as counting the number of stairs there are to get upstairs, recognising the different shapes and colours around the neighbourhood or talking about what day it is today and what day it will be tomorrow.
What are some things we can teach our preschoolers at home?
Open ended play
One of the most important opportunities parents can provide their child with is open ended play. The benefits of play are so far reaching. Play promotes a deep sense of creativity, problem solving and the ability to develop negotiation skills. We love watching our preschoolers transform their toys into props when creating adventures around the house. Don’t for one minute underestimate the mess that ensues during these sessions but it’s totally worth it in our opinion!
We’ve talked a lot about developing language and communication skills in young children. One of the best ways to do this is to read books and make them available. Children develop emergent literacy skills by showing an interest in books, turning pages, pretending to read, as well as showing awareness of words and pictures. Ask your child to verbally retell the story you read together as this will build their comprehension skills.
Preschoolers will naturally show interest in the numbers, symbols and written words around them, especially their name. We encourage parents to use this as a springboard for learning. Provide children with paper, pens, crayons, pencils so they can scribble, draw and write. Think about the letters that begin their friend’s names, family members and other topics of interest such as dinosaurs, solar system or insects.
These provide rich opportunities for learning as they build a child’s independence. Examples of this include setting the table, taking dirty dishes to the sink, getting dressed and packing away toys. Encourage your child to follow routines and listen carefully to instructions. This will put them in good stead for keeping up with Kindergarten classroom routines in the future.
How have you juggled getting a business off the ground while raising three small humans?
Like all Mums who work and have their own businesses, we work most nights once the kids are asleep. We are also always amazed at how much we can get done in one day. Having only one day a week together (without children) we know how important it is to maximise our time. We have become really good at setting goals for ourselves on those days and working through our checklist. Timelines on what we want to achieve each week whilst we are apart have also helped us to keep on track and focused. We have also juggled it because we have loved developing Budding Brains Learning. Working on it has never felt like a chore.
What’s your advice for turning a side hustle into a reality?
Back yourself. We still have a long way to go in building our business, however we have learnt to believe in ourselves and our product.
Be comfortable with going around in circles when developing your product. We went around so many circles when developing our learning boxes and we are sure that we will continue to do so. Each time we are back at our original idea we know that the decisions that we make are absolutely the right ones. It is what we have learnt along the way which has been invaluable to us in continuing to grow professionally.
Create and work on something that you are passionate about. We are enthusiastic educators that are passionate about providing engaging learning experiences for children. We love everything about Budding Brains Learning and what it stands for.
What are some key milestones for preschoolers to hit before they start school?
We want to reassure parents that there is no definitive list of milestones that a preschooler needs to hit before they start school. All children are different and responsive teachers will help them achieve the milestones they need in Kindergarten. However, there are a few helpful skills for your child to have when starting school.
By the time preschoolers reach Kindergarten they need fine-motor strength to manipulate objects and perform everyday tasks, including zips on school bags, clothing and pencil cases, colouring, cutting and writing and opening lunch boxes and water bottles. Strong fine motor skills improve a child’s independence, confidence and self-esteem. This is why all of our boxes include an abundance of hands-on activities that build fine-motor skills.
Emotional Regulation and Growth Mindset
Children are exposed to an abundance of new environments and academic concepts at school, and are required to interact socially with many other children. While these are exciting, new experiences for your child, they will sometimes involve challenges. Why isn’t he/she playing with me? I don’t understand how to do this task? Children need to have some capacity to understand and regulate their emotions in challenging situations. Being resilient and having a growth mindset will help children better cope with the demands of a school day as they are able to view challenges as opportunities to grow.
Early literacy and numeracy awareness
Beginning to distinguish between some letters and numbers will help children understand that there is meaning behind the symbols in the world around them. Recognising their own name is an important first step in helping them realise that print has meaning. Developing early number sense and understanding that numbers are linked to quantities and that you can count objects like their fingers is also important.