Innovating for low-income families

Written by Emily Rayner, Innovation Manager, Save the Children UK

How can we adapt homes to encourage and support parents to talk, sing and play more with their children? We’re collaborating with experts to find the answer, so that more children arrive at school with the skills they need to learn and achieve their potential.

Hundreds of thousands of the poorest children in the UK start school with delays in their language development. Evidence shows that children who start behind stay behind, and they’re much less likely to do well in school or succeed in the world of work.

Wonder Words

Our new project, Wonder Words, is on a mission to change this. Led by Save the Children in partnership with National Literacy Trust, we’re coming up with innovative ways to nudge parents to carry out more of the simple, everyday interactions which can boost children’s communication skills.

To do that, we want to increase the number of words and quality interactions that children are exposed to during their early years. We know that many families are living in cramped conditions or lack basic household items such as tables and chairs. These factors can be a barrier to parent-child communication because of how they impact on routines and space for play and family time.

Experts in action

To help tackle this challenge, we brought together a range of experts across different fields including design and behavioural science at an event in north London. Throughout the day, we explored how changes to a family’s home could help to increase the amount of high-quality engagement between parents and their children.

Ideas which emerged on the day included an online game to reward quality communication, and a focus on improving the amount of space for play and interaction in newly built social housing.

From small adaptations to a radical reimagining of the family space, Wonder Words is already developing a range of ideas which could give more children the chance to succeed.

Current prototypes include a baby-changing mat that encourages parents to chat to their babies while they change nappies, and a photo frame for ultrasound scans, to be given out at hospitals across the UK, which nudges expecting mothers to chat with their bump. We’re excited to add the additional ideas from our event into our portfolio of potential solutions.

“There are some obvious, simple ways to improve communication for young families,” said Oliver Marlow, Creative Director at architects Studio TILT. “Getting experts from across sectors in one room is the way to do it. To solve this problem, we’re covering the bases not only in terms of expertise, but also through different lived experiences.”

Small ideas create big change

Through the Wonder Words initiative, we are beginning to understand the power of small innovations to create change and we are excited about how we can escalate these early ideas and influence people’s homes in a whole variety of ways and by drawing on different skills and partnerships.

Do you think you have the answer to our question? To find out more about Wonder Words or to get involved, visit www.wonderwords.org.uk

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