A new early years app aims to plug the education gap between children who access nursery and those who can’t afford to.
What happens if, like many parents, you can’t afford childcare? As the cost of living rises, the number of childminders falls and nurseries remain underfunded so they have to keep putting their fees up many parents are finding that they don’t have the money to pay for childcare. The result is a growing divide between those who have access to childcare and early years education and those who don’t.
According to the Times Education Commission, 46% of children are starting school when they aren’t ‘school ready’. The average attainment gap between children who have been to nursery and those who haven’t is currently 11 months. That gap often widens as children get older.
The answer, according to Charlie Rosier is online nursery. She is the co-founder of Babbu [literally baby and you], described as the UK’s first online nursery.
Charlie was previously founder of Cuckooz Nest, a fully flexible nursery and co-working site which was forced to close down during the pandemic. She set that site up because she couldn’t find affordable, flexible childcare, but she soon realised that she needed a digital product to scale up and have more impact.
The idea for Babbu came before Covid, but Covid accelerated it – not just because of the fact that many parents are effectively locked out of childcare and that growing a bricks and mortar childcare business is extremely challenging, but because of parents’ experience of homeschooling during the pandemic. “It became clear where I needed to put my efforts,” says Charlie.
Having extensive experience of early years development, Charlie thought it was important to put that knowledge and the tools and resources to put it into practice in the hands of parents – as well as other carers such as au pairs or grandparents – who couldn’t otherwise access it. “The aim is to democratise early years education,” she says.
Babbu offers a curriculum of activities for children aged 0-5, breaking down the Early Years Foundation Stage into fun things for parents to do with their children, incorporating major celebrations like Christmas and Halloween. The over 40 hours of activities, which incorporate Forest School, Steiner and Montessori, are based on byte-sized videos and are designed to be done with things that parents have around the house and there is an emphasis on sustainability – getting outside and enjoying nature.
The app’s content is based on decades of scientific research and the help of leading experts in early childhood development, child psychotherapists and Early Years Practitioners. It is based on eight core themes: 1. Learning Through Play 2. Every Child is Unique 3. Family Focused 4. Blended Pedagogy 5. Enabling Environments 6. Diversity, Inclusion, Accessibility and Sustainability 7. Educated Educators 8. Research Driven. Examples of activities include bouncing – an activity for babies which features singing, poetry and actions to build listening, attention and social skills – and magical potions – a messy play activity which begins with a reading exercise and some suggestions for how parents can engage more with their children and build key skills.
Underlying it all is a progression path, although this is not made visible in case that makes parents anxious about achieving milestones. The platform adapts according to individual children’s interests and ability, allowing them to learn at their own pace. “It’s like a nursery in your pocket that is child-led,” says Charlie, adding that the carer using the app can do mini observations on the child’s progress in a particular activity just as nurseries do.
This week Babbu was launched for employers to offer to employees as an employee benefit. A Babbu survey of 240 parents shows 60% would like to see their employers support the early years’ development of their child, with over half feeling that Covid has impacted their child’s development in some way.
Charlie says that by targeting employers the aim is to scale fast and help more parents who are missing out on formal early years education. For every subscription – at 99 pounds a year – Babbu will offer one for free for a disadvantaged family. To do this it is working in partnership with a number of charities.
The platform has already been being tested since last September, with parents being offered a free trial. Eighty three per cent say they would recommend it to a friend and four out of five rate the content as useful and engaging. Babbu is working to get it up to five out of five.
Charlie says that, while there are other early years activities available online, Babbu is the only one that offers tailored content that adapts to a child’s development and also supports the parent by helping them to understand how their child is developing. There is also 24/7 support for parents who are struggling.
Charlie states: “Research shows that high-quality early childhood education has hugely positive and long-lasting impacts on children’s outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged children. Learning and growth are basic human needs and one we should all have help with.”
*For more information and to sign up, go to Babbu. If you are interested to test the platform, Babbu is offering the workingmums.co.uk audience 3 months’ free access to the platform from 1st August. Please just sign-up to their waitlist www.babbu.co.uk and follow the instructions.