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Parents of babies to be given 'learning diaries' so experts can monitor children

UK Daily Mail | May 30, 2007 
LAURA CLARK

Parents of babies and toddlers will be expected to record their child's progress in new 'learning diaries' under a £9million Government scheme.

They will be encouraged to log details of every activity attempted by their children, ranging from stacking play bricks to singing nursery rhymes.

The diaries will be scrutinised by childcare experts to check that parents are doing all they can to prevent their offspring falling behind.

The scheme will be trialled by a sample of councils serving disadvantaged areas and could eventually be extended more widely. But the initiative, the latest in a series of interventions in the lives of the youngest children, is certain to provoke renewed claims of 'Nanny State' interference.

Other councils taking part in the programme will experiment with other approaches - such as encouraging parents to sing to their toddlers at home to help them develop language skills.

One council, meanwhile, is planning gardening classes to attract fathers and grandfathers. In Doncaster, men would be invited to workshops where they would learn how to care for plants alongside their offspring.

In other activities specifically aimed at fathers, those who struggle to find time to spend with their children would be encouraged to make recordings of themselves reading stories.

In total, 41 councils in poor areas of England have been allocated a share of £9million to try out 'innovative' methods of involving parents in their children's education.

The Department for Education and Skills said several councils would be implementing 'learning diaries'. Torbay has already been named as one of them.

According to the DfES, parents would be handed "learning diaries and albums for their children (0 to five years old) so they can discuss progress with professionals".

The diaries are expected to take the form of written journals. Parents would be encouraged to chart their children's progress from birth.

The cash will also pay for childcare workers to be given extra training in working with disadvantaged families. And councils will be encouraged to set up 'parental involvement networks' and 'outreach programmes'. Local authorities accepted on to the scheme include Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Kent, Nottingham, Bristol and several London boroughs.

Each will be trialling its own scheme to involve disadvantaged parents in their children's education and not all will be offering learning diaries.

The initiative - due to start in September - is in line with Children's Minister Beverley Hughes' belief that early experiences have a powerful effect on how youngsters develop.

However, Mrs Hughes already stands accused of unwarranted interference in family life in pursuit of her aims.

A so-called 'nappy curriculum' lays down hundreds of developmental milestones youngsters should achieve from birth to age five.

Goals for the very youngest children include demonstrating they can "communicate in a variety of ways, including crying, gurgling, babbling and squealing".

Nurseries and childminders will monitor children's progress towards the milestones.

Meanwhile, a new 'parenting academy', being set up with £30million of public funds, will train an army of parenting advisers to improve the nation's childrearing skills.

Workers will be trained to help families sing songs to their children and read stories - prompting claims of a new breed of 'nursery rhyme police'.

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