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Early years leader backs Shaping Us campaign led by the Princess of Wales.

A Worcestershire teacher who launched a free toddler group at a leading county prep school has given her support to a new campaign to focus on the importance of early years of children.

Shaping Us is a new long-term campaign from The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, spearheaded by The Princess of Wales, which aims to transform the issue from one of scientific interest to one of the most strategically important topics of our time. 

Louise Hannis, Head of Early Years at The Downs Malvern, who set up her own group ‘Hoot’ after spotting a need for extra support for lockdown babies said she was passionate about how pivotal the first five to seven years can be to a child’s developmental and future happiness.

She said the Shaping Us campaign was a great boost in terms of raising the profile of the work that goes on to not only nurture young children but to support their key carers in early years.

“Hoot is as much for the parents as it is for the children and I think the Shaping Us campaign recognises that support for those people who are a child’s closest support is important too,” said Louise.

Having herself dealt with postnatal depression following the birth of her daughter, Louise recognised similar struggles in the parents she saw through lockdown and as a teacher also understands how crucial a happy and positive start can be to a child’s formative years.

She said: “In the limited time we had to spend outside our own homes, I was seeing more and more new parents who clearly had very little external support.

“The parents I was seeing even on our limited trips out to the supermarket or the park were overwhelmed, emotional and completely isolated. I knew I had to do something as soon as I was able to.”

Louise, alongside her team,  launched Hoot in April 2022. Open to parents of children at The Downs Malvern as well as the wider community, the free weekly (term-time) sessions offer a range of activities from messy play to songs, storytelling, sports and games. For parents, the sessions offer an opportunity to meet other parents who might have faced similar struggles through lockdown.

Having qualified as an Early Years teacher in 1998,  Louise is also passionate about seeking out the most innovative and effective teaching methods to create an environment which is both happy and has the most impact on attainment in the first years of school.

Louise uses methods which maximise all the senses to ensure whether a child is an audio, verbal or kinetic learner the information will be easy to access and retain.

“Lots of our work is research through play and I use a huge variety of  physical resources around a key topic,” she added joking that car boot sales were one of her favourite places and she was never happier than when she had a weekend to fill her spare room at home with learning aids from model aardvarks to toy zebras.

“If a child wants to sit and get stuck into a task in the classroom then they can, but they also should be able to walk around, perhaps use touch or taste something, or even listen to music to help them retain information that will boost their learning.”

Louise admitted some people might see that as chaos but it was organised chaos and encouraged children to also enjoy observing how others learn too which had a beneficial outcome.

Her methods are working with 100 per cent of Louise’s class measuring at secure in their learning with 75 per cent on track to achieve greater depth this year

“The Shaping Us campaign is shining a light on an area greatly in need and one which has the potential to make such a huge difference,” added Louise.

“I am proud of the work that goes on in this area but we know so much more can be done.

“When it comes to going above and beyond I know I do it because I can see how crucial it is to get it right at this stage. It’s important to lay the foundations here for a happy, resilient and positive future. Hoot was a way to make that support more accessible from the beginning. We build on that in the classroom by making sure we use the most impactful teaching methods and as teachers know we are always willing to learn too so that the well being of the children we are looking after is always a priority.”

The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood has launched the Shaping Us campaign to raise awareness of the life-changing impact a supportive and nurturing world, around children and those who care for them, can have.

Hoot runs from 9:30 to 11:00 every Friday during term time, with places bookable through www.thedownsmalvern.org.uk

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