We spoke to Jen Lexmond, founder of project partner EasyPeasy, about their developments to support and engage a diverse range of parents, and how Covid-19 has brought about welcome conversations about the importance of the home environment for early years.
What is EasyPeasy and why is it particularly needed in this moment?
EasyPeasy is an app for parents with young children that helps them discover, create, play and share offline activities that supports their children’s development and helps them thrive.
It’s always interesting when an external factor brings attention to something you might have been doing for a long time.
Home is a really significant place. The academic community has known this for a long time; 85% of a child’s brain is developed before the age of five, before they’ve even set foot in school.
The whole focus of what we’ve built is making the home the best possible environment for children to develop, which includes parental health and wellbeing. The evidence is clear, even if your child is in full-time nursery care, the home environment is still the most influential factor on their development. It’s such an important place!
What’s been interesting about this time is the way in which the home has suddenly shot up the priority list for educators, policymakers, and of course for parents. With nursery doors closing no one could ignore the importance of the home environment. That’s prompted a big conversation and a lot of reflection, which is very welcome.
How are you reaching diverse and less engaged parents?
It was a conscious decision to create EasyPeasy as a mobile app, to be where parents were.
But to reach a wider range of less engaged parents we work with what we call ‘practitioner networks’. 20,000 families have joined the platform this year with the support of these networks.
These are early years workers, nursery teachers, primary teachers and childminders nationally who know their communities and have the expertise to identify parents who would find EasyPeasy particularly valuable.
As a “pod leader” each practitioner sends digital invitations to local parents in disadvantaged communities. Through securing funding from local authorities and grants, we are able to offer the app for free to these families. However, a lack of clear commissioning priority for home learning at the local and central government level has made this model hard to sustain, and we still rely to a great extent on foundations and innovation grants to support this outreach work.
To try and build a more sustainable model for reaching disadvantaged families, we’re trialling a new ‘Plus One’ social enterprise model: for every parent that pays for the app, we’re pledging to provide free access for one family in need through our practitioner network. Through subsidising access through subscription fees of parents and families who can afford to pay, our hope is that we’ll be able to keep EasyPeasy accessible to less advantaged families and continue driving down the development gap that starts so early in children and goes on to predict major inequalities as children grow up.
What advice would you give to yourself if you were starting out on this journey again?
Good question! Coming from a research and policy background it was really important to me that EasyPeasy was underpinned by a strong evidence based approach.
Of course, there are many forms of evidence. And at the outset I put huge stock into formal evidence, jumping through hoops to get gold standard evaluations and develop relationships in the academic space. That’s helped us powerfully demonstrate impact, for example through a study with the University of Oxford we know that EasyPeasy has a statistically significant impact on children’s self regulation which gives them the ability to manage their emotions and behavior, concentration and focus as well as resilience.
But I’ve learnt that to understand the real strength of your product, equally as important as a randomised control trial, is the individual parent’s experience sitting down with the app. Creating a moment of delight, or relief for a stressed out parent through delivering a quality, fun, and supportive user experience is as crucial to achieving impact as any study.
You need to stay so connected with the people that you’re serving at every stage.
Is there potential in this moment for long-term system change?
The quantitative accounts from Nuffield Foundation and others show that despite the challenges of Covid-19, a lot of parents are reporting closer relationships with their children, so it’s important to remember that there’s an interesting story running underneath the headlines, so many of which have been negative and challenging.
We’re just one startup and we can do a huge amount with the power of evidence and technology as a scalable tool to reach many families.
But real long term success is going to come from work with stakeholders and governments all over the world to raise early years up the priority list. The evidence is there but there’s still huge resistance to making the investment that corresponds.
We work with a number of campaigns internationally, and alongside the Lego Foundation and others we see ourselves as part of a family that are fighting for this agenda.
What’s one thing the UK government could do to make lasting change?
We really believe that there needs to be a cabinet member with named responsibility for Early Years.
Currently, responsibility for the early years is fragmented across many different government departments, and this blocks joined up decision making, budgets and commissioning. We have been on the receiving end of this many times during commissioning conversations with local authorities, and this has impeded our ability to embed our service in the public system and reach the families who most need support.
To make a significant impact we need someone driving and fighting for change. The Fabian and CSJ’s current Early Years Commission is one group who I hope can make a difference here, and I am proud to be serving as a Commissioner!
We’re so proud to be supporting EasyPeasy. They’ve just launched their app on IOS, if you’re a parent and would like to trial the free app, please download and use with your children!