Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Day 2763 - Jay Laga'aia and the It Makes You Think initiative #startstrong

Every child deserves the chance to #startstrong

I'm really passionate about helping children to feel confident and good about themselves from a young age.  My books and my volunteer work are testament to my passion in this regard.

Which means I am often drawn to others with a similar passion.  Anh Do's interview with Anthony the blue Wiggle is by far my favourite "Brush With Fame" episode. Understanding the WHY behind how the Wiggles got started really resonated with me.

Watching Playschool and seeing the commitment the hosts make to early childhood education also speaks to me.  Especially Jay Laga'aia who has taken his passion for teaching young children beyond Playschool to include his own early childhood programs, writing books, teaming with scholastic to bring music to reading and more recently partnering with the NSW State Government to create the "It Makes You Think" component of the #StartStrong initiative.

No doubt you'll recognise Jay.  He has appeared in movies (Star Wars), Aussie TV shows (Water Rats) and as the host of Playschool.  He is also a singer, early childhood educator and the father of eight.  As one of Australian television's most recognisable faces he is championing the NSW Government’s mission to inspire every family to enroll their children in an early education program.

The interactive platform startstrong.nsw.edu.au is designed to help parents understand their child’s early development by demonstrating how the brain develops before the age of five.  The #StartStrong virtual experience allows users to follow the journey of a child’s brain at work. Like a real brain, each synapse on the platform is unique and there are 10 node hotspots, each with a unique animation that can be tapped for more information and eye opening insights. 

I was invited to chat to Jay about the "It Makes You Think" component and about his views on early childhood education in general.  Of course I jumped at the opportunity and rather than conduct the interview by phone I made the trip to Sydney to personally shake this man's hand.

Jay Laga'aia and the "It Makes You Think" initiative #StartStrong

"It Makes You Think" is a great initiative by the NSW State Government.  Tell me how you got to become spokesperson for the campaign?

I am passionate about early education so was excited to be part of this program.  My time on Playschool over the last 17 years and the creation of Jay's Jungle mean I have a good background. 

Over the years I have travelled around Australia exploring early education and I realised that we all want the same things for our kids.  We all want them to grow up to be successful.  

Preschool is great because that's the most honest age which creates a great base in which to start. Preschool allows children to learn through art, dance and music so that they're learning without even knowing they are learning. 

Preschool helps build solid foundations in which to create great adults. It also helps us to  become better parents.  

As a parent of a large family, what types of things did you and your wife do to get your children educated early?

What we tried to do was give our children a head start.  Preparing them for "big school" by giving them social skills and some knowledge of games and songs via early education. 

We started planning early for our kids schooling simply through the necessity of needing to enroll.  But the big message for parents is that you know your child better than anyone else does, so you'll know whether or not they are ready for pre-school.  If they are not yet ready then you can still work with them through play and music at home.  

We don't know how our children are going to cope in a situation but preschool allows us to explore the possibilities in a safe and nurturing environment. 

That's what "It Makes You Think" is all about.  About understanding how the brain works and when the best time to start educating is. 

What role do you think early education plays in helping our kids believe in themselves?

There's always that positive influence. It's not just about the end result with any given activity, but about the fact that our children are trying different things. Confidence comes from that journey.  I'm big on measuring progress in inches.  With children their confidence grows from celebrating the little things.  It's about highlighting their successes.  

Something I have noticed having done this for a very long time is that the benefits for parents are just as important as the benefits for the child.  I moved my family to Australia to do Water Rats. Preschool helped my wife to meet other people and believe in the possibilities. The life long friendships that are built for the parents, especially those new to the country or new to the area. are worth their weight in gold.  

What advice would you give parents who are keen to work with teachers in educating their children? How can teachers and parents work together for the benefit of the child?

An educator is coming from a place of expertise and is able to communicate from that base.  If parents go into discussions with an open mind then the parent and teacher can find the areas of commonality and start from there.  As a parent it's important to try and remove the emotion and work out the goal prior to any discussions.  

The great thing about preschool is you can also volunteer to be a parent helper so that you can not only help out in the classroom but observe.  You get to see the different interactions, different personalities etc which gives you a better understanding of how the classroom environment works which helps you to better understand it from the educator's point of view. 

Do you have any tips for parents who may have children who are anxious about preschool?

Take them out on the weekend, stand outside the preschool, point out the paintings on the windows, show them the doors, see the playground and get them used to seeing where they will be going.  Get them excited about going there.

You can also take them to the preschool in advance when it's in full swing.  It might be the year before, just to observe. You can then talk to them afterwards about what they saw and the activities the children were doing.

You can also chat to the preschool beforehand and ask what type of craft they do (for example) and you can start to do similar things at home which gives them little snippets of what's going to happen when they get there so that it's not information overload when they turn up for their first day.

Surround them with positive adults who say things like "We're so excited that you're going to preschool", or "Can you take a photo at preschool so we can see how fun it is".

If you lay those synaptic memory foundations the children start to take ownership.

There are quite a few children with learning challenges which don't get diagnosed until well into their primary school years.  Do you think that "It Makes You Think" may help people identify issues earlier?

You know your child better than anyone.  If you take the emotional aspect out of that and recognise that something is wrong you can then discuss that with a preschool teacher.   A mother's intuition is an amazing thing.

The "It Makes You Think" campaign is all about recognising these steps. You can mention your concerns to an early educator and because they spend time with your child in the day they can better assess and recommend next steps.

Don't listen to professionals and nod if you don't actually understand.  It's not a reflection on your IQ. If you don't know, you don't know ... until you know.  Ask the questions until you get it which will not only help you understand and better communicate it forward, but will also teach your children that it's OK to ask questions if you don't actually understand the answer.

Any last words about the campaign?  

The "It Makes You Think" campaign is about empowering parents. It's about taking ownership of the situation and most importantly it's about the child.  It's about building them up so they are ready to explode into school. If we can get our children to feel strong and confident and eager to start big school, can you imagine what they'll be like when they leave school?

Any last words for parents?

Kids don't want much from their parents other than their time.  Real focussed attention.  One-on-one time and an interest in who they are and what they are doing.  Kick a football with them. Sit on the floor and do craft (even if you're crap at craft ... watch Playschool and we'll show you). Read to them. Ask them about their day. Be interested and show them that you value them by giving them your time.

Have you heard of the #StartStrong "It Makes You Think" initiative? 

Did/do your children go to preschool?

What do you think are some of the benefits of early education?

For more information about #StartStrong you can head to the Start Strong interactive website at www.startstrong.nsw.edu.au  

For more from Jay you can check out the TV Show Jay's Jungle, buy some of his books and CD's  and you can also find out about his favourite children's books via my interview with him for Cheer Kids Magazine

Some interesting facts:

The Child Brain Explained – other findings from the NSW Department of Education’s research:

  • 5 year old children use 60% of their energy to build their brain
  • Children who have participated in early childhood education are more likely to have an IQ higher than 90 at the age of 5
  • A child’s language skills and vocabulary often quadruple between ages two and four
  • The emotional centre of the brain benefits greatly from preschool. This includes social bonding, processing of emotions, empathising with others and understanding how to deal with stress
  • At three, a child has around 3000 trillion brain connections or synapses which in later development are selectively prune. When adolescence is reached, brain synapses will number around 500 trillion, and this number remains relatively stable into adulthood.
  • Before the age of 5, the brain forms as many as 700 neural connections per second.


  1. I haven't heard of the initiative but it sounds great. I've had a few friends whose kids have recently started school but they've been in day care and the transition has been a bit easier. I like that many day care centres, kindergartens and schools now seem to have part-day programs which help expose children to them bit by bit (half days etc) until they start full time.

    I also love Jay's comments about parents spending time with their kids, eventually those memories are all we have left of our parents.

  2. What a fabulous initiative for parents and children. Jay is right on the money with his comments about children just wanting their parents' time. This is so important for both parties. Put down the phones and play with your kids! :)

  3. Great interview and the questions raised so many interesting points and Jays answers were insightful too. I haven't heard of this initiative either, but I think anything to help raise awareness of the benefits of early education is great. I love that we are becoming more aware as a species of how we can help our children's brains develop positively, and that as Jay says it's not really about what we can give them from a consumer point of view but the amount of time we invest in them; spend with them, play with them, read to them, get down on the floor and rumble with them. I loved having little kids around and I miss that age so much - yes, both my children went to play school.

  4. Being in Queensland I haven't heard of this initiative, but as a former primary school teacher myself, I am a big believer in the benefits of early education. Both of my kids loved kindy and preschool!

  5. I do think that the more families know of the benefits of doing simple things together the closer they become. Time has, unfortunately, robbed many families of this. I would love to think a role model like Jay (and others such as Anthony Field) can continue to promote the sharing of time, stories and activities with our before school-age kids and beyond. I look forward to reading and seeing more about this initiative from NSW Government as it is rolled out. Your day must have been most interesting Leanne! The men promoting the value of early childhood education, and who are experienced and trained in it, rock!! The original Wiggles are a prime example and Play School is the gold standard for families to view together....and learn more about how to become involved in the 'work' of kids...called PLAY!!

  6. I've not heard of it but I love some of Jay's ideas for integrating hesitant pre-schoolers better. Standing out the front of the pre-school building and pointing out fun things, repeatedly even is a great idea. Getting them so familiar with it before they actually get there sounds positive to me. I saw Anh Do's interview and painting of Anthony the blue Wiggle. It was exceptional, but then I'm a big Anh fan!

  7. I hadn't heard of this initiative but then again my girls are a little older. Sounds wonderful.

  8. My kids have both been in daycare since they were 1yo. What they learned in social skills was gold for preparing them for school!

  9. I hadn't heard of this but I'm so pleased to have read about it. What a great resource. As the mum of a bright and inquisitive 4 year old, you can bet I'm off to check out the website! Great interview, Leanne! I will be scheduling this to share on the Parent Talk Australia fb page :)


I love hearing your thoughts! Keep them rolling in :)

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