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The Public Engagement with Research Seed Fund supported the BabyLab on Tour to take research on early development into the community, particularly to disadvantaged areas around Oxford.

Mums with babies all seated on the floor while a professional is telling a story © Peeple

What was the project about?

Not all parents have the time or resources to take part in lab-based research, but we wanted to increase the numbers and range of families who benefit from it – by sharing what we already know, what we are trying to find out, and how, with as many families from as wide a range of backgrounds as possible. This meant taking our research on early development out of the University and into the community.

This first BabyLab On Tour pilot was based on an ongoing study into Executive Functions. Executive Functions are skills that enable us to control our attention and behaviour in order to achieve a goal. Strong Executive Functions are linked to better performance at school and higher levels of health, wealth and happiness in later life.

In partnership with the Peeple charity we ran two 6-week series of parent-and-baby workshops on the theme of Executive Functions, with families living in disadvantaged areas around Oxford. The workshops revolved around games and activities for parents to play with their children using low-cost materials that were given to parents to keep.

How did the seed fund support the project?

The Public Engagement with Research Seed Fund was used to pay for venue costs, equipment for the sessions, and take-home materials for families. In addition to PER funding we received in-kind support from project partner Peeple, who provided:

  • Training in how to support parents with the children’s earliest learning 
  • Recruitment via their existing channels
  • A venue for one of the workshop series
  • A trained Early Years Practitioner to help with each of the workshops

This helped the budget go further, so we were also able to create the short video below about the Oxford BabyLab. 



What were the benefits of the project?

The BabyLab on Tour allowed parents and families to learn about research into early development and Executive Function. At the end of each session, parents were asked to anonymously provide feedback and responses indicated that the workshops gave parents new ideas and confidence in supporting their children’s development. 

As a direct consequence of this project, I am now developing the workshop content in partnership with Peeple to become part of the Peep Learning Together Programme. The Learning Together Programme supports the quality of the home learning environment and relationships between parents and young children. It is delivered, at no cost, to parents and children together as either a universal or targeted early intervention/prevention programme. Peeple train approximately 1000 practitioners nationally each year to deliver the Peep Learning Together Programme. In Oxford, they use the Programme in their frontline service to families in a disadvantaged area of the city.

On a more personal level, the project has made me a better science communicator. When you’re face-to-face with parents you can really tell when you’re explaining a topic clearly, and when you’re not – and when there’s a toddler in the room you can’t get away with long circuitous arguments! It has also given me a renewed excitement about my research by reminding me why I’m doing what I’m doing, and directly connecting me with the groups I’m aiming to help.