A digital programme that sends game ideas and tips on child development to parents has been found to improve important skills in the early years. According to a randomised controlled trial carried out by the University of Oxford’s Department of Education and published by the Sutton Trust today, the programme had positive effects on children’s concentration levels, determination, and ability to make their own decisions. These capabilities underpin children’s ability to learn and succeed at school, and are considered essential for ‘school readiness’.

The trial tested EasyPeasy, a digital programme for parents and carers of 2-5 year old children that encourages positive parent-child interaction through play in the home. The parents were sent short video clips that give them ideas of games to play with their child, along with brief written instructions and a series of text reminders encouraging them to try out the games. The programme was trialled by 302 families from eight children’s centres in Newham, all in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

Parents taking part in the trial, funded through the Sutton Trust and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation’s Parental Engagement Fund, used the app for 3 months, and reported improvements in their children’s ‘cognitive self-regulation’. This means they were better at persisting with difficult tasks, making decisions independently, and working things out for themselves – sometimes described as ‘grit’.

The app also had a positive effect on parents’ sense of control, with parents reporting that they felt more able to get their child to behave well and respond to boundaries, as well as feeling more able to stay calm when facing difficulties.

These findings build on similar results from an earlier evaluation of EasyPeasy carried out with a different community demographic in Bournemouth, which showed significant positive benefits for children’s cognitive self-regulation and parents’ setting of boundaries.

Previous research commissioned by the Sutton Trust found a 19-month gap in development between the richest and poorest children at five, a strong predictor of future outcomes in education, health, wealth, and wellbeing.

There is evidence that engaged parents and a vibrant home learning environment are major influences on children’s development, yet little is known about how to better support families who are struggling to provide this. These results are an important step towards understanding effective ways for parents to support their child’s early learning at home, and help them get ready for school.

Last week the Department for Education announced a £5m home learning environment fund, run by the Education Endowment Foundation, to give families extra support to help with children’s early language and communication skills.

Sir Peter Lampl, ounder and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation and of the Sutton Trust, said:

“We know that the attainment gap between the richest and the poorest pupils begins before they’ve started school, and is a strong predictor of future outcomes in education and wellbeing. Tackling this gap early on is critical to breaking the cycle of disadvantage and improving social mobility.

“It is vital that parents engage with their child’s learning and development, but this can sometimes be difficult. It is very encouraging therefore to see the promising findings that EasyPeasy – an app that sends game ideas and parenting tips to parents and carers – is having a positive impact on both parents and children.”

Julian Grenier, a headteacher from Sheringham Nursery School, which used EasyPeasy as part of the trial, said:

“EasyPeasy is a 21st century approach that builds on the longstanding traditions of nursery education and community work with families. We know that parent support at home makes the biggest difference of all and EasyPeasy helps us to share these messages with parents in an accessible way. Parents tell us that they like the app and they enjoy the activities with their children.”

Prof Kathy Sylva, evaluator from the University of Oxford, said:

“Sending game ideas via an app offers a new and innovative way to support parents, reaching them directly in the home. The two evaluations of EasyPeasy provide promising evidence that this mode of delivery can really work.”

Nurseries, schools and children’s centres can sign up to a free trial of EasyPeasy at www.easypeasyapp.com. EasyPeasy will be sharing more about the new findings at the University College London’s Festival of Learning (26th & 27th of June) as a representative of the EDUCATE programme.


  • The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 200 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.
  • Esmée Fairbairn Foundation aims to improve the quality of life for people and communities throughout the UK both now and in the future. We do this by funding the charitable work of organisations with the ideas and ability to achieve positive change.  The Foundation is one of the largest independent grant-makers in the UK.  We make grants of £30 – £35 million annually towards a wide range of work within the arts, education and learning, the environment and social change. We also operate a £26 million Finance Fund which invests in organisations that aim to deliver both a financial return and a social benefit.
  • EasyPeasy was prototyped in 2014 through a ‘challenge prize’ from Guys’ & St Thomas’s Charity and the Design Council. The ‘Knee High Challenge’ was designed to generate ideas to support the health and wellbeing of children from birth to five. There was a strong focus on developing ideas locally, but that would have the potential to scale nationally or internationally.
  • 302 families from eight children’s centres took part in the trial of EasyPeasy, through a research partnership with Newham council, EasyPeasy, the Sutton Trust, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the University of Oxford. Parents received EasyPeasy via children’s centres in Newham. EasyPeasy provided data analytics on parent engagement to the children’s centres via a digital dashboard, helping practitioners to encourage less engaged parents to participate.
  • The samples in the separate Bournemouth and Newham trials represented two very different populations, one a large coastal town with a mainly white British population, and the other a densely-populated urban area in inner-city London with a multi-ethnic population. The fact that the two studies had similar results shows that EasyPeasy can boost children’s cognitive development through supporting play at home with their parents – including parents for whom English is an additional language.
  • Jen Lexmond is Founder and CEO of EasyPeasy. She has published widely and advised Parliament on the ways that early development affect children’s life chances, including recently providing oral evidence to the House of Commons Science & Technology Select Committee.
  • Sutton Trust Social Mobility Report in 2012 found a 19 month gap in school readiness between the richest and poorest four and five year olds in the UK.
  • Sound Foundations, a report by University of Oxford academics for the Sutton Trust, highlighted the importance of parental engagement during the early years on positive child outcomes.
  • EasyPeasy is one of six organisations supported by the Sutton Trust and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation’s £1m Parental Engagement Fund. The aim of the fund is to boost learning for disadvantaged young children through the development of more effective parental engagement. The organisations have been paired with a team from the University of Oxford who have been acting as an independent evaluator and “critical friend”, guiding the organisations in their use of evaluation to improve practice as well as to demonstrate impact. In addition, the hope is to improve the sustainability of effective interventions and to identify the active ingredients to share with the sector.
  • EasyPeasy is currently used by schools in Islington, Camden, Newham, Knowsley, Durham, Coventry, Oldham, Bedford, Luton, Doncaster, and Bournemouth.
  • The Education Endowment Foundation is currently testing EasyPeasy on a much larger scale. The independent evaluation is due to be published in 2019.


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