Skip to main content

CBBC legend Kirsten O’Brien backs new Social Mobility Commission parenting campaign

A little bit of play goes a long way!

CBBC legend Kirsten O’Brien backs new Social Mobility Commission parenting campaign 

  • Social Mobility Commission launches new parenting campaign in Middlesbrough and Great Yarmouth to help promote early years development in preschool children
  • Children from low-income households start school on average 4.5 months behind others and leave school just over 18 months behind
  • Presenter Kirsten O’Brien, attends rhyme time in Middlesbrough to kick start the initiative

A new parenting campaign, supported by Presenter Kirsten O’Brien, launches today (23rd October) in Middlesbrough and Great Yarmouth to encourage parents to interact more with their children to help them gain key numeracy and literacy skills.

The Social Mobility Commission’s new initiative – ‘It’s Child’s Play’ – will be piloted locally over the next five months to show parents how they can make a difference by playing, reading, writing, counting and chatting with their youngest children. Targeted towards parents with children who are preschool age in low-income areas, it will present key resources and easy ways of engaging with children to help get them school ready, with the aim to ensure these children reach the same level as their better-off peers when they start primary school.

Research shows that the early years, from birth to school age, are the most important time for parents to provide the building blocks for their child’s life. Some children who were read to in their first five years of life have heard 1.4 million more words compared to those who weren’t. And a child’s educational success at age 9 and 10 can partially be attributed to the number of words they hear at age 3.

Research also shows that disadvantaged children start school developmentally on average 4.5 months behind others and leave school just over 18 months behind. This means that how well you do in your first years at school is often related to how well you do in your GCSEs and beyond.

The Social Mobility Commission recognises the need for change and through ‘It’s Child’s Play’ it aims to support parents to help ensure all children are given the best possible start to school.

The Social Mobility Commission understands that some families in more deprived areas are less likely to have the resources, confidence or time to support their child’s development. ‘It’s Child’s Play’ therefore promotes free, simple cognitive and socio-emotional exercises to enhance confidence and encourage important child development at a critical age.

The campaign has deployed posters, targeted mail drops, newspaper advertising and social media assets promoting these simple developmental exercises such as counting, reading aloud and spotting different colours and shapes.  The materials will be shared locally by libraries, GP surgeries, shops, food banks and other community outlets and organisations.

Campaign commissioner, Tina Stowell commented: “Even the simplest parent-child interactions in the early years can shape a child’s growth, development and ultimately life course. Our campaign aims to show all parents how they can give their children a head start before school by encouraging free, fun and simple activities like talking, playing, counting and reading.”

“Talking helps children make sense of the world around them, playing can help a child improve their understanding of shapes and names, and reading – which doesn’t have to be books but could be any words around you – is linked to improving emotional skills, as well as language and numeracy skills.”

“We know that some parents don’t have much time, may not be sure on how to best enhance their child’s skills, and might even believe they can’t make much difference.  We hope that this campaign will serve as a useful starting point to show all parents how important they are, and how the smallest, regular interaction is a powerful way to encourage their child to meet their full potential.”

To kickstart the initiative, CBBC legend Kirsten O’Brien, will be leading a rhyme time – sessions involving rhyme, movement and rhythm – at a library in Middlesbrough. This will show how the campaign behaviours can be put into practice and encourage parents in easy ways to take part in their child’s day to day development.

SMart CBBC Presenter and parent, Kirsten O’Brien from Middlesbrough, commented: “As a mum to three kids, I understand how hectic being a parent can be. From juggling the school run, to getting to work, to sorting out tea – sometimes you feel like you can hardly catch a break!”

“I find it easier to play and talk with my kids while I’m doing other activities around the house like cooking or tidying up. I would point out colours in the kitchen while making our tea or hold up shapes while moving things out the way when tidying. This meant that I could still do what I needed to get done and spend meaningful time with my kids all while helping their development.”

“I’m thrilled to support this campaign in my hometown of Middlesbrough which aims to enhance the future of our local children. Let’s come together and help make a lasting impact on the next generation.”

‘It’s Child’s Play’ will be piloted in three areas in England – Middlesbrough, Great Yarmouth and Blackpool – from this October to late February 2024, with the plan to roll the campaign out nationally next year.

To find out more about and get involved, visit 





Case studies and spokespeople are available on request.

For more information contact: 



The Social Mobility Commission is an advisory, non-departmental public body established under the Life Chances Act 2010 as modified by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. It has a duty to assess progress in improving social mobility in the United Kingdom and to promote social mobility in England.

It comprises:

Commission Chair

  • Alun Francis, Principal and CEO of Blackpool & The Fylde College 


  • Dr Raghib Ali, Senior Clinical Research Associate at the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge.
  • Matthew Goodwin, Professor of Political Science at the University of Kent.
  • Ryan Henson, Chief Executive Officer at the Coalition for Global Prosperity.
  • Parminder Kohli, Senior Vice President EMEA at Shell Lubricants.
  • Resham Kotecha, Head of Policy at the Open Data Institute.
  • The Rt Hon Baroness Stowell of Beeston MBE.
  • Rob Wilson, Chairman at WheelPower – British Wheelchair Sport.


The SMC conducted research into how different parenting activities support the educational and life outcomes of children. We first focused on what parents can do to support their children’s development and subsequently how the SMC might encourage parents to adopt those behaviours. The campaign we launch today, “It’s Child’s Play” is informed by this work.