Parents & Carers

Theory of Change

Theory of Change Narrative

The Theory of Change is an approach that defines all building blocks required to achieve long term outcomes and reflects current understanding of how change takes place. Our theory of change explains how 50 Things To Do activities are intended to produce a series of results that contribute to achieving the final intended impacts.


The intention is to re-visit this narrative periodically as 50 Things to Do continues to grow and evolve and update it as necessary. Our partnership with The Centre for Applied Educational Research (CAER) presents an ongoing opportunity for us to learn more about 50 Things’ impact on early learning, child development and health.

50 Things to Do has identified the changes at various levels that need to occur to improve children’s health, learning, and wellbeing milestones, leading to improved social mobility. The initiatives are based on the simple notion that access to life-changing, fun, low or no-cost experiences with family, indoors and outdoors, is a great way to support children’s development. The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project reported that “All parents who regularly involve their children in early home learning activities that ‘stretch a child’s mind’ can enhance their children’s learning and development”. Sylva etal (2004) DfES and Institute of Education, University of London.

We passionately believe that the importance of low-cost ways for families to maximise opportunities for their children to learn, grow, be healthy and have fun, should not be underestimated. Research consistently demonstrates that what parents do with their children at home positively influences their health and wellbeing, as well as being far more impactful to their future achievements than their social class or level of education.

“Early interactions directly affect the way the brain is wired, and early relationships set the ‘thermostat’ for later control of the stress response. This underlines the significance of pregnancy and the first years of life, and the need for mothers and fathers to be supported during this time” Healthy Child Programme: Pregnancy and the first five years of life (HCP) 2009

Desforges, C and Abouchaar, A (2003) “Home influence is powerful because it is enduring, pervasive and direct. Children absorb enthusiasm and a positive attitude towards learning from their relationships with adults at home. A parent who feels it is his or her role and believes they can make a difference, models positive interest in learning.” The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievements and Adjustment, DfES.

According to the Education Endowment foundation (2021), “on average, parental engagement programmes evaluated to date have led to a positive impact of approximately four additional months’ progress over the course of a year.”

In addition to our understanding and recognition of the importance of parental engagement, Bronfenbrenner’s development of the ecological systems theory, which explains the influence of social environments on human development, has significantly influenced our approach.


His theory argues that the environment you grow up in affects every aspect of your life. Therefore, we recognise that children’s development is not exclusively dependent on the input of parents, any early years settings or school that they may attend. Children grow up in a locality and are part of a community. Therefore, we encourage the engagement of local services, health services, early years settings, cultural locations, to work together and create a sense of community involvement , and enabling a space for partnership and the participation of parents.

Furthermore, our placed-based approach encourages children and families to explore their own local landscapes, communities and cultural venues alongside the local history that defines the places they live. Thus giving children a greater connection to communities around them. A report published by The Place-based Education Evaluation Collaborative stated that “place-based education fosters students' connection to place and creates vibrant partnerships between schools and communities. It boosts student achievement and improves environmental, social, and economic vitality” The Benefits of Place-based Education (2010).

Designed to give children exciting life experiences, developing confidence and a passion for learning new things, our 50 activities have a playful learning approach. Through play children build relationships with each other and the adults who play alongside them. Play offers choice, control and freedom within reasonable boundaries. Play has many meanings and definitions, often depending on the sector you work in, it has been stated that “to define play is virtually impossible” Sutton-Smith (2006) Here at 50 Things we are drawn to the definition from the DCMS (2004) “Play is what children and young people do when they follow their own ideas and interests in their own way and for their own reasons.”

Whichever way we look at it, scientific and pedagogical research consistently demonstrates that play and playfulness has a positive impact on holistic development. Pellis, S, University of Lethbridge, argues play is essential to healthy brain development. Stating that "The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain, and without play experience, those neurons aren't changed,"


In his analysis, Fisher (1992) found that “playing could enhance a child’s cognitive, linguistic, and social development” The impact of play on development: A meta-analysis. Play & Culture

Galyer & Evans observed that “Children who engaged in pretend play frequently, and who did so with caregivers, had higher ratings of emotion regulation.” Pretend Play and the Development of Emotion Regulation in Preschool Children (2000)

Importantly, we recognise that this does not only relate to early childhood. “At any age, play acts to retain and enhance meaningful context, and optimizes the learning process.” The National Institute for Play (2006)

Playfulness is often associated with being happy, imaginative, light-hearted and free and there is a consensus among childhood experts that playfulness is a positive trait that leads to a sense of happiness and joy. In a context where, even before the Covid19 pandemic, the media reported that children are more stressed today than they have ever been, we believe by having playful learning at the core of our program development we are positively impacting children’s wellbeing. Research published by The LEGO Foundation underpins this when it states “We have seen that the inherent joy and affective nature of play, as well as the stimulation of multiple brain networks during play, make it a particularly effective in maintaining and developing the emotional skills needed to deal with challenging circumstance, as well as the resilience and creativity to adapt.” Play to Cope with Change (2020)

As mentioned, we are a team of education and early years specialists, using theories of learning, child development and play to underpin our activities, however, we believe one of the unique elements of our app is that the focus is on parents engaging in “fun stuff” with their children. This deliberate approach is to ensure our offer is an inclusive, non-judgemental way to engage parents in their child’s development. Whilst our offer is designed to engage all families with young children, Local Authorities are able develop a targeted universalism approach within their own communities, utilising the data to support targeted interventions where needed. Powel J (2019) states that...

“Within a targeted universalism framework, universal goals are established for all groups concerned. The strategies developed to achieve those goals are targeted, based upon how different groups are situated within structures, culture, and across geographies to obtain the universal goal.”

We believe our Theory of Change, based on theory and research evidence enables us to delivery our initiative which responds to the needs of children and families.


By the end of 2023 we are aiming to have a well-researched impact report. In the meantime, below are a handful of examples demonstrating how our approach is having an impact:


In a national survey of our 50 Things app users, 87% of parents and carers agreed that they feel more confident in supporting their child’s learning and development with the help of 50 Things to Do Before You’re Five. We also have many examples, like the ones below, from parents.

“50 things has given me confidence to try new things with my daughter, it’s placed more value on the simple things that we can enjoy together and I’ve loved it! I haven’t needed to spend a fortune and my daughter has really responded to the time we spend together trying some of the suggestions. It’s brought the wonder back, rather than just sticking to what I know!”
Fran, parent

“50 Things soon becomes a way of life when you have a young family; days can be planned around the app. The whole project has made me so mindful of the benefits early interaction with little people has on their future life chances. I find myself asking more questions to my 4 year old because of all the 50 things ideas we do together.”
Lindsey, parent

In Wakefield, they reached their 1st year target of 1200 downloads within four months of launch with...

41% of downloads linked to valid postcodes from areas of recognised deprivation

35% of downloads from areas with significantly higher than average levels of child poverty

In Bradford providers of services for families have reported that:

“We have found that 50 Things Bradford is a great resource to share with parents to give them some extra ideas on how to support their child’s language development at home and out and about. I love how it brings attention to activities that are low to no cost making it accessible to all. We have also shared the 50 Things cards during some recent practitioner training to show them ideas that they can use and share with parents, the response was really positive and created a buzz in the room.”
Chloe, Manager, Bradford language project

“For me, I like the simplicity and beauty of 50 Things concept … as a way of supporting parents to connect in a fun and creative way, with their little one … perhaps things that are often taken for granted!?”
Tina, CEO, Relate Bradford

“I like the way you can use 50 Things in bite size chunks- it has supported our engagement with families in a simplistic way to enable them to interact positively with their children”
Helen, Better Start Bradford