Back in September, the revised Development Matters was published, and with it, came a new concept – the seven key features of effective practice. Early Childhood Consultant, Sue Asquith, takes a detailed look at number 7 on the list – Partnerships with Parents.
The amount of information we get in the Early Years can be overwhelming, especially when new guidelines are introduced. With that in mind, Sue’s broken down this first key feature into digestible chunks that’ll help you understand what the points are really trying to say.
Starting with each of the five bullet points from the new Development Matters, Sue is going to explain each of them in depth, before offering concrete examples on how they might apply to your setting.
1. Strong and Respectful Partnerships
‘It is important for parents and early years settings to have a strong and respectful partnership. This sets the scene for children to thrive in the early years.’
‘Positive relationships’ is one of the underpinning principles of the Early Years Foundation Stage.
Developing positive and respectful partnerships with parents or main carers, right from the start, is essential to support children’s physical and emotional well-being. Consider how you communicate with parents and how often, by asking yourself:
- Have you found out their preferred communication method(s)?
- Do you discuss the information you (statutorily) ‘need’ to share with parents/carers?
- Do you give examples of the things you’d like to hear from them – like what their child is doing at home and any other updates?
- If you use an app or online system to share information with parents, consider making this part of their induction, showing them where to download the software/apps and helping them to navigate the system and perhaps to make their first upload.
- You will intuitively be thinking of the ‘next steps’ to support and plan a child’s learning journey. Consider how you share this information with parents/carers. In turn, how do parents communicate their thoughts for their child’s next steps with you?
- We hopefully won’t have another pandemic, but if you put any extra measures in place or change your usual ones, communicate this. New and existing parents may need extra reassurance about the procedures you have put into place to be COVID-secure, for example.
2. Communication is Key
‘This includes listening regularly to parents and giving parents clear information about their children’s progress.’
Communication between early years settings and parents has always been a vital part of effective practice.
It’s fair to say that effective two-way communication can be a challenge, and sharing information can be time consuming. Communication therefore needs to be as effective as it can possibly be in order to work.
Here are a few tips for you to evaluate your current communication, and some resources to better it:
- Really consider your communication methods and find out the communication preferences of parents and carers. Ofsted do not have a preferred method. In fact, Ofsted have a clear message “do it for the children, not for Ofsted”. Consider how much information you’re giving and how it is shared.
- Be sensitive as to how much information parents actually want. Some parents will find it difficult to see, read or hear about what they are missing whilst their child is in childcare. Others will want every single detail! Take this into account when thinking about how you communicate.
- Documents such as ‘What to Expect, When’ can be really helpful to share with parents to discuss children’s next steps. It also gives examples of how adults can support children at each stage, helping you and parents to plan your support. One of my mottos is “don’t do things to parents, do it with them”!
Whilst COVID has brought lots of extra challenges, it has also brought some amazing examples of how early years settings and schools have adjusted. Doorstep drop offs, online communication and virtual parents’ evenings are just some examples of how effective communication is in helping overcome difficulties together!
3. The Impact of Home Learning
‘The help that parents give their children at home has a very significant impact on their learning.’
Stressing to parents that pregnancy to age five is the most pivotal period for health and happiness in adulthood is therefore extremely important. The EYFS places a duty on early years settings to work with parents to help them extend their child’s learning at home.
My colleague is a great example of how to give parents this helping hand. She created an ‘Under 5s’ group for parents pre-pandemic, where parents were able to connect and interact with their children and other adults simultaneously.
This group became a real lifeline during lockdown, as it helped parents with feelings of loneliness and isolation, all the while connecting them to their own children and encouraging interaction. All sessions are recorded to give parents activities to do with their child at a later date, and the group organiser drops off craft-packs for parents to use too!
If that kind of group is not feasible, here are some alternatives:
- Let parents know about free online resources for them to use. Share your favourite online platforms or videos that you find particularly engaging.
- If you have ideas of activities children could do at home – share them with the parents! Some parents will find it difficult to come up with ideas, and may just need a little encouragement.
- Stay in contact – this is an easy way to help. Some parents will need to ask questions, and you staying in contact will give them that little bit of support they might need.
- Create online workshops for parents. These could simply provide information about weaning, toilet training, engaging storytimes and how to support their child’s early literacy and maths.
- Share and message photos of the child’s day with parents along with suggestions about how to extend their interests at home.
4. Giving Parents a Helping Hand
‘Some children get much less support for their learning at home than others. By knowing and understanding all the children and their families, settings can offer extra help to those who need it most.’
The recent Royal Foundation research findings about the Early Years included how ‘feeling judged can make a bad situation worse, with seven out of every 10 parents feeling judged by others, and almost half (48%) saying this negatively affected their mental health’. Loneliness was also highlighted.
During my partnership with children’s centres, parents were encouraged to engage with sessions such as ‘Stay and Play’ and ‘Babies into Books’. Parents and staff built respectful and trusting relationships, and families met and formed friendships with other families. We modelled ways to support attachment, play, communication, language and physical development throughout early childhood. Their confidence and knowledge grew immensely.
We need to be mindful of a few things here:
- Babies do not come with an instruction manual, and some parents may need to ask questions to build their confidence.
- Parents should not be expected to have masses of prior knowledge about child development in order to have a child (having a baby is not like applying for a driving license!)
- Every family is unique with their own pulls on their time and energies. We need to recognise that and offer support where it’s needed.
- New parents might not have access to ante or post-natal groups or know where to access information/support.
It’s important for Early Years practitioners to acknowledge these points, and identify which families may need a helping hand. Some parents just need reassurance, and the chance to ask questions without external judgement.
Many of the children’s centres have closed and access to ante and postnatal classes and other support is patchy, but there is a lot that Early Years practitioners can do to help. For example, discussing their child’s development and planning together how their next steps can be achieved. An ‘open door policy’ for parents to contact their key person with any questions, this may mean adjusting and offering parents the options to ask questions via a messaging app or a video call.
5. Encouragement goes a long way
‘It is important to encourage all parents to chat, play and read with their children.’
One of the biggest indicators of children’s future attainment is their levels of communication and vocabulary in early childhood.
In 2003, Hart and Risley wrote about the ‘word gap’. ‘The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3’, reported that children in different socio-economic groups display dramatic differences in their vocabularies at just 18 months. By 3 years old, this could result in as many as 30 million words! On average, this could mean that some children are 18 months behind their peers.
There was a post on social media recently stating “there’s no app to replace your lap” and I cannot put it any better! Modern life, TV, screens, expensive equipment and toys have sadly taken over some of the more traditional ways of interacting and learning opportunities.
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