The EYFS statutory framework seeks to promote partnership working between practitioners and parents. Research has shown that the quality of the home learning environment has a huge impact on outcomes for children. This was noted as part of the Effective Provision of Pre-school education (EPPE) research project which notes that, ‘The quality of the home learning environment is more important for a child’s intellectual and social development than parental occupation, education or income.’ Sylva et al 2004.
However, engaging parents can often present a challenge. Some families can appear hard to reach and there can be potential barriers for parents in understanding the benefits of working in partnership with education professionals. Settings and schools are becoming more creative in how they approach parental engagement and support families to be active partners in learning. Here are five top tips to engage your parents so that you can work together to help children learn and develop:
Seize opportunities to gather information informally from parents
- Informal chats at the beginning and end of sessions can give a wealth of information about what children have been doing and what their current interests are. Noting these discussions will enable you to reflect children’s current interests in your provision.
- Use these informal conversations to find out if children are demonstrating the same behaviours in the home as they do with you. This information can be used to inform judgements and highlight children’s achievements against the Early Years Outcomes.
- Encourage parents to share photos/video clips showing children’s achievements beyond the setting/school. These too can be used as evidence when making judgements.
- Remember to evidence how you have responded to interests and achievements from home in the child’s learning journal.
Ensure that parents are aware of the EYFS curriculum and age-related expectations noted in the Early Years Outcomes
- Signpost parents to ‘What to expect, when’ and ‘EYFS – a parents guide’ to ensure they can access parent friendly documents.
- Share identified gaps in learning and planned next steps with parents regularly (for example at parent consultations/drop in surgeries.) Ensure that parents are an integral part of this process and understand their role in assessing progress and planning future learning.
- Signpost parents to some practical activities/strategies and relevant websites that they can use to support current learning in the home
Develop a lending library to ensure children can access developmentally appropriate resources in the home
- Often children have a wide range of toys in the home environment. However, these toys do not always offer the open-ended opportunities and challenge that resources in the school/setting offer.
- Offer a bookshelf/basket that has a range of carefully chosen, high quality texts that children and parents can select from to support early literacy development in the home.
- Developing resource packs for home is an effective use of Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) funding if it meets the developmental needs of disadvantaged children. These packs can then be more widely used.
- Consider using EYPP funding to staff the lending library-this will ensure that lending packs are returned, parents are signposted to developmentally appropriate resources and feedback can be captured when the resource is returned.
Provide stay and play sessions/workshops
- When offering workshops ensure that the content of the session meets the needs of the parent. Give parents a choice of workshop themes and find out what parents would find beneficial. Staff can then deliver the session that the majority will find useful.
- Coming into the learning environment might be difficult for parents who have had a negative experience of education. Provide fun, non-threatening opportunities for parents to enter the setting (such as a cake sale, looking at a display, watching a short performance) before asking them to come in for more formal events such as consultations and workshops.
Could you run a series of sessions throughout the day to maximise the number of parents that can attend? Could you offer a crèche?
- Remember working parents might need plenty of notice for any sessions in the day-an evening session might suit these parents far better.
Know your families!
- Ensure that the families in your cohort and community are reflected in your environment. Your environment should welcome all and should include representations of different families, ethnicities, abilities and religious beliefs in all resources and displays. Stonewallprovide fantastic free resources that support presenting positive representations of a range of families.
- Parents might have literacy barriers which will prevent them from providing written contributions to assessments. This could also be a barrier to accessing information given in writing. Be mindful of these parents and ensure that staff offer to note down feedback and give verbal reminders to these parents to ensure that they access reminders/newsletters/reports.
- Find out the methods of communication that your parents regularly use. If the majority of your parents use twitter then this would be an effective method to communicate key messages and signpost to websites/resources. Some parents with English as a second language will prefer information electronically as they can use an app to translate, parents that collect at the gate might like a sign on a notice board and working parents might want an e-mail. Know your parents!
All families are unique and need to be valued as partners if the quality of the home learning environment is to be developed. When parents are an integral part of their child’s learning and development, outcomes invariably improve. To achieve this, parents need to be nurtured, supported and given tools to equip them to support their child on their educational journey.
Authors Rosie Bloomfield & Hayley Yendell
“The best settings worked as much with parents as they did with children."
Teaching and Play in the early years-a balancing act P-23