Category Archives: home school partnership

Why Sharing Information with Parents is Important in Early Years Classrooms and How to Achieve it

There has been a common thread on early education forums recently about how best to share information with parents. Parents are the child’s first educators and most good early education settings will look for ways to share learning journeys with parents. There could be barriers; some busy parents want to rush away without spending time conversing, other families are hard to reach, English is not their first language or they may feel uncomfortable about talking to teachers but it is important to understand a child’s home background and to support learning at home.

Put yourself for one moment in the shoes of a parent who drops their child to your setting at the start of the day and won’t see them again until it is almost bedtime. Imagine you are a parent who has stayed at home with your child for 5 years to suddenly find them in full-time school. Most young children will find it hard to remember what they have done during the day, leaving parents feeling completely out of touch with their child’s world. I remember when my daughter started school for the first time and feeling sad because I was no longer in control of her influences.

Many pre-schools are really good at sharing information. The key worker system means that staff know the children well and nurseries are generally happy to invite parents into the classroom and spend time talking to them. As Karin remarks

Thanks to the thorough keyworkers and pre-school staff we knew everything that went on every day.

Karin talks about the new learning journey parents experience when their children start school as she is learning to be a big school mum and asks

‘ how on earth can we find out what they are getting up to?’

As a parent there are a few simple things that can help. Start by asking very specific questions – Did you like the story you read today? What was your favourite thing that happened today? Who did you play with at playtime?

Chat to the other parents in the playground, children usually tell different stories and you may start to piece things together.

Encourage your child’s teacher to help you to find out by suggesting some of the things below. Start your discussion with it would be really helpful if …

As teachers there are things we can do to help. When parents feel valued and a part of their child’s learning and fully informed about what, why and how their children are learning, it is less likely that there will be a feeling of them and us.

Here are some of the ideas I have seen working well in practice

Documenting learning

The pink writing in the centre sets the scene, ‘ A group of children decided to use the large towels from the hairdressers in the home corner to re-enact the Nativity Play. They set up some chairs for each of them to sit on and lined them up where they were playing. They each thought of which character from the play they wanted to be and acted their parts out. ‘
The comments around the edge describe the learning in more detail,
All the children did some nice singing and organised themselves carefully.
They did really well at remembering what the characters in the play said.
Some of them wanted to sit on chairs and be the audience.
‘We’re both angels’
‘I am the Innkeeper’
‘I am the Lord Jesus’

In my opinion this is the most effective way of showing parents what their children are doing. Documentation tells the story of what children have been doing by representing the stages of learning, using photograhs, anecdotes from the children, examples of work and teacher analysis. In this way parents can see what their child is doing, what they are learning and why they are doing it. Carlina Rinaldi president of Reggio Children in Italy says,

documentation is more than simply assessing or displaying the work of the children. “One of my definitions of documentation is that it is first of all an act of love,”

This describes perfectly the warmth that emanates from the documentation in Reggio Emilia – it is like shouting from the rooftops – look at what our children are doing. Isn’t it fascinating? Come and join in. Many good examples of documentation of children’s learning can be found in the projects of Sightlines Initiative.

Learning Diaries

The pictures tell the story of  the child's fascinations and the teacher annotates explaining the learning that took place. The Wow moment was added by a parent about learning that had occurred at home. Parents can also comment on the learning at pre-school to show how this matches with what they do at home.
The pictures tell the story of the child’s fascinations and the teacher annotates explaining the learning that took place. The Wow moment was added by a parent about learning that had occurred at home. Parents can also comment on the learning at pre-school to show how this matches with what they do at home.

Learning diaries have been available for every Foundation Stage child (up until the end of their first year at school) in the UK since 2008. These show the learning journeys of individual children through photographs, children’s comments and teacher analysis of learning. The diaries are an excellent record of progress and should move with the children when they go to school. Parents should be made aware that they are available to be viewed at all times and encouraged to comment about learning at home.

An example of a learning diary extract for a child under 2.

Learning diaries work best when they are, as the title suggests, a record of children’s learning. My first encounter with learning diaries was when working with children with additional needs, as a way of understanding what was happening at home and how that translated into their behaviour at school. In my experience this shared aspect of the diary is sometimes missed. Emphasise that this is the child’s book and it is important that everyone involved with the child shares information to build up a complete picture of the child.

Daily Timetable

If parents are struggling to get information from their children about the day at school it can be useful to display a timetable. Some specific information is also helpful, such as today we read this story or we looked at seeds and berries.

Using Technology

Not all will agree but I think that modern technology could revolutionise the way we build partnerships with parents. Allowing parents access to your email (preferably not your personal one) is a great way of sharing experience though I would suggest creating guidelines. Perhaps suggest that the email is for sending anecdotes about events or things they have been doing at home that they may like to share or build on in class. Teachers could send photographs to parents during the day of their children’s learning or maybe create an online version of the learning diary? I once had a childminder who even in the days before smartphones sent my daughter home with a sheet of thumbnail photos depicting what she had been doing that day. This meant so much and gave me a great starting point for talking about her day.

Open door policies. 

In my experience most pre-schools and schools profess to have an open-door policy but in reality it means little. Many encourage parents to help at school and this is a great way of understanding what children are doing at school. However for working parents and those with younger siblings this is not always an option.

Most nurseries and pre-schools invite parents in to the classroom to collect their child. Parents have the chance to familiarise themselves with the environment, children can show their parents what they have been doing and there is a chance to talk to the staff. It surprised me when my daughter started at a school based nursery that children were handed to parents at the door and we weren’t invited in.

It can help parents to feel a part of their child’s day if the room remains set up at the end of the day and they are able to wander around with their child talking about what they have learned. Clearly this can be difficult if younger siblings start to play with toys or children don’t want to leave, so simply leaving one or 2 things out is sufficient. Outlining rules about this being a talking/sharing time not a play time should also help along with setting a clear time for leaving. Not all children/parents will want to stay every day. Perhaps encourage a parents’ rota for helping clear away.

The benefits of the above are plentiful

  • Parents will not continually demand information from you about their children as they will feel better informed.
  • Parents will be less anxious about their children if they feel a part of their life at school/nursery.
  • The children will be more likely to share what they have done with their parents by proudly showing their documentation and learning diaries.
  • Children can encourage parents to contribute to learning diaries creating a clear picture of the child for the teacher.
  • Photographs are a wonderful way of sharing information with families for whom English is not their first language.
  • Parents will feel better equipped to support their child’s learning at home.

With thanks to North Somerset Early Years advisory team, Liz Maggs, Hilltop Pre-School and Early Birds Nursery – Long Ashton for images and learning diary extracts.

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My Thoughts on the Tickell Review of the Early Years Foundation Stage

I usually approach such reading with trepidation, however when Jonathan Douglas Chairman of the National Literacy Trust described it as ‘exhilarating’ my ears pricked up.

The Review recognises the success and popularity of the EYFS and that it will be some time before this will be fully embedded in practice.  It therefore does not recommend radical change, but maintaining  EYFS in its current form whilst  fine tuning certain aspects.  I’m sure this will be a relief to many who are only just getting to grips with the EYFS and dread being faced with even more change. The tone of the report feels very much as though Dame Tickell has listened to the many individuals and organisations involved in the consultation and shows a commitment to the importance of early education. The review supports learning through play, active learning, creativity and critical thinking as characteristics for effective teaching and  recommends  that the EYFS remains inclusive and mandatory.

There are a number of recommendations in the review including:-

  • A greater emphasis on parental partnership .  The EYFS should be more accessible to parents by making sure it is in plain English.  I also think this would really help with the wide range of people that use it and help to remove any ambiguity .  In addition an online interactive version of EYFS is recommended that would be accessible to parents.
  • A reduction of the Early Learning Goals from 69 to 17, with a simple scale defining the skills needed for emerging, expecting and exceeding each goal.  Anything that reduces targets has to be a good thing in my opinion and the examples of the simple scale are very clear.
  • A commitment to greater clarity on the level of paperwork required, alongside the suggestion that paperwork should be reduced.  This sits alongside the recommendation that Ofsted and the Local Authority work together to ensure that no unnecessary demands made.
  • There continues to be an emphasis on formative assessment based on observations of daily activities to illustrate children’s learning.  Summative assessment (the Foundation Stage Profile) will be significantly reduced and there is a call for stronger links between EYFS and KS1.
  • A call to investigate as a matter of urgency the suitability of a ratio of 1:30 in reception classes.
  • A commitment to recruiting a professional and highly qualified workforce including a review of Early Years training courses and a clear progressive structure for qualifications.  I just hope that this quality is maintained by providing financial incentives.
  • A recommended change to the areas of learning. This would create 3 Prime areas – Communication and Language, Personal, Social and Emotional and Physical and 4 further areas through which these will be applied. These would be Literacy, Maths, Expressive Arts and Design and Understanding the World.  I am undecided as to whether the separation of Communication and Language from Literacy will lead to a greater emphasis on speaking and listening or whether it will detract from the interdependence of reading, writing, speaking and listening.  I hope that there will be clear advice as to what early literacy is .  I am a little disheartened that literacy is defined in terms of reading and writing and that definitions have not been reframed for a new technological age.  I am also unsure about the change from Creativity to
  • Expressive Arts and Design.  I am certain that it has been changed to avoid ambiguity, but creativity encompasses so much more than art and design, that I would hope that this would be fostered in diverse ways.  It is good to see that technology has a specific mention in Understanding the World.
  • A review of children’s development at aged 2-2.5  sharing knowledge from all agencies.

The examples of good practice in the appendices make good reading and there are some thought provoking quotations interspersed throughout.  Reading the whole document takes some time, but is worthwhile.  If you didn’t want to read the whole review the summary of recommendations in Annex 2 will give an overview.

I watch with interest to see how policy makers will adopt these recommendations for the new EYFS.

The full consultation report can be viewed  here http://www.education.gov.uk/tickellreview

Who are the experts?

A recent TED talk about the limitations of experts led me to pose the above question.  In the education of our children – who are the experts?  For some it is the teacher’s job to teach reading , writing  and good behaviour and it is felt they cannot be questioned  because they are the experts.  For some teachers it is the parents’ responsibility to teach their children to behave properly and encourage enthusiasm for learning, so when this doesn’t happen it is the parents’ fault.

As parents we are all experts on our own children, we know them best, their likes , dislikes, strengths and weaknesses and what makes them tick.  The expert teacher may say, ‘he doesn’t join in at music time, I don’t think he likes singing. ‘ The expert parent may reply – ‘he sings the songs all the time at home, he just isn’t comfortable in a large group.’  In contrast, the parent may question  their child’s inability to write his name  and the teacher is able to explain all the things that their child is doing in their play that will build the underpinning skills that are necessary before this will occur.

This highlights to me that we are all experts and as experts together, we need to question and challenge each other to provide the best possible education for our children.  If we believe that we are the only expert with a valid opinion and don’t listen to those who question us, we limit the possibilities for our children.

Of course this creates challenges for schools, nurseries and parents.  In a busy school day it is difficult to find time for parent/teacher discussion so we need to challenge ourselves to find  new ways to share expertise.

http://www.ted.com/talks/noreena_hertz_how_to_use_experts_and_when_not_to.html