Bridging The Gap To Successful & Happy Little Ones – Why Parent Partnerships Are So Important.

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Posted by: Sue Atkins

I’ve been asked to say a few words at The Nursery World Show the leading, most-established show for everyone in the early years community. The Nursery World Show is dedicated to the early years focusing & combining professional seminars, expert-led masterclasses, a free live theatre talks.

Here are my thoughts about why parent partnerships build bridges not walls between home, nursery or school. Parents are the most important people in their children’s early lives. Children learn about the world, and their place in it through their conversations, play activities, and routines with their parents, families & carers. Parents can also support children’s learning in out-of-home settings, such as childminding settings, crèches, playgroups, pre-schools, and primary schools, therefore by working together parents and practitioners can really enhance children’s learning, development & confidence.

Most parents are keen to support, nurture and become involved in their child’s learning but parents need support at some time or another. There are a number of reasons that parents may find it difficult to engage – they may lack confidence, lack knowledge, or lack experience. They may be experiencing financial worries, family issues, a major life change like the loss of a loved one, or ill health so during those times they may need extra help, support & understanding.

Time constraints, social and economic backgrounds, cultural identity, discrimination, poverty, previous negative experiences, literacy difficulties, language, or different disabilities, can also make it difficult for parents to participate in their children’s learning and development as much as they might like to. Some parents worry that they will be judged and are shy to come forward to ask. Therefore, parent partnerships can benefit all children & can be especially important for these families. So don’t be put off the first time parents may appear aloof or rude.

Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers as well as their primary role models, so nurturing a strong & positive partnership between parents and carers is essential if early years practitioners are to plan effectively for a child’s learning and get the best outcome for every child in their care.

A genuine commitment to working co-operatively with parents should be a feature of any high-quality setting and should impact on every aspect of practice.

Practitioners, build up invaluable expertise, knowledge and understanding in how young children learn and in how each child interacts within that setting. But it is the parent who knows their child best, and unless there is an open and mutual sharing of information between practitioners and parents, a child’s learning needs will be neither fully understood nor, ultimately, met, as part of the whole child’s experience is missing. Working together builds bridges of understanding, not walls between you.

Why are parent partnerships so important?

  • Parents know their children best.
  • They help the child to feel safe and secure while in their setting if they see that their parents feel comfortable there too.
  • They create a shared level of expectation between  home and nursery.
  • The information shared creates new levels of understanding about any concerns, any new likes or any new dislikes. Keeping the lines of communication open and relaxed.
  • They help to keep all members of staff up to date with what is happening outside the setting, especially if the home situation may be causing problems for the child.
  • Once rapport is established it helps parents feel more relaxed and  able to seek advice, help and support should they need it more easily.
  • They make transitions throughout the setting  much smoother.
  • They improve practice and outcomes for the children, ensuring every child has their full individual needs met.

Sharing information about the child

It’s a good idea to have the mindset and attitude of openness and sharing as that will create natural opportunities for talking to parents about their child’s learning informally, and spontaneously. If practitioners manage their time effectively, they can be available for informal conversations at dropping-off and picking-up times, so creating a culture of informal information sharing to develop.

A trusting and warm relationship between key workers and parents begins with the initial contact meeting, so it’s important that from the beginning, parents understand that staff value, care & actively welcome their knowledge and understanding of their child.

However, it may not always be possible for practitioners to speak to parents on a day-to-day basis about their child’s learning milestones, current interests or recent experiences. We live in a busy, hectic, frenetic world & parents’ working hours may prevent them from having daily or even regular contact of any kind with the nursery, and a two-way diary can be useful where contact time between practitioner and parent is limited or even a quick email works if the tone is conversational and friendly.

Learning Journals, coffee mornings, cake sales, advice workshops, interactive display boards progress summary sheets & regular newsletters are also all great ways to keep parents up to date with latest topic’s, events and the learning that has taken place that week, month or term.

On some occasions, it may be the key worker who is unavailable to talk to the parent, perhaps because of other professional commitments. In such cases, practitioners should make it clear to the parent that they will arrange a convenient time to discuss the child’s progress as it is important to them to liaise and interact with them personally about the child in their care. The message is clear, ‘Your child matters and is important to us.’

Practitioners should try to engage both parents where possible and to make sure that their meeting is a place where both male and female parents or carers feel at ease, relaxed & comfortable. Where there is a true commitment to parent partnership, practitioners can be innovative and creative in their time management to ensure that they reach all parents. A cup of tea and a smiling face go a long way to building good relationships.

Creating the right atmosphere is important so it’s a good idea for  meetings to be conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect and practitioners should act as genuine listeners, responding to what they hear from the parent and not allowing discussions to be driven by a pre-set agenda based on what has been observed in the nursery. Make sure your attitude is free from judgement, criticism and thinking that you know better. There should be an emphasis on celebrating what the child has achieved and on looking for ways of building on their current interests and achievements together. You are all part of a wonderful jigsaw supporting the child.

The best attitude and ethos to develop is a holistic one where planning together enhances the child’s all round long term learning & positive experiences.

Sharing information about the curriculum

In a high-quality setting, practitioners will share with parents’ information about the Foundation Stage curriculum and about young children as learners, as opportunities arise. Group parents’ meetings are an excellent way to:

  • Explain the setting plans and assessments & a child’s learning within the six areas of learning
  • discuss the importance of the learning process
  • highlight high-quality learning experiences with no concrete outcome
  • emphasise the importance of child-initiated learning
  • talk about schemes
  • discuss appropriate expectations and contexts for learning.

Creating a strong parent partnership is highly important within childcare settings for raising happy, confident, resilient children. There can be challenges along the way when trying to communicate with parents, however by trying different tactics and strategies eventually you will find effective ways to build that important bridge between home & nursery that will empower children to bloom, thrive and blossom.

Remember a smile is a curve that puts a lot of things straight.

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