Parents know their children best, they know their likes, dislikes, ups, downs and all their little unique quirks. Parents have unparalleled influence on their children’s lives and are ‘children’s first and most enduring educators’ (QCA, 2000). It’s estimated that children spend 70% of their time at home or in the community as opposed to in Early Years settings with this significant portion of time comes a significant amount of learning, and good communication between home and the early childhood setting can enhance both learning at home, and learning within the setting. However, it can be so difficult to get parents involved in their child’s early childhood education. Understandably, parents are busy, they have employment obligations and family responsibilities.
Adopting a holistic approach to learning and sharing information with parents yields many benefits for children and their families. For children, individual needs are met, and providing a level of consistency means smoother transitions and a greater sense of security, which in turn enables more effective learning. In turn, parents are made to feel at ease with leaving their child at the setting and also feel that they can ask for help or advice if needed. Whilst the practitioner benefits from better knowledge of the child they are working with and an open communication channel with parents.
There’s plenty of information that can be shared between parents and the setting and the more open communication channels are, the more freely and naturally this can be shared.
The initial meeting, or settling-in session, is a good time to begin this information-sharing relationship. It is important to communicate to parents that you as a practitioner believe that they know their child best and encourage them to share information as freely as possible.
Of course, you’ll need to gather practical information, such as how the baby is fed, what foods the toddler likes, how and when the child naps. However, it’s also important to draw out higher quality information about the child’s interests, temperament and learning style in as far as their parent is able to describe it. Most parents enjoy talking about their child and make many observations about them; the information they can provide is invaluable! Many of us educators will conduct observations and write learning stories that are linked to our curriculum framework. On apps such as TeachKloud, this is easily done, with auto-suggestions on relevant curriculum goals based on the observations and learning stories you write.
On a day to day basis, it may be helpful to share information about how the child has slept, how they are feeling that morning and any other points of concern. Practitioners should be encouraged to ask questions such as “how was your weekend?” or “What did you get up to at home yesterday?” Similarly, at the end of the day, the parent will need to know all about the practical, social, emotional and developmental aspects of their child’s day. As a result, the practitioner should ensure that this is all fed back. Regular updates on the child’s progress and development through observations, reports, recorded ‘wow’ moments are vital. These can be shared on apps such as TeachKloud which uses a secure parent portal to enable parents to receive and give feedback to practitioners.
The key to good communication with parents is to build a rapport with them. A list of closed questions will not draw out the type of information that practitioners need from parents. Initially, when asking about the child, practitioners should use open-ended questions. Remember that high quality information comes when parents are comfortable enough to share freely, instead of merely answering questions. Questions such as “tell me about Ben’s interests…” or “What have you noticed about how Ben learns?” instead of “Does Ben like trains/animals/dolls?” can be the starting point for the establishment of open-communication channels between parents and practitioners.
At the end of the preschool day, try to give the parent time to greet their child and connect with them before going over any housekeeping points. If possible, use a daily diary or online system such as the ‘Daily Records’ function of TeachKloud, to record basic information about feeding, sleeping and other important information such as if the child was given medication. Regardless of what method you use, sharing this type of information will enable parents to breathe a sigh of relief. They will feel glad that they’ve trusted you to care for their little one. Parents want to know that their child is happy, safe, having fun and learning while they’re separated, keeping in contact with parents can show them just how much you care about their child. If you need to report an accident or an incident, sandwiching it between good news and achievements ensures that parents don’t leave with just the negative on their mind. Additionally, ensuring that everything is documented is important and most parents will want some kind of explanation as to what proceeded the incident, what actually happened and how it was dealt with. Having this information, and reporting it to parents alongside the more positive aspects of the day will reassure them that although something not so great has happened it has been dealt with professionally and has not ruined their child’s day. It’s easy to share these on apps like TeachKloud or create an accident and emergency form that captures relevant information such as what happened, who was involved and any injuries.
There are a number of ways to encourage a deeper partnership between the setting and parents;
Using communication diaries has been part of childcare for years, traditionally, notebooks which would be passed between home and setting, and these are a great way to keep track of food, nappies, sleep times and the like and can also be used to exchange messages. Online systems such as TeachKloud also offer a modern approach to this, providing this information digitally and giving parents the option to write notes to the setting too.
The Learning Journey is an important document that should communicate to parents what their child has been doing, and learning, in the setting and record practitioners’ observations and assessments. This may be traditional paper scrapbooks or files, or again a digital format.
Notice boards and displays can be used to demonstrate the types of learning that children have engaged in and also keep parents up to date on upcoming special events. Using special events as an opportunity to build better links with parents is another good strategy. For example, you might host an afternoon tea for Grandparents day, a social day on a Saturday to incorporate working parents, offer a stay and play session or put on an Easter Bonnet parade. All of these are opportunities for parents to understand your role and build strong partnerships. Some settings have great success with parent forums which encourage groups of parents to discuss particular issues or suggest ways forward with challenges. This gives parents a chance to take some kind of ownership over choices within the setting and helps them to emotionally invest. Hopefully, some of these tips and ideas will resonate with you and your setting as you seek to build strong partnerships with parents, as these partnerships really do benefit the children in our care.