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 and 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 and 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 due to lack of confidence, lack of knowledge, or lack of experience, then coupled with possible 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 and understanding. Time constraints, social and economic background, 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 and can be especially important for these families.
Parents are children's first and most enduring educators as well as their primary role models, so nurturing a strong and positive partnership with parents and carers is essential if early years practitioners are to plan effectively for a child's learning.
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 a 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
It helps the child to feel safe and secure while in the setting if they see that their parents feel comfortable there.
To create a shared level of expectation
To information share about new levels of development, any concerns and any new likes or dislikes
To keep up to date with what is happening outside the setting, especially if the home situation may be causing problems for the child
Parents can feel secure to seek advice, help and support should they need it
To make transitions throughout the setting smooth
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 mind-set 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 allowing a culture of informal information sharing to develop.
A trusting and warm relationship between key worker and parents begins with the initial contact meeting, and it is crucial that, from the start, parents understand that staff value and 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. 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 and regular newsletters are also all great ways to keep parents up to date with latest topics, 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 setting is a place where both male and female parents or carers feel at ease, relaxed and 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.
Meetings should 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 and 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 and 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 and nursery that will empower children to bloom, thrive and blossom.
About the author:
Sue Atkins is an internationally recognised Parenting Expert, Broadcaster, Speaker and Author of the Amazon best-selling books “Parenting Made Easy – How to Raise Happy Children” & “Raising Happy Children for Dummies" one in the famous black and yellow series as well as author of the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy CDs, Apps and resources. She has just launched her new ‘Can Do Kid’ Journal to give children the gift of self-esteem and self-confidence, as well as ‘The Divorce Journal for Children’ & her Parenting Club.
Sue produces ‘The Sue Atkins Parenting Show’ a weekly podcast which is bursting with Sue’s practical ideas, techniques and down to earth strategies for raising happy, confident, resilient children with strong self-esteem.
Sue offers practical guidance for bringing up happy, confident, well behaved children from toddler to teen.
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