Last reviewed 29 November 2021

Research shows that parents and carers are the most significant influence on their child’s development and that the quality of the home learning environment has a stronger effect on children’s intellectual and social outcomes than any other factor. It is therefore essential that early years providers form strong relationships with parents and support families in their understanding of their children’s learning needs.

Positive relationships

Working in partnership with parents is central to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and the framework highlights that children benefit from strong relationships between practitioners and parents and carers.

Early years practitioners must recognise that parents play a vital role in their children’s learning and development and should build relationships with families based on mutual respect and trust. By listening to parents and involving them in decisions about their children’s learning, early years providers can work in partnership with parents to plan effectively for their children’s learning and development.

Providers should offer plenty of opportunities for two-way sharing of information about children’s wellbeing, development and learning, ensuring that effective channels of communication are established such as informal meetings, parents’ evenings, newsletters and sessions for parents.

By sharing information, early years staff and parents can respond to children’s interests and needs in order to support their learning and development. Key persons must help to ensure that every child’s learning and care is tailored to meet their individual needs and their role in supporting parents in guiding their child’s development at home is especially important. The key person should also help families engage with more specialist support if appropriate.

Benefits of engaging parents

Learning at home can have a significant impact on young children’s development that continues through to their school years and beyond. Research shows that parents and carers who engage with their child’s development from birth have a direct positive link to their child’s future economic wellbeing, health, educational attainment and relationships during adulthood.

Parental involvement not only has positive outcomes for children’s development but also benefits parents’ confidence and knowledge about what is best for their child as well as improving parent-child relationships.

Working in partnership with families helps practitioners plan for effective learning at the early years setting, whilst supporting parents in continuing their children's learning development at home.

Parental engagement can be particularly beneficial to disadvantaged children whose families are often less able to support learning at home due to a lack of space, time, skills, and confidence. By supporting parents in home learning, early years providers may be able to help close some of the disadvantage gap that has widened during the pandemic.

How to encourage home learning

It is very important that early years providers highlight to parents the positive impact that they can have on their children’s learning. Practitioners should explain to parents the value of play, reading at home and the importance of everyday interactions in supporting children’s development.

There are seven main areas, known as the Early Home Learning Environment Index (EHLEI), that have been identified as being the most important elements of home learning and that improve educational outcomes as follows.

  • Parents and carers reading to their child.

  • Parents and carers taking their child to the library.

  • Children playing with letters.

  • Parents and carers helping their child to learn the alphabet.

  • Parents and carers teaching their child numbers or counting.

  • Parents and carers teaching their child songs, poems or nursery rhymes.

  • Children painting or drawing at home.

Early years providers should promote these key areas of home learning as most parents want to support their children but are maybe unaware that they could be doing more or may lack confidence. Practitioners can also provide information or a selection of resources that are designed to be loaned out to families as well as recommending activities for home that complement the curriculum and the children’s experiences in their setting.

Providers should ensure they are welcoming and approachable to all parents and involve them in the setting wherever possible. Organising family learning workshops or drop-in sessions for parents is also a very useful way to support home learning.

Giving parents clear information about their children’s progress is a requirement of the EYFS and providers should offer opportunities at parents’ evenings as well as using informal communications or meetings to share updates on learning and development. Early years staff must also complete the Progress Check at age two in partnership with parents, which should include how to support learning at home.

Families can also be signposted to the Department for Education’s campaign, which aims to encourage parents and carers to engage in activities that support their child’s early learning. The website provides ideas and activities to support home learning for children aged from newborn to five. It also gives information on recommended apps and games that can benefit children’s learning at home.

Barriers to engaging families

It is also important that early years providers consider any potential barriers to parental engagement as some approaches may not work with all the families at a setting.

Some parents are less well represented than others in early years settings. This may include fathers, parents who live apart from their children, and working parents. This may mean that different strategies are needed for involving them and that consultation is necessary to find out what works best. Some parents may find it difficult to take time off work to attend events or workshops and some may feel they don’t have the confidence to attend in person so providers should communicate with families in a variety of formats. Offering flexible timings for in-person events or providing sessions remotely is also beneficial where possible.

There will be some families who have English as an additional language or basic skills so it is essential that information is provided in a way that is accessible to all parents.

By taking the time to know and understand all the children and their families, settings can try to identify the parents who might need more support with home learning and offer extra help to those who need it most.

What to expect in the Early Years Foundation Stage

The Department for Education (DfE) has recently published What to expect in the Early Years Foundation Stage: a guide for parents, which reflects the changes in the EYFS reforms and updates the previous guidance What to expect, when? Practitioners can signpost parents to this new guide to help them understand how their children are learning and developing at different stages during their first five years in relation to the EYFS and how to support them at home.

See also feature article Sharing information with parents about the revised Early Years Foundation Stage.

Good practice and action points

Early years providers should:

  • ensure all staff recognise the positive impact of home learning and the importance of parental engagement

  • build strong relationships with families based on mutual respect and trust

  • offer opportunities for two-way sharing of information and establish effective methods of communication

  • share educational aims with parents and support children’s learning at home with resources and suggested activities that complement their experiences in the provision

  • identify barriers to parental engagement and consider flexible approaches based on families’ needs

  • identify families who may need extra support or specialist interventions for their children’s learning needs if appropriate

  • recognise that building relationships with parents and supporting home learning requires a sustained effort over an extended period of time

  • regularly review how well the setting is working with parents, identifying areas for improvement.