Elizabeth Walker looks at the beneficial effects on children of parents and provisions working together.
Working in partnership with parents is central to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and it is vital that early years providers recognise that parents are children's first and most enduring educators. It is widely acknowledged that developing successful relationships between parents and providers can have long-lasting and beneficial effects on children’s learning and wellbeing.
Early years providers should offer formal and informal opportunities to share information about children’s wellbeing, development and learning. Information sharing should begin before a child starts at a provision and this can help the settling-in process, and enable better planning for the child’s learning and development. Information sharing must be a two-way process and providers should work hard to develop relationships with families based on mutual respect and understanding.
Offering a home visit by the child's key person helps to ensure that all relevant information has been shared prior to the child starting at the provision. The key person provides a vital link between the home and the provision and builds positive relationships with the child and the parents.
The revised EYFS framework (2012) states that providers must make information available to parents/carers on:
how the EYFS is being delivered in the provision, and how parents and/or carers can access more information (for example, via the DfE website)
the range and type of activities and experiences provided for children, the daily routines of the provision, and how parents and carers can share learning at home
how the provision supports children with special educational needs and disabilities
food and drinks provided for children
details of the provider's policies and procedures
staffing in the provision; the name of their child's key person and their role; and a telephone number for parents and/or carers to contact in an emergency.
Providers must also make available details of how parents can contact Ofsted.
Information should be easily accessible to all parents using clear language and provided in different formats for those with basic skills or for whom English is an additional language.
Communication with parents
When a child is admitted to any provision, communication with parents and continuity of care is vital. The provider should ensure that regular meetings and effective channels of communication between parents and carers and the provision's staff are established. These may include:
daily verbal exchange of information — key persons should be available at the start or end of each session
daily diary sheets
notebooks that transfer from home to provision to record information
individual profiles and records of achievement and development
informal parent evenings
parent and nursery management meetings
prospectus and policies
regular newsletters should be available in hard copy and email
folders that contain examples of art and craft work
posters, notices and leaflets. Posters and other resources on display should show the provision's positive attitudes to disability, and to ethnic, cultural and social diversity.
Provisions should consider how to communicate with parents who are working or simply very busy. Parents should be asked their preferred time and method of contact. It is important to be flexible and this might mean getting in touch by letter, telephone, text message, email, or by a message sent through a friend, relation or childminder.
Whatever the method of communication, the message that parents are welcome in the provision and that they have a very important role to share with the staff in enhancing their child's development, is essential to good practice.
Engaging parents in learning
Research suggests that children achieve better social and intellectual outcomes when early years providers encourage parents’ engagement in their children’s learning. Good practice includes sharing educational aims with parents and supporting children’s learning at home with suggested activities that complement their experiences in the provision.
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.
The revised EYFS (2012) introduced the new progress check at age two which reviews a child’s progress and development in the prime areas in the form of a short written summary. This must be completed in partnership with parents and should include input from parents, providers and all relevant professionals who have involvement with the child. Providers must discuss with parents how the summary of development can be used to support learning at home.
A first step in building positive relationships with parents is by making them feel welcome when they enter the provision. This includes a welcoming environment and being greeted by friendly staff. Easy access; a warm and genuine greeting; clear displays and resources reflecting ethnic, cultural and social diversity — all help to provide a physically and emotionally welcoming environment.
All contributions from parents should be welcomed. Helping out during sessions, and sharing interests, cultures or skills with children, all provide the opportunity for parents to become more involved with the provision and to build positive partnerships with the staff.
Some parents are less well-represented in early years settings; these include fathers, and parents who live apart from their children, as well as working parents. This may mean that different strategies are needed for involving them and that consultation is necessary to find out what works best.
Consultation and feedback
Consultation with parents is important and gives families an opportunity to contribute to the provision. Parents should be consulted on key aspects of the provision, including reviewing policies and procedures and any changes in the organisation of the provision. Questionnaires can be used to seek feedback from parents but staff should consider other methods for families with basic skills or English as an additional language.
The new EYFS framework seeks to strengthen partnerships between professionals and parents and highlights partnership working as a key element of the leadership and management of any early years provision. Developing an effective parent partnership policy and reviewing it on a regular basis is therefore essential to good practice.
The Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage — Setting the Standards for Learning, Development and Care for Children from Birth to Five, 2012, Department for Education (DfE) (www.foundationyears.org.uk).
PEAL (www.peal.org.uk) training supports early years providers to work in partnership with parents.
Pre-school Learning Alliance (www.pre-school.org.uk) is an educational charity specialising in early years.
Principles for Engaging with Families (www.ncb.org.uk/nqin/resources/principles-for-engaging-with-families).
Last reviewed 4 November 2013