The importance of your relationship with parents of babies, toddlers and three- to five-year-old children is the focus of this article from Early Years Update. This is part of a range of practical ideas to underpin the information in the Early Years Foundation Stage Principles into Practice cards

Theme: Positive Relationships
‘Children learn to be strong and independent from a base of loving and secure relationships with parents and/or a key person.’

Commitment 2.2 Parents as Partners
‘Parents are children’s first and most enduring educators. When parents and practitioners work together in early years settings, the results have a positive impact on children’s development and learning.’

Areas of knowledge covered:

  • communication
  • learning together
  • respecting diversity.

The CD-Rom in the EYFS guidance pack contains a wealth of research information on the positive impact that good relationships between parents and practitioners can have on young children’s learning and development. Case studies of projects from different parts of England look at a variety of approaches that have been successful in engaging with parents and creating strong partnerships. For example, the document ‘All about…working with parents’ provides guidance from the team at Pen Green Research Centre, Northampton, on practical approaches to establishing relationships with parents and sharing information with them. There are links to sources of further information, including a very useful NHS booklet for parents, Birth to five. The ‘In depth’ section of the CD-Rom contains practical guidance for practitioners including suggestions of how to encourage participation from ‘hard to reach’ parents.

Supporting effective practice
To fulfil the requirements of this EYFS commitment, practitioners should:

  • consider the messages they convey to parents through the way they welcome them into the setting
  • review how they share information with parents, including how they help parents to understand how young children develop and learn
  • improve their awareness and understanding of diversity, inclusion and anti-discriminatory practice through training, reading and self reflection.

Working with babies
When a baby first starts in the setting, spend time with the parents, helping them to understand as much as possible about what their child’s experience there will be like. Help them to try to think about the activities, routines and experiences on offer from their child’s point of view. Encourage them to sit on the floor, crawl around, play with the resources and take a baby’s-eye view of the world so they can build their understanding of the world from their child’s perspective.

This is an ideal time to talk about very young children’s learning and development, answering any questions the parents may have about rates and stages of development, and pointing them in the direction of sources of further information and advice. A good relationship built up at this stage with the key person in the setting will pay huge dividends for children, parents and staff as the child moves on through the setting.

Use photographs to capture memorable moments to share with parents so they feel fully involved with the life of their child within the setting. Family books – small, soft-covered photo albums containing the photos of a baby’s immediate family – are an ideal way of keeping a child connected with the people most important to them and can be a source of comfort in times of distress.

Ideas to use with toddlers
Images around the setting that reflect the cultural diversity of the families using it will provide reassurance and encourage a sense of belonging in toddlers and their families. Being aware of the language that is spoken at home and learning sufficient words to be able to greet a parent in their own language gives a very powerful message about the extent to which the setting values the relationships it builds with the families who use it.

To many parents, the complexity of toddlers’ play, and how they engage with and make sense of the world, are a mystery. Informal workshops – when parents are invited along to explore resources such as treasure baskets and heuristic play material, or experience finger painting – will foster a mutual understanding of the importance of children learning through first-hand experiences.

Similarly, sharing information about schemas and learning styles will help to unravel some of the mysteries of ‘play’ and reinforce its importance. Support this process by sharing meaningful information – in words and photographs – with parents when they come to pick up their child at the end of the day, and schedule in regular sessions throughout the year to share information on a child’s learning and development.

Working with three- to five-year-olds
Every day, children bring with them to the setting ideas and experiences from their life at home and with their wider family. These are wonderful starting points for supporting child-initiated learning and a medium for conveying strong messages to parents about home+setting partnerships. Some parents may be happy to offer expertise, time or resources to support the investigations and experiences in which the children are engaged. Information and displays around the setting should communicate the interests which the children have been exploring and parents should be encouraged to spend a little time looking at this along with their child.

Manage the key person system so that information can be shared with parents at the end of the day about the experiences their child has been involved in. As well as providing daily ‘informal’ feedback of this nature, schedule regular developmental reviews with parents and invite them to contribute to the record of their child’s growing portfolio of skills, knowledge and experience. This gives a very powerful message about the importance of parent-practitioner partnerships. Be flexible about the timing of these sessions to enable as many parents as possible to attend.

Communicating effectively with parents is a vitally important aspect of the early years practitioner’s role. This process will need to be managed in different ways for different families and there is no ‘one size which fits all’. Make use of opportunities for face-to-face conversations; for written communications (jargon-free, but clear, concise and friendly); for providing information on the setting’s website; and, not least, for social events, which allow for information dissemination in a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.