All early years practitioners are aware of the importance of establishing good relationships with the parents of the children who attend their setting. This week’s Early Year Focus suggests practical ways that you might develop this partnership

Develop partnerships with parents encourages mutual respect which will positively contribute to a child’s experience in an early years setting, leading to good outcomes for both the child and the family. Making parents feel welcome in your setting is an important first step in this process, creating a firm foundation on which to build.

At the simplest level the environment consists of the physical space in the setting and how it is laid out. You can use your physical environment to introduce parents to the key messages underlying your approach to supporting young children’s learning and development. These are likely to include:

  • the importance of listening to young children
  • the value of play
  • the need for risk and challenge
  • the role of parents in supporting their young children’s learning at home.

Use your displays and documentation panels showing young children’s learning in action to set the scene for conversations with parents about the value of partnership between the early years setting and the home.

However, any environment is about more than just physical space – it also includes an emotional element determined by how welcome we make parents feel in the setting. Think about the setting from a parent’s point of view and aim to help parents and children feel that the setting is ‘their place’; somewhere where they can feel welcome and comfortable.

Time also plays a crucial role in creating a welcoming environment. By giving interaction with families a high priority, you give a very clear message about how much you value parental involvement. Being well organised in the morning, creating a calm start to the day, will be beneficial for everyone – children, parents and practitioners.

Practical ways to create a welcoming environment

  • Think about the access to the building. Is there space for parents to park safely and are car parking rules understood and adhered to by everyone?
  • Is the front of the building tidy, with the grass cut regularly and the rubbish and nappy disposal bins stored out of sight?
  • Is it easy for parents or children with limited mobility to access the building? Is there a secure storage area for buggies?
  • Think about how easy to understand your instructions for getting into the building are. Would a parent whose first language is not English be able to follow them?
  • Take time to consider how a visitor might experience the entrance of your setting. What does it look like, smell like and sound like?
  • If your families come from a number of different backgrounds will they see things in your setting which reflect their cultural identity?
  • Will fathers see/find images in the displays which show the important role they play in supporting their young children’s learning and development?
  • Space in all early years settings is at a premium but it is important that there a place for parents to sit comfortably and have a conversation with the manager or setting leader, and that spaces can be available when needed for parents to talk in confidence with a member of staff.
  • Reflect on how all parents visiting your setting are welcomed. A smile and a friendly welcome will go a long way to helping them to feel at ease.
  • The attitude of staff members will convey a great deal about a setting and how it values parents. Parents are more likely to feel part of the setting community if staff talk enthusiastically about what happens during the day and demonstrate a ‘can do’ approach to daily challenges and problems.
  • Many parents will communicate with the setting by telephone. To make sure this is a positive experience, ensure everyone who answers the phone sticks to these simple rules:
  • Answer the phone as quickly as possible and say who is speaking and the name of the setting so the parent knows who he or she is talking to.
  • Adopt a pleasant and welcoming telephone voice – even if you are feeling flustered and under pressure.
  • Offer information or take a message as appropriate.
  • Always write down messages and make sure they are passed on to the correct person.
  • Follow up on any requests made by phone to make sure something happens.

Creating a physically and emotionally welcoming environment in this way will lay the groundwork for increasing parent participation, fully involving parents and carers in the life of your setting and the education of their children.

  • Links with EYPS Standards: S29, S30, S31, S32
  • Links with Ofsted SEF: 5i, 5j

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2010

About the author: Linda Thornton and Pat Brunton are early years consultants, trainers and authors and edit Early Years Update