Introduction For the past few years Dolphins has sought to involve “Parent Partners” in the activities of the Pre-school. This is a key theme in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), which recognises:
that parents are children’s first and most enduring educators
that when parents and practitioners work together in early years settings, the results have a positive impact on children’s development and learning.
Our efforts to involve Parents as Partners have had mixed results. Some parents have risen magnificently to this challenge and have been instrumental in installing major projects (most notably our raised flower- beds) to the considerable benefit of all Dolphins children and staff.
Other parents have dutifully volunteered their time and energy in organising specific projects (such as preparing and baking cakes with the children) or in helping out with general childcare duties. However, significant numbers of parents do not participate.
Barriers to Involvement in Parents as Partners DolphinsPre-schoolis not unique in this respect and we have looked at some research undertaken in Scotland(where Parental Involvement is a Statutory Obligation - there is a link on our WEB-LINKS page) which has revealed some possible barriers to involvement by parents that may impact on Dolphins parents:
Time – parents are very busy and often trying to juggle a number of roles.
Family Circumstances – families come in all shapes and sizes and have different needs; those parents with younger toddlers or babies, in addition to a child attending Dolphins, may find it particularly difficult to participate in Parent Partners.
Lack of Confidence – parents can feel uncomfortable in Pre-school for a number of reasons (e.g perceived lack of knowledge or skills which puts them at a disadvantage; parents do not wish to appear “pushy” or “too bossy” in trying to organise events or projects; fathers, in particular, can feel out of place given that most staff / volunteers are women).
Unfamiliarity – some parents can feel that “membership” of Parent Partners is “not for them” – they may perceive such involvement as “closed”, “cliquey”, “elitist” of “formal” or simply do not see themselves as the right kind of person to be involved.
Dolphins New Initiatives promoting Parent Partners The ongoing requirements of implementing the EYFS, and in particular the burden of observation and assessment, mean that we need the support of parents now more than ever. By carrying out some of the more routine duties and also being involved in overseeing children’s activities (e.g. free art and other creative activities such as junk modelling, outdoor play and messy play), parents could free-up staff and thereby allow them to document children’s developmental progress and also to develop closer bonds with their Key Children.
Our 2010/2011 OFSTED inspection recommended that we should enhance our links with parents to encourage children’s learning at home. We launched a series of new initiatives, partly based on overcoming the barriers to involvement research outlined above, with a view to promoting and securing greater involvement on the part of Dolphins parents.
1. Website overhaul We have undertaken a review and redesign of the website making it more engaging, reliable, and easier to navigate on both computers and various portable devices regularly used by Parents.
2. Introduction of Tapestry The introduction of Tapestry at Dolphins Pre-School enables us to create records of observations instantly. All records are stored in the UK on secure servers. These servers conform to high standards and are proactively managed 24 hours a day. Dolphins Tapestry account has its own database and the code itself is developed using hack-resistant techniques. Filenames are encoded for uploaded images making Tapestry a safe and secure on-line Learning Journey tool. Parents are provided secure access to their specific child’s Learning Journey and, in addition to viewing contributions, we encourage parents to contribute to it.
3. Raising expectations of Parents Rather than merely suggesting that parents become involved, we now expect that Dolphins parents will offer to help out with duties at Dolphins. Parents of children who are settling-in at the Dolphins are not be expected to help out during the first six months of their child’s time at Dolphins.
4. Family Members in lieu of Parents While we prefer Dolphins Parents to volunteer their services, if this is not practicable we will accept other family members (grand-parents/aunts/uncles) in loco parentis.
5. Deferred Volunteer Parents may defer their volunteer time until their child leaves Dolphins to attend “BigSchool”. In fact this deferred timing might be to our considerable advantage as September is a very busy period in Dolphins when staff seek to nurture and develop bonds with their new Key Children.
6. Additional Communications Whilst principal means of parental engagement remain face to face interaction with staff and the Parents’ calendar located in the hallway, we have now added additional means of enhancing communications including an Enquiry Form located on our redesigned website, direct email, our FACEBOOK page as well as TAPESTRY and SPLASH.
7. Defined Task Lists As part of an internal review of how we assign job responsibilities among staff, we are introducing a unique coding system. We hope this will make for more transparent work arrangements which should also enable parent volunteers to know “who-is-doing-what” and so allow them to focus their help in specific areas. 8. Direct Approach Rather than passively waiting for participants to sign up to volunteer their services, we proactively approach parents to enlist their help during busy periods.
We hope that these new measures will result in a greater uptake in Parent Partners for the benefit of all.