Parents instinctively want the very best for their children. So, it’s little surprise that, well before it’s time to start school, there’s already talk of learning their A, B, Cs and 1, 2, 3s.
At nursery, we see varying levels of parental involvement. Whilst engaging parents in their children’s learning is high on the agenda of every good nursery, it’s worth taking the time to remind ourselves that just because it’s not explicitly discussed at every drop-off or pick-up, it doesn’t mean that it’s not happening.
Every child experiences a Home Learning Environment (HLE), because every child learns through seeing, hearing, experiencing and doing. Exactly what your child is soaking up is hugely influenced by you – their ‘first and most enduring educator’. Therefore, the influence of a good nursery or pre-school will serve to enhance and extend that learning and not replace it.
A child’s disposition to learn – how they approach challenges, build their self-esteem and self-confidence, identify their emotions and understand how to regulate them – plays a significant part in their ability to play and learn that no amount of direct teaching can compensate for this. As Sue Rob, Head of Early Years at 4Children, rightly highlights: “It’s important that practitioners help parents realise that they are the biggest and most influential factor in their child’s life.”
So, how do we promote this? Firstly, it’s by valuing the experiences and background that each child comes to us with. This means appreciating the unique qualities of each baby, toddler and pre-schooler who enters our setting. By doing this, we can begin to better understand a child’s response and attitude to different circumstances, getting to know them more and more, day-by-day. This then helps us to predict what experiences they might enjoy and what activities will capture their thoughts and inspire their imagination.
The recent revision of the Early Years Foundation Stage talks about strengthening partnerships between professionals and parents. But, in reality, there is very little recognition of the HLE and how practitioners can use this as a basis for development. As such, I wanted to explore a number of extracts from the EYFS Prime Areas of Development, to demonstrate what parents may already be doing to support this. In my opinion, it’s really important and useful to consider these development statements through the eyes of a parent and from the perspective of life at home.
Supporting children’s language development, and helping them learn new words, is all about talking with children – something parents love to do. Holding a conversation with your child, no matter how old they are, will give them the tools to build on their ever-increasing vocabulary. If your child recognises and points at a dog, you say, ‘yes; it’s a big dog’. This lets them know that they’ve correctly identified a dog (we don’t even have to think at this stage about how hard it is to understand the concept of what a dog actually is when you’re learning about the world!) and you have built on what they already know.
Believe it or not, your child’s early writing skills are being developed, not when they have crayons or pens in their hand, but, when they make everyday movements around the house. Wiping up spills, folding washing, putting on their coat, throwing a ball – these are all things that eventually help children develop the skills they need to hold a pencil, by building up the control needed in the arms and shoulders first.
We adore our babies at nursery. Practitioners understand that the biggest part of their role is to provide a nurturing and caring environment that supports children to learn, knowing that they can rely on a loving response no matter what happens. Anyone who has ever been in the babies’ room at nursery around home time can see the special relationship between parents and children in action – each delighted to see the other. That unique bond is what allows your child’s key person to build their own relationship with your baby. Not the same as yours, but one that is made possible by the love you have given them.
So, when we talk about involving parents in their children’s learning at nursery, we should remember that actually we are the ones who are secondary in this process. Encouraging positive relationships with parents, so we can share experiences between nursery and home, is the real key to enhancing learning experiences for children.