Supporting home learning
Building parents' confidence and knowledge
Play is children's work and research overwhelmingly demonstrates the positive impact of play on children's learning and development. Parents have a vital role in supporting their children's play at home and yet many parents lack the knowledge, skills and confidence to do this. They may see play as boring and a waste of time - something children do to keep themselves amused whilst they get on with more important adult activities. They may worry about the cost of buying toys - or the mess that play makes.
Childcare practitioners have both the access to parents and the expertise in children's play that can make a real difference and help parents get more involved in their children's play and learning.
Tips for getting the ‘play message' across to parents:
Take time to get to know parents so you can share information and ideas that are appropriate to their level of confidence, as well as relevant to their interests, culture and family life.
Treat parents as partners in their children's learning - parents are more likely to listen to information and advice if they feel respected and valued.
Be aware of parents' feelings and the pressures they may be under - acknowledge their concerns rather than dismissing them. Respond to parents ‘where they are at' with gentle encouragement, rather than simply giving them information or telling them what to do.
Model positive interaction with children - for instance talk to the child about what they have been doing during the day and praise them in front of their parent when they arrive to collect their child. Chatting to children, praising them and showing an interest in their play are all vital ways that parents can support their learning and development. Modelling is a key practitioner skill that gives parents an opportunity to hear what positive communication sounds like - and motivates them to communicate in this way by seeing how their child responds to attention and praise.
Talk to parents about what their child has enjoyed doing during the day and share information about what they have been learning through this kind of play activity.
Talk to parents about what their child enjoys doing at home. Let them know how important they are for their child's learning and explore how they could join in play activities at home together.
Reassure parents that their attention and time matter more to children than expensive toys. Suggest play ideas that don't cost money - using household items, messy play with dough, singing simple rhymes etc.
Help parents to see that the aim of playing with their child is to have fun together and build their child's confidence by allowing them to take the lead. Many parents use play as an opportunity to ‘teach' their children a new skill and may need to be reassured that children learn best at their own pace.
Involve parents in activities to support home learning where appropriate - for instance invite them to come a little earlier and listen to or join in with storytime or singing rhymes - or organise a family trip or playdough making session.
Share information about stages of child development so that parents have realistic expectations of what their children can do.
Praise and encourage parents at every possible opportunity - for instance let them know if their child talked about a play activity at home and how much they seemed to get out of this time with their parent.
"As a single parent with a full-time job and two pre-school children, life was very hectic. My time with the children seemed to be mostly about getting them up and ready to go in the mornings and getting them through tea, bath and bed in the evenings. I was starting to feel like a terrible Mum, shouting more and more - I'd even started to dread picking them up from nursery because of the difficult evening I knew was ahead. Over the months I'd got to know one of the nursery workers - we'd have a quick chat when I collected the children and she knew I was on my own.
One afternoon when I went to collect the children after a particularly tiring day at work, I burst into tears when my youngest refused to stop what he was doing and put his coat on. The worker was really kind and asked if I'd like a quick cup of tea and a chat before going home. I told her about all the fights I was having at home trying to get the children to bed. She listened really sympathetically - I felt she understood how exhausting it can be doing everything when it's just you and the children are playing up.
She asked me about what we did at home in the evenings and helped me to see that the children weren't just trying to wind me up - I realised that the children hadn't seen me all day and were just trying to get some attention from me. She gave me a few ideas of calm things we could do together that the children would enjoy and wouldn't be too exhausting for me at the end of the day.
It was amazing how making a few changes made such a difference to the children's behaviour. After tea we started having half an hour of playing before it was time to get in the bath. I even found that I enjoyed sitting on the floor playing with the duplo and making up stories with the children about what the animals were doing. It was much more relaxing than yelling at them to be quiet whilst they rushed round leaping on and off the sofa and I tried to clear up.
The worker also suggested that I spend a bit of time with each of them on their own once they were in bed - reading a story or chatting about their day. They were much calmer and co-operative about getting into bed, knowing that they'd get me to themselves for a while."
Single parent of two children
Resources to support early home learning
There are many helpful resources available to support parents in their role, many with a specific focus on creating a positive home learning environment. Some of the most relevant online resources, DVDs and booklets aimed at parents are listed here.
Books and DVDs
Learning and Play - giving your child the best start
Sophie Linington, Family and Parenting Institute
New booklet especially for parents about the value of play with loads of tips and ideas. It explains why play and time with parents can give very young children a really good start when they go to school. It also lists lots of activities, including tips for cooking cakes and making play dough.
The Social Baby, NSPCC in partnership with Lynne Murray and The Children's Project
Book and DVD about understanding babies' communication from birth.
What Every Parent Needs to Know: the incredible effects of love, nurture and play on your child's development.
Margot Sutherland Dorling Kindersley, 2007
Accessible and informative book for parents and practitioners about early development and the importance of relationship and play, with lots of pictures and practical tips
Signposting parents to other sources of help and information
Although a childcare practitioner may be the person a parent turns to when they need help, there will be many occasions when the practitioner doesn't have the time or expertise to provide the support the parent needs. It is the interests of both parents and practitioners that childcare workers are aware of the limits of their role and do not feel personally responsible for ‘sorting out' all the issues and concerns that parents may discuss with them.
Signposting parents to information, advice or specialist services is a key way that childcare providers can support parents and encourage them to take responsibility for getting their needs met.
In order to signpost parents effectively, childcare practitioners will need to:
"My children go to an after-school club. I needed help for the school holidays because me and my wife both have jobs and can not take time off. I asked the young man at the after-school club. He gave me a number to ring. I haven't lived in England very long and find it hard to understand what people say on the phone. So he rang the people for me and got a form for a holiday playscheme and helped me fill it in."
Polish father of two