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Working in partnership with parents

What prevents parental involvement in learning?  

"We need to begin with the firm belief that all parents are interested in the development and progress of their own children."

Pen Green Centre for Under Fives and Families

Extensive consultation with parents suggests that they do not lack interest in their children's development. So what are some of the factors that get in the way of home learning?

Barriers to parent involvement in home learning

Life factors

  • Work pressures and working long hours or unpredictable work patterns.
  • Stressful lives and circumstances e.g. poverty, mental health, single parenthood, disability, illness, family transience.


  • Lack of understanding about the difference they can make to their child's development.
  • Lack of confidence in playing with their child
  • Lack of knowledge about the kind of things they can do as a parent to support their child's development.
  • Inappropriate expectations of children's development.
  • Own literacy and numeracy levels poor.
  • Lack of confidence in English if it is not their first language.

"One day when I was collecting my baby, the childminder told me about this toy that he had wanted to play with all day and suggested I borrowed it overnight so I could play with him at home. I'm quite logical and need a good reason to do things. I couldn't see the point of doing the same thing over and over again with my baby. I joked that I was looking forward to the day when I could teach him something useful like kicking a football. The childminder said  "Well, actually, with repeating this activity, which is probably boring you to tears, you're reinforcing the connections in your baby's brain and then it grows ... because it's like a road and you're reinforcing a road and it stays there, so your child will be able to do more things.

It was really good to hear that. So now I can see the point and know that what I'm doing is actually making a difference and is important."

Father of a baby

How can childcare providers engage with parents?

To childcare practitioners who only see parents briefly when they drop off or collect their child, it may seem that there is little opportunity for them to provide meaningful parenting support. They may also feel that their expertise is in working with children and lack confidence when talking to parents.

However, seeing parents regularly several times a week means that childcare providers are uniquely placed to play a vital role in supporting parents.

Many parents fear that they will be judged as a failing parent if they talk about things they are finding difficult at home or worries about their child's development or behaviour and may be reluctant to access support even when they are finding family life challenging. This can mean that vulnerable parents don't get the information and help they need to get involved in their children's learning.

For a parent lacking the confidence and trust to access services, forming a warm and positive relationship with their child's carer can be the bridge to help and information. Consultation with parents consistently demonstrates that respectful relationships in which parents feel confident that they will be heard and not judged are at the heart of engaging parents.

A relationship with a childcare practitioner who the parent trusts and views as a ‘professional friend' can make all the difference - parents want practitioners who are confident and well-informed, but also able to get alongside them and show an interest in them and their lives.

Checklist for childcare providers: building relationships with parents


Factors that support parent engagement


Could do more

Are staff aware of the importance of parental involvement in children's learning and development?



Do parents feel welcomed and valued by staff?



Do staff work within an ethos of partnership with and respect for parents?



If not, are there opportunities for them to develop their relationship skills and confidence to engage with parents?



Is there a keyworker for each family and do parents know who their keyworker is?



Do staff take the time to chat to parents and get to know them and their family when they bring and collect their children?



Do staff take the time to find out about personal issues that may affect the parent-child relationship such as financial worries, relationship breakdown etc?



Are staff aware of issues that could affect a parent's involvement in learning e.g. languages spoken at home, literacy etc?



Are resources and information for parents displayed and available in the childcare setting?



Do you foster home-setting links, for instance by inviting parents in for open days and special events?



"I've struggled with depression on and off for years. Most days it's a real effort to get myself out of the house and I just want to avoid people. If I didn't have to take my daughter to the children's centre each morning, I don't think I'd see anyone. The staff at the centre have been great. Even though I'm just dropping my little girl off, they always make me feel welcome. They notice if I'm looking down and ask me if I want to stop for a quick chat and a cup of tea. It makes such a difference knowing they're there and they care. They're encouraging me to come along to some Stay and Play sessions in the afternoons - I might give them a go now I know some of the people there."

Mother of three-year-old

 More information about the London childcare project can be found here.