In the early-years (EY) sector, child development is at the heart of what every nursery and childminder does. But when it comes to maximising learning opportunities, of equal importance is that the education journey continues outside of the classroom and into the home, says Chris Reid, Connect Childcare’s CEO and founder. Here, he explores why bridging the communication gap between parents and practitioners is important not only for child development but also for staff wellbeing and overall job satisfaction in a highly pressurised industry…
Parental engagement and communication is not a new topic in the EY arena. It’s always been an important part of the agenda, but in recent times, arguably more so than ever.
With more home-schooling likely having taken place in 2020 than any other year in the last decade, it’s no secret that it’s been challenging for childcare providers and parents alike to keep children feeling engaged, motivated and safe. In fact, it’s only a joined-up approach by these two groups that has helped – and will continue to aid – children feeling happy in their education. But this collaboration also has the potential to dramatically improve how supported EY professionals feel in the workplace.
Without the processes or technologies to communicate with parents quickly and effectively – be that in written, voice or video format – it’s arguably very easy for nursery practitioners to feel isolated in their roles. Especially during a pandemic. Having a regular communication with guardians can not only help them to understand what the children in their care are learning at home – and tie that into their setting-based activities – but also where additional support or attention may be needed.
Looking at this from a parental perspective, the more involvement and insight they’re able to have in their youngster’s EY education, the greater the opportunity to close the development loop and create a holistic cycle of in-setting and at-home learning.
At a time when things feel rather uncertain, it’s nice to have some form of ‘normality’. And with government guidance often changing on a weekly basis, childcare settings are continually adapting in order to implement measures which keep their personnel and youngsters feeling safe and comforted.
Wellbeing measures can come in many guises too. They could be work-specific – such as quick-fire group chats to share positive experiences and concerns – or even more social, for example a weekly quiz to boost team camaraderie. But whatever it is, it needs to really make a difference in improving employees’ day-to-day.
More communication with parents is usually high on the wish list – there’s arguably never been more of a need for an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach than in the current climate. And as a result of home-based contributions, this cohesive and complementary input from parents can help EY professionals supercharge their strategies.
Alongside the parent comms side of things, giving the gift of more time is also often a popular request – everyone wishes they could get more done during the work window. Especially the tasks they want to dedicate more time to. And this is why many settings are prioritising the digitalisation of some of their in-house operations, to minimise hours spent on lengthy paper-based admin and increase the time available to focus on children’s learning.
That’s why implementing wellbeing initiatives is not only crucial in helping childcare professionals to feel physically secure at work but also generally satisfied in their wider career.
It’s no secret that many EY salaries are in the ‘low paid’ category; this is one of the biggest obstacles that has faced the sector for years – particularly regarding retention and recruitment. While communicating with parents can’t remedy this alone, bridging the comms gap possibly helps to demonstrate and create something much greater – belief in staff’s abilities and a positive environment of role empowerment.
If EY staff are physically and mentally supported, they will feel more content and confident in the workplace – which will naturally have an impact on how they carry out their job. Children and fellow colleagues will typically be more engaged too, and parents will likely have less apprehension and greater assurance about their toddlers being in nursery during these challenging times.
Nursery and childminder personnel are passionate about EY learning and development, so being able to regularly communicate an infant’s progress with their parents, is undoubtedly a fulfilling part of the job. As is hearing about the activities youngsters are completing at home.
Observation is a core component in helping to determine where infants are on their journey. And if technology can give parents inspiration and the ability to upload key moments in their child’s day-to-day life, this keeps the learning cycle running smoothly and transparently for practitioners.
In reality, child behaviour is a key factor when looking at development – for instance, infants may display different reactions or characteristics with their parents, than they do with nursery staff. So, it is vital to capture all their reactions to gain a full picture of how they learn best and how they are progressing in line with the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework.
While peer-to-peer support is undoubtedly vital in the EY setting, the intrinsic link between practitioner wellbeing and parental communications can’t and shouldn’t go unnoticed.
While the sector is having to employ a chameleon-like approach in these unpredictable times, agility and adaptability are both crucial in ensuring children’s development isn’t negatively impacted. And having those conversations more regularly with parents, whether it’s an official phone call, or an exchange of messages following an observation entry, helps to create a ‘bubble’ in which children’s learning is preserved and safeguarded from the sea of unknowns.
At the end of the day, it's this regular cross-boundary dialogue that helps to foster a wellbeing culture which extends outside the nursery setting not only in the short term, but well into the future – and not only for children, but for staff and parents too.
Connect Childcare has partnered with EYFSHome to give over 180,000 home-schooling parents and childcare providers access to a free database of educational activity resources – all of which link to the national Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum. Having reached over 24,000 users during its seven months in operation, EYFSHome, a Government-funded initiative, now aims to reach eight times this number, by integrating into Connect Childcare’s ParentHub section in its ParentZone app – accessed by over 180,000 active users each month.
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