It's a snow day at my setting - hence the above picture is perfect! And in response to the title of this blog - do you sometimes feel all you do is roam around moaning about children playing too roughly? If it's not 3 boys kicking each other while playing Power Rangers, it's one of the girls wrestling another child into 'jail' against the fence. Somewhere there's Wonder Woman and Superman teaming up to defeat a baddy, a zombie outbreak being dealt with and a multi-child pileup as a series of children bash into each other in an attempt to see who falls first.
It's exhausting to deal with. You stop one WWE WrestleMania event and turn around to see two children swinging each other around on the end of a rope. Just as you stop the skipping rope tornedo (wondering how on earth the children found the one skipping rope that isn't in knots) you see WrestleMania 2018 has kicked off again. Good job your setting has banned drinking hot drinks on the playground because you'd never get to drink it anyway.
What are you meant to do? You can't be everywhere and you're convinced some of these children are programmed to be rough. But why on earth would that be the case?
I'll get to that in a minute but one thing to consider is what else is on offer? This is especially relevant if your setting has 'playtimes' on a playground. Children will invent their own entertainment and they often fall back on imitating things they've seen on television, for example. So why wouldn't children pretend to be Ninja Turtles if there isn't much to do. I'd ignore the letters/numbers/mazes printed on the tarmac if I'm busy having fun wrestling my mate to the floor. Simply put it's much more FUN!
Your setting might choose to limit rough play because of supervision problems and that is understandable. Do you have enough big play equipment? Or is there always a queue to get on the climbing logs that understandably erupts into arguments? Can you offer playground toys, for example skipping ropes, balls, balance toys, stilts etc.? Perhaps portable parkour equipment is an idea? Or a Scrapstore PlayPod so that children can build with huge junk pieces? Or perhaps you could teach children 'old-school' playground games and get involved in helping them play these. I don't know about you but I think my children know 'What's the Time Mr Wolf' and 'Duck, Duck, Goose' and that's all.
But does this tackle the root of the problem. Well possibly not. Offering other activities might be what some children need if they turn to rough play because of boredom. But perhaps there are other reasons that some children are attracted towards rough play.
When thinking about rough play it's often hard to work out if it's play or not. And where is that line? Where does it stop being an amazing game of PJ Masks and become a problem? If it's excited shouting, running around and vigorous, physical contact isn't that just normal, energetic play? If things are getting broken and children are getting hurt then yes, that's something to worry about!
When reading around about this I found something interesting - some research that involved showing people videos of boys play fighting or fighting for real, shows that it is often hard for people to tell the difference. Young children were more likely to be able to guess correctly. Adult women who grew up without brothers mostly thought that all of the videos involved real fighting. Having said that, some research suggests that play fighting only turns to real fighting about 1% of the time.
In rough play the children are still playing so there will be signs of enjoyment, smiles and laughter, the children will happily continue the game and after the rough and tumble the children might continue to play together. You might also be able to work out the themes in the play as the children continue to build joint storyline. If it's getting out of hand and/or turning into fighting then you might obviously see frustration and tears, hear shouting and angry voices and potentially see signs of one child trying to get away from each other. Often this line is something that can be 'felt' more than it can be described so trust your instincts and trust your children.
If we want to be able to trust children to rough play together then we need to ensure that children have learn how to do so safely. Children can be taught that there should be rules to rough play - for example no one is allowed to punch or kick. If we intervene when we can see that children are no longer playing safely we need to very clearly help children to recognise what happened and to find ways to try and prevent this. We should teach the children to empathise with their playmates and to continuously check that each other is okay.
So why would we let children play roughly? Well some studies seem to suggest that 3 and 4 year old boys who play roughly with their fathers are rated as more popular and less aggressive than their peers. The research doesn't explicitly say why this is the case but perhaps the rough play helps boys to regulate themselves in terms of self-control during social and interpersonal interactions. Perhaps children also enjoy the close physical contact that rough play gives - especially if they don't get lots of physical contact at home? Rough play can help children to recognise emotions in other children, to read facial and body language and pick up other social cues. It can also help children deal with competition and their own aggression and support the development of resilience and risk taking.
Understandably adults in charge of children want to protect them and ensure their safety. But if children aren't allowed to take some risks with their play, then they miss out on an opportunity for developing self-control and other vital skills. Children already have adults controlling most of their lives, do we need to control all of their play too?
To be clear I am in no way suggesting that anyone encourages fighting. I think we could all see the drawbacks to an adult suggesting everyone go outside and have a last man standing scrap. What I am suggesting is that perhaps, given the right supervision, there is a place to allow children to be a bit rough at school. With the right rules, consistently applied by all adults, children will learn the self-control they need to defeat the evil Megatron without bruising anyone's shins!
Evidence from studies by the government shows that the level of home learning in the majority of families stays the same once a child starts in a funded childcare place. However in families where adults are not in employment, the level of home learning DROPS when the child starts a funded childcare place. Therefore our role is to maintain existing levels of learning and prevent parents from doing less. How can we do this?
Settling into school - one of the concerns we often hear about is that parents aren't sure how to support their child with the transition between pre-school/nursery and school. This is a hard area to tackle because often parents see being school ready as a child being about to write their name and recognise numbers and while this is helpful it's not as important as other areas. We worked with our cluster of local schools to come up with information to support parents with this area and afterward we produced a similar sheet for put onto Ace.
Clear information - one of the things we have found is that most parents don't feel confident to know what it is their child should be doing at different ages and stages. While we know that all children progress at different rates, the EYFS helps to give a clear picture of our expectations. We created a series of information sheets for parents to help recognise some of the things their child might be doing in different areas. The sheets aren't exhaustive but give some indications taken from the 30-50 and 40-60 month stages. Click on the picture to find all of the sheets.
Current learning in class - We have used our class page on the website to explain to parents what we are doing in class. This helps parents to talk to their child about what they have been learning so they can support/continue with this at home. This has led to lots of children bringing things in from home that they have done with their parents, photos of things that are relevant, donations of items to support learning in specific areas (for example Chinese New Year) and even parents offering to come into class and talk to the children.
Family activities - one of the ways we have engaged parents is to have Stay and Play sessions. We have a friend who calls them Stay and Torture sessions because she finds them stressful! It can certainly be stressful but can also be really worthwhile if the activities on offer really support parents to engage with their child's learning. We have had sessions that focus on supporting a particular area - for example lots of phonic games and activities. We have also run sessions at the beginning of a year so that adults come for the first session with their child.
Reading at home - one of the focus areas for our school age children is reading at home. We created a very simple sheet to support parents with reading with their child.
Learning through play - we also know that some parents struggle to help their child at home because they don't feel that they understand how we teach at school - often it is perceived that we teach in a different way than they were taught at school. We made a sheet to explain how the EYFS works and how we work with their children. (Apologies for the repetition of the word motivation - I was very motivated when I wrote it!)
Fun at home - on our website we have provided parents and children with a 'fun at home' page. It contains links to online games we have played in school and videos we may have watched. There is information about how we teach phonics, including pronunciation guides for the sounds and high frequency and common exception words. We have provided story map that we have made with the children so they can retell their stories at home. We also put information about our story bag sessions so that children can retell or write about the stories we have been creating at home. (For more Story Bag info you can watch our video here) We have also put information about our Super Sentences on the page so that children can continue to write at home if they want to. (For more information about Super Sentences you can watch our video here.)
'Homework' - We have never been very strict with applying a homework policy in our settings. We have concentrated on supporting parents to read with their child at home, rather than pushing them to complete set homework. Having said that we know that some of the families enjoy doing things at home and so we occasionally set little 'projects' for families to have a go at. These have included:
Class Dojo - we've talked about Class Dojo a few times before. First off it's free! Think of it as a stripped down version of Facebook - it is not public though! Parents sign up and all families in a class can see the class feed/page. Each child can have their own page where both staff and parents can post notes, photos and videos to. Parents access it through an app on their phone and they get a little notification when there is something posted, so we've found it really useful for supporting home learning. We've posted little ideas, reminders, activities etc.
So what do you do to support home learning? Let us know!
A common complaint from parents is poor communication and often it's hard to know what else to do. At Ace Early Years we tend to go for 'more is more'! We try to use as many different ways to engage parents and give them as many different ways for us to communicate with them. That way we can try to limit the 'Oh I didn't get that letter' that we often hear. When talking about communication before we've had comments like 'Oh but I haven't got the time to be answering all these questions' and 'I don't know how to use that'. Our response is always that you will reap what you sow. The more effort you put into communication, the more parents will feel engaged and supported. We usually set self-imposed times that we will respond to messages via technology. This can only have a positive impact on the children in your setting.
We're sure many of you will be doing lots of these ideas but perhaps you'll find something that you'd like to take on!
Letters - everyone will send letters home - but do they always get there? Have you considered asking everyone for an email address and sending them electronically? How about adding them to your website to allow parents to download a copy if they've lost it? We know some parents don't like to use emails but most do. Sometimes we send a physical copy and an email - rather some parents get 2 copies than anyone miss out! The same goes for newsletters - don't forget to keep these interesting rather than a list of moans...!
Website - we know that some of our parents really appreciate the class website. We use it to provide a mix of information (when we're doing specific things, classroom routines etc.) and things that parents can do at home with their child (videos we've watched, websites we might use etc.). The most popular part was a regular update of what we've been doing during the week, with photos and videos. Obviously we asked parents for permission to put photos/videos onto the internet but we never identified any of the children by name.
Twitter - we have run very successful twitter accounts (when enough parents have signed up for it). We've tweeted reminders, updates of what we've been doing and even tweeted with the children - they were really excited when a parent responded during the day!
Facebook - we know of some settings that run Facebook sites. We know some people worry about people being able to post anything but it is possible to lock down Facebook sites so that posts have to be authorised by an administrator before they are posted. Seeing as most parents will be using Facebook it could be a great communication tool.
Noticeboard - we have a whiteboard outside of our settings. We write reminders, what we've been up to and sometimes just positive quotes! We also use it to allow parents to sign up for things - for example choosing when to attend an information evening. This way there isn't a queue in the classroom and parents can sign up while they're waiting to come in.
Class Dojo - Mark has been using Class Dojo this year. It is free to use and has had positive effects on communication. Staff are able to message all parents on the system at once and parents can message back. Staff can also post photos and videos onto a 'class feed' for parents to see and comment on - though comments must be authorised by staff before they can be seen by everyone. Children also have their own pages that staff can post to and parents can post on these from home too. We wrote a little blog about it previously.
E-mail - We have previously given out our work email to allow parents to contact us. We explain that we are happy to receive messages that show us what children have been doing at home (including photos etc.) and we don't mind if parents message to ask a question. However, we make it clear that we can not guarantee when we will reply (giving ourselves the chance to have our evenings in peace!) and that it is also not the appropriate forum for any complaints or concerns.
What we have found is that every group of parents is different. We are constantly reflecting on which ways of communicating are working well and which are not so popular and focussing our energy in the most appropriate way. For some years twitter seems to work well and in other years email works better. Just like when thinking about what works well with the children, every year is different!
So what about you and your setting? How do you communicate with your parents? Let us know! x
At Ace Early Years we believe that parental engagement is vital to a successful Early Years setting. We're sure we don't need to get into why supporting parents is so important to a child's education. The more parents are engaged in the education of their children, the more likely their children are to succeed in the education system. Instead we wanted to dive straight into some of the different things that we've done to drive up parental engagement. Hopefully you'll find some ideas that you might like to use in your setting.
We should firstly say that parental engagement shouldn't be seen as an 'add-on'. It isn't something that you put effort into every so often when you realise you haven't done anything for a while. It should be part of your every day practise, planned for to ensure maximum impact. All staff in your setting need to be on board - no one can have the attitude that parents 'get in the way'. We know that everyone has an off day and sometimes there will be a parent that drives you crackers. But at Ace Early Years we like to think of parental engagement a little like customer service - and we'd rather be Waitrose' than 'Ryanair'! (Thanks to which? for helping us with this!)
We're going to post several ideas around similar themes for a few days so keep checking back! Our themes are going to cover:
Also - we're using the word parents to simplify writing these blogs. But obviously we mean anyone who has a regular involvement in looking after a child. Biological parents, step-parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, child-minders - everyone should feel welcome and supported.
This one is easy. And so very hard at the same time. We're not suggesting that you should become friends with the parents in your setting. But you should certainly be friendly towards them. The parents are giving you a huge amount of trust. Many of them will be anxious, either because of their own experiences at nursery and school or because they may feel worried about leaving their little treasures. It's easy to forget that, for each of the parents, their child is the centre of their world. The most important thing. But to us, they're just another child. Aren't they?
If we give parents the impression that we don't care enough about their child, then they might not feel comfortable leaving them with us. They might not feel able to come to us with concerns or questions. They may feel less happy with getting involved with their child's learning. So be friendly towards the parents. But be perceptive. Some parents will respond well to a question about their weekend or a nice comment about their umbrella. Some parents will respond well to a comment about how well their child is doing with something in particular. Some parents will feel uncomfortable talking to you with other parents around and vice versa. Some parents will respond better to particular members of staff - don't take it personally, it's just human nature! If you can work out what each parent needs, then you can get them on board with supporting their child.
So get out there and make yourself visible. Ensure your parents know each of the staff and the staff know the parents. Welcome parents in the morning on the gate or at the door. Where it's appropriate, make yourself available for parents to chat to before and after sessions (we know this can be tricky but anything you can do to avoid seeming unapproachable and always busy is important). Speak to parents who have moved on and ask them what they found useful and what concerns they had - this way you can seemingly prevent problems and allay fears before they even arise! If you're having a parents or information meeting consider the timing of them. Could you do daytime and evening sessions? Could some staff look after the children after a session and you speak to some parents? Could you do an evening? You could say 'I've worked all day so why should I have to work late' or you could say 'I want parents to realise we value them and understand they can't attend if they're working'.
One idea that many of you already use is to offer home visits. And yes, we do 'offer' them. We don't force our way into anyone's home just to have a nosey, honest! We explain why we think they are beneficial (for example, some children are different in their settings and at home, some parents find it easier to talk about things at home) and we explain that parents can choose to have a visit or not. We normally get about a 60/70% take up. It's a great tool for setting up positive relationships with parents (and the children too - most are excited to share things with us at home and often comment on when we visited them!),
More tomorrow! How do you go about creating positive relationships with parents? Let us know! x