How to involve parents as equal partners : School & Parents

We may not all manage to do as much as the settings in Reggio Emilia, but there are many things we already do and many things we might consider doing to help build genuine partnerships.

Home visiting It is recognised that moving away from home for the first time is traumatic for both child and parent. Many schools and nurseries try to reduce the level of stress by visiting the child and parent at home before the child actually starts in the setting. The obvious advantage of this is that the initial contact takes place in a situation which is familiar and where the parent is in control. But this is a sensitive area and there may well be parents who do not want to be visited at home— particularly where the parent is living in temporary accommodation or where the parent sees the visit as a way for outsiders to assess the ‘quality’ of the home and of the parents. The rights of parents to refuse a visit should be respected, and it is important that the school or setting be clear about the purpose of the visit and able to explain this to parents.

Visiting the nursery or setting All children and their parents should visit the setting prior to the child starting. You may want to think about sending an individual invitation to the child and parent, making the visit something special. Many settings find that allowing parents and children to visit as often as possible eases the child’s entry to the setting and makes the parent feel more comfortable. It is important to try to ensure that not too many new children and parents visit at one time. The best way of making parents and children feel important and valued is to allow one member of staff (perhaps the key worker) time to be able to talk to both parent and child. It is worth considering the point that these initial visits are going to be the time when the parent or carer forms her or his initial impression of the setting, so it is important that they are carefully planned for.

Settling in Some children find the transition from visiting to attending the setting on a permanent basis easy; others— as you will well know— find it difficult. The child’s distress will convey itself to the parent and this may damage the relationship with the setting. You will want to consider your settling-in arrangements with care. Most settings invite (indeed often insist) that parents stay with children at least for the first few days. You will want to think about how you handle this with parents who cannot manage because of work or domestic commitments. The presence of parent or carer is reassuring for the child, and if you want parents or carers to be able to stay with the child, you need to give them adequate notice of this. Most settings also advise parents to tell children when they are leaving and not just to disappear.

Staying in touch Parents leaving young children in the care of others feel that they are missing out on significant moments in their child’s development. You will have read in an earlier chapter how the nurseries in Reggio Emilia keep parents in touch with what their children have done each day. There are many different ways of doing this— from wall displays to link books that go between home and setting to informal chats at the start or the end of the day. In addition to this you will want to ensure that you arrange particular times when parents can come in and have an in-depth discussion about their child’s progress. Do remember that the timing of this is important. If you have evening meetings there may be parents who will not attend. Similarly, meetings during the day will exclude some parents. You need to work with parents to find out what is the best time for them and to do your best to meet this.

Involving parents in assessing progress Parents need and should be involved in both commenting on what they observe about their child’s progress and development at home and contributing to what workers observe about development within the setting. You will need to ensure that you involve parents in the Foundation Stage Profile, as described in Chapter 9.

Involving parents in the day-to-day life of the setting Many nurseries and playgroups invite parents in to help during the day. This help may vary from reading to children to cooking with them or accompanying them on outings and so on. However parents are involved, it is important that their role be clearly spelled out to them so that they know what it is they are doing and why. This implies that workers will have to talk to parents about what they are doing and why. This is one of the best ways of genuinely involving parents in the life of the nursery. You may invite a parent in for a specific purpose— perhaps a mother who has just had a new baby or a father who is a nurse. Again, an explanation of what you want them to do on this visit is important.

Home— school projects Many settings try to find ways of offering parents things to do at home to build on what has happened in the nursery or setting during the week. Parents may be invited to take home books to read with children or to borrow toys from a toy library. An initial meeting with new parents to introduce the materials and explain ways in which they may be used is useful for parents who may feel reluctant to do things that they see as ‘not their role’.

Offering learning opportunities to parents Some nurseries place great emphasis on their role in educating parents. Some are able to offer parents classes ranging from what to do about temper tantrums or bed-wetting to classes in English as an additional language. This is, of course, very dependent on your resources, but if you have a spare room in your setting you might want to consider offering such classes. It is essential, however, to remember that educating parents needs to be done on the basis of a partnership and not in any patronising or paternalistic way. Programmes offered should ideally be in response to the things that parents express a need to know more about.


• A great deal has been written about the importance of partnerships with parents.
Partnership with parents is fundamental to a successful learning environment for all children, but particularly for children in their first steps away from home.

• All parents want the very best for their children.

• All parents are crucial in the education and development of their own children. • A partnership with parents, based on mutual respect, will benefit everyone concerned.

• Parents need to be made to feel that they are worth listening and talking to. • Settings need to ensure that the environment is welcoming to all parents and that all parents know that successful education is a joint enterprise.

• The ways in which parents can become involved need to be clear and explicit. • Parents’ fears need to be acknowledged.

• Workers need to ensure that they are willing to give information, but equally willing to receive it.

• Settling-in procedures need to be carefully considered and explained to parents. • Settings need to decide how they will ensure that parents with little or no English are not disadvantaged.

• Sometimes, having a theme based on the observed interests of the children allows settings to establish strong partnerships with parents, particularly where the theme selected provides opportunities for parents to contribute their own skills, their knowledge, their talents and their experience.
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