Research School Network: Lockdown Learning in Early Years Remote learning has been argued as far from the ideal situation for parents, children or Early Years Practitioners.
Lockdown Learning in Early Years
Remote learning has been argued as far from the ideal situation for parents, children or Early Years Practitioners.
by Billesley Research School
Remote learning has been argued as far from the ideal situation for parents, children or Early Years Practitioners. As such, the relationships between these three parties are more important than ever as we strive to deliver high quality learning online and at home. As stated by The EEF Parental Engagement guidance report (2018), “Schools and parents have a shared priority to deliver the best outcomes for their children.” This “shared priority” between parents and practitioners arguably presents us with the promising opportunity to really reflect, assess and build upon those relationships in order to enhance children’s learning in Early Years and beyond. So, how do we do this while in the midst of a global pandemic? While there is not a straightforward answer to this question, I felt it was crucial to explore what we currently do and, more importantly, what we could do to make this experience a beneficial one – one that enables children’s learning rather than restricts.
As teachers, we truly want the best for all the children that we teach. However, successfully engaging our Early Years children with online learning has proven to be quite a challenge. At Billesley Primary School, as an Early Years team, we have explored different ways we can further develop and improve upon our relationships with parents, particularly while there are so many obstacles put in front of us – from working in bubbles, to the lack of face to face interaction with parents and now back to remote learning for most of our Early Years children. So, how do we get our Early Years children engaged and learning when we are not there to observe, support, question, scaffold and extend?
Now this is where I feel the Early Years curriculum comes into its own, particularly when thinking of the overarching principles centered around enabling environments and positive relationships. Field (2010) identified that “research has highlighted the home learning environment as the single most important behavioural factor influencing children’s outcomes at age three and five.” As Early Years practitioners we know the importance of songs and stories, physical play, and talking and interacting through play. But, do our parents? There is often this belief that parents ‘just know’ – whether that be how to solve a Mathematical problem or how to dissect a story in order to ask those comprehension questions. This belief can often be the reason why many parents will choose to stay away from educational settings because of fear, worry or lack of confidence. Yet fortunately, remote learning has taken some of those fears away and allowed parents the opportunity to get involved and work with us as much or as little as they would like. The result? The majority of our Reception and Nursery children, and their parents, consistently engaging with their online learning.
Now, why are our parents engaging? Why are they communicating and engaging with us on a daily basis and learning the overarching principles of our EYFS curriculum? Simply put – our Learning Journal platform! This platform is user friendly, gives our parents the freedom to communicate with us, celebrate their child’s achievements and allows parents to be at the core of their children’s education. It is a platform that can be accessed on all devices so therefore it is quick, easy to use and accessible for most of our parents. It is recognised by the EEF (2018) that “school communications with parents are more likely to be effective if they are personalised, linked to learning, and framed positively.” This is what our Learning Journals platform does – it allows quick communication between parents and teachers with no more waiting for a response to an email or needing to ring the school office! We have worked tirelessly to improve our remote learning and it has evolved into a platform that is supportive of both education and also well-being. At Billesley, we support and encourage our parents to be involved right from the beginning of their child’s school journey. Although this journey so far has not been a ‘normal’ one for our youngest children, it has given us the opportunity to get to know our parents and children on a deeper level. Parents are willingly contributing and sharing with us their child’s achievements and therefore giving us a picture of the whole child and, in turn, a real holistic approach to learning.
As a team, we are providing an interesting and unique curriculum via our online learning – a curriculum that inspires and motivates our children to continue their learning journey at home. Our Reception classes have created projects about their local area which has involved children going on walks to identify the different features of their environment and creating maps all about the place that they live. Our Nursery has been involved in a range of activities including freezing and melting ice and other winter activities, all linked to children’s prior learning and experiences. Through all these learning opportunities we have provided parents with a greater insight into what we do at school. This can only be of benefit to our parents as they are now beginning to really understand how our curriculum works, the importance of play, and how to support their child with their learning.
Our Nursery parents have been able to collect a bank of ideas and activities to support new concepts. We recently introduced our Nursery children to the concept of subtraction using very interactive and engaging activities such as ‘Playdough Smash’ as well as providing useful links to resources such as an online spinning wheel to support number recognition. Simple tools and techniques are now readily available for parents to continue to use at home with their children with the knowledge that they are also used within school.
It is also important to note the impact of immediate online feedback. We are able to provide parents and children with positive feedback about their work while also providing next steps or questions to further enhance their learning. For example, a Reception child independently wrote a range of sentences but was then challenged further through written comments to use the word ‘and’ and also add full stops to their sentences. A short while later more sentences were produced thereby meeting the next steps provided by the teacher. This is just one example of how our online platform has supported our children to continue their learning.
In addition to providing feedback, our online system enables us to provide parents with photographic examples of learning and video tutorials. The use of videos has been extremely positive as we are able to provide parents with examples and a step by step guide to the task that has been set. Text is kept to a minimum, where possible, and a video provided so that both parents and children can see what is expected of them. With our children being at the beginning of their reading journeys and many of our parents using English as an additional language, it is vital that the text provided is short and concise. The Bell Foundation (2020) found that “certain linguistic minority parents, whilst holding great respect for teachers and education, felt anxious because of their own lower levels or lack of formal education” as well as those EAL parents facing specific barriers such as a lack of understanding of the English school system – therefore often feel unable to support with home learning.
The Department for Education produced a piece of research entitled ‘Best Practice in Parental Engagement’ (2010) and stated that “The more engaged parents are in the education of their children, the more likely their children are to succeed in the education system.” Therefore, as Early Years practitioners, it is our responsibility to support our parents and ensure that they all have the same opportunity to become involved in their child’s learning. Yes, there are barriers to overcome but as Field (2010) states “a parent plays the most significant role in influencing their children’s future” but as the professionals we need to provide parents with the knowledge, the skills and the ability to do so.
Our remote learning journey has presented many challenges but we feel we have also overcome so many barriers and learnt so many valuable lessons along the way. When schools do return to some form of normality we are equally keen to sustain our positive parental relationships.
EEF Guidance Report: Working with Parents to Support Children’s Learning 2018
The Bell Foundation 2020
The Foundation Years: preventing poor children becoming poor adults 2010
The Best Practice in Parental Engagement 2020
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