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Research School Network: Working with parents to support children’s learning in the early years: hear from our partners In this final blog, we hear from the Grove Nursery School and the organisations KeepMi and EasyPeasy

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Working with parents to support children’s learning in the early years: hear from our partners

In this final blog, we hear from the Grove Nursery School and the organisations KeepMi and EasyPeasy

In part four of this five-part series we hear from some of the partners we worked with and learnt from.

Read part one, part two and part three.

Claire Navale from the Grove Nursery School in Southwark, London writes
:

The Grove Nursery School thought hard about the best ways to provide home learning for our children. During lockdown we wanted:

  • our home learning to be easily accessible for children, aged 2 to rising 5’s including children with SEND
  • to provide ideas for activities that encouraged parents and carers to play with their child, without creating unnecessary burdens or requiring special resources.
We were also aware that not all families had unlimited access to the internet and some families may only have one mobile phone in the family.

At the start of this academic year we contacted all families to find out more about their experiences during lockdown/​over the summer and wanted to get a good picture of how we could support families should families needed to self-isolate. 

Our team had a brief discussion about what we thought would make good play based activities to go in a Home Learning bag for families to share during self-isolation. A list went up on a door in the classroom and people jotted down their ideas. We knew there wasn’t a budget for the home learning bags so we scoured our storage spaces to see what treasures were hidden. We weren’t disappointed with what we found which included chiffon draw-string bags, little wooden spoons, ping-pong balls, wooden clothes pegs, pom-poms, art straws, wooden beads and googly eyes.

We also photocopied some simple home baking recipes, a play dough recipe, ideas for transient art and junk modelling, poems and rhymes. A grand total of £3 was spent on elastic bands, cup-cake cases and a pack of black socks. 

One evening after work the team got together and made a production line to create mini-activity sets: a balancing game, threading activity, finger-gym, 3D construction kit, musical shaker, play-dough accessories and a DIY sock puppet. Each home learning pack was parcelled up in a brown paper bag (which were left over from the food parcels we made up for families during lockdown).

In the past couple of weeks a number of families have had to self-isolate and they have been offered home learning packs. I spoke some of the families to find out how they got on with them.

This is what they told us:

Izan (2yrs) was so excited when he looked in the bag. First he wanted to play with the little wooden spoon and ball. He tried different ways to play with it. He put the spoon in his mouth and balanced the ball on it. He tried to walk with it but it fell off. Izan kept trying. He shook his head and liked to make the ball off. He really laughed at what he was doing.”

Ayman (3yrs) liked the paper straws. He used them to make his own car house [garage]”

Alivia (4yrs) was fascinated with the little spoon. One of her sensory needs is water. She really enjoyed scooping water from a cup with the spoon and drinking the water”

Derrell (5yrs) loved the art straws. He liked to put them in his mouth and blow through them. He even put a straw in his sister’s mouth and wanted her to blow on his skin as he liked the sensation”

The feedback has also informed us that children have been really creative with the resources combining them and using them in ways that they wanted to.

During lockdown we created weekly home learning sheets that covered all the areas of learning in the EYFS in a playful way. Key People emailed the sheets directly to families and encouraged them to try some of the activities and then send photos of what they had enjoyed doing. We had a fantastic response from families and used the Nursery’s Twitter page as a way to share all of the lovely things the children had done and created. Soon families started following our Twitter page liking and commenting on each other’s photos. It was a wonderful way of holding on to our community. 

We also set up our own YouTube channel where we uploaded videos of staff reading stories for the children, tutorials on how to make dough, poems, rhymes and games. Feedback has been similarly positive. 

We always looked forward to getting the home learning sheets for new ideas. We liked the format and how it was broken down into different areas. Lot of the ideas were things we could do as a family, including Meghan, Helen’s little sister. Helen loved the craft activities. She used old boxes to turn herself into a robot and we made a letter box out of an old cardboard box. We wrote letters to our family and posted them there first” (Hannah, Helen’s mum). 

One comment that brought home just how important relationships and community are, and where early years settings feature in this, came from Izan’s family:

We appreciate that the Nursery is caring for our son even when he is at home. We feel remembered”

The grove 2 copy
Grove

Jen Lexmond and the team at EasyPeasy write:

160 families (out of approximately 200 families on roll) have been using the EasyPeasy app over the last year at Sheringham Nursery School. 90 of those families continued using it during lockdown.

Staff members at Sheringham continued to comment on the game ideas during lockdown, adding ideas and motivation). This is associated with parents viewing those videos more. We also saw some shy’ parents who hadn’t previously come on board have a go during the lockdown period.

Nationwide, there was a significant surge in sign-ups for EasyPeasy during the first lockdown. This included:

  • sign-ups for priority families, funded by the DFE and by Local Authorities (blue)
  • sign-ups by individual practitioners, on behalf of their setting, school or Children’s Centre (red)
  • direct parent sign-ups (yellow)
Picture 1 2020 11 23 112343

The data from EasyPeasy suggest that the app needs support from key people and outreach staff. As blended support for home learning, we found it effective. However, as a standalone intervention, our experience is that the parents we would most like to take part, are the parents most likely to drop-out.

We continue to think EasyPeasy is a promising intervention. You can read an evaluation of EasyPeasy by the Sutton Trust (with Newham families) and an evaluation by the EEF.

Evie Keough from Boromi writes
:

Boromi is a scheme to lend parents play materials, based on the traditional Toy Library. However, during the pandemic parents couldn’t borrow and return packs, so we replaced Boromi (borrow-me) with Keepmi.

137 families registered from Sheringham Nursery School to receive four Keepmi boxes each over the summer term and summer holidays.

Keepmi asks parents to send a postcard when they are ready for the next box. However, many parents in the community served by Sheringham have low levels of literacy, or are literate in languages other than English. So that this did not become a barrier, we agreed to send the boxes out at regular intervals rather than wait for the postcard.

All the same, some parents did send back postcards with feedback, for example:

Keepmi

33 parents gave feedback over the phone about their use of Keepmi. All of them agreed strongly with the following statements:

  1. The Keepmi boxes gave me new ideas of how I can support my child’s learning at home
  2. I have – or am likely to – repeat an activity again with my child that I learned from a Keepmi box
  3. Because of Keepmi, I have been able to better support my child’s learning at home during the pandemic

Here are some of the additional comments which parents made:

It was such a relief. I was really worried about my kids during lockdown, but the Keepmi boxes kept them engaged and entertained throughout the lockdown period

During the lockdown everything was almost shut and trying to find resources could have been really hard. The Keepmi boxes had every resource we needed to play the activity.

During lockdown the boxes kept my daughter busy and engaged. I wasn’t worried about her because she was spending a productive time in her house.‘

The comments suggest that the boxes played a positive role in reducing parental worry. When parents worry less, they may be more able to offer the type of warm, loving and responsive parenting which young children need.

We learnt that in the community served by Sheringham, we needed the support of the children’s key people for the Keepmi boxes to work well. Some of the first boxes were opened by children on their own, and then the pieces were soon lost and the activities weren’t enjoyed by the parent and child together. So key people sent video messages in advance of the boxes being sent out, so parents would be prepared and would know what was in the box. Subsequent videos showed key people enjoying the play activities with children attending the nursery, to give parents at home a model.

In the final part of this series, you can read a very brief summary of our learning. What were our top ten learning points?

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