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How to Boost Learning in Hard-to-Reach Homes

It’s often challenging to involve vulnerable families in their children’s education, but the best settings find a way to get through to mums and dads, says Sue Fisher…

  • How to Boost Learning in Hard-to-Reach Homes

We’re all aware that every child, and family, is unique. It’s this uniqueness that results in many having particular needs that may make it more difficult to develop effective communication and home-setting links – but it’s up to us to overcome these difficulties, particularly in the case of those classed as vulnerable, who need our help most of all.

Vulnerable families include those with a child with SEND, or where a parent themselves has an additional need/disability; isolated families; those with chaotic lifestyles; those who have low self-esteem; and those for whom English is an additional language or who are new to the area.

Finding ways to engage with these families can make a real difference: in its report ‘Teaching and Play in the Early Years’(2015), Ofsted found that, “The best settings worked as much with parents as they did with children,” noting that, “This was especially beneficial for the most vulnerable families, who came to trust and respect the school through the steps they had taken to engage them in their child’s learning in varied and non-threatening ways.”

Grab their attention

When attempting to involve vulnerable families in your approach to the home learning environment, it’s important to be aware of individual circumstances and realise that traditional methods of sharing information, such as one-to-one communication or open events, may prove unsuccessful.

Instead, consider introducing highly visual, attractive and ‘attention-grabbing’ alternatives…

Provide visual support

This is particularly important for parents where English is an additional language, or those with learning difficulties. Linking photographs, maps, diagrams or illustrations to simple bullet points is an effective information-sharing technique.

Create a sense of belonging

Offer opportunities for everyone to feel part of a group by developing projects that all families can participate in.

For example, invite families to take it in turns to take home and care for a ‘bedtime bear’, contributing to an enclosed diary in whichever method they feel comfortable with.

A small camera could accompany the bear to records his adventures.

Recording learning

Sending home a camera with a child can be an effective starting point in building partnerships with difficult-to-reach families. Photographs of the child’s experiences at home can then be included in their learning journey or made into a book to share.

For verbal recording, talk tins offer a fun way of sharing home experiences and conversations, as well as sounds in the environment.

Developing learning

Games that don’t require a verbal response or detailed explanation will build parents’ confidence in playing with their child at home. Simple, low-cost card games, in particular ‘pairs’ and matching games, are good examples, as are lotto and sound lotto.

Settings in receipt of the Early Years Pupil Premium could consider utilising funding to establish a games sharing library in addition to sharing books.

When sharing books, ensure you offer a range that will interest all groups, including visually stimulating picture books to encourage families to make up stories in their own individual ways.

Signpost local opportunities

Families that are new to your area may struggle to discover local opportunities for learning and enjoyment. One nursery I worked with decided that this was a particular area for development.

An information pack was developed containing details of attractions, including farms and museums, the local library and sports activities, with negotiated offers for some of these. Parents are encouraged to feed back on visits and take photos for inclusion in their child’s learning journey.

This setting also encourages inclusion in national events such as the RSPB’s ‘Big Birdwatch’, and this has triggered further interest in the natural world in a number of their children.

Supporting transition

A final point for consideration for all families involves preparing for the transition to school.

This can be a challenging time for many children and parents, and the latter are often keener on home learning as their child approaches school age.

Whilst you may consider extending your home learning opportunities at this stage, it’s more important to maintain current systems, working with mums and dads to develop an awareness of how they help children develop the skills they will need when they step up to school.

Sue Fisher is an early years training consultant.

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