The Interconnectedness of Play

The Impact of Engaging Families in Children’s Learning

Project author:

Project summary:

A qualitative study of how virtual connections with families allows further depth of engagement and interconnectedness between children’s interests at home and in the setting.

Introduction

This project looks at how we support families to engage in children’s interests at nursery and the difference their involvement can make to the depth of experience and learning. During the pandemic, we found the remote connection we had with families supported children’s play to progress. My purpose in undertaking this work was to learn that if the quality of what we provided for children at home when they didn’t attend is combined with the connected opportunities of home and setting while they do attend, what positive differences to children’s outcomes can be achieved through continuity and connection of play.

Context

Our Froebelian approach to children’s learning is based on providing children with quality play opportunities leading to in-depth experiences. The progress our children make in their learning is linked to the learning environment, providing children with the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and feelings to explore, experiment and learn through play. During this year there have been periods away from our play environment. Time at home for children has brought an opportunity for them to be with family, with parents becoming the facilitators of home learning. We wanted to ensure that we supported the wellbeing of our children and their family by helping facilitate learning opportunities. This ensured that play continued to feature strongly within the experiences children participated in. Through a study into remote learning, communication with parents indicated that when they encouraged children to embark on ‘formal’ teaching, ‘writing their name’ or ‘learning their words’ that very quickly children became disinterested. Parents were realising and valuing that learning through play makes a difference to children’s engagement and enjoyment in learning. I wanted to use the changes we made to practice delivery over the past two years as an asset moving forward, developing the quality of our interconnectedness in learning.

Methodology

The main consideration was the concept of starting my project small to scale up within a short time frame. The test of change model would allow me to create a pathway based on reflection of the evidence at each stage and help determine the next step moving forward. The project was based on the children’s interests within the setting. The decision on the children and families I would engage was based on an observation within one of our learning zones. It demonstrated depth of learning over time and captured the interest and engagement of two children. Initially I predicted three children being involved in the project but decided to focus on two. I approached the families personally, shared the project and level of involvement I hoped they could support me with. Consent was given for all involved. Engaging two families would allow me to have frequent discussions with them to support the project moving forward. Connecting with children’s engagement at home, the observations collated there and in the nursery, and discussion with the parent would determine the next zone of our ‘learning links’ to be uploaded. Analysis of the impact on children’s learning would be the justification for decisions made.

“Educators should work closely with parents so that there is a close connection between kindergarten and home, a child should feel a sense of harmony and continuity” (Tovey, 2017:121)

Tovey, H (2017). Bringing the Froebel Approach to your Early Years Practice (2nd Edition). Oxon: Routledge.

Findings

The interaction between the child and parent viewing ‘learning links’ on the website together at home prompted a discussion that helped consolidate children’s learning. This was evident from both parents in the form they were asked to submit after they had engaged in the experience. The information shared linked with the learning that we observed within the setting. Parent A shared that their child was able to demonstrate skills at home relating to their experience in nursery and took a lead role in the task. Having the ‘family link’ bag with the necessary resources allowed them to share the experience at home timeously. Parent B shared that their child was able to take the ‘family link’ bag to their grandparent’s home where they learned from each other, sharing the experience together. Child A’s observation from home led their developing interest in another zone within the setting. Practitioner A facilitated this by providing provocations to support and extend it. The social zone on our ‘learning links’ was populated with the children’s learning, photographs, and video of them baking bread. ‘Family links’ included a bread recipe and a bag containing all the ingredients. Following Child A’s interest in bread making the next chapter of their learning story was documented based on the observations captured at home and in the setting.

Child B took their initial interest of ‘making soup’ in the home corner and the observation captured from home in a different direction. Imagination and creativity skills were evident. Capturing Child B’s voice and thoughts, their planning, designing, and creative interest was apparent. The creative zone on the website was uploaded to share the ideas and depth of thinking that children visualise as ‘artists’. Our setting has five learning zones, each connected to ‘learning links’ on the website. It explains what learning has been happening in nursery and provides suggestions of ‘family links’ that could be explored at home to extend the children’s interest. They have been populated one at a time as Child A and B’s interests have developed. We have seen that for Child A and B the continuity of learning across both environments has created a greater depth to their learning. The engagement of families has supported this. Both families have stated that ‘learning links’ is easy to navigate and sharing it with the children is creating deeper discussion about what children have been experiencing at nursery. Providing the resources ensures all barriers are removed. The virtual connection allows them to connect at times convenient to them as a family. Both Practitioner A and B, keyworker to Child A and B respectively, found that the depth of learning captured through the documentation of learning has increased. The dialogue they have with the parents is more frequent and focused on the children’s individual learning. The parents have initiated discussions more readily about the children’s interests out with the setting. Parents now realise the importance to children’s learning, confidence and understanding when continuity of learning is connected.

Conclusion

My approach to engaging parents in their children’s learning and the interconnectedness of home and setting has been developed through our website ‘learning links’. All families have equal access to supporting their children’s learning. Families connect more readily with the learning happening across the setting and use the resources available, including the wider community, to extend projects at home. Family’s involvement and engagement can be evidenced through children’s learning stories as making a positive difference to the depth of children’s interests. Measuring the impact unity and connectedness has on children’s achievements is the next stage of our research journey.

Dissemination/Impact Report

Moving forward, we plan to share the positive findings from the report with all our families, exhibiting the significant impact of providing a unified approach has on a child’s learning journey. We aim to introduce ‘Learning Links’ through a launch event at the beginning of the academic year, sharing it universally to all our children and families. The event will enable us to support families to access the digital platform whilst providing an informative introduction into the various aspects of ‘Learning Links’.

Research implications

As a leader, I am proud of the strength of our team in striving for quality. Empowering them to be
informed and support their drive and commitment is part of our Froebelian philosophy. Giving
practitioners the autonomy to create professional dialogue where they have a voice, take
responsibility on the direction of children’s play and learning and develop their thoughts and
ideas based on research supports the quality of children’s experiences. The Froebel Practitioner
Inquiry course has come at the right time. Following restrictions on service delivery during the
pandemic the boundaries for innovative developments were inhibited. Regardless, the team
turned the restrictions into an asset and together we undertook a study on lockdown learning
focused on family engagement. We hoped using our findings to pursue a research project would
ignite the next stage of practice development within our setting. Our philosophy is the foundation
of our service and has created an ethos of shared values amongst children, families, and
practitioners. The research our project has focused on will support and deepen aspects of our
philosophy and connect with the pedagogical approach we have adopted. Froebel’s principle of
unity and connectedness is the foundation of this development. Engagement of parent’s in the
children’s learning process during our ‘lockdown learning’ study’ has escalated our approach.
Their involvement could be evidenced as making a positive difference. Building practitioners
ability to use theory and research and analysis of the project evidence will create positive
change that children and families will benefit from. The project is focused on a ‘learning links’
section of our website that only our families can access. This has been a development to assist
in connecting with families to support children’s learning. Additional resource has been required
to help us fulfil some of our ‘family links’ suggestions. We created ‘family link’ bags to borrow
and help support engagement with children at home. Connecting with the wider community is a
valuable resource that is significant in broadening children’s experiences. Froebel believed that
for children to learn best they need to connect to the community in which they live.
Knowledge is power and as a leader of our service it empowers me to empower others within
our team to drive policy and improvement from an evidence-based platform. We know that our
children are autonomous learners within an environment that is based on spontaneous play with
adults that can observe and scaffold children’s interests. Through our project parents have built
an understanding of how their child’s learning has grown with the connections we have together.
Sharing findings amongst the nursery community will impact on policy revision and the approach
we have to family engagement. Building a Froebelian network to share practice across the local
authority and expand professional expertise would impact on our immediate early years
community. Sharing our pedagogical approach and the impact our project has had to children’s
learning with other professionals across Renfrewshire will help sow a seed of change and build a
professional community of practice

Practitioner enquiry

Continuous improvement is an integral part of quality provision within our setting, this is a shared
responsibility amongst all connected to it, children, families, and practitioners. Practitioner
research is a highly effective and informative tool that can be used in the improvement journey.
The key to success of this focused methodology has been the commitment practitioners have in
using an evidence-based approach to inform and support change. They know that the
opportunities they provide where practitioner research has been used as the tool for improvement
are of high quality. The confidence and passion this brings practitioners to inform and share the
findings for change are tangible. As an expanded service with most of our team being new, this
approach will be embedded to ensure we build the commitment amongst the team to never stop
improving. Sharing the knowledge acquired undertaking practitioner research projects with
colleagues in our locality will give staff the autonomy to create professional dialogue. It will give
them a voice to learn from each other and develop their thoughts and ideas based on research
and increased knowledge whilst empowering their ongoing improvement journey

Leadership learning

Being in a position to give practitioners autonomy to create positive change is empowering.
Giving them the drive to evaluate existing practice and consider why they do things the way they
do is invaluable in leading change. Froebel believed in his heart that people needed to be
educated to think for themselves and not to rely on the thinking of others in authority to tell them
what they should think (Bruce, 2012). As a leader, knowing, growing, and supporting the stage
of professional development individuals are at is important in determining the effectiveness of
any additional research they participate in.

Author and role

Judith Thomas, Head of Centre

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. katie smith
    katie smith
    29 Aug 2022 at 9:27 pm

    I have found this project extremely interesting! Its my passion supporting families and throughout this project its evident how ‘learning links’ has really provided families with a tool to feel connected with the nursery and have meaningful learning. Excellent


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