However experienced, Early Years staff are always looking for new ways to engage parents as they know how vital that relationship is. I’ve included a few tips here – some I’ve tried and some I wish that I had!
The new Oxford Owl Guide to ‘Your Child’s First Year at School’ can help with induction and developing that engagement. It is available online but a printed copy, given out at the first meeting with parents, could form a good talking point and hopefully support a great deal of what you want to say.
- Remember that many parents will be every bit as anxious as their children – in many cases more so!
- Some parents may not have had happy experiences of school themselves. Do everything that you can to show them what welcoming places schools are now and how much you value your relationship with parents.
- A great deal of work done to encourage good parental engagement will have started in the summer term. Many schools hold ‘taster’ sessions for children, and staff visit children in the familiar setting of their nursery, playgroup or home. Observing the child and gathering information from other Early Years professionals will help make the transition to school much smoother.
Invite parents into school
- Invite parents and children in together for a school lunch either in the summer term or early autumn. This can help to allay some fears, allow parents to see the quality and choices of lunch available, and recognise some of the skills their children will need for lunchtime in school, which can be developed at home.
- Although most induction meetings take place in the summer term, it is often very useful to hold another one in autumn. Once the children are in school, the relevance of much of what you said will become apparent. Parents may have more questions and want reminding of the support they can give with phonics, reading and early maths skills.
- Many of our children are bilingual and come from homes where English is an additional language. Be aware that Parents’ Evenings can be intimidating for parents with limited English and encourage parents to bring along another family member or friend to assist with translation.
Staying in touch
- If your school uses a text service for parent/school communications, a short personal text on the first morning to say their child has settled well will mean a great deal and start to build that positive relationship.
- Reassure parents that you want to hear from them! You need to know if there has been a problem at home, a change in circumstances, if their child has been unwell, or if something at school is worrying them.
- Similarly, you need to know the good stuff! – e.g. new activities, a new brother or sister, being really helpful at home. Reception staff are expert at sharing all the good news with parents – as and when it happens. All this information helps you build up a better relationship with your pupils and their parents.
- Home/school books can take a great deal of time to develop but when they work well, they are invaluable in engaging parents. A welcome letter from your child’s teacher in the front is a great start, as well as dates, times of events and timetables, e.g. when they will need PE kits! Some schools stick homework sheets and letters in to ensure safe delivery.
- Develop a Reception ‘Settling in’ questionnaire to gather views. Sent out at the beginning of October, it will give you invaluable information on parents’ perceptions, ensure that you have reached all parents (not just those at the school gate), and give you a valuable starting point for conversations during the first Parents’ Evening.
- Whether it’s in the Reception area of the website or a weekly/monthly newsletter, ensure that parents have regular information: what the children have done, what they will be doing next, and how they can be supported at home.
- Don’t forget to give plenty of advance notice of school events so that parents can try to arrange childcare, time off work, or prepare in advance. It’s every parent’s nightmare to receive a letter with a week’s notice of a costume needed for World Book Day!
Engaging working parents
- Working parents often feel isolated and miss out on the playground chat and support network. Create opportunities for parents to meet up informally.
- Whenever you hold a meeting, make a note of who hasn’t been able to attend, make sure that a paper copy of information goes home and if you haven’t met up with a parent for some time, ring them for a chat and update.
- For many working families, it will be the child minder or other family member that has the daily contact with you at the school gate. In many cases, they will provide the vital gateway to communicating with parents, but be mindful that some conversations are much better held directly and a phone call to a parent, at times, could be preferable.
You can download the guide to ‘Your Child’s First Year at School’ to share with your parents. It’s also the perfect opportunity to recommend Oxford Owl for Home, to help parents encourage their child with maths and reading at home.
Tish Keech has worked for over thirty years in teaching, spending fifteen years as Headteacher of a primary school in Wolverhampton. During that time, she also worked extensively for Oxford University Press writing one of the original Teacher’s Guides for Oxford Reading Tree, three Teacher’s Guides for the Wolf Hill series for reluctant readers, as well as working as an education consultant.